It's the big 450 for William Shakespeare, and in honor of that occasion, the Victoria & Albert asked people to bake him a cake. Herewith a collection of them, via the Telegraph. More tweeted under the hashtag #Cakespeare.
It's the big 450 for William Shakespeare, and in honor of that occasion, the Victoria & Albert asked people to bake him a cake. Herewith a collection of them, via the Telegraph. More tweeted under the hashtag #Cakespeare.
I know. Easter is tomorrow. But we couldn't get this out until late yesterday for technical reasons, and what I found is mouthwatering. Plus, the photos are fun. Look here.
It's a mild challenge to locate Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church. But think of it as an Easter egg hunt and begin at I-44 and Jefferson Avenue. (Further directions at the bottom of this report.)
The churchyard - and there is no other word for it than that evocative, old-fashioned one - is lovely and tranquil, especially considering it's the heart of the city and near the interstate. The stroll through it to get to the fish fry, which is in a hall next to the church, even though brief, is a good respite from a Friday of activity for most of us.
That hall, known as the Four Seas, has considerably more elan than the usual gymnasium, and it becomes part of the fun. There's a greeting at the door, and the buffet line at the far end of the room.
Interestingly, there are clear hints of New Orleans in some of the offerings. Catfish, shrimp or tilapia, the latter either baked or fried, and either shrimp creole or shrimp etouffe are the entrees, and I regret the etouffe was not on the rotation the afternoon I visited. The basic sides are fries, cole slaw and rice, but there are others, which might include red beans and rice, spaghetti, onion rings caesar salad, roasted potatoes, or a bean or barley-vegetable soup. So some things beyond the expected, clearly.
The catfish was among the best I've tried at the fish fries, a generous serving that was crisp, well-seasoned and not at all greasy, erasing almost all the itch for etouffe. Cole slaw, too, was above average, an oil-and-vinegar dressing with a little extra sparkle. Alas, the red beans and rice weren't ready yet, so I opted for the bean soup. This was the only miss of the meal - extremely bland and not nearly hot enough. The serving of slaw, however, and the large catfish fillet were sufficient, and the meal not only includes a beverage but dessert, including the Serbian options of baklava and palacinka, crepes filled with Nutella or jam.
The palacinka - mine had strawberry jam - was tender, a nice contrast of the slightly chewy crepe and a little texture from the strawberries, and hit the right spot between light and substantial. And for those who have adult beverages in mind, yes, there's a bar, too, and a bartender. Great retro-ish music when I was there, Sinatra, Bobby Darin, et al, and sports on the bar t.v. All darn close to perfect.
Turning east off Jefferson, Geyer actually seems to go through the parking lot of Randall's Wines & Spirits, and Allen is the southern edge of that block. Take either of them two blocks to Serbian Drive; Holy Trinity is at the corner of Geyer and Serbian Drive.
1910 Serbian Drive
Fridays in Lent (including Good Friday) 4.30-7.30 p.m.
And, being a reader, I read about New York. Voraciously. Somewhere in all those years, with decades between visits, I learned about Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop. When I began to visit the city with some regularity, I saw it from Fifth Avenue buses, although I was usually busier looking at the Flatiron Building across the street. But I never got there.
Eisenberg's began in 1929. It's not a legend, like, say Barney Greengrass. But it may be even more evocative. A long, narrow room, a counter and a few tables in the rear dining room, it feels like something out of a 1947 black and white movie. And the menu is uber-New York. Here you have your egg cream, your knockwurst, , your cream cheese and chopped olive sandwich. Whitefish salad, meet grilled cheese with bacon. "Individual can sardines", say hello to peanut butter and jelly. Cold borscht, hot matzo ball soup and manhattan clam chowder, the latter only on Friday. Got the idea? By St. Louis standards, this is a pretty big menu for such a small spot. Not in the Big Apple. (Maybe they should rename it the Big Pastrami?)
As it turned out, I wasn't too late to appreciate Eisenberg's. It was a breakfast visit on a weekday, with a fair amount of carryout business going on but plenty of room at the counter to watch the cooks at work. Coat hooks on the wall behind the counter stools, purse hooks under the counter, the latter always a sign of someone paying attention. Cholula hot sauce with the ketchup and what I suspect were fluorescent bulbs in light fixtures were about the only reminders of the contemporary era.
Better coffee than I would have expected, stronger and not sour, meaning the coffee makers get properly scoured. I watched them toss fresh mushrooms on the grill for an omelet and pondered my morning food. I ended up with one of my favorites, salami and eggs. Very properly offered the choice of scrambled or flat, I went with flat, the version I first encountered. The salty, peppery salami seasons the eggs perfectly, and it's one of the great unsung dishes of the city's traditional cuisine. I was surprised to see grits offered, but it was a little too much cognitive dissonance; besides, this calls for potatoes. What Eisenberg's designates "home fries" isn't what most of us would expect. Potatoes, onions, a few bits of sweet pepper, fried in such large quantities the potatoes cook before many of them brown, the whole seasoned with what I suspect is generous amounts of paprika to give the characteristic ruddy color. I've only ever seen this at New York-influenced delis and sandwich shops, and despite what may be an off-putting color, they're very tasty. And the Cholula was a good match when sprinkled here and there. Instead of toast, I went for a bialy, another item seldom found hereabouts. Flatter than a bagel and sprinkled with onion on top, they're less chewy than an authentic New York bagel, and lack the hole in the middle. Read about them here. Toasted and buttered, it finished things off nicely, although I did consider an egg cream to go.
While it's not exactly in the middle of Tourist Central in New York, this is an easy walking city, and if you walk from the Empire State Building to the Union Square Greenmarket, a spot all food-lovers should go, http://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket/manhattan-union-square , this is a good spot to stop, or to have a pre-market breakfast. The service is pleasant, and the watching and listening to the locals is good fun. And the prices are good, too.
Eisenberg's Sandiwch Shop
174 Fifth Avenue (22nd and 23rd Sts.)
Breakfast and Lunch daily, Dinner nightly but early closing on Sat. and Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Difficult
Baseball teams win pennants when many players have what's termed "career years" - when their abilities peak. And so it is with Stray Dog Theatre's "Cabaret", when a number of actors we've watched for some time give peak performances.
The idea of casting a woman as the Emcee is a striking one, but the context of prewar Berlin has to be considered. The outre' was In, or at least fairly safe. And thus we have Lavonne Byers', whose throaty voice fits in perfectly. It's a whole new interpretation of the character, whose lasciviousness is mixed with a little humor, giving depth to the portrayal. Hers is a memorable performance.
Sally Bowles, too, played by Paula Stoff Dean, is different. Dean's Sally lacks any sense of the waif at all. She's a Noel Coward character, brittle and charming and determined, a flapper in her dress but a precursor of Margaret Thatcher in her iron will. (And the dresses, from costume designer Alexandra Scibetta Quigley, are divine - watch how one with a petal skirt moves.)
Perhaps her force is why Cliff is so wan. Or perhaps she sees him, played by Paul Cereghino, as easily manipulated. Cereghino sings well in his single number, a duet with Sally, "Perfectly Marvelous", but even his eruption into anger lacks vitality.
Among the supporting cast, Michael Brightman, whose chameleon-izing abilities are becoming increasingly apparent to local theater-goers, smoothly glides along going from amiable Ernst on the train to a frightening symbol of what's in the very near future. Deborah Sharn, as the woman with plenty of "brothers", almost glows as what could easily be a cliched figure. Herr Schultz, the nearby fruiterer, is Ken Haller. Schultz, in his twilight years and seemingly post-stroke, strikes a blow for love, physical and emotional, among both the elderly and the disabled. Haller's carefully restrained warmth fits perfectly.
