Mary Ann's Tea Room Serves Tea and Kitsch for Ladies Who Lunch: Review

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The mushroom quiche. | Jennifer Silverberg

Mary Ann's Tea Room
4732 McPherson Avenue; 314-361-5303
11 a.m.-4 p.m., Mon.-Sun.

The holidays are around the corner, which means it's time for Grandma Bea or crazy Aunt Myrtle to make their annual winter pilgrimage from Boca Raton back to St. Louis. Or perhaps you're overdue for a lunch date with Mom that typically involves white-wine spritzers. If this is your predicament, dear reader, I'd like to make a special suggestion: Take them all to Mary Ann's Tea Room.

See also: Mary Ann's Tea Room, A Posh New Lunch Spot in the Central West End

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Critic's Notebook: Historic Cottleville Is a Burgeoning Food Destination

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The dining room at Stone Soup Cottage. | Carmen Troesser

In this week's review, I visited Plank Road Pizza (5212 Highway N, Cottleville), the latest spot to open in St. Charles County's Cottleville. Buzz began surrounding the small community in 2009 when Stone Soup Cottage, a food lover's paradise, opened in the historic town. The word on the street is that Cottleville is poised to be the next Edwardsville, and these five spots lend credence to that claim.

See Also: The Best Destination Restaurants Within Driving Distance of St. Louis

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Review: Plank Road Pizza Paves the Way to the Area's Newest Dining Destination -- Cottleville

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The "Chestnut Street" pie is topped with olive oil, roasted garlic and mozzarella, as well as a host of vegetables, including onions, peppers, olives, tomatoes and mushrooms. | Jennifer Silverberg

Plank Road Pizza
5212 Highway N, Cottleville; 636-477-6154)
11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tues.-Thurs,
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat.,
10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. (Closed Mon.)

Pass the Chesterfield Valley outlet malls and cross the Boone Bridge, and you'll find yourself at a fork off the Highway 94 exit ramp. If you turn left, you'll be amongst the rolling hills of Missouri wine country. A right turn looks like it takes you into beige suburban terrain without much beyond the Bed & Bath. But duck down a small side street headed north and the landscape turns from subdivisions to historic downtown Cottleville, a quaint strip of genuine, old-timey storefronts, poised to become the Edwardsville of St. Charles County.

The oldest standing building in Cottleville houses Plank Road Pizza, a recent addition to the city's burgeoning dining scene (the acclaimed Stone Soup Cottage, one of the metropolitan area's top restaurants, is located down the road). Named for the old Western Plank Road -- once literally made from wooden planks -- that connected St. Charles and Cottleville, the restaurant serves American-style, wood-fired pies reminiscent of an independent California Pizza Kitchen. Owner Andrew Brewer was taken by the 1840s-era building, originally envisioning it as an ice cream parlor, and eventually settling on pizza as a better year-round concept. He bought the building, did some remodeling, planted a garden and fired up the oven.

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Critic's Notebook: Red Fox Baking & Catering at Grove East Provisions Is a Slice of Heaven

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The butternut-squash tart and apple galette from Red Fox Baking & Catering | Jennifer Silverberg

The charming tale of owner Barry Kinder is only part of the Grove East Provisions (3101 Arsenal Street; 314-802-7090) story. The Tower Grove East storefront is also home to the white-hot Red Fox Baking & Catering, a small collective of bakers who have been churning out some of St. Louis' best bread since 2013. Owners Jake Marks, Chris Scheets and Jenny Wilson started making their baked goods out of Black Bear Bakery, but finally got a place of their own this year when they were presented with the opportunity to share Kinder's space.

See Also: Review: A Drummer Finds a New Calling with a Charming Neighborhood Bodega at Grove East Provisions

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Review: A Drummer Finds a New Calling with a Charming Neighborhood Bodega at Grove East Provisions

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Grilled veggie sandwich with grilled zucchini, red pepper, caramelized onion, spinach and cheese. | Jennifer Silverberg

Grove East Provisions
(3101 Arsenal Street; 314-802-7090)
11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sun.

Barry Kinder admits his new café and grocery store, Grove East Provisions, is a work in progress. Sometimes he runs out of product. (On my initial visit he discouraged me from taking the last apple galette in the dessert case because he feared it wouldn't be fresh enough.) Other times he orders too much stuff. Then there are the folks who wander in and complain about what he doesn't carry. ("You don't have channa masala seasoning and cooking sherry?!"). Still, Kinder should be proud of what he has been able to accomplish in the five months since Grove East Provisions opened its doors.

A drummer by trade, the 48-year-old Kinder has zero grocery or retail experience. He decided to delve into this new career path upon returning to the United States from London where he worked as a touring musician. He loved how in England, and everywhere else he visited in Europe, there was a market in every neighborhood. When he moved back to his native St. Louis a few years ago, he noticed a dearth of these neighborhood bodegas, especially in the Tower Grove East area he calls home.

See also: Grove East Provisions is a charming little south side bodega

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Review: Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. Is a Delicious, Transportive Experience

The Maine lobster boil at Peacemaker. | Jennifer Silverberg

Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.
(1831 Sidney Street; 314-772-8858)
4:30-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.,
4:30-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.,
1:30-8:30 p.m. Sun.

