St. Louis’ Greatest Hits

by Angela on September 24, 2012 · 3 comments

The Hollicks' Top Ten in St. Louis, MO

The saying really is true: It’s not quantity but quality that counts.

Our short three-week St. Louis stay could have been disastrous, from many accounts. We kept noticing one annoying thing after another in our dismal vacation rental. My neck was still a-killin’ me. And oh yes, there was that shooting just 2 blocks from our apartment. But hey! We also packed in some quality excursions within those 21 days in Missouri (and Max and I were actually gone for half that time to visit family). Everyone warned us of the oppressive, depressing summer heat in this city, but we lucked out with milder weather than predicted. So we had no good excuse to get out and explore a bit. And I admit, St. Louis impressed us. Call us glass half-full junkies, as long as you are aware that the glass might contain some vino!

Here goes — the Hollicks’ Top Ten for St. Louis!
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1.  The Magic House – St. Louis’ Children’s Museum. Before we joined the tour seven months ago, our generous cousins Amy and Albert had gifted us a reciprocal American Children’s Museum membership, and we’ve taken full advantage of it in almost every city.  So let us state this loud and clear: The Magic House is probably the best one we’ve visited so far. Woot-woot, St. Louis!

The pristine exterior looks almost Cape-Cod-ish. The building was well-maintained, and the exhibits were clean, thoughtful and extensive.

There was a Lego raceway, where you could construct your own cars and then have them race down an incline that clocked their speed.

Little discoveries lay in wait, like this mouse hole that Max stared into for about 10 minutes.

“The Little Dig” area contained this rubber mulch that you could scoop up. No dirt!

But I think Mike and Max had the most fun bouncing on the Musical Chairs and creating their father-son melodies with their butts.

Footnote: The Magic House may have top scores in its main function, i.e. being a children’s museum, but it had one of the worst cafes we’ve been at, inside a children’s museum. The food was severely overpriced, the sandwiches were skimpy and sad, and the milk was curdled. Make sure you eat before you come, or bring your own lunch!

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2. St. Louis Zoo.  Lion King stage manager Beth Bornstein set up a private Lion King kids’ event for with the St. Louis Zoo. We were excited, because it promised to educate us on “Using Resources Wisely” and also featured an “Animal Encounter”. There were arts and crafts projects centered around recycling concepts, like making your own nest; and then the kids got to meet this sweet bird.

The rest of the zoo was excellent as well … and FREE! Yes, you heard right. The St. Louis Zoo is free and clear.

Wait, I lied — we did have a separate entrance fee for a show within the zoo: the Sea Lion Show. This guy’s name is Robbie, and he scared the bejeezus out of Max when he came up to the side near us and started barking.

The butterfly habitat wasn’t as grandiose as the one in Houston’s Science Center, but the butterflies were just as captivating.

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3. Five-year wedding anniversary at Salt. Ever since we got hitched in 2007, we’ve been saying how cool it would be to celebrate the 5-year mark in St. Louis. Kidding! In all seriousness, we rang in our wood anniversary at a farm-to-table restaurant that our foodie friend Theresa recommended.  Salt was right in our Central West End neighborhood, and we left Max with Nick and Hero back at the homestead to saunter the few blocks to the stately house that — no joke — was once a funeral parlor.

The menu at Salt was rustic to the point that several dishes were served inside Mason jars.  In fact, my favorite dish of the evening was presented in one: a single plump sea scallop, seared and then dressed in a cracked-mustard sauce with a sprinkle of scallions. A tiny puff of cedar smoke rose up as I twisted the lid open. Winner!

The charcuterie we chose, the chicken liver paté and the salted smokies (little weenies!), were passable. It was the cheese that had the edge; we opted for the rosemary Manchego and the Rembrandt Gouda, paired with some sliced almonds and raisins. The toast points were stale and soggy, however; we felt indifferent about sending them back so we just ate the meats and cheeses straight up.

Perhaps the best course was our first — the cocktails. Mike’s Seasonal Smash combined bourbon, orange, peach syrup, mint and angostora bitters. Our waitress assured him it wasn’t too sweet or pretty; when it arrived, it wasn’t the former but certainly the latter.  My Sheboygan Sunrise was refreshing, with gin, St. Germaine, lime, honey syrup, cucumbers, mint and ginger beer. There were supposedly creole bitters but I couldn’t taste them.

Salt’s known for their duck-fat fried chicken, so we gave it a try. And it was, in the words of those annoying Yelpers that I vowed to never become, “meh”.  The extra-crispy gnarled breading distracted from any succulence and flavor that the meat may have clung onto. The potatoes and green beans that accompanied the overdone chicken were unremarkable. Definitely disappointing.

And in a moment which I saw my occasional critically indignant temperment rub off on my husband, he sent our dessert back. I almost clapped my hands in glee. It was a deep-fried red velvet twinkie with coffee ice cream, which we ordered because, well, it was a deep-fried red velvet twinkie. Unfortunately, it tasted all sorts of confusing. We didn’t understand what was so twinkie-ish about it, since there was no filling, and the batter surrounding the dry cake almost broke our teeth. But here’s the wine-glass optimism — this didn’t ruin our meal, it just made it more exciting. Happy anniversary!

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4. The Gateway Arch. This 630-foot monument is truly spectacular. Rising up on the west bank of the Mississippi River, it gleams in the rays of the late-summer sun and when you squint upwards, it gives you the illusion of a monstrous high-tech boomerang in freeze-frame. Just thinking about the design and actual execution of this monument is pretty mind-blowing.