Music? One sometimes forgets just how good this score is, and there's a real and very good small orchestra above the stage. The girls and boys of the Kit Kat Klub work well together, and it's nice that the women show an appropriate range of physical size, unlike many bigger-budget versions of this. Zaftig wasn't unusual in this time and place, and indeed was appreciated.
An excellent rendition of this classic. This weekend is sold out; hurry to get tickets for this coming week's performances.
Stray Dog Theatre
Tower Grove Abbey
2336 Tennessee Ave.
Wed.-Sat. through April 19
It's been a busy year for closings, and here's one that holds lots of memories for certain generations:
If you think musicals are all alike, go see "Once". At the Fox through April 20, it manages to refresh our thinking about their format and music. It's loosely based on a true story about a Dublin musician and a Czech woman he met - the story became a movie in 2006. The show's music, which was written by the man, Glen Hansard, and the woman, Marketa Irglova, is remarkable, a hybrid of traditional Irish harmonies and modern popular style. But it's the format that's equally notable. There's no orchestra. Everyone on stage plays an instrument, everyone dances and almost everyone has a speaking part.
Stuart Ward plays the main character, identified only as Guy, and Girl is Dani de Waal. They work well together, the chemistry apparent even without a great deal of physical contact, and his voice, in particular, owns the music. But it's hard not to let the eye wander to the rest of the crew, a collection of distinctive faces and physical types, enhanced by costumes.
Raymond Bokhour, playing Da and the mandolin, looks like someone out of The Godfather - and that's not being derisive, it really works here. Reza, Claire Wellin, a violinist who does a mean turn as a club dancer, is again perfect, between face, hair, and clothing (and great musicianship). But it's Baruska, Girl's mother, who mostly plays a concertina, that I kept watching. Face, hair - perfect - but knitters take note: I'm sure it's not a sweater she's wearing, too hot onstage for that, but it looks like one, and the pattern is mesmerizing.
Not all these folks are dancers, it's clear, but the movement, changing the stage around, hopping on the bar of the primary set (O'Connell's, anyone?), is beautifully done, not described as choreography but from movement director Steven Hoggett.
And since it's a bar, the bar is open on stage before the play begins and during intermission, or the interval, as they'd call it in Dublin. Audience members can go up some stairs to the stage, have a drink, hang about a little, and head for their seats, each stairway monitored by Fox staff. This makes things considerably more informal than usual during those times; music begins about ten minutes before the show actually starts, making it even more pub-like, to the point where some of the audience almost had to be dragged into their seats. (And kudos to an usher who politely put the kibosh on cell phone usage at that point.)
No wonder this show won a Tony. It's darn near hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck good.
through April 20
It's madness, madness, I tell you, to expect a quiet dinner in a restauant with the word "whiskey" in its name. Coming from the Gamlin brothers (of Sub Zero Vodka Bar, and the same rule of thumb applies there), it's a fair bet that at Gamlin Whiskey House, the meat will be tasty, the cocktails strong, and the crowd young and enthusiastic. Early on a Saturday night at the corner of Euclid and Maryland, the crowd was perhaps not quite as young as at Sub Zero, but the rest of the bet would still be on.
A large patio is preparing to go into action, probably almost doubling the seating capacity of the house. Meanwhile, the bar, with some tables, a long hallway against the Euclid windows, and a dining room await. It's dark at night, friends tell me, but that's almost too common in new restaurants to even mention. Unfortunately. Surely there's a rheostat that could be dropped after, say, 9.30 at night in these places? Lots of bar action stretching out along the hall as the evening progresses.
With that warning, it was, indeed, a good meal. Not much of a by-the-glass wine list, no surprise, but generously poured cocktails, including a fine classic whiskey sour. The shareable bread board brought a small baguette, some good focaccia and what the menu calls beer bread. I'm accustomed to beer bead referring to a "quick bread", one whose lift comes from baking powder, not yeast, but this was indeed a yeast bread, a small boule. Three breads - so the house gives guests their choice of three among the six butters available. Bleu cheese butter, a coarse mustard butter which also included honey, and roasted bone marrow butter were what we chose. As much as I like sweet-hot, honey mustard has never been among my favorites, and this was indeed sweet, but the crushed mustard seeds added a nice texture. The cheese was good, and the roasted bone marrow was the sort of indulgence that leaves the adjective "rich" as an understatement. Wonderful stuff, a generous first course between two people.
For the first time in decades, I had the same thing as the person with whom I was dining. We both succumbed to the ribeye steak, described as a 16-ounce "Cajun 'char crust'". What arrived was meat that had merely been rubbed with a light round of seaosning that added up to just a little bit of heat, just fine, nothing overwhelming. The steak itself was very flavorful, cooked to the requested medium-rare, which it achieved despite being less than an inch thick. Darn near perfect overall, and the blog of bleu cheese butter atop it was really unnecessary, a pleasant visual gesture, but the meat was fine as it was.
And then there were the sides. The steak comes with a white cheddar potato gratin, and it's hard to imagine a more classic version of this, creamy with some paper-thin onion adding to the fun, the potatoes tender but not falling apart. It's a great take on one of the old-line classic comfort dishes. Mashed potatoes are still a little lumpy, carefully seasoned, and, well, almost as good as the gratin. We also succumbed to the creamed spinach and wild mushroom dish. Interestingly, on one level the dish was a "fail" - it was too delicate to stand up to the vigorous seasoning of the meat and potatoes. The juices from the spinach and mushrooms mixed with cream to produce a very wet mixture, seemingly unthickened. Pieces of Parmesan cheese rested atop it. But re-tasting after the palate had cleared, it was quite delicious, real shiitake mushrooms amping things up, and the juices, sopped up with the last of the bread, quite nice. It went home to go into a nice fritatta. Worthwhile with other dishes, or as a vegetarian entree, for an alternative to the vegetarian pot pie.
Interesting desserts - our choice was pumpkin doughnuts, fried to order and tossed in cinnamon sugar, coming with a tres leches sauce, which was pleasant and creamy but the doughnuts were sufficiently moist that they didn't need it.
Great service even as things began to get much busier. Valet parking for $4, and weekends in this neighborhood, unless the parking gods are with you, plan on using that service. Happy hour, late night menu (and happy hour prices late night early in the week), and a general encouragement of good times.
236 N. Euclid Ave.
Lunch and Dinner daily, Brunch Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair
Smoking: No (including patio)
St. Stephen Protomartyr, in the heart of south St. Louis, is so proud of its Lenten fish fries they advertise in the newspaper. Red flag to a bull? Sort of. It's a larger menu than average, they serve beer and it's possible to buy a single fish taco or a shrimp, for instance, if you can't make up your mind. That's helpful for folks like me. They also have a gym-sized play area, a great idea to keep busy volunteers from falling over wandering children in a smallish space.
Actually, it's not small. It's medium-sized but it got busy witha constant line by the time I arrived at 5 p.m., and the room seemed to shrink. We had zippy, attentive table service, picking up dirty trays, wiping tables, and zooming in on floor spills like - well, like the old stereotype of a south St. Louis householder; heaven forfend that there should be anything less than perfectly clean and polished. Nice, and not obnoxious about it.
As Rachel Lippman noted on KWMU last Friday morning, there's a sense of community about the fish fries, one that our community seems to have a renewed hunger for. Yes, there are parishoners showing up for these fetes, but there are plenty of others, too - a couple of noted attorneys, ties missing, were merrily chowing down among the rest of us, including a hipster take on ZZ Top.
