What a year it’s been! As we prepare to bid adieu to 2014, we couldn’t help but reminisce over the many exciting developments in Missouri and its adjacent metro areas in this calendar year. From bold new business concepts to important anniversaries, here’s our list of highlights in a year that’s worth remembering.
10. Strange Donuts goes on a growth tear
It’s hard to believe St. Louis donut shop Strange Donuts is only a little more than a year old. The Maplewood shop’s first birthday celebrations came accompanied by the opening of an additional storefront in Kirkwood and soon after, Strange Trap Kitchen, a concept location inside Brennan’s Wine, Tobacco and Food in the Central West End. Strange Donuts also announced plans for a westward expansion – a Columbia, Missouri, location is planned in collaboration with St. Louis’ Seoul Taco. Chalk up the quick success to the power of social media – Strange Donuts was creating hype on Twitter and Facebook months before the first shop even opened – and, of course, to the inventive donuts. There are Classics, “Creations” like s’mores and gooey butter cake, and “Stranger” collaborations made with local businesses, such as the pizza donuts made with Pi Pizzeria or the pho donuts made with Mai Lee Restaurant. St. Louis has been eating up all three types by the dozen. – Heather Riske
9. The CoMo food scene takes off
In Columbia, 2014 will go down as the year when the city’s food movement finally took off. Logboat Brewing Co., founded just this year downtown Columbia, is now on tap at just about every bar in town, and more recently is making headway in the Kansas City market. Meanwhile, the eagerly awaited Pizza Tree gives diners and delivery customers alike a taste of sourdough pizza and toppings such as mushroom crimini and pork belly, while Umbria has brought local diners the cuisine of central Italy. And it wasn’t just high-end restaurants having a banner year in Columbia: in Shortwave Coffee, the city finally got a coffee shop that was serious about coffee, even as Harold’s Doughnuts introduced the idea that coffee, bourbon, jalapeno, s’mores, bacon can be wonderful in combination so long as a donut ties them together. No small accomplishment, especially since Harold’s led Columbia to its awakening even before opening the doors to its much-anticipated brick-and-mortar location, now being planned for 2015. – Ragh Singh
8. Craft brewing reaches major milestones
Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence, Kansas, and Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City both launched in 1989, introducing locally brewed craft beer to the Kansas City area. Both breweries celebrated 25th anniversaries this year with special events and limited edition releases.
Bolstered by a production brewery opened in east Lawrence five years ago to supplement its original downtown brewery, Free State has increased production and expanded distribution of bottled beers in Kansas and Missouri, plus a few locations in Nebraska and Iowa. Boulevard’s production, meanwhile, reached nearly 185,000 barrels in 2014, making the craft brewery the eighth largest in the U.S. Its $12 million expansion project, Cellar Five, broke ground in November 2014 and will increase its beer fermentation capacity to more than 300,000 barrels.
In St. Louis, craft brewing’s history may be shorter, but continues to gain steam. This year Side Project Brewing’s Cory King and Karen King opened Side Project Cellar, a 50-seat tasting room in Maplewood. Cory, who is also head brewer at Perennial Artisan Ales, released his first Side Project beers just over a year ago, and they quickly gained both local and national fans. Now Karen operates the Belgian-inspired beer bar and tasting room, which features a 24-tap temperature-controlled draft system. – Pete Dulin
7. Artisan butcher shops offer a meaty alternative
Several chefs across Missouri have shifted from plying their culinary trade in restaurant kitchens to opening modern butcher shops. After more than ten years as Sidney Street Cafe’s chef de cuisine, Chris Bolyard opened Bolyard’s Meat & Provisions in Maplewood, providing fresh, locally raised, pastured meat, while in Ladue, executive chef Brandon Benack oversees Butchery, a full-service meat market in conjunction with Truffles restaurant. The shop carries local beef, poultry, seafood, charcuterie, cheeses and prepared foods, plus a small sandwich shop and retail store. Butchery’s innovative custom-made dry-aging cooler is lined with pink Himalayan salt to age and season meat.
