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

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

(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

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

The 16 oz. New York strip steak. | Jennifer Silverberg

801 Chophouse
(137 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton; 314-875-9900)
4-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.,
4-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat.,
4-9 p.m. Sun.

"Greed is good," Gordon Gekko famously said in the 1987 movie Wall Street. Immediately afterward, I like to imagine he headed to dinner at a place resembling 801 Chophouse. The Omaha-based chain is a gratuitous display of wealth: $100 steaks, bathroom attendants tasked with endlessly filling the urinals with ice, the massive golden bull statue in the middle of the dining room that looks very much like the famous charging bull statue from the actual Wall Street. If other local steakhouse chains are the 80-foot sailboats in the Caymans, 801 Chophouse is the yacht in Monte Carlo with a helipad.

The restaurant occupies the space across from the Ritz-Carlton that used to house Araka. The former tenant's sleek modern motif has been replaced with an homage to the Roaring Twenties. Dark wood, hunter green leather, bankers lamps and Art Deco accents on the bar set a vintage scene. Even the servers' jackets are money green. It is arguably the most opulent restaurant in town.

See also: Why Are the Urinals at 801 Chophouse Filled with Ice?

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Review: 612 Kitchen & Cocktails, Former Kirkwood Institution, Attempts an Old-Timey Update

Inside 612 Kitchen & Cocktails. | Caroline Yoo

612 Kitchen & Cocktails
(612 West Woodbine Avenue, Kirkwood; 314-965-2003)
Kitchen Hours: 4-11 p.m. Wed.-Thurs., 4 p.m.-midnight Fri.
11 a.m.-midnight Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun.
Cocktail Hours: 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Wed.-Fri., 11-1 a.m. Sat-Sun.
(Closed Mon. and Tues.)

Graham's Grill & Bayou Bar was Kirkwood's favorite watering hole -- a place to grab a cold one, catch a game on the big screen and buy a shot of Jaegermeister for your long-lost high school buddy. This was Kirkwood before the trendy development of Station Plaza and the conversion of the old cinema into fancy loft apartments. It was an institution -- and it still is. Only now, the property is called 612 Kitchen & Cocktails.

The restaurant is owned by Devin and Alison Graham, son and daughter of Graham's Grill owners Dan and Pat. When the elders decided to close after a seventeen-year run, Alison coaxed her brother into partnering with her to take over the business. The new generation of Grahams wanted to continue their parents' legacy, but they also wanted to put their own stamp on the place. After some research into food and beverage trends, they rebranded as a 1920s craft-cocktail bar and restaurant.

See also: 612 Kitchen and Cocktails to Take Over Former Graham's Grill Space

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Critic's Notebook: Three Professors and a Pizza

Two of the three owners: Sherif Nasser and Muhammad Alhawagri. | Jennifer Silverberg

When Lassaad Jeliti opened Spare No Rib last November, the former Washington University mathematician appeared to have cornered the market on academic-turned-restaurant-owner back-stories.

That was until A Pizza Story (7278 Manchester Road; 314-899-0011), the Neapolitan-style pizzeria that opened this July in downtown Maplewood. The restaurant is the brainchild of three Washington university academics: Muhammad Alhawagri, a biologist; Sherif Nasser, a marketing professor; and Nael Saad, a radiologist. Though the three men have successful careers outside of the restaurant business, a shared passion for food brought them together as friends, and ultimately led them to the food and beverage business.

See Also: Review: A Pizza Story Writes the Book on Fantastic Neapolitan Pie

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Review: A Pizza Story Writes the Book on Fantastic Neapolitan Pie

A simple, delicious, margherita pizza, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil. | A Pizza Story

A Pizza Story
(7278 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-899-0011)
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs.
11:30 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat.
11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. (Closed Mon.)

See also: A Pizza Story Serves Neopolitan Pizza in Maplewood

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Stur Restaurant & Lounge Set Itself Up for Success -- So What Went Wrong?: Review

The lemongrass chicken wings at Stur. | Caroline Yoo

Stur Restaurant & Lounge
(4 Club Centre Court, Suite A, Edwardsville, Illinois; 618-307-9613)
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sat. (Closed Sun. and Mon.)