Cod or the catch of the day, grouper on this Friday. Cod is either baked or fried. Shrimp. Fish tacos. French fries, sweet potato fries, hush puppies, green beans almondine, slaw, homemade spaghetti. I probably have left something out, but it's that complicated. As you work your way through the line, you can see the guys in the kitcen hand-breading the fish. Also very nice.
Between my more virtuous pal and I, we did a fair amount of sampling. Baked cod was topped with a tomato relish, nice, not overcooked but not pink in the middle. The fried cod, a smaller piece (two of these is the adult dinner serving), was particularly good, one of the best I've come across, seriously crunchy and really well-drained. And the fish taco, a soft taco wrapped up beforehad, was great - maybe not San Diego great, but a fine take for a long line of diners. The loose foil held the flour tortilla, a good piece of fish, lettuce and tomato, a little salsa for a light hit of spiciness and a drizzle of mayonnaise.
Good slaw, a clear dressing rather than a creamy one, no sense that it had been made three days before, a nice tart contrast to the tender fish, and green beans that had been seasoned beyond the nuggets of almond, some minced onion, a little black pepper. The spaghetti was, of course, overcooked by some standards, just like the green beans. Perhaps at St. Ambrose on The Hill the pasta is al dente, but not in the average church basement and no sense in expecting it. But the sauce was thick and sweet and full of vegetable-y flavor, and it was far from the anonymous stuff often found in such surroundings. I would have been happier if the hush puppies had been a little more tender, but c'est la vie.
A piece of spice cake, moist and gently seasoned, with a fluffy cream cheese icing, and a dancing shark named, of couse, Sharkey, finished the meal off in style. Worth a visit, ladies and gentlemen.
St. Stephen Protomartyr
Fridays through April 11, 2014
Mutterings about parking for events at the Peabody Opera House, especially when there's something on at the Scottrade Center now may have a solution, at least if you want dinner, or at least heavy apps and a drink, beforehand. Eric Brenner, whom many of us remember from Moxy in the Central West End, brings us Alumni Saint Louis. And it's in easy walking distance of the Peab. In the Park Pacific building, formerly the Missouri Pacific building, it's three rooms on the southwest corner, lots of light, and photomurals that should keep any local trivia buffs occupied until after-dinner drinks.
The menu has plenty of references to local food traditions, not surprisingly. Yes, there's toasted ravioli, but more interesting to those with a sense of history is the Mayfair salad. Now, let it be known that the Mayfair Hotel didn't serve it with avocado, bacon and corn relish. But avocado seemed like a reasonable addition, bacon is a versatile guest star, and...well, who knew about what corn would do? As it turned out, it seemed to be more for eye appeal than a definitive lift in the flavor, but this is absolutely the Mayfair dressing I remember, much less attention given to celery than in some re-creations, a good balance, and the greens not overdressed. It's a good example of what anchovies can add to a recipe - they're a primary component of the dressing. A delightful dish.
Tomato soup folks will head for the house version, slightly nubbly with bits of tomato, and served with a wedge of grilled cheese sandwich alongside. (The cup of soup had a quarter sandwich.) It's very tomato-ey, sharp with acidity that can be taken for saltiness, but the grilled cheese offsets that nicely - and there is plenty of cheese, voluptuously oozing out from the sides of the bread.
Speaking of sandwiches, how many folks remember the prosperity sandwich? Related, I'm told, to the hot brown of Louisville, it's an open-faced sandwich layering turkey and ham with bacon and topped with a cheese sauce. (The hot brown is one of the rewards for driving through Louisville around lunch time.) This version doesn't make it - just a drizzle of cheese sauce, which is what should make these sandwiches worthwhile, the turkey looking mass-produced, ditto the ham, and the bacon limp. But the zucchini fries one of the options alongside the sandwiches, lightly coated with crunchy panko breadcrumbs, were a winner, and instead of ketchup for dipping, there was a good marinara sauce.
More sandwiches and burgers than formal main courses, but a sauteed grouper, not overcooked, was bedded on a champagne risotto, quite respectable, some sauteed baby spinach cuddling up, and a drool of a slightly sweet pesto sauce bordering half the plate. Fresh tomato relish, a Mediterranean take on pico de gallo topped the fish, and the whole combination worked well.
There is, of course, gooey butter cake on the dessert menu, here a thin version with blueberries in it, and topped with a half-cannoli filled with lemon cream. The GBC was adequate, but the cannoli, freshly filled, crunchy-creamy-tart, was divine. Did you know that 7-Up was originally a St. Louis company? That leads the menu to 7-Up tart, meaning lemon and lime. Brenner's take is much like key lime pie, a rich, creamy layer of filling, here on a saltine cracker crust to provide some contrast. Like the graham cracker crust often found under the key lime tart, it quickly becomes soggy, but the light saltiness is a good addition.
Lots of action in the bar some nights, but the dining room is quiet enough for conversation. Servers are pleasant and attentive, and special kudos to the elf who scrubs out the coffee pot - after-dinner coffee was excellent. And pay attention to the shape of the cream pitcher.
And about that parking? There's parking in the building, and they validate for two hours. After that, it's $3 an hour, still cheaper than the lots on the south side of Peabody/Scottrade.Or come early, bring quarters, and remember the meters only need time until 7 p.m.
200 N. 13th Street
Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner Mon.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair Access: Good
Sandwiches and Entrees: $8-$22
Good dancing: Does it outweigh a tear-jerker story? "Ghost" is playing at the Peabody Opera House, a story of Love From Beyond among Gen X. It can't be Gen Y - they make jokes about how unfashionable it is to live in Brooklyn, and how inexpensive, too. Or maybe that's how they establish that this is a fantasy.
The first act offers all the cliches of New York life with the help of a big-screen backdrop that is used to more effect in the dance numbers. He's a banker, she's an artist, he works in Manhattan which is very busy and has lots of taxicabs, and so on. One keeps waiting for the 9/11 moment, briefly alluded to in a photo montage, because it's obvious someone had to die. It turns out to be something much more individual than that. In the second act, the play becomes more of a caper plot, which certainly helps. And so do a trio of women who run a psychic business in Harlem.
Lots of special effects which depend heavily on strobe lights' temporarily blinding us. The music is pretty unremarkable. Thankfully, the cast is almost enough to redeem the script. An understudy, Andrea Rouch, captivatingly sang the lead role of Molly on opening night. Steven Grant Douglas as the banker/ghost makes us understand he keeps forgetting he's dead. The subway ghost, Brandon Curry, stands out with his anger and physical charisma, and the three ladies at the psychic parlor, headed up by Carla R Stewart as the major medium, give it all they've got, especially with the dancing.
Kudos to Ashley Wallen for the game-saving choreography. Hugh Vanstone, the lighting director, deserves much of the credit for the magic seemign to appear, but there's credit to Paul Kieve, the illusionist who set up the magical effects and Jon Driscoll, vidoe and projection designer for that backdrop. Bruce Joel Rubin bears responsibility for the script and some of the lyrics, Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard for the music and the remainder of the lyrics. It was nice to hear snippets of "Unchained Melody" in the play, a welcome relief.
Ghost the Musical
through March 30
Peabody Opera House
1400 Market St.
Family dynamics? Is there a better subject for a great playwright to attack? "Attack" has always been the operative verb for Arthur Miller's approach to it, and "The Price" is a good example of what he can do. The current offering at The New Jewish Theatre is a carefully crafted piece of work slowly (almost too much so at first) rising to the inevitable explosion.
Two estranged brothers need to sell the furniture left after their father dies. The police sargeant son has found a used furniture dealer and meets him in the attic-like room. But where is the other brother, the doctor? And why is the policeman's wife feeling such urgency about this day?
