A Weekend in St. Louis

When April arrives, I get the urge to travel and see some flowers and green that is late in coming here in Wisconsin. St. Louis has been a destination that I have returned to for decades as it is an easy drive from Janesville for a long weekend. I was first drawn by The Gateway Arch and then began exploring the many wonderful neighborhoods that make up this diverse and historic city.

I have learned how to get around the city and know it almost like a second home town. I have seen how St. Louis has changed over the past decades and am really happy to see how the city is evolving and getting revitalized. This time, I wanted to learn more about some of the neighborhoods and the food culture. I took a food tour through EAT St. Louis of The Hill, the Italian neighborhood. It was a bright day in the mid 60’s when I met our guide Jill, next to Guido’s Trattoria and Tapas on the corner of Shaw and Hereford. There were two other walkers with us and Jill got us off to a great start. The three things to accomplish on the the tour were: Have fun, learn about the neighborhood and go away full. The tour succeeded on all accounts. Our first stop was Guido’s an Italian restaurant run by a spaniard! We had a delicious St. Louis style cheese and sausage pizza with a cracker thin crust, a slightly sweet sauce and most importantly a mixture of Provel and Mozzarella Cheese. Provel is a processed cheese that is essential on all St. Louis style pizza, try it for yourself If you are in St. Louis. We walked a few blocks and Jill filled us in on some of the history of The Hill, the largest Italian neighborhood in the U.S. Our next stop was Vivano’s a near 50 year old Italian grocery and deli, we had a delicious sample of the “Italian Stallion” beef and Provel sandwich with a side of olive salad. We were warmly greeted as if we were family. We continued our journey through The Hill passing “shotgun” houses passing bakeries and stopping at our next location: Volpi. Volpi is a maker of salami and other cured meats. We had a cone of different meats and enjoyed looking at all of the tempting delights on display. Toasted(fried) Ravioli is another St. Louis original and we got to sample some homemade examples at Mama Toscano’s Ravioli (one of two places that claim to be the birthplace of toasted ravioli). We moved on to dessert as we had a cannoli at Amighetti’s bakery, across the street from St. Ambrosio Catholic Church, the true center for this community. The end of the tour found us at Gelato di Riso where you could taste up to 20 different varieties of Gelato, I settled on a wonderful cherry flavor. This was a great way to spend three hours in St. Louis. Our wonderful guide Jill came through on her promise to Have Fun, Learn about the history and to be full when we were done. Eat St. Louis is doing a wonderful service for those who visit(and live) in “The Lou” !

To further walk off all that wonderful food, I headed over to one of my favorite places; The Missouri Botanical Gardens. The Missouri Botanical Gardens are rightly considered one of the best in the world and for over 150 years has been a real treasure for St. Louis. The Gardens are a true delight and you can travel the world through meticulous gardens which are full of tulips and flowering trees this time of the year. The Japanese Garden is amazing and there is always something new to see and discover. This was a great first day in St. Louis and there were to be more adventures on Saturday!

Saturday started with a bit of rain, but it cleared up early and was another warm but cloudy day. I started at the Courtesey Diner for breakfast where I had a local specialty: the Hoosier. The Hoosier is a base layer of hash browns with eggs cooked to your liking(scrambled for me) topped with two sausage patties and everything covered in sausage gravy….yum! I drove throuigh the very large Forest Park and parked at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel to meet my guide from Renegade Stl to take a waking tour of the Central West End Neighborhood. The Central Westend has always attracted me as its main street, Euclid Avenue is lines with shops, sidwalk cafes and “private” gated streets of beautiful homes. Our group of 20 met in the lobby of the Chase Park Plaza, a grand hotel from the 1920s. We set out from there walking down Kingshighway past Forest Park and we turned down Hortense Place, one of the gated streets that are blocked to through traffic, but you are free to walk through on the sidewalks. We continued on and stopped at Left Bank Books 50 year old independent bookstore, perfect for browsing and still going strong. Several literary figures lived in the neighborhood and we passed the former homes of Tennessee Williams and T.S. Elliot. We ended our tour at the beautiful Byzantine style Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. The Cathedral was huge with a large dome and several side chapels. The Cathedral is best known for the world’s largest collection of mosaics. There are over a million tiles making up the many scenes and images covering the ceiling of this great church. Renegade Stl. does a great job with their tours and don’t take themselves too seriously. (This tour was titled Central West End for Nerds!)

The walking tour ended around noon time and I took the opportunity to drive to the Bevo neighborhood on the Southside, to go eat at Taco Circus. Taco Circus is a great taco place in a small corner storefront on Morganford Road. I discovered the gem a few years ago and try not to miss it! The man who runs Taco Circus describes himself as : A Spaniard from Austin TX cooking Mexican Food in a Bosnian Neighborhood in St. Lois. Taco Circus tacos are the best…..especially with one of the homemade sauces in the small fridge!

Gateway Arch National Park and the Gateway Arch is the image most people have of St. Louis. The elegant, yet strong arch designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1966 has really come to be the unmissable symbol of the St. Louis. The Gateway Arch grounds and museum have undergone an extensive multimillion dollar renovation and the city is now fully connected to the Arch. I was on a mission to see the new museum and was not disappointed. The new entryway is bright and open as you walk under the Arch to see the museum. The museum is very well done, divided into the history of St. Louis and the history of the American West. There is a great model of the St., Louis riverfront in the 1800s that shows all of the riverboats lined up and all of the activity in the old city. The museum is free to visit, but you have to pay if you want to ride in one of the small pods to the top of arch. They do have a to scale mock up of a section at the top with the windows showing images as they appear at the top, if you are pressed for time or get claustrophobic, this is a great way to get a sense of visiting the top.

Saint Louis has become almost a second hometown for me and It is truly a great place to visit for a long weekend. The springtime (mid April) is beautiful with all of the spring blooms. Saint Louis is a year round destination with a lot going on and is always changing, not bad for a 250 year old city.