To the west, Chef Stuart Aldridge’s Broadway Butcher Shop purveys premium meats, seafood and gourmet groceries and attentive customer service, generously sharing cooking knowledge and tips on how to prepare foods. Look for specialties such as octopus pastrami and cocktail weenies, while Local Pig, Chef Alex Pope’s butcher shop in Kansas City’s East Bottoms, features premium meats and handcrafted sausages such as goat chorizo and bourbon apple. In October, Pope added a second butcher shop location in nearby Westport with restaurant service after taking over the Bridger’s Bottle Shop and Preservation Market space. Pope also operates Pigwich, a food truck at the original location. – Pete Dulin
6. Westport becomes a dining destination
Westport has long been considered Kansas City’s historic bar district, but 2014 brought a wider focus — it’s now an excellent place to eat as well. The neighborhood saw eight new bars and restaurants open in 2014, joining a district that was already home to chef-driven concepts like Pot Pie, Port Fonda and Westport Café & Bar. In 2014, diners could not wait to try Cucina della Ragazza, Baked in Kansas City, Blanc Burgers, Ça Va, Westport Ale House, Julep, Local Pig – Westport and Char Bar. Even Westport’s original “first lady of fine food,” 10-year-old Bluestem, showed off a shiny open kitchen and a marvelously modern dining room and lounge after Chef Colby and Chef Megan Garrelts invested in a major renovation.
This new wave of restaurants and bars, owned by talented local and independent restaurateurs and chefs, are making an investment not only in their individual concepts, but also in the future of Westport. – Jenny Vergara
5. Single-liquor bars dominate
Picking your poison was never easier, as a new wave of single-spirit bars and restaurants opened in 2014. No one has more knowledge, excitement or enthusiasm for any given spirit than the people who work at places like these. These are bars to share your appreciation of a fine glass of wine, a stein of beer, a flute of champagne, a rocks glass of whiskey.
In Kansas City, this year brought the opening of our new favorite whiskey bar, Julep, in Westport, while Ça Va culled our appreciation for sparkling wines and Champagnes from around the world. In St. Louis, Natasha’s Gin Room proudly proclaimed its devotion to the botanical-flavored spirit, while Old Standard and Small Batch doubled down on whiskey. That’s even as a few whiskey-focused 2013 openings in St. Louis, Gamlin Whiskey House, Moonshine Blues Bar and the Whiskey Ring, are still going strong. Forget dabbling; there’s never been a better time than right now to be monomaniacal in your alcohol consumption. – Jenny Vergara
4. Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. wows in St. Louis
When St. Louis chef Kevin Nashan announced he’d open a seafood joint just down the street from his acclaimed Sidney Street Cafe this summer, locals weren’t the only ones marking their calendars. Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. captured the nation’s attention, quickly landing on Eater National’s 48 Most Anticipated Openings of Summer 2014.
Featuring casual Acadian-inspired coastal eats, the restaurant is a stark departure from the James Beard finalist’s flagship Sidney Street Cafe. It’s also almost unrecognizable from its former tenant – the old Niche/Taste space underwent a complete transformation into an oceanside shack featuring rustic, Americana-inspired décor. The menu is equally creative, with Nashan’s takes on classics like lobster rolls, po’boy sandwiches, oysters, steamed blue crab, seafood boils, chowders and gumbos, as well as a raw bar. It’s easily the most exciting opening in St. Louis this year – and completely worthy of the hype. – Heather Riske
3. Women make a splash in the craft cocktail scene
It may still be a man’s world, but it was the women of Kansas City’s craft cocktail scene who took top prizes in 2014.
