Executive chef Ben Guthier at Chez Leon—which St. Louis magazine called "a reminder of what 'dining out' should be"—delights diners with lunch and dinner menus populated by cleanly executed French cuisine. Guests commence consumption within the dining room's darkly hued walls, whimsical still lifes, and a stately chandelier, which make Chez Leon an elegant stage for interpretations of Gérard Depardieu's acclaimed performance in 102 Dalmatians. To complement a lavish meal, patrons can select a luxurious wine and empathize with the caterers of the Tennis Court Oath for their unwavering dedication to French excellence.
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.
In 1972, Herbie Balaban opened a café in St. Louis’s West End, turning his former beatnik-boutique space into a French-inspired café. He grins from old pictures of the restaurant, a handlebar mustache curling upward toward a jaunty beret in crisp black and white. Though the space has changed hands in the ensuing years, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said it “would be an excellent restaurant in any era.” Aaron Teitelbaum, now the executive chef, honed his craft in New York City while working with Bobby Flay and Daniel Boulud in their kitchens. Aromas drift from Herbie’s own kitchen, hinting at French, Asian, and American influences. Those culinary traditions swirl together in truffled lobster mac 'n' cheese and shrimp with grits and buttermilk-fried leeks. Goat cheese steeps in smoke before melting with peppered bacon across burgers alongside a trout salad, of which a writer for the St. Louis Post Dispatch said, “I’d normally prefer no adulteration to well-smoked trout, but in this case folding in a gentle horseradish crème fraîche was a perfect foil for a fluffy, slightly sweet corn pancake underneath.” Grilled duck breast pairs with a duck-confit crepe served on an original Duck Hunt game cartridge, and Herbie’s Vintage 72's wine list is carefully curated to incorporate vintages from around the world, prioritizing US and French wines above all. The interior at Herbie’s Vintage 72 was designed by co-owner Jeff Orbin, whose past triumphs include restaurants such as Miso in Clayton and Monarch Restaurant & Wine Bar. Much like the food, the décor blends French and American influences, incorporating some of the antique French posters that decorated the walls of the café in the ‘70s. Inverted teardrop lamps and tableside candles illuminate the restaurant, which is surrounded by exposed-brick walls. Patrons settle in at curved corner booths or opt for open-air dining to enjoy their meal, and chatter drifts up from private parties amid the wine cellar’s barrels and rough stone walls.
No matter the time of day or night, the kitchen staff at Gingham’s Restaurant churns out any meal—be it breakfast for dinner or lunch at 2 a.m.—that customers may be craving. Famous buttermilk pancakes speckled with everything from blueberries to bits of bacon hush grumbling stomachs, as the friendly wait staff shuffles around bottomless pots of Ronnoco coffee and homemade dinner rolls. Chefs scramble farm-fresh eggs into nine different omelets, masterfully fry chicken, and drown homestyle meatloaf in rich gravy.
The cozy interior of Hearth Room Cafe?complete with roaring fireplace in the cooler months?fills with the aromas of crispy bacon and fluffy stacks of pancakes during breakfast and brunch. Midday, drop in for a satisfying lunch of wraps and sandwiches, or specialties like the quiche du jour that's made each day with fresh ingredients brought in by the vegetable stork. Hearth Room Cafe also has a private event space equipped with a separate entrance that's perfect for luncheons for a dozen guests or more.
The Village People aren’t the only group to put their stamp on the YMCA. At Sushi Bistro a team of master sushi chefs assemble deep-fried YMCA rolls chockfull of yellowtail, spicy mayo, crab, and avocado. The YMCA is one of more than 20 specialties, like the blend of tuna and hot chili sauce in the new Dynamite roll, an improvement over the old Dynamite roll’s tuna and gunpowder. Besides its namesake treat, Sushi Bistro specializes in plenty of other Japanese favorites, including hibachi-grilled king salmon and succulent cuts of teriyaki steak.