How hard it is in life to find the truth, says Miller. And will we recognize it if we see it? Can we recognize it or has it changed since we last saw it? Is it unrecognizable, incomprehensible, after all these years and all these emotions - both known and unknown?
What we get is a fine piece of ensemble work. Director Bruce Longworth brings together Michael James Reed as Victor, the policeman, beaten down from years of doing the right thing, Jerry Vogel as the impeccable, elegant physician, Kelly Weber, the wife who is just not happy, and the irrepressible Bobby Miller playing Mr. Solomon, the aged furniture dealer.
The subtlety of Reed, who reveals his soul-deep exhaustion so gradually we at first don't know it exists, is remarkable. (It's also an interesting picture of how much our perceptions of policemen have changed - the play opened in 1968 so presumably was written before the tumult of that year.) Vogel's character appears late in the first act, seemingly as smooth as the expensive suit he wears. Is he the villain? We never quite know for sure, Miller makes us so unsure of the truth, but Vogel lets peeks of pain slide out - via body language as well as the dialogue.
As the wife, Weber in some ways has a harder job - Miller's women characters often seem to merit less of his attention - but shows the struggles she's had for the last decades. And then there's Mr. Solomon, and the name seems to be a deliberate choice. Bobby Miller wobbles across the stage and despite his extremely thick accent gives us the few laugh lines Miller handed out. The cirrocumulus cloud of his hair, which Michael Sullivan's lighting just loves, adds to the drama. He's a key component of Victor's growing self-awareness.
It would be easy to say this is one of the rare examples where the second act of a play is better than the first, but it turns out that Miller really would have preferred this all be done in a single uninterrupted piece. The second act is remarkable, though, a chance for the brothers to try to actually talk for the first time in many years, and a chance for the audience to sit back and listen to major Miller dialogue. It's like listening to a Dave Brubeck recording - don't wonder where he's going, just enjoy the trip.
This pretty much falls into the "don't miss" category, so get a move on.
through April 6
The New Jewish Theatre
2 Millstone Campus Drive
After all my muttering and moaning about the near-ubiquitous and inaccurately named "breakfast potatoes", at last a new and tasty variant on that idea: C.J. Mugg's house potatoes at brunch are irregular slices, nicely crusty-crispy, although, yes, they are deep-fried. But they're paired up with lots of nicely browned onion bits, the greatest friend a potato can have. I'm also partial to the chorizo omelet.
This was at their Clayton location - I see they do brunch in Webster as well.
C. J. Mugg's
200 S. Central Ave., Clayton
101 W. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves
Sometimes you want really healthy food and sometimes you want ice cream. "Noises Off" is about as far as you can get from intellectuial theater, but that's no reason to skip the season's final production at the Rep.
It's hard to believe the farcial madness of "Noises Off" and the Tony-award winning, very serious drama "Copenhagen" came from the same author, Michael Frayn. But indeed they did, and one wonders if Frayn began with the old advice to writers, "Write about what you know". It's a play about a play, one being rehearsed and shown by a group of notably unsuccessful professional actors, in the minor towns of the United Kingdom. (Weston-super-Mare, anyone?)
A tip of the hat en passant to my late husband, who loved this play and its sheer silliness, especially a line delivered after the opening bit of business about some sardines: "Get the sardines on, get the sardines off. That's farce ,that's theater, that's life." Yes, indeed, a creed to live by. More doors than a French bedroom farce. Pants dropping. Tumbles down a curving staircase. What's not to like?
Not much. The cast manages the slightly daunting chore of being good actors who must act poorly with scarcely a whimper. Their long-suffering director, Fletcher McTaggart, can avoid that challenge but surely is the stand-in for directors across the English-speaking world and beyond as he wrangles these thesps. The ingenues, Rebecca Miller as the stage manager Poppy and Ruth Pferdehirt as Brooke the Dazed, polar opposites, charm, and the mid-life (or perhaps older, but saying so might injure fragile self-images) women Victoria Adams-Zischke as the stalwart Belinda, perhaps the sanest one of the troupe, and Dale Hodges, dotty Dotty, carry on - well, I was going to say as though they had been doing this all their lives, but now that wouldn't do, would it? More of the physical comedy goes to the gents, Andy Prosky and the hormone-stressed John Scherer, as well as our own Joneal Joplin, a burglar of an apparently wondrous past.
Director Edward Stern runs the cast at a breakneck pace for much of the show, quite appropriate for a high-verbal bunch of characters. Therein lies the only rub. Some of the dialogue is so rapid and the accents so persistent, normally a laudable thing, that lines are lost, bouncing off one another or the far reaches of the other side of the audience. But no dialogue is needed, or used, for a considerable stretch of the second act with a whiz-bang routine of physical comedy involving, among other things, a bottle and an ax, that is as carefully choreographed as any fight scene.
But even missing a few lines isn't enough to ruin the fun. Sometimes ice cream is just the thing.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
through April 13
130 Edgar Rd., Webster Groves
Are you there, fish? It's me, Ann.
And so we begin another season of the Cod Squad. (Last week I was in Baja Arizona, where they aren't - apparently - part of the tradition.) Went to Immaculate Conception in Maplewood, handy if you're going to the Rep, but allow plenty of time, of course. The fish fry is held in the parish hall, which is in a building on Anna Avenue just east of the church on Marshall, a block and a half south of Manchester Avenue. There's a parking lot between the church and parish hall.
It's a cafeteria-style line in a large gymnasium, and you pay at the end, which helps with folks who can't quite decide what they want until they see it. The menu is quite traditional, cod, both baked and fried, catfish, shrimp and jack salmon. Yes, a sandwich is available, and so are french fries, although I didn't see folks eating either of those. (Although there was a fellow carefully buttering bread and peppering it - ? a sandwich or a side?)
Fish entrees can be had with one piece of fish or two. No one batted an eye when I asked for a piece of cod and a jack salmon, although that option isn't on the menu. I'm glad I did. The cod wasn't real handsome, but nicely crunchy outside and flavorful inside, although technically overcooked, since it was pretty thin. It really didn't need the tartar sauce, ketchup or cocktail sauce in the giant pump-top containers beyond the end of the line.
I admit to jack salmon being my fish of choice at these events. I first knew it as whiting, long before I moved to St. Louis. That was also long before boneless fish entered my very limited culinary world, and the easy-to-bone fish made even this clumsy kid feel fairly deft with a knife and fork. This is really first-rate jack salmon. A cornmeal batter, different from what was on the cod, seasoned and crisp and un-greasy, and a nice ratio of chewy outside to tender white flesh inside - I think this may well be the best I've found at the local fish fries, a don't miss.
Green beans are so soft you think you're going to find bits of ham, but no, they're meatless. Didn't try the spaghetti, but it surely looks like there's meat in it. That must be an illusion - after all, this is a Catholic church on a Lenten Friday. Creamy macaroni and cheese could be cheesier, but perhaps that's just a function of what also marked the green beans, no or low salt.
That may be a good idea - the early crowd was mostly older folks, but as time passed, families began to file in, and the line lengthened.
Some of the desserts are homemade and some are not. I know there are folks who feel safer with food out of commercial kitchens, but I'm keen on home food. A woman standing next to me asked one of the ladies behind the cake counter if she could have three pieces of a cake that hadn't been cut yet. Cake surgery immediately began, and while she waited, I pseudo-casually murmured, "So tell me about that cake you asked for...." Chocolate, she said, with cherries and chocolate frosting, and went on to discuss how addictive it was. Okay, I thought, I'm in. A generous square of the cake (a 9 x 13 cake turned out on a sheet of aluminum-foil covered cardboard) for less than a dollar, and I strolled back to my seat. Extremely moist, the cherries were maraschino, and just a pleasant grace note to the flavor rather than ruling the roost. They're not really among my favorites, and I thought the balance was good. The whole thing was nicely gooey, and addiction is perfectly understandable. Also, things like upside down cake and brownies, but keep an eye out for the racing rabbits, Twinkies with Peeps rabbits driving them, a pretzel steering wheel and marshmallow wheels. Too cute.
