Our final day in St. Louis included meeting some friends for lunch in a little spot in St. Charles, (home of FOJTE). Based on a recommendation from same, we met them at a little place called “Magpies” in the Historic District. St. Charles is adjacent to the mighty Mississippi, and was a typical old river town. So there many relics from that era and a lot of little shops, eateries, boutiques and stuff housed in some of the old buildings. Magpies is in what was probably a house, an informal little café sort of thing with inside and outside seating. Being a Friday, it was kind of crowded inside, most likely because the weather was a bit chilly with occasional mist and showers. We were offered immediate seating outside and there was a table near one of those “fire walls” with flame coming out of the upper surface so we accepted. In actuality it wasn’t too cold, especially when the wind kind guided the heat toward the table.
Servers were informal as well, and stuck to business (i.e., no speeches). The lunch menu was mostly taken with sandwiches, quiches and soups, all available in several mix or match schemes which gave you options of half of this or that, with a salad, soup, or whatever. They are known for their Baked Potato Soup, creamy chunky potatoe with bacon and cheese. Although they did have a wine list, I was the only taker and just had a glass of house chardonnay, which was, um, undistinguished. I had a combo of the soup and a “Good Neighbor” sandwich (Turkey, Bacon, and Swiss with pepperoncini peppers and a Dijon mustard sauce, served warm). A large part of the sandwich decision was driven by the “served warm” description. Others had the soup and a chicken salad. Everything was fine, but the real fun of the lunch was the chance to catch up with our friends. Shared experiences are always best when convened around food.
And speaking of shared experience, the culmination of our trip to Missouri was to share a dinner with both “J’s” and families (granddog Stanley was excluded) at Tony’s in St. Louis. Tony’s has pretty much been considered the premier dining spot in St. Louis for years and years. It grew from its humble beginnings as a spaghetti house in the ‘50’s into its present status. When we first moved to St. Louis (1965) it was still located in an historic house on Broadway, and had already achieved national notoriety (I think they were Mobil diamond or five star or something). At one point we decided to celebrate (something) by going to Tony’s. That was before or at least in my formative years of food appreciation that has resulted in the food obsessed Bottom Feeder before you today. We were intimidated and slightly nervous, and didn’t want to do anything wrong. A lot of the dining spaces were on the second floor and the black tuxedoed Maître D led you up the stairs by walking BACKWARDS, facing you. Don’t try that at home!
Anyway I ordered either veal or lamb chops which were served double (two ribs). I was very proper and used knife and fork and did a pretty good job with the dish. Enter the owner, Vince Bommarito. He stopped by our table, introduced himself, looked at my meat, and said “Didn’t you like your chops?”. Oh yes sir, they were great. “But you didn’t finish them”. At which point he reached over, grabbed one of the chops and separated the two ribs with his hands!. (probably wouldn’t happen today). There you go, he said, pick them up and enjoy!.. I did. He stuck around a few minutes and during the course of conversation we determined he lived quite close to us in Clayton, and went on to discuss things like the better clothes cleaners in our area. That experience has stuck with me for years (obviously).
So (finally) back to the “opinion” comment at the top. The latest issue of the St. Louis Magazine (which I subscribe to) named Tony’s the 2014 Restaurant of the Year, and Vince as the Restaurateur of the year. Here is the opening paragraph describing Vince: “Bonhomie. It galvanizes the man. He weaves through the tables, grabbing an offered hand, kissing a cheek flashed his way. He offers advice: ”Wipe that bread through the mussel broth,” he counsels one diner” 40 years later. Amazing.
While the original location was filled with ornate wood and draperies appropriate to the Italianate style of the building, the current location is classic modern (if that can be a phrase), with nice spacing of tables so you’re not privy to other diner’s conversations, and the down lights help provide little oases of privacy.
Crisp white tablecloths glowed in the light, highlighted with sparking silver and crystal. I really didn’t count, but I think they operate very close to the classic brigade system of head waiter down through captain, front and back waiters. I think we maybe had four or five on our table. I’m not going to drag you through the menu or our selections, because one: I didn’t take notes (or god forsake pictures) out of respect for the place; and two: I can’t remember everything. What I do remember is impeccable service, easy conversation with our head waiter (he was a marine!) and everything done (in my lexicon, just right). Expectations are the highest at a place like this, and they were fulfilled (well, okay the butter was cold). Ladies were ALWAYS served first (water filling, all courses, everything) the plate turned the right way, the dish was as ordered. Most things were finished tableside, not as a sideshow, but to make sure it was hot, and served with fresh sauce. I had Dover sole, partially because I wanted to see the piscine surgery, and also because I like it. It was executed (no pun) flawlessly. No bone to be found.
Was it the best meal of my life, no, those are still reserved for three stars in France, but what made it extra special was that we could share it with our “kids”, surrounded by good food, wine and an experience worth every penny (of which there were many, but what the hell). There are only so many chances to enjoy this kind of experience. Don’t wait.
The next morning, we loaded up the MOMSTER and headed back to reality and home. Oh, there was one interesting thing I saw in St. Charles
oh, and yes, for dinner at Tony's we were