City living is something we both consider the proper environment.
Joe grew up in Brooklyn and figured out rather quickly that the country might be bucolic but it was a place to visit and not to sprout roots. Ann's from a small town and knew that while she was in a good place to be a kid, she wanted to be a grownup in a big city, thank you. And so when we heard about a restaurant called Urban Eats, it seemed to be a natural visit. Urban Eats is not the sort of place that wants to pretend it's in New York or Shanghai or Potosi. It goes out of its way to be a participant in the community, both its immediate neighborhood, which is Dutchtown, and the larger St. Louis one.
It's a small place, comfortable but not cutesy-cozy, with tables and chairs, stools and counters, a sofa and a meeting room next door. It hosts book signings and meet-ups, political gatherings and charity fundraisers. Officially a cafe and bakery, Urban Eats offers late breakfasts (after 10 a.m.), with espresso drinks and muffins, which can be ordered “stuffed,” meaning a squirt of vanilla cream cheese filling. Lunches and a separate selection of happy hour snacks are served until 7 p.m.
The way it works is to start with a decision of whether you want your food to come inside something, like a panini or a wrap, or on top of something, like a bowl of rice or a flatbread, which means pizza. Next is a question of style, as in Asian, Italian, Southwestern, Mediterranean or American, which still means pizza, and finally a decision on filling, involving chicken, turkey, salmon, pepperoni and bacon, hummus or eggplant caponata. There are several sides, too, described as "yummy extras," like chips or fruit, or "really yummy extras," like soups or salads or noodles.
We went for a wrap, made with a large whole wheat tortilla, in its Mediterranean version, with black olive tapenade, mozzarella, and lemon-pepper mayo, holding hummus and its partner portobello mushrooms. And we were very glad we did, too. The cheese was warm and gooey from the grilling, with a little spicing and just enough filling to fill the mouth but not ooze out the other end. A little baby spinach was an extra benefit. Quite yummy.
At the opposite end of the carnivore spectrum, a flatbread made with a long piece of the Indian naan, dressed with the “American sauce,” which still meant pizza, but with a tasty sweet-basil sauce (we passed on the mozzarella that usually rides shotgun). Topped with lots of pepperoni and bacon, it was a good combination of sweet and salty, crisp and chewy. Our sides were a bowl of Thai ginger noodles and another of white chicken chili. The noodles were pleasant but mild, not as spicy as the word “Thai” might imply, and lightly peanutty. A little more ginger would have improved them. On the other hand, the chili was a real winner, lots of meat, relatively few beans, threads of what appeared to be leeks lacing the thick, spicy soup. Just fine for a gray, wintry afternoon, warming and cheering.
Muffins and cookies head up the sweets, along with bread pudding and gooey butter cake. Eschewing our usual bread pudding, we tried the GBC. Chewy-gooey, just as rich as it should be, our only complaint was that it was a little dry in the base. But the good and surprisingly fresh coffee, just the regular stuff, not a specialty drink, made up for that.
Urban Eats is extremely child-friendly, with booster seats and a high chair, but an alcohol license and a drink menu that includes smoothies with rum or vodka, as well as beer, lots of things to read, art work on the walls and a system that calls for visiting the counter to order. The food is then brought to you. Just a really comfy, well-lit, third-place sort of spot.
Urban Eats Cafe
3301 Meramec St.
Late Breakfast and Lunch daily, early dinner Mon.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Difficult