The past year has been a busy one for the St. Louis culinary scene. Here are a few of the highlights from 2012:
The Lou on The Small Screen. Local chefs and restaurants got plenty of airtime in 2012. The Shaved Duck and the Guerrilla Street Food truck were both featured on Diners, Drive-ins & Dives on the Food Network. The Sweet Divine made two appearances on Cupcake Wars, also on Food Network, while chef CLARA MOORE of Local Harvest Cafe was a contestant on Bravo's latest culinary competition show, Around the World in 80 Plates.
Openings, Milestones And Closings. In 2012, plenty of new restaurants opened their doors. Some of the more notable debuts included: Local Harvest Cafe, which opened new places downtown and in Kirkwood; Mia Sorella, the West County restaurant from brothers STEVE and JAMIE KOMOREK of Trattoria Marcella fame; Nico in the U. City Loop, sister restaurant to Soulard's Franco; ZOE ROBINSON'S latest, Bar Les Freres, in Clayton; Hendricks BBQ in St. Charles and Diablitos Cantina in mid-town, both from the folks behind Sanctuaria Wild Tapas and Cafe Ventana; Gerard Craft's casual Italian Pastaria and his relocated Niche opened up side by side in Clayton; BEN POREMBA's dual concept Elaia & Olio; and former Harvest chef/owner STEVE GONTRAM's 5 Star Burgers bowed in Clayton.
Some long-standing favorites celebrated milestones this year, like Blueberry Hill, which turned 40 in September, and Pomme Restaurant, which marked its 10th year in business.
Sadly, while many places started up and others celebrated milestones, some unfortunately shuttered, like Monarch in Maplewood and Chez Leon in Clayton. The long-running Sappington Farmers Market closed its doors as well, citing declining revenues and increased competition. We also lost some important people, like longtime St. Louis restaurant and arts critic JOE POLLACK, who passed away March 9.
Awards And Accolades. Plenty of local talent took their turns in the national spotlight this year. Chef JOSH GALLIANO was named People's Best New Chef-Midwest by Food & Wine magazine; Gallino and chefs KEVIN NASHAN of Sidney Street Cafe; GERARD CRAFT of Niche; and KEVIN WILLMANN of Farmhaus were all named semi-finalists in the Best Chef: Midwest category of the 2012 James Beard Awards. Craft went on to become a finalist before losing out in the final round. And Salt in the CWE was a Beard Award semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant after barely a year in operation. Taste in the CWE garnered a slew of accolades over the course of the year, including being named by Food & Wine as one of the 50 Best Bars in America. Robust in Webster Groves and Copia Restaurant And Wine Garden downtown made Open Table's Diners' Choice 2012 Most Notable Wine List Top 100. Draft magazine named 4 Hands Brewery's Prunis, a sour cherry saison, and Urban Chestnut Brewing Company's Zwickel lager to its list of Top 25 Beers in 2012. Guerilla Street Food, Cha Cha Chow and Seoul Taco were all named to The Daily Meal's Top 101 Food Trucks in America list. The Eater declared Craft's Pastaria to be one of the 25 most-anticipated restaurant openings in the country for 2012. Craft was was also named one of 10 Empire Builders 2012 in Food & Wine.
Area distillers, breweries and wineries continued to get nationwide attention. At the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Pinckney Bend Distillery of New Haven, Mo, won a gold medal for its American gin, and Mastermind Vodka out of Madison County Ill., did the same with its vodka. Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling Co. from Ste. Genevieve, Mo., won a bronze medal for its vodka, and St. Louis' The Big O Ginger Liqueur took a bronze, as well. The Beverage Testing Institute awarded medals to 18 Mount Pleasant wines, under both the Mount Pleasant Estates and Mount Pleasant Winery labels. Balaban's Wine Cellar & Tapas Bar was awarded a Best Award of Excellence in Wine Spectator's 2012 restaurant awards, one of only 878 international eateries to get the nod.
Food Trucks. The four-wheeled food scene in St. Louis showed no signs of slowing down in 2012. New food trucks that hit the street this year included Curbside Cookery, L'Ecole Culinaire's Le Food Truck, Steamroller Bagel & Deli, Hot Aztec, The Cheese Shack, 2 Girls 4 Wheels and Completely Sauced On Wheels. The food truck phenom got so popular that the City of St. Louis set aside a block of parking spaces on 13th Street between Chestnut and Pine just for the mobile eateries.