Lest you forget, this Clayton standby has kept up its standards. You can read about it here.
The very first day of the Clayton Farmer's Market, many years ago, which to my memory was in the month of September and was totally local and organic,we stood surveying the busy scene with Julie Ridlon, the market master. A woman, unknown to all of us, stopped to speak to Joe. At a pause in the conversation, Julie asked, "So, how did you like it?"
"Not very much," said the woman. "I was looking for oranges and bananas and I couldn't find either one."
I thought of the story when I read the food section of the New Orleans Times-Picayune this week. The T-P, like so many papers, is being eviscerated, but the online edition will persist, thanks to their depleted staff. But one of the larger stories in the section involves bananas being cultivated in southern Louisiana. "Local and Tastier Bananas Are On the Way" read the headline. Sounds absolutely delicious. Give it a few years and some decent weather and another new and inviting (and healthy!) treat will be possible.
We wrote about it some years ago, but I re-visited Jing Fong in New York's Chinatown and wrote about it in Relish. Very comfortable for the solo diner, by the way, especially since the traditional dim sum portions are small. You can read about it here.
Small. Very casual. Almost bare-bones. Elegant aromas. That's Spice-n-Grill, located in a small strip of shops on the south side of Olive in University City, much closer to Skinker than the multitude of Asian restaurants that make the street a food-lover's target. Run by the Khan family, who formerly owned Indian Food, closer to I-170, it's much smaller, seating scarcely a dozen, and with a counter that makes one at first think it's only take-out. But no, and an invitation to be seated greets incoming guests.
The menu is short, but pleasantly varied, with eight vegetarian options. There really isn't any appetizer section, but a couple of kinds of samosas are offered along with kebabs in the first part of the menu. Chicken boti kebab was a half-dozen generous pieces of white meat rubbed with spices and served with pieces of onion as a bed, the turmeric-laced seasoning warming, softening and seasoning the onions. And it arrived with the entrees, seemingly a slip-up until I realized that it wasn't really a first course. But the meat was juicy and not overcooked, a pleasant thing particularly with white meat's tendency to overcook at the drop of a fork.
Listed as the specialty dish is nihari, a traditional Pakistani dish quite unlike any South Asian curry we've had. Made here with either beef or lamb shank and served with the bones removed, it's essentially a complex stew, one of those things that everyone's family surely has done their own way for generations. It clearly has wee julienne of fresh ginger in it as well as the usual chopped ginger, onions and garlic and cardamom seems to be in the background. But there's also a mysterious note that may well be anise. The beef in the dish we had was deeply tender; the dish is traditionally cooked very slowly, and then served as breakfast, but the story is that it can produce a morning nap that will last until afternoon prayers. Yes, it's rich, but definitely worthwhile.
Even richer is the lamb tikka masala, an incredibly creamy rendition, its orange-ish sauce full-flavored and aromatic. The meat here, too, was tender and lean. Mr. Khan was careful to inquire about our spicing preference, and we'd asked for the tikka masala mild and the beef nihari medium. "Mild" here does not mean "no heat". It left a definite mouth tingle. The request for the nihari to be hot caused some raised eyebrows, and after some discussion, our old line "Indian medium" came into play. He nodded in agreement. And the dish was spicier than the tikka masala but not shockingly so for the palate that's used to some spiciness.
Goat biryani couldn't be passed up. "It has bones," he warned, which is fine; bones add succulence, as all cooks know. The rice dish is particularly colorful here, bits of carrot and tomato contrasting with a sprinkle of cilantro, and seems particularly moist, as though a sauce had been stirred in after cooking was done. The goat meat was as mild as lamb, and more carefully, if not completely perfectly, trimmed of fat and gristle than many I've come across. We'd told Mr. Khan to spice it as he thought best, and it was moderately lively, although the next-day leftovers seemed calmer. A particularly tasty rendition of a dish that's often a favorite, and a lighter alternative to the nihari and tikka masala.
And then there was the raita chase. The ordered raita didn't arrive, nor did it appear on the check. Next day, we wanted some to go with leftover biryani and stopped by. "I'm sorry," said the proprietor regretfully, "We're making the yogurt for it. Tomorrow." So no raita for us. Chapatti, the wide, thin bread baked to order was excellent, perfect alone or for wiping up the last bit of delectable sauce.
A new dessert option popped up, sooji halwa. It's a thick, dark golden pudding made by toasting farina in ghee until it's the right color and then slowly adding a sweet, cardamom-laced syrup, the process rather like one does risotto. It's very sweet, very rich, managing to be both soothing and exciting at the same time. From an American standpoint, serving ti with a dollop of that yogurt they were making would be just right, I suspect. Mango lassi was thinner in consistency than often found, and leaned more toward sweet than tart-sweet.
The breakfast-curious may be interested to know that on Saturday and Sunday, Spice-n-Grill offers halwa poori, a traditional breakfast, during brunch-ish hours, 11-2:30. It consists of a chickpea curry, potato bhaji (a sort of fritter), halwa and a couple of pieces of the deepfried bread called poori, all for a set price.
Pleasant, attentive service, certainly, interesting food and a simple setting. Good stuff.
6800 Olive Blvd., University City
Lunch & Dinner Tues.-Sun
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair
Do you remember when Cherokee Street had a Woolworth's and lots of small clothing shops? Globe Drug? When east of Jefferson was quiet and mostly residential? Once upon a time, it was like that, but no more. It's becoming, more and more, an adventurous eater's mecca, and not just for authentic Mexican. In that east-of-Jefferson-Avenue neighborhood lies The Mud House, good enough for a special trip, or, as the Michelin stars designate, worth a detour. You can read about it here.
