Review: The Gramophone Says Goodbye to Music and Hello to Damn Good Sandwiches

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Mabel Suen
The "Alcatraz," the "Mississippi Nights Club" wrap and the "Frenchy."
The Gramophone
4243 Manchester Avenue; 314-531-5700.
Tues.-Sun. 11-3 a.m. (Closed Mondays).

The Gramophone opened as a music venue in 2008 — before Urban Chestnut began brewing beer, before coffee shops and yoga studios sprung up along Manchester Avenue, back when the Grove's reputation as a nightlife hot spot was still a whisper. There were no tables to speak of in this intimate concert hall; the closest thing to nutrition was the lime garnish on your gin and tonic. It's not that owners Andrew "Roo" Yawitz and Scott Swanston didn't care about food service. It just wasn't their business.

See also: Review: If You're Into Over-the-Top Food, Busch Stadium Doesn't Disappoint

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Review: If You're Into Over-the-Top Food, Busch Stadium Doesn't Disappoint

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Mabel Suen
"Ultimate Tots," "Shrimp Walking Taco," a chicken-and-waffle sandwich, and popcorn.
Busch Stadium
700 Clark Avenue; 314-345-9600.
Weekdays, gates open 90 minutes before game time; on weekends, gates open two hours before game time.

I clearly remember my first stadium hot dog. I was nineteen, on my first solo trip to the ballpark, and jumping out of my skin at the thought of eating something that had actually been cooked on-site.

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Red Lotus Spa & Bistro Combines Spa Treatments with Food

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Mabel Suen
Combination vermicelli bowl with grilled pork, grilled shrimp and egg rolls.
Red Lotus Spa & Bistro
9737 Manchester Road, Rock Hill; 314-918-8868.
Mon. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Wed.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (Closed Tuesdays)

Walk into Red Lotus, look to the right, and you'll see a bowl of bubbling liquid. The fragrant steam perfumes the air of this Vietnamese bistro, but it's not pho. Oddly, it's not even edible.

It's a footbath.

See also: Last week's review of Seoul Q

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Review: Seoul Q Nails the Korean Barbecue Experience

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Mabel Suen
"L.A. Style" short ribs on the grill.
Seoul Q
6665-A Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-863-1148.
Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Does St. Louis really need another barbecue restaurant? Before dining at Seoul Q I would have answered that question with a very loud and emphatic "no." This town's ribs-and-brisket market has gotten so overcrowded, you can't swing a rack of baby backs without hitting an Ole Hickory smoker. For aspiring restaurateurs looking to do something new and exciting, barbecue isn't it.

See also: Review: Winfield's Gathering Place Shows Jim Edmonds and Mark Winfield in Winning Form

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Review: El Burro Loco Tries Hard to Be a Good Time, But That Doesn't Translate to the Food

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Mabel Suen
A sampling of El Burro Loco's Mexican fare.

El Burro Loco
313 North Euclid Avenue; 314-224-5701

Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-11:45 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11-1 a.m.

A guy in a donkey suit was playing a guitar when I walked into El Burro Loco. Standing on the patio, this six-foot-tall furry creature pitifully strummed his instrument, even though he clearly didn't know how to play. It was a sad caricature, though not as sad as the pale shadow of Mexican cuisine served at this three-month-old Central West End restaurant.

El Burro Loco is not going for authenticity. Obviously. Upon entering the sprawling restaurant, a former Pasta House, you need only observe the décor to catch the tongue-in-cheek attitude that owner Salvador Alonso and team are trying to convey: the Mexican wrestling masks and Dio de los Muertos artwork that decorate the shockingly colorful space, the giant painting of Speedy Gonzalez that adorns one of the walls, the mural of a braying burro that screams out over the main dining room. El Burro Loco checks all of the boxes for a typical Americanized Mexican restaurant.

See also: Review: Winfield's Gathering Place Shows Jim Edmonds and Mark Winfield in Winning Form

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Review: Winfield's Gathering Place Shows Jim Edmonds and Mark Winfield in Winning Form

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Mabel Suen
Ribs and baked bean platter, burnt ends sourdough melt and the "BBQ Carolina Steak Burger."

