Feast on St. Louis: Valentine’s Day

Tuesday January 22, 2019

Written by Bethany Christo
Photography by Kelly Glueck

Scrambling to plan the perfect Valentine’s Day? Instead of losing heart, head to one of three romantic St. Louis-area spots, ideal for impressing your special someone.

Although we typically associate the love-filled holiday with a long, leisurely dinner and drinks, why not start the celebrations earlier, with a savory breakfast or lunch followed by a tempting dessert selection at Sarah’s on Central? The café and bake shop is located along the main thoroughfare in Eureka, Missouri, 30 minutes southwest of Downtown St. Louis. Along with two food trucks, a catering business and original Chesterfield location, owner Jill Umbarger opened the second location of her dessert destination in 2016. Inside, the charming café is light and airy with chalkboard accents, rustic-chic touches and a prominent pastry case.

There are both sweet and savory morning options, from a loaded toast menu to smothered breakfast sandwiches, scrambles and hashes. Looking for indulgence? Split a giant housemade cinnamon roll with your partner or treat yourself to a signature Crooey – croissant dough filled with gooey butter cake. For lunch, Sarah’s offers salads, quiche, sandwiches, burgers and wraps, and Sarah’s also is open for dinner and happy hour.

“Valentine’s Day is probably our biggest holiday, believe it or not, more than Christmas,” Umbarger says. “This year, we’re going to do something a little different: Rather than concentrate on couples, we’re going to concentrate on the family.”

To that end, they’ll be serving a family meal with all-you-can-eat spaghetti and meatballs or pasta Alfredo, plus salad, garlic breadand a sweet treat afterward. They’ll also be pouring cherry soda floats for kiddos and rosé for adults.

Of course, you’d be remiss to walk out the door without getting a little something extra from the multitude of temptations. Sarah’s offers five classic cupcake flavors, as well as rotating daily options like salted caramel or a housemade twist on a Hostess Cake. Other sweets for your sweetheart (or yourself) on special for Valentine’s Day include a chocolate-filled Love Bug cake with a customizable message, pink or burgundy Glitter Bites (chocolate-covered, sugar-dusted balls of cake), petits fours, strawberry cheesecake or specialty macarons in strawberry-Champagne, chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavors.

“And we always have chocolate-covered strawberries – it wouldn’t really be Valentine’s if you didn’t have those,” Umbarger adds.

Over in Maplewood, Missouri, The Benevolent King can help you and your loved one feel like kings and queens on Valentine’s Day. The royal treatment begins the moment you walk through the door when you’re greeted by the floor-to-ceiling windows and mirrors, sleek black walls, regal brass and gold accents, and low lighting. Chic, cozy and candlelit, The Benevolent King is truly an exalted and decadent experience from lauded local chef-proprietor Ben Poremba, who added the restaurant to his award-winning Nixta, Olio and Elaia lineup.

The oft-changing menu is founded in the Israeli and Moroccan dishes Poremba grew up cooking with his mother, with his own contemporary, multisensory flourishes. It’s best enjoyed in a grazing format – settle in and order family-style from the small selection of cold mezze, snacks and larger plates. Although the menu changes frequently, slow-simmering tagines, fire-roasted vegetables, grilled meats, and bright and herby dips will leave you hailing the King.

“The Benevolent King is probably the most personal to me; it’s an homage to my mother,” Poremba says. “I’m cooking her food; I’mcooking the food I grew up on. The philosophy of eating here is just as important as the food itself: shared items, very fresh, vegetable-oriented, bold spices. That’s the food I cook at home and the food I love to eat.”

On Valentine’s Day, Poremba recommends salatim starters of garlic- and pepper-stewed eggplant zaalouk, marinated beets or cauliflower-pomegranate tabbouleh, as well as the whole-roasted cauliflower entrée that’s served over harissa yogurt for something light yet indulgent.

“It’s Valentine’s Day at The Benevolent King every day,” Poremba says. “It’s esoteric and exotic. It’s a perfect place to come in for a date night because we serve everything to the table, so you share it. The food itself is inherently an aphrodisiac with all the spices, colors and textures.”

