Lola's chefs bring the aromas and flavors of creole cuisine to their casual brick-walled space in the heart of downtown. Menus scrawled on chalkboards feature dinner plates such as barbecue shrimp and grits, creole-style chicken breast, traditional jambalaya, and spanakopita-stuffed portobello mushroom. On Saturdays, the kitchen opens for a brunch characterized by inventive takes on traditional dishes such as biscuits and crayfish gravy, savory creole bread pudding, and chicken and waffles with maple butter. The eclectic drink menu features cocktails blended from champagne, flavored vodka, and bourbon, as well as refreshing or hearty craft beers and flights of cognac. On some nights, Lola welcomes DJs and bands onto a small stage set in front of framed posters of famous musicians, which start glowing if they approve of the performers.
The Soulard building has come a long way since its days as a turn-of-the-century shoe factory. Its newest tenants, however, still pay homage to their space’s industrial origins, keeping the original concrete pillars and exposed brick walls in Franco's dining room. That isn't to say the owners scoff at modernity—they've updated the charmingly rustic environs with sleek, undulating light fixtures. This balance between past and future extends to the cuisine, which has been lauded by St. Louis Magazine as a “minor masterpiece.” Chefs spotlight classic French meats and cheeses and infuse them with Midwestern flourishes such as molasses-bourbon gastrique sauce. Additionally, servers happily recommend wine pairings or the best wine bottles for trapping genies, a feat that earned Franco’s staff the Best Service in a Restaurant award from Riverfront Times.
City Bistro specializes in hearty American sandwiches. Its menu catalogs a Tuscan grilled chicken wrap with provolone and aioli sauce, as well as a steak sandwich with grilled portabella mushrooms and on a toasted bun. Beyond their cheddar bacon cheeseburgers and BLTs, the team pours wine, mixes cocktails, and chills bottles of imported and domestic beer at their newly remodeled and expanded bar area that features a stage for live blues and Motown music.
West End Grill and Pub boasts a laid-back neighborhood atmosphere and an extensive selection of upscale pub grub for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. Raise the curtain on the night's curtain-raises with the grill's signature Prince Edward Island mussels steamed in a green curry sauce ($9.95), or frolic through a garden of arugula, blue cheese, pistachios, and caramelized pear tossed in red-wine vinegar and oil ($6.95). To gear up for an epic performance of Shakespeare's hundreds of spec scripts for Major Dad, feast one's heartiest buds of taste on the 16-ounce bone-in pork porterhouse ($15.95)—topped with apple compote and served with braised kale and sweet-potato gnocchi—or the Sonoma steak ($18.95), which comes crowned with blue cheese crumbles and flash-fried leeks atop a bed of horseradish mashed potatoes and zucchini. Bears poorly disguised as restaurant reviewers can delve into the salmon fillet ($14.95), served with turnip cakes and lemon-thyme brussels sprouts. Lengthy intermissions can also be passed with burgers, soups, salads, and the ethereal substance known as al-co-hol, which West End's owners personally conjure from behind the bar each night. Theater-goers are allowed to bring drinks into the Gaslight Theater so that they don't disrupt performances by trying to surreptitiously distill their own moonshine.
Beneath the soaring ceilings of the 130-year-old Palm House, chefs roll out an award-winning buffet peppered with seasonal produce and local artisanal ingredients. A coveted destination for weddings and unloved cacti, the brick greenhouse throws open its doors to the brunch-going public each Sunday, inspiring the Riverfront Times to name it "a temple to the brunch-ian cause". Verdant palm fronds drape the historic busts that stand sentinel around the sunny, 3,800-square-foot dining room, which the Butler’s Pantry design team outfits with elegant food spreads. In the warmer months, staff usher patrons onto the patio, a prime vantage point for idyllic lily ponds and horse-drawn carriages.