Literally underneath the Arch underground is a surprisingly extensive Museum of Westward Expansion.

The free exhibits showcase the rarest of artifacts from the Lewis and Clark days, like life-sized tipis, covered wagons, and items of everyday life for Native Americans, farmers, hunters and pioneers.

Upon seeing just how the American Indians were stripped of their land and resources by the Euro-Americans, you gain an appreciation for how hard they’ve held onto their cultures and indomitable spirit. They got burned, ya’ll. We could have spent an entire afternoon in here, but it was too exhausting to keep the toddler from climbing onto all the displays.

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5. The Central West End. Despite the shooting (!), our neighborhood was super strollable and charming. I know, right? With the many boutique-y shops and upscale restaurants, including the gourmet grocery store Straub’s at the end of Maryland Avenue, it made the evenings actually very pleasant for Max and I. We ended up going almost every night to indulge in Froyo, and the World Chess Hall of Fame with the world’s largest chess piece (14.5 feet tall!) were fun monuments to gawk at as we walked by. Who knew that St. Louis had such a chess heritage?

A beautiful stretch of Maryland Avenue boasts pleasant sidewalk cafés like Brennan’s.

There was even a Summer Movie Night right on Maryland Plaza, complete with an old-fashioned popcorn stand on the sidewalk and concessions from the handcrafted chocolate shop, Bissinger’s.

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6. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. We were warned that this place would have lines, but with our own unorthodox schedule, we ended up running right up to the counter at 5 pm and getting served immediately.

On a humid summer afternoon, the vanilla icy treat was pure perfection. Even Max, who eschews the coldness of ice cream, gave his kid’s cone a few tentative licks. Mike “Sweet Tooth” Hollick was more maniacal in his approach.

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7. City Museum. This is the one place I regret going to so late in the game, as Max and I tagged along with Nick and Hero on the last day we were in town. The imagination and sheer ambition of City Museum needed deserved days upon days of exploration! The entire 600,000 square foot former shoe factory was converted to a museum using reclaimed materials and found objects. For instance, the outdoor interactive structures featured an old airplane, a bus hanging off the roof, and human tunnels made of wire and steel. Ah-may-zing.

The Cordileones got fanatical and returned to City Museum four days in a row, so I enlisted in Nick for his photos and narrative because this place just HAD to make our best of list. Some select shots are below; to see his full photo essay of this urban playground, click here.

Max is just obsessed with colors. On this painting table, you can see the history of thousands of kids’ work dried in layers on the surface.

Of course, we had to visit the “ups” — Max’s favorite, although it was the most ordinary part of the whole place, in my humble opinion!

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8. The Cup. Another decadent dessert place has made our list, but while Ted Drewes’ Frozen Custard was a six-mile drive away in Lindonwood Park, this designer cupcake place was a dangerous (for my waistline) 3 block walk down Maryland Avenue. The cakes were moist and the buttercream frosting made Max squeal. Below, you’re looking at their Confetti, Grasshopper, and Summer Crush cupcake in the back.

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9. The Fabulous Fox Theater. This is the only theater that Mike has come home and raved about.

As gorgeous as the facade and front of house is, the real magic may very well be backstage. Like many theaters, every production that performs there gets to paint a representative mural and sign it — but Mike’s never seen as impressive an array as what adorns all the walls, corners and crevices backstage at the Fox. There is barely a blank wall. Even the ceilings have their ghosts.

Click here to see more backstage photos.

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10. Pi Pizza. We ate here with Mike’s stepmom Jan, a.k.a. Max’s “Grandy”, while she was in town for business. Featuring both deep dish and thin crust, the cornmeal in the dough gave each slice an interesting base texture. We started Max out with an order of delectable meatballs and the adults a surprisingly substantial greek salad, then mixed and matched the pies so we could sample almost everything we wanted.  It was a traditional approach to pizza with a unique point of view. It may not have been our favorite pizza on earth, but it surely was solid and enjoyable. The ingredients were fresh and the service was attentive.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

- Max’s organized personality emerges. We always knew that Max loved classifying toys and items, but here, he’s meticulously lining up his Cars and Thomas Trains.

 

- Rasoi. This Indian restaurant in the Central West End piqued our interest with its Lobster Dosa option in the midst of its more traditional dishes on their dinner menu, but we ended up here one day for the lunch buffet. Tandoori chicken, chana masala (my fave), palak paneer, lamb rogan josh, vegetable biryani… and of course, naan.  It was delicious, but I simply could not get an attractive photo of the buffet, so here’s a shot of their colorful dining room.

 

- Pool time.  So… we did have many complaints about our vacation rental, but it DID come with a surprisingly well-maintained pool and grill area. The thing was, since it wasn’t as hot as we expected the St. Louis month of August to be, the water in the pool ended up being cool cold frigid. Here, Max dips a finger in the water before yelling for his Dada to jump in. Mike obliged after Max counted him down from ten. Again and again.

 

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

steve mccarthy September 24, 2012 at 1:39 pm

i’ve been to ted drew custard stand and it’s the best frozen custard i’ve ever had. looks like fun in st. louis!

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ANGELIQUE September 24, 2012 at 8:01 pm

YOU MAKE ST. LOUIS LOOK LIKE A FUN PLACE!!!

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Janet Barrie September 24, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Hello Hollick family,

I just stumbled upon your blog as I did a serch for the Lion King. I am now addicted to your blog as I cannot put my iPad down. What a remarkable life you lead and your photos are outstanding. I feel like I’m journeying with you around the country in just a few posts I read so far. I will be excited to see where you end up in the near future. Just know you have a new fan!

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