And to answer a question I get from time, yes, there's beer, in cans. But even without beer, the fish and the cake make this a worthwhile visit.
Immaculate Conception Parish Hall
7420 Anna Ave.
Fridays through April 18
Most expensive entree: $10.50 (shrimp)
I wasn't expecting to be surprised by "We Will Rock You", which has just opened at the Fox. Based on the songs of Queen, the British rock band, it's an imaginative change from the and-then-we-recorded genre. Even for those only vaguely familiar with the music beyond "We Are the Champions", it's fun. It's not Shakespeare or Sondheim, but it's fun.
Set in the far future, it's full of references to and jokes about the past. It's an Orwellian future where rock is dead, killed, they explain, by "American Idol". The planet is ruled by Grace Jones and Max Headroom - excuse me, I mean Killer Queen and Khashoggi, played by Jacqueline B. Arnold and P.J. Griffith. They've discovered that there's an underground of rock worshippers who've never actually heard rock but believe it must have been Truth, Love, etc., thereby disrupting good order.
Enter our hero, Galileo.. Amazingly unmedicated, he spouts lyrics to old songs, explaning that he "hears things". Brian Rubin Crum in the role carries off amazing stuff without breaking up at the glorious ridiculousness of it, but it's Ruby Lewis, playing the young woman Galileo names Scaramouche, who grabs the audience. It's her voice that wins us - the character is shallowly written even for a show like this. They find the underground worshippers of rock; dissent, of course, ensues.
It's a shame that the sound system at the Fox once again falls short. Not, of course, in volume; the seats were shaking. (Little-known fact: Rock and roll wasn't always this loud. Just ask Chuck Berry.) But lyrics are lost in the band's very competent work much of the time, and blurring elsewhere annoys. Excellent lighting, despite overdependence on strobes, from lighting designer Willie Williams.
But the fun resides as much in the script as in the music, with those throwaway lines explaining it's all rock and roll to me, so to speak. Not many twenty-somethings will find as much to laugh about as those of us who began listening to music back in the age of vinyl or even 8-tracks, but that's okay. Their time is coming, and they're plenty old enough to laugh at the twerking reference.
And speaking of the young, it was a middle-aged couple in front of me, not young ones, that were using Google glasses and snogging through the first act. Young at heart, I suppose, but while smooching is great, I'm thinking the Ggs are as illegal as video cams in that setting.
We Will Rock You
through March 30
I am always hard put to figure out why someone who's lived here for at least a couple of years hasn't been to O'Connell's yet. The thick burgers are an icon, even for those who order medium-well done. When I went on a low-carb diet, I found out that the burger alone, no bun, ordered medium-rare, was almost as satisfying as a steak, so flavorful was the meat.
It's a classic St. Louis scene, whether on a rainy weekday afternoon or before a baseball game. And the stories about it are, well, legend.
For someome who isn't a cheesecake addict, I feel like I've made a lot of them over the years. They've always been contributions to parties, and they work really well for that, easily transportable and well-received. This particular version I did with a friend in mind who is unable to eat sugar. Mango popped into my head and none of my in-house cookbooks had anything alluring, so I began looking on line. Most of this recipe is from a blog called Liv Life, with a couple of adaptations.
I knew I was living dangerously when I thought about putting anything sweetened with Splenda or its generic equivalent in the oven. The "baking" Splenda is actually half sugar, so iunsuitable ffor me here. But baking cake batter uses sugar in a whole different way, to create that structure we fork into with (hopefully) such glee. Cheesecakes are basically custards, and sugar isn't chemically necessary for a custard to bake - viz., a quiche. So I took a deep breath and proceeded.
The easiest thing to do for mango is to buy a bag of frozen mango at Trader Joe's. Some of the comments online remarked that they thought the frozen mango actually had more flavor when used in the cheesecake - my guess is that it depends on what type of fresh mango you've got and how ripe it is. Thaw the mango and throw it in a processor or blender. My food processor didn't yield a silky-smooth puree but It was scarcely noticeable in the finished product. Still, if that's a concern, blenders always are the way to go. You won't use all of the bag's pureed contents in the cheesecake, you'll have a little left for the glaze.
This recipe didn't call for the water bath many cheesecakes do, but I used one anyway. Two pans, your 9- or 10-inch springform, and a larger one that the springform will fit in. Wrap the outside of the springform in a sheet of aluminum foil after your crust is in - I used a pretzel crust here, but have lost that recipe, so you're on your own for that. (But do chop those pretzels finely.) Any graham cracker crust or other crumb crust, or even none at all, will be fine. You're going to bake the cheesecake with the springform pan in a bath of hot water that the larger pan will hold. I used the scalding-hot tap water I have at home, but you may want to put a pan of water on to simmer.
And, as usual for a cheesecake, all the ingredients need to be at room temperature when you begin. Otherwise, that cream cheese will never relax into a smoth batter.
1 8-oz.package reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 8-oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1 scant cup granulated sugar (just a wee bit less tha a cup) or equivalent Splenda or the like
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/2 Tbs. flour
1 Tbs. cornstarch
14 oz, about 1 3/4 c. mango puree
juice of 1/2 lime
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
If your mixer has both a whisk and a paddle-type blade, use the paddle. This is not a batter that should have a lot of air incorporated into it. On low speed, mix together the cream cheeses, sugar or sugar substitute, salt and vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is nearly fully incorporated into the batter. Then add the flour and cornstarch and continue until smooth. Finally, stir in the mango puree and the lime juice.
Have the hot water ready. Put the springform pan into the larger pan. Pour the batter into the springform. Place both pans on the oven shelf and add hot water around the springform. (This is the easiest method for me, and avoids moving a pan of hot water and cheesecake batter off a counter into a hot oven. Ponder your abilities and situation and act accordingly.)
Bake an hour to an hour and15 minutes, or longer. Cheesecakes should look puffy at the edges and still wobble in the middle when you remove them from the oven. And take the cheesecake pan out first, place on a cooling rack and then deal with the water.
Cool at least an hour.
Did the cheesecake crack? Mine did, which sometimes happens. The rest of the mango puree will be used to glaze the cake, so the crack will be invisible.
If you have a little less than the specified amount of mango, that's okay; just cut back a dab on the water and gelatin.
1 1/2 tsp. powdered gelatin
3 Tbs. water.
1/2 cup mango puree
1 tsp lime juice
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it stand for 5 minutes to soak up the water. Heat the mango and lime juice to a boil, add to the gelatin and stir well, so that the gelatin dissolves. Pour over the cheesecake, and tip the cake around to let it cover the top. Let set and then refrigerate.
There's been some mumbling on local foodie chat sites about steak houses, and what about Al's, anyway, yaddayaddayadda. Well, here's a few words on Al's and why it's so traditional, it's probably actually modern and I'm not hip enough to realize it.
Picky about chocolate chip cookies? I can sympathize. I pretty much avoid the commerical ones, feeling that they shouldn't be that crisp. I never got in the habit of making them at home, having kids who grooved on peanut butter cookies instead, and I was happy with that. And I went through a two-year period of serious brownie investigation after they left home. Perhaps that's what led me to the recipe today.
