Feast on St. Louis: Central West End

Wednesday April 4, 2018

Written by Bethany Christo
Photography by Jacklyn Meyer

The alfresco, European vibe of the Central West End (CWE) makes it a perennially popular destination for those looking for a relaxing patio lunch, upscale dinner, contemporary brunch, comfortable café, hopping nightspot and everything in between. Nestled among shaded streets and turn-of-the-century homes, it’s one of the city’s most vibrant hubs for dining and drinking.

Located off the eastern edge of Forest Park and near Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the Central West End draws visitors for its restaurants as well as its attractions, including a burgeoning shopping district, World Chess Hall of Fame (and world’s largest chess piece), breathtaking Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis and the boyhood home of playwright Tennessee Williams.

A favorite for craft cocktails, inventive small plates and all-day happy hour Sunday and Monday is Taste, owned by chef Gerard Craft of Sardella and Pastaria fame (as well as the late, great Niche). The intimate, trendy bar has a drink list broken out by – you guessed it – taste, including “rich, funky, vegetal” and “spiced, savory, herbal.” Or, opt for one of nearly 40 classic drinks on the list. Seasonal, rotating shareable bites include local mushrooms in miso broth, Brussels sprouts topped with chile soubise and candied walnuts or the potato skins loaded with Parmesan, green aïoli, bacon and chile peppers.

Next door is Craft’s ode to French-inspired fare, Brasserie by Niche. The bistro is a lunch and brunch favorite for its romantic sidewalk café-style seating and European cuisine that brings a bit of Paris to the CWE. Executive chef Brian Moxey plates classic dishes like the must-order French onion soup, double-patty burger, roast chicken and meringue-based floating island dessert.

“Brunch is really busy for sure – Brasserie serves classics like eggs Benedict and croque madame – but [the Central West End] is a great dining neighborhood with a lot of foot traffic,” Moxey says. “It fills up at night. If you grab cocktails at Taste while you wait for your table at Brasserie, that’d be a good way to start the night.”

The food at Café Ventana is also French inspired, by way of the Bayou. The French Quarter-style bistro and coffeehouse on the eastern edge of the CWE serves a mean cup of house-roasted joe, but don’t stop there. Instead, start with its signature beignets made fresh to order before moving along to sandwiches, salads and soups. Standouts include omelets (from plain to the works) and beignet sliders filled with spinach, egg and tomato; bacon, egg and cheese; or pulled pork.

“Café Ventana is a quiet place to study but also vibrant enough that you can come in and have a conversation with friends or complete strangers if you want,” says general manager Kevin Mulvill. “Maryland [Avenue] is a hip, central part of the neighborhood, but I would suggest getting off the beaten path and checking out some of the side streets.”

St. Louis was founded by French explorers in 1764, and its French heritage and proximity to the Mississippi River has long connected it to the culture of New Orleans. Newly opened 1764 Public House pays homage to both through its name and modern fusions on the two cities’ fare. The blending of two cities manifests in dishes such as crawfish toasted ravioli and pork steak po’boys, as well as more familiar options like hush puppies, a muffuletta sandwich, rectangular St. Louis-style pizzas and three gumbo options, which are served tableside. Other best-sellers include French onion soup made with a classic St. Louis recipe, Red Hot Riplets-seasoned hot chicken sandwich, vibrant and tart Louisiana Sunburst salad and the Breakfast in Bread NOLA Bowl stuffed with crawfish, andouille, spinach, peppers, red onions and pimento cheese and topped with a fried egg.

“The Central West End is known for late-night dining – and early morning,” says Derek Gamlin, who owns 1764 with his brother Lucas. “A lot of that has to do with the hospital nearby and the people who get off at 7am. For example, at 1764 we have an early-morning happy hour from 7 to 10am [weekdays], along with our late-night happy hour.”

Drinks at 1764 include classics like the French 75; signatures like the Char Daddy, a spin on a Bloody Mary; and the one-of-a-kind, 168-ounce Mondo Mule, made with an entire bottle of Belvedere vodka in a massive, four-person copper Mule jug.

When the weather is nice, 1764 rolls up its walk-up bar window, which features a couple of TVs visible from the streetside seats. “We call the Central West End the largest patio in St. Louis,” Gamlin says. “You can hop from patio to patio and feel very comfortable.”

The Gamlins own two other spirits-centric spots in the neighborhood, Gamlin Whiskey House and Sub Zero Vodka Bar. As the name implies, the latter features a massive collection of nearly 500 vodkas, organized by region – from Ao, a Japanese rice vodka, to żubrówka, a Polish bison grass-based vodka. One of Sub Zero’s biggest draws is the 28-foot ice rail along the main bar for chilling your drink while you sip. Feeling festive? Try a bubbling blue Birthday Goblet or Sushi Mary twist on a Bloody Mary with ginger, wasabi and shrimp. In addition to its comprehensive vodka selection, Sub Zero is known for its sushi offerings and sharable dishes made with Asian influence – signatures include loaded wagyu beef nachos, Kobe beef sliders, Lynda’s Asian Tuna salad and more than a dozen burgers.

Open for more than 30 years, Llywelyn’s Pub in the CWE is the regional chain’s original location, which has since added eight others across the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. It’s known for the picturesque, airy beer garden out back, traditional Irish-pub feel inside and late-night eats. The Celtic-inspired cuisine includes bangers and mash (here, lamb sausage and garlic mashed potatoes), The Famous Steak & Cheese sandwich (a St. Louis classic with ½-pound of sliced steak in pepper-cheese sauce) and white chocolate-cranberry bread pudding, which all can be paired with one of more than 35 beers of tap. Although, of course, you can never go wrong with a Guinness here.

The Central West End hosts popular annual events including house and garden tours and a neighborhood-wide cocktail party in the early summer, a Greek festival over Labor Day weekend and a huge Halloween party. There’s never a bad time to visit, but when the weather’s nice, the casual yet sophisticated neighborhood is especially bustling – which makes patio-hopping and people-watching all the more pleasant.

1764 Public House, 39 N. Euclid Ave., Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.405.8221, 1764pub.com 

Brasserie by Niche, 4580 Laclede Ave., Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.454.0600, brasseriebyniche.com

Café Ventana, 3919 W. Pine Blvd., Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.531.7500, cafeventana.com 

Llywelyn’s Pub, 4747 McPherson Ave., Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.361.3003, llywelynspub.com

Sub Zero Vodka Bar, 308 N. Euclid Ave., Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.367.1200, subzerovodkabar.com

Taste, 4584 Laclede Ave., Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.361.1200, tastebarstl.com

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