Chef and owner Raj left his native Punjab in 1994 to earn his culinary stripes working as a cook in New York City. After a year of training and practice, he relocated to St. Louis, where his expertise in the art of Indian cooking quickly won praise in the Riverfront Times, which dubbed his eatery the city’s best vegetarian restaurant.
Laden with meat-free options, the menu entices taste buds with spiced and nutritious ingredients such as saag paneer’s spinach and fresh cheese, aloo gobi’s cauliflower and potatoes, and chana masala’s tender garbanzo beans. Chefs also throw dairy to the wayside in many dishes, including the vegan mirchi bhajia—deep-fried anaheim peppers stuffed with potatoes and spices hot enough to peel the wallpaper off a doll’s house. A catering menu provides spreads for large groups and flash mobs that rent the on-premises banquet hall.
At Black Bear Bakery, every batch of Lickhalter sourdough-rye bread, sweet pastries, and crunchy granola is made with the care of a shop owner. That’s because each staff member serves as a partial owner of the communal shop. This makes each staff member feel a personal responsibility for creating a shop they’d like their family to come to, encouraging them to use eco-friendly processes and locally sourced, organic ingredients. Along with whole-grain recipes filled with specialty ingredients such as kalamata olives and rosemary, bakers use century-old recipes passed down from the owners of Lickhalter Bakery. These recipes create hearty sourdough-rye loaves sprinkled with caraway seeds or twisted together with pumpernickel dough.
While breads are their specialty, bakers fill their ovens with more than just bread loaves. They craft handmade, boiled bagels that come sans holes, as well as cookies, baked granola, pizza crusts, and a variety of buns. On the weekends, they welcome the community for a vegetarian and vegan brunch, which features staples such as pancakes, quiche, potatoes, and bread pudding made from their loaves. These dishes can be washed down with pours of fair trade coffee, juice, tea, or pastry filling.
Though Sushi Ai has recently opened its sixth location, it still shows the same dedication to classic Japanese cuisine. Sushi remains the star of the menu, ranging from single pieces of pepper tuna and spicy scallop sushi and sashimi, to delicate hand rolls that mingle crispy salmon skin and cucumber. Standout special rolls include the World Series roll—packed with soft-shell crab tempura, tuna, eel, avocado, tobiko, and tempura chips—whose original recipe was pitched from Japan in 1919. Rich soups with udon noodles and medleys of seafood or vegetables join Sushi Ai's other cooked entrees, such as chicken fried rice or beef and shrimp sautéed on a hibachi grill.
For almost 30 years, Magpie's Restaurant has catered to the surrounding community, but even this decades-old legacy pales in comparison to the legacy of the building that it occupies.
The aromas of homemade cooking and an aura of local legend both emanate from Magpie's Restaurant, situated on historic Main Street. The building dates to the Louisiana Purchase, in fact, it once served as the home of the Spanish governor. Somewhere between then and now, it also became known as "the witches' house," and the owner says she herself has witnessed "unexplainable occurrences" and a few spooked guests in the decades since Magpie's opened.
Statesmen and witches aside, the building remains true to its roots. The patio is paved with cobbestones, with eight-foot fire pits roaring during the winter and a lush canopy of foliage shading the space when it's warm. From time to time, it hosts live musical performances, creating an idyllic setting for a night out. When it's warm, your meal may even be prepared outdoors: a grill sears fish for tacos and other meats.
The menu at Magpie's Restaurant has nearly as timeless a feel as the ambience. Baked-potato soup and house-made quiche and desserts are perennial crowd-pleasers, but the kitchen's always adding new influences to the menu. Mediterranean sunshine beams through the lasagna florentine with house-made italian sausage and the flatbread pizzas, topped with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, feta, and kalamata olives. Cajun-inspired dishes such as shrimp-and-andouille pasta also add variety to a selection of familiar American comfort foods, such as chicken and rolled dumplings and pot roast.
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Choice Saint Louis is a caf? open for breakfast, lunch, and early dinner with an outside patio. The chefs here create wholesome morning meals of eggs benedict to hot oatmeal with fresh fruit, that can be complimented with a hot cup of coffee or freshly brewed tea. During the lunch hour caf?-goers can opt for a varied selection of sandwiches, creative salads, daily soups, and pizza. Thin-crust pizzas can be assembled on regular or gluten-free crusts using toppings such as grilled chicken and fresh veggies. The diner also hosts a number of gluten-free breads, wraps, pizza crusts, and pastries for customers looking for healthier options.
The modern flourishes on Copia's menu are globally-inspired but grounded by an American culinary tradition. Brought to you by chef Zach Fiorimondo and property director Derrick Collquett, dishes such as 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."