This is from Brenda Leong of B. Patisserie in San Francisco. I found the recipe a while back in Food and Wine magazine, and tried it as something to bring to the polls with me when I worked as an election judge.They are, quite simply, the best chocolate cookies I've ever had. I've made them with toasted pecans in them, and, for the knowing, with black walnuts. Like truffles, black walnuts are one of those musky tastes that some people find abhorrent. Years ago, a friend of mine, a New Englander living on Long Island, insisted he loved nuts and would love them. So I sent some. He gently, tactfully, told me that he thought they'd gone bad. I sent another batch, this time from Hammons, the biggest provider of the nuts in the world. I knew they'd be fresh. Same report from the gent. I just let the whole matter go. His family grew cranberries - perhaps his palate had been marred.
The batter needs to be chilled - the recipe called for an hour in the freezer, but I just cover it and put it in the fridge for at least a couple of hours. Make today, bake tomorrow, if that's your pleasure. But there is one step I would urge you to comply with. Line your baking sheets with parchment. Years ago when I was a penny-pinching single mom, if I had been able to find baking parchment, I would have considered it a extravagance to be passed up. I'm sure greased and floured pans would work here. But the parchment makes these so much easier to work with. I crumple the parchment up before putting it on the baking sheet - it wants to roll, of course. Then when the cookies are done, if I will need the baking sheet again, I slide the paper and cookies off onto the counter to cool. They're too soft to go directly on the rack. When they're completely cool, they'll often just scoot off - before that, they're very gooey. Bonus: The cookie sheets don't need to be washed afterwards.
CHOCOLATE BROWNIE COOKIES
1 pound (16 oz.) semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. flour, sifted
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 12-oz. bag semisweet chocolate chips
In a large heatproof bowl (glass, metal) set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter. Stir occasionally, until smooth, and set aside.
In another large bowl, beat together the eggs and the sugar until they're thick and pale - a handheld mixer is the easiest way to do this, but if necessary, you can use a stand mixer. On medium speed with the handheld, it'll take about 5 minutes. Beat in the salt and vanilla. . Use a rubber spatula and fold in the chocolate, then, together, the flour and baking powder. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Cover and chill the batter - if you are hoping for it to chill quickly, use a flat baking pan like a 9" square. Figure on at least an hour - less if you use the freezer. I've kept it overnight, although it's more difficult to work with when it's that cold.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. (See above.) Scoop out dough that's about 2 tablespoons' worth - one of those round measuring spoons that's heavy metal helps, but soon you will be able to eyeball it. Moisten your hands, and roll the dough itnto a roughly-shaped ball. Ignore what they resemble at this point and place them about 2 1/2 to 3 inches apart on the parchment.
Bake until dry on the edges and crackled on top. Start checking around 10 minutes - most of mine in my oven take about 13. Do not put directly on racks when done, but let cool at least 10 minutes. (You may slide the parchment directly onto your kitchen counter if the counter is heat-tolerant.)
I get about 60 cookies out of this - but I admit I tend to make them a little smaller - they're rich, and that makes more to share with friends!
No glamorous low-light idiosyncratic menu place this time. Sunrise Family Restaurant, whose sign says Sunrise Pancake House, sits on the northbound side of North Lindbergh, just below where the debris of Northwest Plaza sits, downcast and waiting for whatever cavalry can rescue it. Sunrise, on the other hand, is often possessed of a near-full parking lot and plenty of comfortably dressed diners. Sweatshirts and jeans are de rigeur here this time of year, either with work boots or athletic shoes. Folks come here to be fed, not to be Seen.
They do all three meals, but I went for breakfast - you're on your own if you're after fried walleye or meatloaf or pork tenderloin. (Or a salad or a hamburger, but you can get that anywhere, now, can't you?) Family owned and casual to the max, the silverware and the chairs all pretty well match, but the coffee mugs are, probably deliberately, a collection from a garage sale, totally random - note photo below. Service, however, is not at all random.. Attentive employees fly around the room with coffee pots and checks and smiles.
Despite the word Pancake, which appears on the sign in front of the building, pancakes are only a small part of breakfast. Sunrise is more egg-centric in its approach to morning food, giving plenty of combination plates, omelets and skillet breakfasts. And for the pancake-curious, as I was, you can opt for a couple of pancakes instead of toast. The menu calls them small - they're about 5" in diameter. I checked them out that way, and that was when I realized that there's real butter in those packets, not the faux stuff. Good, tender, fluffy 'cakes - although it's not maple syrup, despite the menu description.
And that's about my last complaint. The cream is real half and half, and while the coffee isn't strong enough to encourage upper torso hair follicles, it's obvious that the coffee maker is regularly scrubbed vigorously, no sour or stale notes.
The Popeye omelet takes the usual spinach-and-cheese a step farther by including bacon in it. That's a good idea, and the bacon's flavor plays well with the spinach, both of them being stirred into the eggs before the omelet is cooked. Not so handsome, perhaps, as the traditional French method, but pretty darn tasty even before you find the Swiss cheese tucked in the middle. And what about the home fried potatoes? Ah, yes. Real potatoes, not frozen shreds, thinly sliced and pan-fried. Even without the onions I'm always partial to, these are tasty, crying out for a bit of egg yolk to dip a forkful into.
Metalmouths are catered to at Sunrise, no matter how beatific an image the name implies. Who else has a jalapeno omelet? I didn't go there, but I did try the fiesta skillet. Those potatoes are the base, and they're topped with diced onions, tomatoes, and green peppers, all sauteed, and what's called tango taco meat. That's seasoned chunks of ground beef, and it's topped with eggs, over easy at my request, and shreds of cheese. The vegetable serving is generous, the meat is spicy, and there's sour cream and salsa to add as desired. A special tip of the hat to the biscuit which was warm, tender but not falling apart when touched, a fine specimen. There's biscuits and gravy for those who hanker for it.
Lindbergh is divided there, so you need to approach from the south; be prepared.
Simple, honest food. No fusion, no no foam, no fussiness. Worth remembering
Sunrise Family Restaurant
3500 N. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Ann
Breakfast & Lunch daily, Dinner Tues.-Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair
Breakfast entrees: $4-$7
One of my oldest friends - as in "long-time", not "ancient" - friends lives in a village-has-become-suburb of Cardiff, Wales. When I visit her, not nearly often enough, I admit, the phrase "...some tea and we'll have a nice gossip, then" often occurs. A chat, whether at a kitchen table or on a sofa, long, and relaxed, is what she means, not tales murmured behind the hand about scandalous neighbors.
"Shirley Valentine" has that feeling. The one-woman show from Dramatic License Productions is about a Liverpudlian in the post-Beatle years of the early to mid 1980's. She's fallen into the rut of letting life just happen to her. Shirley Valentine Bradford is a middle-class housewife, perhaps even lower-middle, with a husband of the sort who demands his evening meal be on the table when he steps foot on the doormat. (Dangerous, eh wot?) Shirley speaks wistfully of wanting to drink wine where the grapes are grown, sipping a glass, then gulping, as she cooks.
Teresa Doggett is Shirley, whose monologue is addressed to the wall - as in, "I might as well be talking to the wall." But there's far more intimacy in Doggett's Shirley than an impersonal slab of plasterboard can appreciate. She pulls the whole audience in, not just women, confiding and explaining and self-deprecating and mourning. And charming along the way. It's an intimate performance, helped along by the small venue. This isn't Doggett's first experience with Shirley; she played her several years ago at Stray Dog Theatre, and it's a polished performance. (Doggett also works as a costumer at several companies around town, and did her own, perfectly off-kilter, wardrobe for this.)
One could make the argument that this play, with its theme of a woman awakening to her own power, is dated. Playwright Willy Russell generally seems to understand women rising to their own worth - his first big hit was "Educating Rita", another play turned into a film, as was "Shirley". And yet it's universal - this was one of my late husband's favorite plays, perhaps because he had three daughters. But opening night, there were plenty of murmured editorial noises from the rows behind me, all definitely women.
