In 1910, fourth-generation German immigrant Alvin O. Eckert set up a small produce stand on a roadside in Belleville, Illinois. More than 100 years later, that roadside stand has flourished into the expansive Belleville plot of Eckert's Farm: a pastoral acreage where orchards surround a country-style restaurant, bakery, and handmade-custard shop. The Eckert family's sixth and seventh generations ensure this farm remains a true family affair. Sixth-generation member Jim Eckert is the chief horticulturist, and his cousin-once-removed, Chris, oversees retail operations and the sale of the farm's homegrown produce and spare scarecrow parts. Chris's sister Jill helms the food program, and his wife Angie oversees the Country Store and colorful Garden Center.
Throughout the year, visitors arrive on the Belleville farm's grounds for a range of seasonal activities, including peach-, apple-, and pumpkin-picking. During the summer, a concert series features live outdoor music on Friday and Saturday nights, and in the fall, staff lead bonfires and evening hayrides through the orchards. Inside the farm building, instructors teach cooking classes for adults and children, as well as a wine-pairing class.
Family-friendly activities also abound at the Eckert family's other two farms. The Grafton farm, where public apple-picking began in 1964, offers daily animal feeding and miniature golf. The seasonal Millstadt farm is home to a workshop, haunted hayrides, and an array of warm-weather children's attractions—including a 70-foot underground slide.
Inside the St. Louis Downtown Airport, travelers excitedly bustle about on their way to distant destinations or emerge from vacations rested and ready to return home. The constant stream of action is all part of the experience for diners at Crusoe’s on the Runway, which combines the spectacle of air travel with hearty American meals. Whether they’re traveling or just stopping by for a bite, diners fill their bellies as they overlook two of the three runways from the airport’s east ramp. St. Louis–style pizza, steaks, and pastas satiate hunger pangs, along with comfort food such as Mom’s meatloaf and country-fried steak. As they watch Airbus A320 jetliners and lightweight Boeing 757 aircrafts launch into the sky and gently touch down on the runway from their tables, guests can hold up score cards to judge the pilots’ form.
Oprah Winfrey. Frank Sinatra. Bill Clinton. Besides being household names, these American icons all have something else in common––they've all had the honor of dining on Chef Giovanni Gabriele's authentic, award-winning cuisine. While his passion for cooking was born in his native Sicily, it was Giovanni's other great love––his wife, Fina––that eventually led him to St. Louis, where he opened his restaurant in 1973. Just six years later, he found himself cooking for President Reagan at Reagan’s inaugural dinner, and the dish he made––a creamy bow-tie pasta topped with salmon and parmigiano––was renamed farfalline del Presidente Reagan in the commander in chief's honor. Today, it remains one of the most popular items on Giovanni's menu, alongside a host of other Italian pastas named for the celebrities who supped upon them.
But you don't have to be a celebrity or a politician to get the star treatment at Giovanni's. The restaurant has earned an AAA Four Diamond Award for 22 years running, in part due to the careful attention lavished upon each and every guest. Today, nearly 40 years after its inception, Giovanni's son Frank runs the kitchen, blending its iconic sauces and forming the housemade crepes, but Giovanni still commands the show, supervising in the kitchen, greeting patrons tableside, and mining the pepper and salt from nearby mountains himself.
The modern flourishes on Copia's menu are grounded in the kind of American culinary tradition that chef Dave Rook knows best: raised in a family that ran a drive-in burgers-and-root-beer stand in Alton, Illinois, an appreciation for the comfortable side of dining runs in his blood. Globally inspired dashes of red chilies and champagne-goat-cheese cream take off from Midwestern classics, such as slow-roasted rotisserie chicken, house-smoked trout, and pork-rib chops.
Aided by a wine market whose bottles pour into the dining room at retail price, the downtown eatery aims to shuttle city dwellers directly into wine country with 18,000 square feet of exposed brick walls, wood-beam ceilings, and white tablecloths. Elsewhere within the rambling complex, natural light pours into an atrium garden, a glass waterfall neatly partitions off the bar to prevent diners from impulsively ordering every dish and drink they see, and stainless-steel vats age several of Copia's own wines. Much missed after a fire shuttered its initial incarnation, Copia was roundly welcomed back onto the St. Louis scene in 2010: among other praise, St. Louis Magazine called its calamari "as crispy-crunchy delectable as any seafood you’ll find in a New England clam shack" and its smoked ribs "the best upscale version of barbecue in the area."
According to many members of the close-knit Italian community on The Hill, it was at a restaurant called Oldani's in the early 1940s that a clumsy chef dropped a piece of pasta in frying oil and created the first toasted ravioli. That dish went on to become a Saint Louis specialty, and Oldani's went on to become Mama's On The Hill, rechristened by matron Mama Campisi, who took it over in 1982. When Mama's sons, John and Frank, had to give up the restaurant in 2005, Lance and Andrea Ervin jumped at the chance to take over the culinary landmark. They reopened it in 2006, retaining many of Mama's original recipes as well as the crisp signature pasta.
Ivory and black stripes upholster padded chairs in the understated dining room, where a set of glowing candles are ensconced in a stone fireplace. Here, Mama's special recipes still serve as blueprints for many of the house sauces, including the marinara and parmesan cream. Salmon entrees are drizzled with her chianti-balsamic glaze, and deep-fried shrimp do cannonballs into her cocktail sauce.
Mama's famous fare also lures avid diners to enroll in culinary classes taught by kitchen staff. In the currently running sauces class, up to 20 students set pots a-simmer in groups of five, fueled by appetizers, snacks, and pep talks given by freshly cracked bottles of wine.
Gazing at the Tuscan-inspired murals in La Gra Italian Tapas & Wine Bar's dining room as the aroma of Italian tapas wafts through the air, guests might think they've been transported to the old country. However, while guests haven’t been secretly teleported to a Florentine trattoria, you can hardly blame them for making the mistake. Small plates of tomato-, caper-, and garlic-topped bruschetta or flash-fried Sicilian olives stuffed with gorgonzola cheese map out bite-sized guides to Italy’s native tastes. Fresh Mediterranean-inspired ingredients also populate larger entrees such as four-cheese veal parmesan and pizzas topped with provel cheese, yellow squash, and spicy garlic cream sauce.
Pours of domestic or imported red and white wine add Euro-style complements to meals occasionally accompanied by the strains of live music. More than 20 martinis also showcase the resident mixologists’ creativity, with the Cosmic Sorbet boasting citrus vodka and cranberry juice supplied by the astronauts who lead each year’s fruit harvest on Venus. While dinner is served and drinks flow seven nights a week, guests can also rent the dining room, bar, café, or entire restaurant for private parties that accommodate up to 100 attendees.