Pizzeoli Has Perfect Neapolitan Pizza Down to a Science: Review

The classic Margherita, with fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, hand-grated Parmesan and extra virgin olive oil. | Mabel Suen

(1928 South Twelfth Street; 314-449-1111)
Tues.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fri. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Sat. 4-9:30 p.m. (Closed Sun. and Mon.)

Pizzaioli is the Italian word for pizza-maker. It's a literal translation, but it's a bit like calling Salvatore Ferragamo a guy who makes shoes. To understand the essence of the word, one need not travel any farther than the corner of Allen and Twelfth Street in Soulard. There, Scott Sandler has opened Pizzeoli (an Americanized spelling of the term), an edible love poem to Neapolitan-style pizza. The former real-estate broker had been an at-home baker for years, experimenting with breads and obsessing over the perfect pizza dough. When his real estate career hit a rough patch last year, he decided to follow his dream of opening a pizzeria. Sandler enrolled in the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana's training program in California to further hone his craft.

Talking to Sandler, however, you'd think he taught the course. This man is serious about pizza. When he's not in front of the oven with peel in hand, he can be found walking around Pizzeoli's tiny dining room, espousing the virtues of yeast and why it's important to use a particular style of mixer to work the dough. He approaches his craft with a precision that borders on obsession, and his customers reap the benefits.

See also: Cooper's Legendary American Pub Serves Both Timeless and Forgettable Food: Review

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Cooper's Legendary American Pub Serves Both Timeless and Forgettable Food: Review

The cut ribeye at Cooper's. | Mabel Suen

Cooper's Legendary American Pub
(140 North Main Street, St. Charles; 636-724-5505)
Mon.-Wed. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Thurs.-Sat. 11-1:30 a.m.
Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Three months is barely enough time to garner a reputation, but Cooper's is already legendary -- at least, according to its name. Speak with Bill Komlose, however, and it's clear why he was tempted to oversell. Cooper's Legendary American Pub is the realization of a dream for this former insurance broker. He had been waiting his entire life to open a bar of his own, so perhaps he thought calling it "Cooper's Pretty Darn Good Pub" would have been anticlimactic -- though it would have been much more on point.

See also: Peacock Loop Diner Smooths Its Feathers After Rocky Opening

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Peacock Loop Diner Smooths Its Feathers After Rocky Opening: Review

The double griddle burger. | Mabel Suen

Peacock Loop Diner
(6261 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-721-5555)
Open 24 hours

If Blueberry Hill is the denim-clad, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking Rizzo, then Peacock Loop Diner is Sandy: bubbly, pink-poodle-skirt-wearing and saccharine sweet. The latest feather in "Duke of Delmar" Joe Edwards' already impressively plumed cap, the Peacock carries forward his love of 1950s kitsch, this time as a 24-hour diner that feels straight out of the film Grease. From the Skee-Ball to the neon lights that set the counters aglow, I half expected Frankie Avalon to appear from behind the curtains of the diner's rotating booth (the "Carousel of Love") for a rendition of "Beauty School Dropout." In other words, it's exactly what one would expect from retrophile Edwards.

Peacock Loop Diner is part of the new Lofts of Washington University development that includes, in addition to brand-new student housing, the grocery store and dining destination United Provisions. Like its co-tenant, Peacock hasn't had the smoothest sail in its first few months of operation. Complaints about everything from poor service and mediocre food to spotty cellular reception have given the fledgling restaurant an unsavory reputation. It got so bad that Edwards took action: In a recent press release, he cited several menu changes, referenced service improvements and even noted a booster antenna being installed to improve cell reception.

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The 10 Best New Restaurants of 2014

Corey Woodruff

From handmade noodles served out of a chop-suey dive to butter-drenched lobster rolls served from a James Beard-nominated chef, 2014 was an eclectic year for St. Louis dining. I had the privilege of experiencing it all, and here are my nominees (in no particular order) for the best restaurant openings of 2014.

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Lücha's Free-Spirited Take on Mexican Classics Struggles as Much as it Succeeds: Review

Asada taco (beef brisket with seared onion & salsa), Pescado taco (tempura style fish with a vinaigrette coleslaw and salsa verde), and Al Pastor taco (pulled pork, seared pineapple, Guajillo and Ancho chiles). | Jennifer Silverberg

(522 North Grand Boulevard; 314-833-9993)
11-1 a.m. Tues.-Sun. (Closed Mon.)

Owners Hugo Perez and Brian Schmitz have wanted to open a place like Lücha for years, but were always hesitant -- how would St. Louis restaurantgoers receive a Mexican restaurant that deviates from the typical rice-and-bean-platter model? When the Kota Wood Fire Grill space came available, the veteran business partners (previous ventures include the Grind and Sol) decided it was time to push diners beyond generic Mexican food and celebrate the authentic flavors and dishes of Perez's hometown, Mexico City.