The Benevolent King is as much a cocktail bar as it is a restaurant, and the extensive beverage program offers decadent options for Valentine’s Day like the take on the traditional French Mauresque cocktail made with anise and apricot liqueurs, orgeat syrup, Golden Falernum, black lemon bitters, grapefruit and may zahr, an Eastern-Mediterranean orange blossom water. And linger over dessert, where your whispered words will be hushed after a bite of mahlabi, a Turkish milk custard with rose water, pistachios, raspberry and tahini-flavored shredded halvah.

If you’re looking to take in a show or live music on Valentine’s Day, the Grand Center Arts District is the place to go. The newest hotspot on the block is Grand Tavern by David Burke, located within the hip luxury Angad Arts Hotel that opened in November. Located adjacent from The Fabulous Fox theater and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Grand Tavern lives up to its name in looks alone – the two-story red dining room, skylights, massive mirrors and modern gold lighting accents evoke richness and luxury on a grand scale. The indulgence doesn’t stop there: Grand Tavern is perhaps best known for the award-winning celebrity chef, culinary entrepreneur, inventor and cookbook author behind it. With a career spanning 30-plus years, David Burke created a menu of modern American tavern fare in St. Louis in his signature contemporary and playful cooking style.

Burke patented a dry-aging process for the incredibly flavorful and tender 18-ounce bone-in Kansas City sirloin and 34-ounce porterhouse steaks served on massive Himalayan salt bricks, as well as his eye-catching clothesline bacon appetizer, where three strips of thick-cut bacon are coated with maple syrup and black pepper before being torched tableside.

Although Burke has award-winning restaurants across the U.S., including BLT Prime by David Burke in Washington, D.C. and River Café in New York City, he made sure to incorporate local touches to the Grand Tavern menu that are both recognizable and signature.

“He’s bringing two things to [St. Louis] – he’s taking a lot of things that are familiar to the city like gooey butter cake and St. Louis slingers, and he’s putting his twist on it,” says executive chef Robert Cantu about Burke. “And then he’s also bringing things from his side of the country to the Midwest.”

One indulgent example of that are the brioche donuts stuffed with gooey butter cake, topped with cotton candy and drizzled with gooey butter sauce. “As you pour the sauce over the cotton candy tableside, it melts into the dessert and glazes the donuts,” Cantu says. Or the chocolate-peanut butter mousse, which is topped with edible Rockette legs as an homage to the Radio City Music Hall dance line’s origin in the theater where Grand Tavern is now housed.

These two desserts, along with a white chocolate-passionfruit Foundation Cake, will be featured on a prix-fixe Valentine’s Day menu. Entrées include steak and lobster, and Cantu recommends stopping by the day after for the weekly Friday lobster steak special, where 1½ pounds of lobster are cooked in steak form, encased in a buttery shrimp mousse and topped with the precracked claws.

And, with the splashy hotel adjoining, your Valentine’s Day dinner doesn’t need to end after you’ve lapped up the last of dessert. Along with an overnight stay, the hotel features sweeping rooftop views at the Angad Rainbow Terrace or hand-crafted cocktails in the relaxing Chameleon Lounge on the 12th floor, complete with a 360-degree video art experience on a massive lamp. Plus, you choose your room by emotion of color – Passion Red might not be a bad choice for Valentine’s Day.

From a cozy café in Eureka to an intimate, rich Moroccan meal or whimsical dinner and romantic getaway in a new boutique hotel, St. Louis will have you feeling the love on Feb. 14.

The Benevolent King, 7268 Manchester Road, Maplewood, Missouri, 314.899.0440, thebenevolentking.com

Grand Tavern by David Burke, within Angad Arts Hotel, 626 N. Grand Blvd., Covenant Blu/Grand Center, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.405.3399, grandtavernstl.com

Sarah’s on Central, 127 S. Central Ave., Eureka, Missouri, 636.938.4800, sarahscakeshopstl.com/eureka-home.html

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