Paige Unger Cline, the head bartender and bar manager for The American Restaurant, won the Kansas City’s regional Speed Rack, a charitable bartending competition, and then went on to rep the area at the national competition this year. Unger competed in the regional competition against 21 other female mixologists from seven states, but based on her speed and skill, she was the one who walked away with the regional crown and $500 cash.
Another shiny star behind the stick, Caitlin Corcoran, is the general manager of Ça Va. In 2014, Corcoran won the bartending competition at the locally hosted Paris of the Plains Bartending Competition, outshaking and stirring 11 other regional bartenders, all of whom were male. Her winning cocktail creation, Field of Dreams, perfectly reflected her time earlier in the year as bar manager of Port Fonda, employing arbol chili-infused Omelca Altos Plata tequila, Absolut Cilantro vodka and Sombra Mezcal even as it put $1,000 in her pocket. – Jenny Vergara
2. Barbecue becomes a finer art
While acclaim for Kansas City’s traditional style of world-class barbeque often overshadows its St. Louis counterparts, pitmasters in both cities have recently elevated the culinary form to new heights. St. Louis restaurateur Tom Schmidt opened Salt + Smoke BBQ in the former home of his Mediterranean-inflected Nico in The Loop. Housemade food is the watchword for everything, from Texas-style barbeque to sauces and sides like Carolina deviled eggs. The venue also specializes in bourbon, craft and barrel-aged cocktails, and beer.
The Salted Pig, featuring a healthy spin on Southern comfort food and barbeque in Frontenac, is the latest from St. Louis restaurateur Michael Del Pietro, while Adam’s Smokehouse, co-owned by Mike Ireland and Frank Vinciguerra in Clifton Heights, sold out of food on its first day of operations in October. Demand for its smoked meats, sandwiches and barbeque has remained strong ever since. Finally, Chef-owner Mike Johnson of Sugarfire Smoke House in Olivette, with Sugarfire Pie later opening next door to offer a full range of delectable desserts and pastries.
In Kansas City, 30-year restaurant industry veteran and barbeque expert Rob Magee and his wife Kelly opened Q39, a barbeque and wood-fired grill restaurant. It pairs award-winning barbeque with healthy, lighter grilled fare that delivers bold flavor in an upscale urban-rustic setting. Char Bar Smoked Meats and Amusements combines craft beer, regional aged bourbon, Kansas City barbeque and Southern-inspired cuisine. Partner Mitch Benjamin, award-winning pitmaster of legendary competition barbeque team Meat Mitch, helped develop the concept created by James Westphal and Mark Kelpe, the beer-centric restauranteurs behind McCoy’s Public House, The Foundry and Beer Kitchen. – Pete Dulin
1. St. Louis shows resilience in the face of major unrest
As Pat Eby details in her intimate look at the difficult season experienced this fall by the Ferguson Farmers Market, this was a tough year for restaurants in both that St. Louis suburb and, later, within the city, as unrest related to the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson led to smashed storefronts and nervous suburban customers staying home.
But signs of resilience were everywhere, even in the immediate aftermath of some very tense (and destructive) evenings. The morning after 21 glass storefronts were smashed on South Grand in November, restaurateurs reopened for breakfast, and quickly teamed up with local artists to cover their protective plywood with memorable art (now headed to the Missouri History Museum).
And while Ferguson faced far more damaging vandalism, with several buildings burned to the ground, restaurant owners vowed to carry on. Cake shop owner Natalie Dubose saw her GoFundMe campaign go viral, giving her money to rebuild in a huge way, even as Cathy’s Kitchen owner Cathy Jenkins vows to open two new eateries within Ferguson city limits. Clearly, St. Louis-area restaurateurs aren’t going to let a little thing like fire or broken glass stop them. And to that, we raise a toast – and a hope for a better, more peaceful 2015. – Sarah Fenske
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story listed Andrew Jennrich as a current player in Butchery, when Jennrich has recently left the business. Also, Kevin Nashan has been a finalist for a James Beard award, not just a semi-finalist. We regret the errors.