Angie Schmitt was a woman with a dream -- to create an upscale restaurant and lounge that would have a chef-driven, farm-to-table menu and a topnotch mixology program. A veteran of the auto-dealership industry, Schmitt knew that her former career didn't exactly prepare her for the food and beverage world, so she had the wherewithal to ask for help. And she called in some big guns.

Brian Duffy and Brian Van Flandern, Schmitt's restaurant consultants, boast impressive resumes. Duffy is a celebrity chef, best known for his regular appearances on Spike TV's show Bar Rescue where he doles out advice to struggling restaurants. Van Flandern worked for none other than Thomas Keller as the head mixologist at the celebrated Per Se in New York City.

So after my visits to the resulting establishment, Stur Restaurant & Lounge in Edwardsville, Illinois, I found myself struggling with one question: How could it all have gone so wrong?

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Critic's Notebook: An Olive Branch to the Residents of New Town

New Town's town hall.

Editor's note: This week, we published food critic Cheryl Baehr's review of the Crossing at New Town. After hearing from readers and residents, we've decided collectively to use our weekly "Critic's Notebook" column to respond directly to some negative feedback to the article. Here it is.

When I took this job, I learned quickly to take online comments with a grain of salt. So often, they are no more than mean-spirited rants. However, when the comments and emails began rolling in regarding my recent review of the Crossing at New Town (3331 Rue Royale, St. Charles; 314-606-3262), I took notice. It wasn't simply the sheer volume of the feedback -- there was a lot -- but the common theme also gave me pause. After reading through every each one and discussing this matter with my editors, I have come to the following conclusion: I was out of line.

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The Crossing at New Town's Strange Meats and Store-Bought Treats: Review [UPDATE]

The "Rue Royale Heifer" burger. | Caroline Yoo

Editor's note: A previous version of this review inaccurately named Wendy Noble as the chef. She left the restaurant before our critic's visits. We regret the error.

The author is also responding to some of the negative feedback this review has received. Read it by clicking here.

The Crossing at New Town
(3331 Rue Royale, St. Charles; 314-606-3262)
Hours: 5-11 p.m. Wed.-Fri., noon-11 p.m. Sat., noon-9 p.m. Sun. (Closed Mon. and Tues.)

A few miles off Route 370, New Town rises out of the St. Charles floodplain like the Land of Oz. The planned community appears out of nowhere, flanked by vast fields of genetically modified corn and a fiberglass giraffe hawking RVs. Once hyped as the next big thing in real estate, the development promised its residents a life that looked like the back lot for the movie Pleasantville: an escape to a simpler time when Old Glory hung from the town bandstand. Then the real estate bubble burst, and New Town failed to take off. Today, rather than a utopian enclave, it's just an "old timey" subdivision.

See also: Review: Salt + Smoke Distinguishes Itself in the Crowd of New St. Louis Barbecue

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Review: Salt + Smoke Distinguishes Itself in the Crowd of New St. Louis Barbecue

Chef Haley Riley and owner Tom Schmidt. | Jennifer Silverberg

Salt + Smoke
(6525 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-727-0200)
11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tues.-Sun. (Closed Mon.)

Sipping on a stiff bourbon cocktail at Salt + Smoke, I glanced out of the window and did a double take. A fire truck had stopped in the middle of Delmar Boulevard and its crew seemed to be surveying the scene. "Does someone think this place is on fire?" I asked my friend, only half joking. The new barbecue restaurant's Ole Hickory smoker can sometimes turn the air in the Loop a bit hazy.

With the number of new barbecue restaurants popping up around town, one has to wonder if the smoke cloud over St. Louis is visible from space. If a new place is going to throw its hat into the barbecue ring, it has to find a way to distinguish itself from the pack. Salt + Smoke has done just that.

See also: Tom Schmidt Talks Transforming Nico Into a Barbecue Restaurant

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