Winfield's Gathering Place
10312 Manchester Road, Kirkwood; 314-394-2200
Mon.-Sat. 11-1 a.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

After a good first inning with their successful 15 Steakhouse, the team of Jim Edmonds and Mark Winfield got into a jam. First came the city's temporary closure of the sleek midtown steak house following assaults and other criminal incidents both on its premises and in the surrounding neighborhood, then the botched rebranding of the space in 2013 as the Precinct. From the delayed relocation of the neighboring St. Louis Metropolitan Police headquarters to a series of negative reviews, it was clear that the game wasn't going their way.

See also: Review: Miss Leon's Serves Some of St. Louis' Best Comfort Food

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Review: Miss Leon's Serves Some of St. Louis' Best Comfort Food

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Miss Leon's fried chicken and chicken-fried steak. | Mabel Suen

Miss Leon's
3960 Chouteau Avenue; 314-652-0011
Tues.-Thurs. 4-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 4 p.m.-1 a.m; Sun. 2-9 p.m. (Closed Mon.)

On any given Sunday, beginning around 1:30 p.m., the line for Miss Leon's all-you-can-eat fried-chicken feast begins to form. By 2 p.m., it can stretch well into the Bombers Hideaway parking lot, while those in front clamor for tables and await the Southern-fried extravaganza. It's quite the spectacle, especially considering that the St. Louis fried chicken market is at peak saturation. Then again, how often do you get to eat some of the best Southern food in town cooked by a drag queen named Dieta Pepsi?

See also: Last week's review of Ellisville's Walnut Grill


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Review: Walnut Grill Confuses With Over-The-Top Menu

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A selection of dishes from Walnut Grill: fish tacos, "Cedar-Plank Salmon" and "Thai Pork Mac n Cheese." | Mabel Suen

Walnut Grill
1386 Clarkson-Clayton Shopping Center, Ellisville; 636-220-1717
Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m
Sun. 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

Let us, briefly, consider the description of Walnut Grill's "Thai Pork Mac n Cheese": "pulled pork, four cheese alfredo, asparagus relish, smoked gouda, sweet chili sauce."

Huh? It was hard for me to say whether I felt hungry or horrified. This confusion returned more than once as I paged through Walnut Grill's gargantuan, wide-ranging menu. The owner of the Pittsburgh-based boutique chain once described his restaurant's philosophy this way: "You've got a carload of four people that want to go out to dinner; there's something on our menu that will probably appeal to everyone in that car."

The result, however, is a restaurant without an identity where the kitchen succeeds about as often as it fails. It's a shotgun approach to cooking -- spray the area, and you're bound to hit something eventually.

See also: Walnut Grill Opening in Ellisville in Former Chevy's Space

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Review: Pizzino Uses a Baker's Precision for Memorable Pies

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Pizzino's "Piero" grilled pizza with San Marzano tomatoes, fontina and pecorino blend, spicy roasted tomatoes, garlic, roasted zucchini, roasted fennel, basil and extra-virgin olive oil. | Mabel Suen

Pizzino
(7600 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton; 314-240-5134)
Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (Closed Sundays)

Jim Zimmerman was destined to make great pizza. The Pizzino owner comes from a line of bakers that goes back over three centuries to Lithuania. His grandfather immigrated to St. Louis in the 1800s, and he sold flour out of a tiny pushcart. This humble business would go on to become Cahokia Flour Company, a major player in the industry that, under the younger Zimmerman's watch, would be a force in the artisan baking movement that began in the late 1990s.

The lineage of Zimmerman's craft may come from the Baltic Sea, but his inspiration for Pizzino is Mediterranean. He and his wife, Vicky, have been traveling to her native Italy nearly every summer for the last 40 years. There, Zimmerman developed an appreciation for gastronomy that inspired him to leave the flour business, go to culinary school and open his first professional cooking venture -- a pizzeria.


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Review: Fort Taco's Brentwood Drive-Through Is Your Newest Addiction

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A box of Fort Taco's "Traditional Soft Shell Tacos." | Mabel Suen

Fort Taco
(8106 Manchester Road, Brentwood; 314-647-2391)
Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

I almost got into a fight at the Fort Taco drive-through. The lady behind me began yelling obscenities out of her window. "Will you hurry up? Just order the whole menu already!" I was about to jump out of the car and tell this woman what she could do with her taco, but settled instead for a nasty look and lingered a little longer just to spite her. I now realize I owe this woman an apology. Having tasted the perfection that is Fort Taco, I understand what a crime it was to come between her and her fix.

See also: Review: Gooseberries Pleases Herbivores and Omnivores Alike


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