Lücha, which means "struggle" in Spanish, bills itself as a "Mexican soul food" restaurant, though it's more contemporary in its styling than the name would suggest. As Schmitz explains, the goal is to take traditional dishes and update them using modern cooking techniques. Think Abuela's time-honored recipes meet a Cryovac machine.

See also: A Look Inside Lucha's New Mexican Soul Food Restaurant in Midtown

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At Lona's Lil Eats, Huge Flavor From a Tiny Village in China: Review

Housemade dumplings. | Jennifer Silverberg

Lona's Lil Eats
(2199 California Avenue; 314-925-8939)
5-8:30 p.m. Tues.-Wed.
11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-8:30 p.m. Thurs.-Fri.,
5-8:30 p.m. Sat. (Closed Sun. and Mon.)

Lona Luo is from a small village in a remote corner of southwestern China. It's where she was born, raised and learned to cook -- but she's not Chinese. Her mother is Thai, her father is from a small tribe called the Luo Luo, and she is the first in her immediate family to learn to read and write. Luo and her husband, Pierce Powers, call their cuisine "Asian comfort" or "hill tribe" food, but St. Louisans will soon refer to it this way: some of the best food in town.

Luo met Powers in 1999 when he moved to her village to teach English. The two married, had a daughter, and came back to St. Louis to open a small import business at Soulard Market that sold silks and bags from Luo's hometown. When a food stall became available, the couple decided to sell Luo's handmade dumplings as well. The stall became so successful that the imports fell to the wayside, and the focus became the food. It took two years, but in September, the pair finally opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant on California Avenue in the up-and-coming Fox Park neighborhood.

See also: Lona's Lil Eats' New Storefront Serves "Asian Soul Food" in Fox Park

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Whitebox Eatery Brings Sleek Style to A.M. Dining: Review

Granola pancakes with housemade granola, sweet cream, berries and maple syrup. | Jennifer Silverberg

Whitebox Eatery
(176 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton; 314-862-2802)
7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Correction: This article initially spelled Whitebox incorrectly as two words.

Since August, I haven't been able to make it through the store without ramming my shopping cart into an end-cap filled with holiday wrapping paper. Or gift bags. Or bows and ribbons and tissue paper and baubles meant to make even the least crafty individual look like the Martha Stewart of gift-wrapping. It's easy for the amount of money and effort spent on wrapping packages to exceed the value of the contents. This may seem wasteful, but the upside is that impressive packaging makes the actual substance of the gift seem more impressive.

I was reminded of this phenomenon when I dined at Whitebox Eatery, the breakfast and lunch spot that opened this past September in Clayton's Crescent development next to the Ritz-Carlton. The fast-casual daytime eatery is the brainchild of Modesto Tapas co-owner Brendan Marsden, Oceano's former executive chef Jon Hoffman, and Jamie Hardesty, who previously worked for (Marsden's brother's food truck) Vincent Van Doughnut. The idea was to put an upscale twist on quick-service breakfast and lunch food -- even grab-and-go items -- by making as much as possible in house, featuring local, seasonal ingredients, and taking creative liberties with otherwise standard daytime fare.

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Review: Grapeseed Serves Earnest, Seasonal American Cuisine in Southampton

Deppe Farms' heritage-breed Duroc pork chop is served with Ozark Forest wild mushroom madeira sauce, Double Star Farms sweet potato and cauliflower mash, roasted baby carrots and Brussels sprouts. | Jennifer Silverberg

(5400 Nottingham Avenue; 314-925-8525)
Dining room open 4:30-10 p.m.
Tues.-Thurs., 4:30-11 p.m.
Fri.-Sat., 4:30-9 p.m.
Sun. Closed Mon.

As I settled into my chair and glanced at Grapeseed's menu, I was transported back to my early days in the restaurant business, waiting tables -- before bartenders were called mixologists, and "seasonal" and "local" were a culinary philosophy, not buzzwords. In the late '90s and early aughts, when the hottest dining rooms in town were Harvest and Cardwell's, Grapeseed would have fit right into the scene.

Read chef and owner Ben Anderson's biography, and it becomes clear why Grapeseed is somewhat nostalgic. Before attending the Culinary Institute of America, he cut his teeth in the kitchen under the great Bill Cardwell -- arguably the godfather of seasonal American cuisine in St. Louis. Cardwell's influences can be felt on Grapeseed's menu (Cardwell's addictive red-pepper marmalade makes an appearance, for example), while trendier touches, such as snacks and small plates, craft beer and an on-trend cocktail list, make appearances as well. It's a throwback without feeling dated.

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

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

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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