Finding barbecue in unexpected places seems to be getting easier these days. I dropped by Gobblestop Smokehouse in Creve Coeur the other day, and wrote it for St. Louis Mag's blog Relish. You can read it here:
Plenty of press releases cross the desk. Most of them get read and deleted. Some get filed, a few get responses. But once in a while, there's a giggler.
Such was the case a few days ago when a release for Mentos candy mints arrived. Specifically, it regarded Mentos Singapore and its new advertising campaign. Singapore has been concerned about its dwindling population for a number of years. Aside from a government that's known for worrying about chewing gum, it's a prosperous city-state and a paradise for eaters if they can take its climate, which, being about 85 mies north of the equator is, to be polite, warm and moist.
So Mentos has decided to mark Singapore's National Day, August 9, by encouraging a Mento, presumably to freshen the breath, on the Day's night, and kissing one's partner. Then, they go on, the kissing should proceed to, well, making a baby. Out of civic duty, of course. There's a You Tube music video (no photos, just the lyrics dancing around) that has some local Singaporean references, some obscure, like the one about the government's baby bounty, and others more comprehensible. For instance, dim sum fans may grin at the phrase "a bao in the oven", bao being a word for "bun".
I've heard of Pepsi babies, and Margaux Hemingway said her name referred to her being a Chateau Margaux baby. But Mentos babies? The video, by the way, mentions nothing about it, but its Facebook page puts, in small type, "financially secure adults in stable, committed long-term relationships".
How many of us take our out-of-town guests for a visit to Crown Candy Kitchen when we do the downtown tour or before or after a game? For many, it's almost a ritual when we have the right potential audience. Crown Candy is simple, we explain, and it's not perfect. But the setting and the food are a great match, nostalgia for the older guests, exploration for the younger ones.
The Karandzieff family will celebrate their business' centennial next year. The river of time brought it through influenza epidemics, wartime food rationing, monster snows and tornadoes. If only the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would have stopped by Crown Candy, they would have been much nicer guys.
It's nearly always busy, it seems, and it's a favorite watering hole for politicians and media types playing hookey from being dignified. Everyone waits in line, parents explaining to kids what that strange closet-looking thing is (it's a phone booth), and kids wiggling with the effort not to go roaring through the candy on display. There's nearly always a representative or three from St. Louis' Finest there, eating in or waiting for to-go.
Yes, it's an ice cream fountain, but sandwiches get lots of attention here. For most folks, there's their BLT and then everything else. The bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich on white toast was recently featured on The Travel Channel. It's stuffed with bacon, and maybe it's just me, but I think it's gotten bigger in recent years. On my last visit, it was almost as thick as a New York delicatessen sandwich. And at this time of year, it was thrilling to see good, red tomatoes.
A grilled ham and cheese on sourdough was not quite as stuffed, but there was plenty of ham. (The Pork Producers Council should have them on their short list.) My visiting apprentice eater would have liked more cheese to balance all that ham, fair enough, but there's a certain ooze factor to consider, too. And Joe was known to succumb to the chili dog.
As to non-ice cream beverages, there are a few to whom this will matter: Despite the plethora of Coca-Cola memorabilia around, a few years ago, they switched to Pepsi products. A shocking development, certainly.
About the ice cream offerings: That big bowl of bananas on the counter should be a clue about the fresh banana malts being a sort of signature. Chocolate banana is fine lily-gilding, and having grown up with malts arriving on the marble soda-fountain counter with a container of nutmeg to sprinkle on them, the Johnny Rabbit special that adds whipped cream, nuts and nutmeg, is quite logical. And speaking of malt, a young guy seated nearby must have asked what malt was. The server, who was very good on all counts, but very busy, went to the candy case, brought him a candy covered malt ball so he could taste malt. (An older friend then explained to that they didn't throw the candy in the malt mixer, there was a powder they used. I'm waiting for that mix-in at Ted Drewes.) On this visit, twice we saw malts coming out in their handsome steel containers, moisture beaded on them, to be poured into their tall glasses, and each time, the pour brought a large chunk of ice cream into the glass causing a splash and overflow. At least one of those chunks was unmixed ice cream. So beware, or ask for the malt/shake equivalent of "well-done, please".
My favorite is a chocolate ice cream soda, traditionally done with vanilla ice cream, although Himself favored the black cherry ice cream. This is not, young ones, the same as an ice cream float. Chocolate (or your choice) syrup goes in the bottom of a tall glass. A splash of milk is added and the whole thing stirred together a little. A vigorous hit of carbonated water foams things up and mixes them more. Then the ice cream, two scoops, in this case, is added, along with a tall spoon and a straw. The liquid is chocolaty but not sweet, at least at first. A spoonful of ice cream with some of the liquid, perhaps a little frozen from the chill of the ice cream, is just right. Eventually the ice cream at least partially melts down to sweeten the liquid some. Not as handsome as a strawberry ice cream soda, which is like a little girl's party dress, but satisfying.
The banana splits are fine, particularly the one made only with hot fudge, and unless things have changed, their caramel, spelled "Carmel" in many but not all places, is butterscotch sauce. About the only glitch of note is the fruit salad sundae, which talks about fresh and frozen fruit over ice cream. Ours brought 3 strawberry slices, 2 small pieces of banana and what seemed like a whole handful of maraschino cherries. In the midst of the best peach season in several years, this was a disappointment. We opted for chocolate chocolate chip ice cream, which is what the photo shows.
Long may they wave. I look forward to the big birthday celebration next year.
Crown Candy Kitchen
1402 St. Louis Ave.
Lunch and Dinner daily (Sun til 5 p.m.)
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Very tight