To say that Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. brings good seafood to St. Louis is a huge understatement. It's more like the doorway to the Benton Park eatery is some sort of wormhole, transporting diners to a dockside table on the Chesapeake Bay. It's a good thing, too -- Peacemaker was the most hotly anticipated St. Louis restaurant opening of the year (even the national food site Eater took notice). That's mostly because of the man at the helm, chef Kevin Nashan, whose Midas touch has earned him acclaim for Sidney Street Cafe, a James Beard Award nomination and a passionate fan base. It's no surprise, then, that his new seafood concept lives up to -- no, exceeds -- the hype.

See also: Kevin Nashan Talks Battling New York Chef Harold Moore on Knife Fight

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Critic's Notebook: Panorama's Retooled Brunch

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Panorama's croque-madame. | Cheryl Baehr

One has to hand it to Ivy Magruder and David Marshall. The chef and general manager, respectively, had quite a job ahead of them when they took over the Saint Louis Art Museum's struggling restaurant, Panorama (1 Fine Arts Drive; 314-655-5490). Plagued by terrible reviews, bad press and financial difficulties, the restaurant needed a complete reinvention if it had any hope of surviving. The pair changed the menu and fine-tuned service, turning Panorama into a worthy dining destination.

See Also: SLAM Dunk: The St. Louis Art Museum's Restaurant Revamp is a Success

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SLAM Dunk: The St. Louis Art Museum's Restaurant Revamp is a Success

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Peppered beef carpaccio, a thinly sliced beef fillet with mustard dressing, arugula, shaved parmesan, capers and lemon. | Jennifer Silverberg

Panorama
(One Fine Arts Drive; 314-655-5490)
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tues.-Thurs.
11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-8:30 p.m. Fri.
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.
(Closed Mon.)

Within its first few months of existence, the Saint Louis Art Museum's new restaurant, Panorama, acquired as much tarnish as a Bronze Age cooking vessel. It was so bad that the museum hired an outside consultant to provide an assessment of what was to be its culinary crown jewel. The advice was straightforward: Change everything, and do it as soon as possible. I was one of Panorama's harshest critics -- my review almost a year ago savaged the restaurant for bad food and spotty service. In fact, I consider it one of the worst meals I've had as a professional restaurant critic.

So to say chef Ivy Magruder didn't have a blank canvas to work with is a bit of an understatement. The veteran St. Louis chef (Vin De Set, Gamlin Whiskey House) was called in to replace Arizona transplant Edward Farrow. I was curious to see how Magruder and company could turn such a bad situation around, so I headed back. The difference is astounding -- aside from the location and name, it's not the same restaurant.

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Bek-Hee Brings Sha County Chinese Cuisine to St. Louis: Review

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Singapore Mei Fun, Beef with Broccoli, Steamed & Fried Dumplings, Egg rolls, and crab rangoon.| Jennifer Silverberg

Bek-Hee
(10200 Page Avenue, Overland; 314-426-4773)
10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., noon-9 p.m. Sun.

When the Han Dynasty fell apart in 221 AD, members of the royal family fled south to Sha County to escape the invading forces. According to Chinese folklore, they brought quite an entourage with them: concubines, artisans and an army of cooks who turned the area into a food hub. Many believe that modern-day Sha's vibrant culinary tradition descends directly from the royal kitchens, making it an edible history.

That this link to China's culinary past can be found at Bek-Hee, a hole-in-the-wall Chinese takeout restaurant in Overland, came as a huge surprise to me. I'd driven by the place many times and assumed it was a dump — greasy, out-of-a-bag, Americanized Chinese food. And it basically was that, until the Lin family, expats from Sha County, took it over about six months ago and infused the menu with bits of their hometown's specialties.

See also: Vinnie's Italian Beef and Gyros Brings Chicago-Sized Flavor to St. Louis

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Vinnie's Italian Beef and Gyros Brings Chicago-Sized Flavor to St. Louis

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The Italian beef at Vinnie's. | Corey Woodruff

Vinnie's Italian Beef and Gyros
(3208 Ivanhoe Avenue; 314-644-7007)
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. (Closed Sundays).

St. Louis owes Bill Bidwill a small debt of gratitude. The bow-tied owner of the Arizona Cardinals will always be hated in this town for moving our Big Red to the desert. It turns out, though, he ended up giving us a gift -- the gift of a sandwich.

Matthew "Vinnie" Mulholland was so devastated by the loss of the team that he began traveling regularly to Chicago to catch Bears games. While there, he discovered something that he loved as much as the game: Italian beef sandwiches. Mulholland's purpose for venturing to the Windy City then became twofold -- catch a game and eat as many of the spicy, jus-infused sandwiches as possible. He searched St. Louis for something comparable to no avail, and began recreating the sandwiches at home. Eventually, Mulholland decided he had the art down and decided it was time to go pro. He quit his corporate-chef job and struck out on his own: Vinnie's Italian Beef and Gyros was born.

See also: 801 Chophouse Provides the Area's Most Opulent Restaurant Experience: Review

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