Good work from Doggett, of course, director Lee Ann Matthews and all the crew who managed to put the set together in a week. And, yes, she is actually cooking in that first scene. It's not sound effects and Smell-O-Rama.
Dramatic License Productions
through March 16
What a great example of How Things Ought To Be Done he was. It really won't be the same without Herb.
I am so sick of this winter that it warms me up just to think about this. It's time for the annual vertical Norton tasting at Stone Hill in Hermann.
Uncommon pair-ups are not so uncommon now - i.e., the Thai-Japanese menus and the Korean-burger mashup that's thriving out in Creve Coeur - but here's a new one. Spare No Rib is taking no prisoners on Gravois Avenue in south St. Louis. Barbecued ribs and tacos? Oh, why not?
Actually, the menu is a little wider than that, but not much. A couple of salads, some sandwiches, a decent beer list and hand-made (I'm sorry, but "hand-crafted" sounds like they're using a loom or a lathe) cocktails. Guacamole, of course, and good stuff it is, chunky and fresh, served at a temp that makes me think it was made to order. A little hit of heat, but mostly avocado, onion, a little tomato, some cumin and fresh chips. Those excellent chips, thin, warm and salted, also come with the two house salsas. And salsas they are, rather than the fresh, choppped vegetables of a pico de gallo. The yellow-beige one is roasted yellow peppers, deeply vegetal, a dish to offer to anyone who thinks there's no distinctive flavor to a ripe yellow pepper, and almost creamy in the mouth. The one that's addictive, however, is made of smoked tomatoes and other vegetables. The smokiness definitely isn't out of a chipotle can, as one bite will prove.This is like eating barbecue, utterly addictive and making it devilishly hard not to fill up on it and the chips. Yes, a moderate amount of heat with it.
These are a step up, maybe two, from the Cherokee Street tacos. Nothing wrong with most of those guys, of course, but expect something different. For example, cachete, which is beef cheek. Think of two soft corn tacos with the tender meat much like a short rib, but richer - that's cachete at SNR. Very beefy in flavor, and with a sploosh of that yellow pepper salsa. Carnitas, the nuggets of pork were tender, too, nicely un-greasy and, as with the cachete, generously served and a nicely biting red sauce atop. Of the three I tried, the fish taco came in third - mild, lightly breaded and fried, but I was hoping for the crunchy cabbage of the Baja style and these wore chopped peppers and a green, very mild sauce. For St. Louis, which frequently wants fish that doesn't taste like fish, they'd work well. Me, I prefer a little more character to it.
Dry-rubbed ribs come with three sauces, a citrus-y sweet one, a spicy one that also has some sugary notes, and a brown mustard that rings bells when paired with the pork. The ribs themselves are toothsome, not tough but not that falling-off-the-bone that many folks think is perfection but always makes me wonder if they've been steamed. The standard for barbecue in this town has been raised a lot in the last five years or so, but these will hold their own.
Sometimes, though, a hamburger is just what the mouth craves. The house burger arrives with cheese, tomato (a slice of nice red Roma) and lettuce. How rare? they asked. How thick? replied I. About an inch or maybe a little less was the finger-thumb measure. Medium-rare, please. Mixed results, technically: The very faintest trace of pink here and there - but astoundingly moist, and it certainly wasn't the tomato, because Romas are notoriously unjuicy. Proprietor Lassaad Jeliti says the beef is about 90% lean, and it was wonderfully flavorful, but the trick in keeping it moist was impressive. And frankly, I'm more concerned about how it tastes than what color the interior is. And a dab of that smoky salsa on one bitewas a nice experiment .
Not much rummaging around with the sides for me. The beans here are Great Northerns that are baked and turn out intriguingly different and yet quite recognizable. Another example of a flavor one never thinks about until its surroundings are changed some, but a dish worth seeking out. Fries are fresh, long strips of baking potatoes tossed with a light hit of coarse salt, looking almost like long strips of pretzel where the dark skin and the salt meet.
Hard to pass up the caipirinha on the blackboard menu of drinks, but I don't navigate Gravois other than fully alert.
Spare No Rib
2200 Gravois Ave.
Lunch and Dinner Mon.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Poor
Tacos, etc.: $3-$13
Right from the start, let's be clear: I am of the generation "Jersey Boys" is aimed at. KXOK poured out the music from all those male quartets, and at the time, it was hard to differentiate between the Four Seasons, the group whose story the musical is based on, and many others. Falsetto singers weren't hard to come by - but Frankie Valli, the Four Seasons' lead and eventual solo artist, came to be preeminent.
This was the background music to many lives. And coming to St. Louis as it does just a couple of weeks after the excellent Beatles tribute on CBS, "Jersey Boys" shows another part of that pivotal point in American music, one the old style and another the new. Each influenced the other, no question about it, but it's pleasant to ruminate upon.
Happily, "Jersey Boys" is way more than just an arbitrary story made by patching together the lyrics of [INSERT NAME OF ANY GROUP HERE], unlike some other shows. None of the guys involved would have considered themselves artists in the proper sense of the word when they began, but artistic temperaments seemed to have existed, and when that's crossed with young (and less young) male testosterone and Italian neighborhood loyalties out of their childhoods, it's naive not to expect waters being roiled. (It's also naive not to expect language to match, and signs taped to the Fox's front doors warn about that.) A couple of stereotypes - a gay producer, a mobster or two - but basically an interesting story, although it's condensed and apparently eliminates a number of personnel over the years.
The voices sound great, and remind us how much fun this music must have been to sing, at least the first hundred times or so. Hayden Milanes, playing Frankie Valli, nails the falsetto parts without breaking a sweat. (Matinees and February 27, the part will be played by Shaun Taylor-Corbett.) Bob Gaudio, who not only sang with the group but wrote many of the hits, and who had preceeded joining them by writing the novelty song "Who Wears Short Shorts?" at age 15, is Quinn Vanantwerp, another particularly watchable performance. And speaking of the music, pay attention to how the music evolves, both in terms of harmony and setting, going from simple to elaborate.
Offstage, credit has to go to Marshall Brickman, whose first Broadway book this is - but a guy whose credits include writing or co-writing lots of movies like Annie Hall and Manhattan and being head writer for Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett. Also kudos to director Des MacAnuff and the La Jolla Playhouse, a fabulous regional theater who originally developed this show. Hard to imagine the neighborhoods of La Jolla and Jersey coming together in such a felicitous manner.
Lots of folks having a great time. Better for depression than Elavil.
through March 2
Rumors of spring are rumbling around and with that in mind, maybe it's time to be thinking about a road trip. The commercials for Anheuser Busch on the Super Bowl reminded me that a good, and very interesting, time is to be had at their Clydesdale breeding farm.
Known as Warm Springs Ranch, it's about 15 miles west of Columbia off I-70. Like the brewery tour, this is the real thing, not something set up specifically for tourists, although it's shiny-new, unlike our old pal on Pestalozzi Street. They film some of those commercials here, in fact.
Only a couple of miles on hard-surfaced Missouri Highway 98, and passing a farm stand (and pumpkin patch, I found, in October), Warm Springs Ranch is so much the real deal that security is noticeable. Tickets must be purchased in advance. When you arrive, the large red stable is visible from the highway, but the gate is closed and remains so until a few minutes before the time one's ticket is set for.
This is a walking tour, although the ground is level and the distance not far. You probably won't see large numbers of the herd - this is a big property and there are many fields and all have what the website terms "customized walk-in shelters". But there are indeed Clydesdales around, and an opportunity to pet them and get photos with the gentle horses. In fact, getting them used to lots of people is part of what these tours are for.
