Feast on St. Louis: Downtown
Written by Bethany Christo
Photography by Jacklyn Meyer
There is no shortage of history in St. Louis, and Downtown is at the city’s historic and cultural core. In addition to The Gateway Arch’s iconic welcome alongside the Mississippi River, this Midwestern metropolis boasts booming business and nightlife along Washington Avenue, vital government departments housed in distinguished buildings, Busch Stadium and Scottrade Center, and museums devoted to the history of the blues and hands-on imagination at the City Museum. In between, the city blocks are peppered with diverse dining that make it a gourmet getaway as well as historic one.
Tony’s has been Downtown for 70-plus years and is a nationally recognized, critically acclaimed landmark known for its impeccable service – including servers who’ve been there for three decades – extensive wine selection housed in a wall-to-wall case and elevated Italian cuisine from executive chef Vincent P. Bommarito. It was his grandfather who opened Tony’s, and Bommarito’s father, Vincent J. Bommarito, took over and now runs the restaurant with his three sons. For a taste of Tony’s in a more casual café setting, Anthony’s Bar is located just steps away from Tony’s entrance and offers lighter fare as well as Tony’s full menu in a sleek setting.
“We had the chance to move, but we like the urban feel of Downtown and want to stay,” Vincent P. Bommarito says. “The Arch is two blocks away, Busch Stadium is one block away and we’re within blocks of all the big hotels. Being here 70 years, we’re truly a part of the community.”
Juxtaposing the white tablecloths and refined cuisine at Tony’s is the Southern hospitality and roll-up-your-sleeves Cajun-Creole fare just blocks away at Broadway Oyster Bar. Murals made of oyster shells, curated graffiti and New Orleans-inspired knickknacks fill the various rooms and patios of the seafood bar, established 35 years ago, which regularly hosts crawfish boils and festivals devoted crab, shrimp and po’boys. Owner John Johnson heads to The Big Easy a few times a year to scope out bands to bring back to the stages at the Oyster Bar, which hosts musicians seven nights a week. Top-selling menu items are full of NOLA flavor but also have subtle Mexican influences, including the crawfish enchiladas and gator tacos. Of course, a visit isn’t complete without the eponymous freshly shucked raw or chargrilled oysters that come to your table bubbling with garlic butter, Creole spices and grated Parmesan.
“When people from the coasts like our seafood, I feel pretty successful,” Johnson says. “When people from Louisiana like our Cajun-Creole, I’m pretty happy about that. The Oyster Bar is a microcosm of Downtown St. Louis: We’ve got great food, Southern hospitality, good service and live music seven days a week. You sit next to someone on a barstool and at a table, and before you know it, you’re making friends. That happens in St. Louis a lot more than other cities.”
The Oyster Bar is a favorite before and after baseball games at Busch Stadium, which is just down the way, and what goes better with baseball than beer? The Schlafly Tap Room has plenty, stored in fermenters and wine and whiskey barrels in the basement of a turn-of-the-century building on Locust Street that you can tour during your visit. Sixteen taps in the dining room pour Schlafly Beer drafts like its white lager and grapefruit IPA, as well as seasonals and special releases, which pair perfectly with the European-style pub fare, including steamed West Coast mussels and a decadent helping of rich, sweet Sticky Toffee Pudding.
And when you’ve got baseball and beer, you’re probably craving burgers, and some of the best in town are found at Baileys’ Range. Each week, two different burgers go head-to-head in a faceoff, but you can also choose from menu regulars with patties made from freshly ground beef, aged sirloin, turkey, bison, chicken, veggies and more. Along with burgers, favorite menu items include pretzel bites with beer cheese, fried pickles and loaded fries with more than a dozen dipping options. Boozy libations including floats, shakes, sweet tea and lemonade – plus housemade soda, ice cream floats and chocolate-dipped waffle cones for the kiddos – round out the fun.
The America’s Center Convention Complex regularly pulls in visitors from around the world, and anyone visiting from Peru would immediately recognize the authenticity of the dishes at Mango Peruvian Cuisine. Native Jorge Calvo and his wife, Nori, first opened their Peruvian restaurant in 2004 in the Shrewsbury neighborhood but relocated Downtown in 2009 because of the neighborhood’s eclectic entertainment and diverse population. Two years ago, they moved again, just a couple spaces away, to the corner of North 10th Street and Washington Avenue, on the pulsing vein of the business and nightlife scene along Wash Ave.
“It’s vibrant here: We have the [National] Blues Museum, you can go a movie, you can go bowling, you have the hotels, you have the baseball stadium, the Blues are here, as well – there’s endless entertainment Downtown,” Jorge says.
All the dishes on the menu are family recipes, some of which have evolved with the help of chef and fellow Peruvian Sergio Nakayoshi. Look for traditional ceviche de pescado made with California halibut and leche de tigre marinade or the lomo saltado beef tenderloin stir-fry with aji amarillo peppers, tomatoes, red onion and oyster, soy and lomo sauces served with steak fries and rice.
A fast-casual spot that showcases the range of flavors and cuisines found Downtown is Sauce on the Side, which puts a spin on pizza – by folding it. The menu is devoted entirely to calzones, and Sauce on the Side gives the Italian staple a decidedly culinary influence. Meat Me in St. Louie is stuffed with traditional pepperoni, Italian sausage, meat sauce, Provel and a mascarpone-ricotta blend. If you’re seeking an inventive option, try the Figgy Piggy with applewood-smoked bacon, figs, balsamic onions, Boursin, mozzarella, ricotta and red sauce or the Carmen with prosciutto, capicola, spinach, Parmesan, Fontina and ricotta.
After a day of exploring Downtown, take it in from a slightly different perspective – 26 floors up. At Three Sixty’s rooftop bar. Drink in the outstanding views with a signature mezcal Margarita or a cocktail including Lil’ Bubba Bomb with Chamisul grapefruit soju, grapefruit liqueur and sparkling wine, which slowly becomes a lovely pink thanks to the hibiscus garnish. If you get a seat on the southwestern side of the outdoor patio, you can even watch a Cardinals game while munching on appetizers like roasted shishito peppers and burrata toast with heirloom tomatoes and entrées including hangar steak and North Atlantic salmon.
From any angle, it’s not hard to see what makes Downtown a destination, from a birds-eye view on a sky-high rooftop to a seat along the counter at Baileys’ Range to digging into tables piled with grilled oysters and crab legs.
Baileys’ Range, 920 Olive St., Downtown, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.241.8121, baileysrange.com
Broadway Oyster Bar, 736 S. Broadway, Downtown, St. Louis, 314.621.8811, broadwayoysterbar.com
Mango Peruvian Cuisine, 1001 Washington Ave., Downtown, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.621.9993, mangoperu.com
Sauce on the Side, 411 N. Eighth St., Downtown, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.241.5667, eatcalzones.com
The Schlafly Tap Room, 2100 Locust St., Downtown West, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.241.2337 ext. 1, schlafly.com
Three Sixty, 1 S. Broadway, Downtown, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.241.8439, 360-stl.com
Tony’s and Anthony’s Bar, 410 Market St., Downtown, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.231.7007, tonysstlouis.com