Feast on St. Louis: Soulard
Written by Bethany Christo
Photography by Jacklyn Meyer
Soulard might be St. Louis’ oldest neighborhood, but it’s full of energy and anything but antiquated. Each year, it hosts a boisterous Oktoberfest and the city’s largest Mardi Gras parade and party along its streets that are lined with gorgeous red-brick architecture and steepled churches. The historic farmers’ market and behemoth Anheuser-Busch brewery are favorite fixtures in the neighborhood, and there are plenty of other eats and drinks worth checking out.
Peacemaker Lobster & Crab is one of those places. Chef-owner Kevin Nashan also owns Sidney Street Cafe down the street. Earlier this year, Nashan won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest, after being a semifinalist or finalist for the coveted title a total of seven times. Sidney Street Cafe is contemporary and upscale, whereas Peacemaker is a bit less white tablecloth and a bit more bibs and boozy slushies. Can’t-miss menu items include two styles of lobster rolls (cold, with mayo, and hot, with butter), raw East Coast oysters, buffalo crawfish po’boys and Maryland blue crab boils.
“Lobster rolls, lobster boils, crab rolls and crab boils – those are definitely our signatures,”
Nashan says. “I grew up in New Mexico, so I have a play on a Frito pie made with lobster, pork rinds, chili – it’s really fun and different. I decided to open Peacemaker as kind of a selfish endeavor – it’s the food I love to eat after a shift.”
He continues: “Over the course of 14 years at Sidney Street, we’ve seen a growth in support from our neighbors and friends. I think when you come to the city, Soulard feels different – it’s more hospitable and family-oriented.”
One Soulard spot that’s enjoyed 15 minutes of national fame is Twisted Ranch. A Buzzfeed video featuring the ranch-themed menu went viral earlier this year. Every single menu item features a ranch component, from the Big Kid Mac & Cheese with cheesy bacon ranch to a house-smoked barbecue brisket sandwich with barbecue ranch. All 29 flavors of ranch are made in house; eclectic options include wasabi-honey ranch, roasted garlic-buffalo ranch and sundried tomato-Feta ranch, which you can get on the ranch platter with your choice of 13 options.
Another establishment that centers around a theme is Gus’ Pretzels, located in the shadows of Anheuser-Busch brewery and five minutes from The Gateway Arch. It’s been family-owned and -operated since 1920. Founded by August “Gus” Koebbe Sr. and now operated by his sons, Gus Jr. and David, Gus’ is the reason most St. Louisans think of long sticks when they picture pretzels rather than the traditional twisted shape (Gus Sr. created the unique shape so that pretzel peddlers could more easily display what they were selling). Along with the top-selling sticks, Gus’ offers pretzel bites, pretzel-wrapped brats, hot dogs and spicy salsiccia, all of which you can see being made through windows next to the retail counter.
Head from Gus’ to Joanie’s – Joanie’s Pizzeria, that is. Joanie herself runs the affiliated to-go operation just down the street, but the restaurant and bar she opened in 1994 is in good hands with new owner and longtime employee Jeff Schneider. The shady patio features a newly built outdoor bar, where you should order a housemade Hurricane to pair with your pizza. Must-trys include the Pizza Magherita and House Deluxe with sausage, pepperoni, green pepper, onion, mushroom and black olives.
If barbecue is what you’re after, Bogart’s Smoke House is where you should go – and don’t wait too long. The barbecue joint sells out every day, and for good reason. From the owners of Pappy’s Smokehouse, Bogart’s smoky-sweet ribs are topped with an apricot brûlée, and burnt ends, corned beef and tender beef brisket are all expertly prepared in the smoker out back. Save room for the sides – deviled-egg potato salad, pit beans and Fire and Ice Pickles are sleeper hits – while you gaze around the pork-decorated dining room, including a boar head speared by owner Skip Steele.
Just across the street is Mission Taco Joint – one of five locations across St. Louis and Kansas City owned by brothers and California transplants Jason and Adam Tilford. The brightly painted walls and light, open space welcome diners enjoying equally bright and fun à la carte tacos, including habanero-chicken, Baja fish and Mango-Hop-Anero Shrimp; carne asada fries; cheesy street corn and towering chicken flautas.
“When they moved to St. Louis, [Jason and Adam] couldn’t really find the style of food they enjoyed on the West Coast,” says director of marketing Eliza Malatesta. “They decided to open a bar concept with food – [something] fast and quick and similar to the taco trucks you can find in San Francisco.”
The recently revamped cocktail menu features signatures like the Mission Margarita, a new “beertails” section and a Tiki-style section with favorites like The Zombie, The Painkiller and The Hurricane – a nod to the Mardi Gras staple.
“Soulard is a great neighborhood; it’s based very much off the Mardi Gras scene in New Orleans,” Malatesta says. “We have the second largest Mardi Gras party afterNew Orleans every year, which is a lot of fun. The whole area has a really strong sense of community that we’re so happy to be a part of.”
John D. McGurk’s – or just McGurk’s, as it’s often referred to – is Irish to its core. Its sprawling outdoor biergarten is an oasis filled with bubbling fountains, fresh greenery and three bars. On temperate days, there’s nowhere better to go for a pint and a piled-high Russell Street Reuben or housemade bangers and mash.
The darkly lit, cavernous interior features an intimate stage for Irish bands, stained-glass windows and a central bar, which is manned by John “Lucky” McAteer. Lucky grew up in Ireland and he’s perfected his Guinness pour after decades spent working at McGurk’s. In his lilting Irish accent, he offers seasoned advice for visiting the neighborhood:
“Wear your walking shoes and take a taxi down to Soulard,” McAteer says. “Maybe hit up the brewery first or the farmers’ market, walk around and enjoy the atmosphere, and obviously finish up with a pint at McGurk’s.”
Bogart’s Smoke House, 1627 S. Ninth St., St Louis, Missouri, 314.621.3107, bogartssmokehouse.com
Gus’ Pretzels, 1820 Arsenal St., St. Louis, Missouri, 314.664.4010, guspretzels.com
Joanie’s Pizzeria, 2101 Menard St., St. Louis, Missouri, 314.865.1994, joanies.com
John D. McGurk’s, 1200 Russell Blvd., St. Louis, Missouri, 314.776.8309, mcgurks.com
Mission Taco Joint, 908 Lafayette Ave., St. Louis, Missouri, 314.858.8226, missiontacojoint.com
Peacemaker Lobster & Crab, 1831 Sidney St., St. Louis, Missouri, 314.772.8858, peacemakerstl.com
Sidney Street Cafe, 2000 Sidney St., St. Louis, Missouri, 314.771.5777, sidneystreetcafestl.com
Twisted Ranch, 1730 S. Eighth St., St. Louis, Missouri, 314.833.3450, twistedranch.com