Yes, colts - we saw the one that was in the 2013 Super Bowl commercial, named Hope, and another irresistible darling only three weeks old. And two of the trailers used for the horses' road trips are there, interesting, too. Much more, as well, including discussion of breeding and veterinary care.
Of course, there's an offer of beer at the end of the tour, unless it's Sunday, when local law puts the kibosh on.
They aren't open year round, but tours begin March 22 this year and run through October. Two tours a a day every day but Wednesday. $10 a head, kids under two free, and cameras are allowed. Reserve in advance via the website.
25270 Highway 98, Boonville, MO
There's something about the long, cold winter that calls for escape - if not to a warm, sunny beach, then somewhere cozy and cosseting without the cost of that plane ticket to Phuket. It's been a time to avoid thinking about traffic jams and school closings and what footing is like on the front walk, but instead focus on something distracting, maybe a little challenging. For some people, that might be Bartok. For people like me, it can be great food, the sort that makes you think, as well as just grunt in pleasure.
And so it was off to Niche for a first visit since their move to Clayton. It's roomy, modernish without being industrial, the acoustics are good and the light is excellent without being glaring. Gerard Craft's kitchen crew works in an open area to the rear - I didn't see the maestro himself the night we were there - and the dining room is in the capable hands of Matt McGuire. (It's an open fact that Pollacks have known McGuires since back in the late Renaissance.)
The Niche style has always been forward-looking, one of the reasons Craft has attracted national attention, and so the newcomer must understand that this isn't your run-of-the-mousse food. Yes, they're serious about local ingredients. But there's technique here that intrigues, innovation that surprises and a balance of flavors that brings to mind the Thai idea of a mixture of sweet, sour, salty and hot. Not Asian seasonings, understand me. But lots of things going on at the same time. It's not quite like Paul Prudhomme's memorable phrase, "Flavors playing pinball in your mouth", it's more subtle, but it's that sort of thing.
We paid too much attention to the snack section of the menu, which meant no dessert, but it was worth it. Kicking things off were coxinha. Don't try pronouncing it. It's Portuguese, the name of a Brazilian dish that's marble-sized nuggets of cream cheese and chicken deep fried and poised in a green mayonnaise tart with sorrel. Pleasant and interesting, but easily the closest to the same old stuff we came all evening. Then came cheese bread, balls of gooeyness, moist, not at all like the Italian restaurant standby, because of the cheese incorporated into the dough, which lent its moistness. It perched on a board with some prosciutto, pickles of several sorts, all housemade, and whipped lardo. Lardo? Looks white, tastes rather like spreadable bacon. Addictive. Then there was the egg. That's all it's called on the menu: Egg. About the top third has been removed with surgical precision. Inside were layers, tender custard flavored with maple, wafer-thin slices of sauteed mushroom and a topping of caviar. I'm always delighted when something that doesn't sound so great is a pleasure, and that's what this is. The maple was definitely there but not more than a whisper of sweetness, the caviar a little salty, the mushroom more texture and a faint deep note of woodsiness.
Unbidden, some tea arrived. Tea? Proper tea cups, shallow-bowled, with a thin, glistening slice of lemon in the bottom. "There's some bacon grease in there," cheerfully announced our server, and then poured pale oak-steeped hot water. Smoky, woody, slight notes of acidity, fruit and salt - it was the liquid equivalent of holding cold hands in front of a crackling fire. It may have been the most remarkable thing of the meal. Maybe.
Chicken liver arrived as a napoleon. Using the idea that foie gras is often accompanied by something sweet, the riff begins with a light spreading of strawberry preserves on a crunchy layer that's too thin and brittle to be the brioche mentioned on the menu, continues on with the crunch of peanuts, homage to PB & J, obviously, then the rich, creamy liver mousse under another crisp layer that tastes of celery. Flying-saucer-shaped ravioli nestled in a pork broth, the filling ricotta, and a delicate, transient anise-like flavor of chervil wafting across the tongue.
Somewhere in here arrived a palate cleanser of freezer pops, a twist on sorbet, in tubes the size of an index finger and arriving in a bowl of lemons and celery. The pops themselves were, of course, flavored with lemon and celery, savory rather than sweet, the crunchy, quickly melting ice adding another element.
Smoked pork, pulled, fork-tender, redolent of hickory, rested on a bed of polenta, glistening leaves of brussels sprouts sprawling next to it, along with a handful of candied pecans and a hazelnut ice cream.
Slices of more-flavorful-than-usual beef tenderloin were paired with chunks of roasted Jerusalem artichoke, chestnut, pear slices and sunflower seed brittle. And the lamb plate featured slices of rare leg, a sort of confit of lamb shoulder, carrots cooked with cumin, a yogurt drizzle and crumbles of carrot cake.
Many of these dishes carry some sweetness with them. All have an element of surprise, the reason this is a journey into the unexpected. It's remarkable food. And the service, while lacking any element of surprise whatever, which is a very good thing, is pleasant and without a hint of condescension. And at these prices - a $95 chef's tasting menu, four courses for $65 - some might be ready for a little Attitude. And speaking of prices, things are also available a la carte, too, no more of prix-fixe as the only options.
This is, quite simply, exciting food. There's nothing ho-hum about it, and I hope it attracts folks who pay attention to what's on their plates and in their mouth.
7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
The remodelled Tony's has now opened for business, and I hear there's some new items on the menu, too. I hope it's still a restaurant for romance, though, as I write here.
If you've got an ear for crisp dialogue, especially that which has a not-infrequently bitchy edge, you'll need to trot down to Stray Dog Theatre's "The Little Dog Laughed". It's certainly an adults-only show, with nudity and a theme of coming to terms with same-sex attraction. Interesting, isn't it, how the mercenary sub-plot alone wouldn't make it unsuitable for kids?
A rising young film actor - one cannot call him a star yet, even by today's loosey-goosey standards - is visiting New York with his agent, a shark in pumps. He calls, as is his habit, an escort service for a visit from a young "nephew". Hilarity ensues, sort of, but hypocrisy makes headlines.
The fact that this Tony-award winning comedy manages to rise above a stereotype or two and remain funny a decade after it was written, despite the progress in American society about human rights, is a tribute to that dialogue. Sarajane Alverson, the agent with a sense of morality that would leave, oh, Anthony Weiner stunned, tries hard to run the life as well as the career of Bradley J. Behrmann's Mitchell, the emerging heartthrob. Mitchell seems pretty far in the closet, and that's the way Diane, the agent, who's a lesbian herself, wants to keep it. But when the cute young thing arrives at the hotel room, there's a spark from both the guys. This despite the fact that the lad, Paul Cereghino, has a sort-of semi-ex-girlfriend, Paige Hackworth, a refugee from her affluent family in Westchester County.
Alverson has a fine sense of timing with her cracking wise, and occasionally reveals the wisps of humanity Diane lets slip. Behrmann doesn't leave us with much sense of how good an actor the character is, but does very well with showing his deep conflict over his identity. Cereghino shows us a guy at loose ends, planning tomorrow but not next week or the rest of his life, and Hackworth gets good laughs with her monologue about her mother and a scene with the invisible landlord. The two-story rather geometrical set by Rob Lippert works well, and helps with several monologues.
"The Little Dog Laughs" certainly asks serious questions about private lives becoming public. Perhaps we can laugh a little more freely now that some of those questions are getting answered. Not a serious night, to be sure, but quite a funny one.
The Little Dog Laughed
Stray Dog Theatre
Tower Grove Abbey
2336 Tennessee Ave.
Thurs.-Sat. through Feb 22