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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Review: Death in the Afternoon Makes Lunch the Most Important Meal of the Day

Tonkotsu ramen with pork belly and loin, soft boiled egg, black garlic oil and mushroom. | Jennifer Silverberg

Death in the Afternoon
(808 Chestnut Street; 314-621-3236)
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri. (Closed Sat. and Sun.)

Sitting on the patio at Death in the Afternoon, located in the northeast corner of downtown's Citygarden, the dominant sound is children happily playing in a nearby fountain. But don't be misled - this restaurant is not geared toward kids. There are no chicken fingers or high chairs, and it looks like the changing table was removed from the restroom during the remodel from the building's previous tenant, Joe's Chili Bowl. The restaurant, which is only open weekdays for lunch, makes no attempt to be a mere amenity for the families and tourists that flock to the garden. It aspires to be a destination unto itself.

See also: Death in the Afternoon, New Citygarden Restaurant, Will Complement Blood & Sand

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Pizzeria Mia's Pies Are More Jersey Shore than Amalfi Coast -- and That's Just Fine: Review

Chef Ivan Malinov making a pizza at Pizzeria Mia. | Jennifer Silverberg

Pizzeria Mia
(4501 Maryland Avenue)
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun.-Sat.

"I keep forgetting we're in St. Louis," my friend said as she bit into a slice of Pizzeria Mia's pepperoni pie. "Everything about this place -- the food, the furnishings, it's like I'm home."

The home to which she refers isn't Naples, Rome or any other exotic Italian locale. It's New Jersey. And as soon as she made the connection, it clicked. Up to that point, I didn't know what to make of Pizzeria Mia -- nothing about the place is Italian. The restaurant occupies a storefront that used to be a travel agency on the corner of Maryland and Taylor avenues in the Central West End, and it doesn't seem like much has changed in the way of d├ęcor since then. The yellow walls, painted with an antiqued effect, are dotted with conference-room art, and the seating is shiny black tables and red leather chairs. It's a little cheesy, a little tacky and a little, well, Jersey.

But tacky isn't necessarily a bad thing.

See also: Siam Aims to Be a Place to Eat, Drink and Be Bear-y: Review

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Siam Aims to Be a Place to Eat, Drink and Be Bear-y: Review

Onigiri: Tea smoked salmon, teriyaki sauce, fried rice ball, spring onion. | Jennifer Silverberg

(4121 Manchester Avenue; 314-533-7426)
Hours: 4 p.m.-3 a.m. Wed.-Sat., 1 p.m.-3 a.m. Sun. (Closed Mon. and Tues.)

It was an early Friday night at Siam, and the place was filled with its usual suspects: young professionals bidding farewell to the week over martinis, a gaggle of beautiful people in their nightclub best and a large group of puppies. Not the adorable, furry kind — the fetish kind. The leather-clad-men-on-leashes kind.

Indeed, the scene at Siam doesn't exactly scream "restaurant" (unless that's the safe word), but owners Steven Preston and Ron Bray are challenging diners to think differently. When the two acquired the former Novak's space, they had a choice — either reopen as just another Grove gay bar or try something new. They created Siam to be equal parts restaurant, bar and nightclub, inviting diners to partake of its "elevated comfort food."

See also: Giovanni's Kitchen Has Quality of the Hill without the Bill: Review

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