City Museum of St. Louis is a Catacomb of Sculpted Adventure (Pictures)

Not so much a museum as a giant fun land, void of creepy clowns (for the most part) that becomes a wormhole of time. There is a certain whimsy to getting lost in the catacombs of sculpted adventure. Bob Cassilly transformed a former shoe factory into a separate time and space using only objects reclaimed within the borders of St. Louis. Read more in this 2012 Mental Floss article.
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I Accidentally Ate St. Louis

I don’t fashion myself much of a foodie beyond a willingness for adventurous eating and an obsession with Top Chef. But since so much of travelling for me is about tradition, I’m voracious in my need to nosh on the local must-eats of a destination. Beyond BBQ and Budweiser, I had little idea about the native foods of St. Louis.

Best Celebration of a Condiment

International Horseradish Festival

Bloody Mary competition, International Horseradish Festival, Collinsville, IL

Bloody Mary competition, International Horseradish Festival, Collinsville, IL

If you don’t fear the flatlanders, cross the border into Collinsville, IL. The quaintly nestled suburb throws a party for the hardy root the first weekend in June. Among the average fair…fare were a pricey but, ultimately worth it, Bloody Mary with cucumber vodka. A refreshing splash that cut through the horseradish for the spice meek like myself. A perfect sip-n’-stroll beverage.

The hidden gem was the horseradish bruschetta served by the Chamber of Commerce and benefiting the Miner’s Institute Foundation. For $3 we got enough to split and it was the a great snack before the Bloody Mary competition. Sadly, the audience didn’t get to judge the 8 competitors, but we did get to sample. Truly, small town Midwest at its finest.

They Said It Was Good and They Weren’t Lying

Crown Candy Kitchen and Bogart’s Smokehouse

A winding line out the door is usually a good indication that the food served is worthy of your time (or in the age of the celebrichefs, a segment on their latest episode).I found that I would have gladly put up a tent, unfolded my camp chair, and pulled out the bags boards, if the wait had necessitated. Luckily, we only had to wait about a 15 minutes at each (although those having to endure intoxicating smells at Bogart’s for longer were rewarded with a free rib while in line).

Gratuitous B accented with L and T. Crown Candy Kitchen, St. Louis, MO.

Gratuitous B accented with L and T. Crown Candy Kitchen, St. Louis, MO.

Crown Candy Kitchen is a 100-year-old soda fountain and, yes, candy kitchen in Old North St. Louis. Expect all of the tradition of a malt shop, but be prepared to be perplexed by the logistics of trying to eat a BLT with a pound of bacon. My sister and I split it, but still found it impossible to gracefully keep the deliciousness all together.

Remember those old cartoons where the wafting scent of a delectable meal would curl it’s self into a hand and then seductively motion for the famished character to follow the smell?

Turns out…actually possible.

Bogart’s Smokehouse, across from the Soulard Farmer’s Market, lured market goers and 9-5’ers on lunch break to join the half-block line. Our main dishes, pulled pork and beef brisket, were served with guilt-inducing pork skins, deviled egg potato salad untainted with ridiculousness like celery, baked beans, and slaw. Four sauce offerings, including their own Pineapple Express, on each table solidified Bogart’s legitimacy as a STL BBQ mecca.

Eh…and Not in the Cute Canadian Way

Molly’s in Soulard

Toasted ravioli, a St. Louis tradition. Molly's in Soulard, St. Louis, MO

Toasted ravioli, a St. Louis tradition. Molly’s in Soulard, St. Louis, MO

In a fully gentrified neighborhood, something we noticed was a work in progress throughout St. Louis, Molly’s features cabana-style booths and stand alone tables in a spacious patio space. The three outdoor bars, squeezed between neighboring brick buildings and old trees strung with bare bulbs, lend themselves to the communal charm of a backyard Midwest grill out. If only the food were as delightsome.

The menu featured expected NOLA-inspired dishes like alligator rangoon, but also included a distinctly St. Louis appetizer, toasted ravioli, which was, regrettably, the meal high. We went with a shrimp po’boy and the Bourbon Street jambalaya, both of which did the job in satiating hunger, but were short of amazing.

Molly’s also lacked prompt, friendly service. As a former waitress, I’m always willing to chalk up a sub-par performance to an off night, but it was frustrating to repeatedly be passed by our waiter without refilling water, picking up plates, or, even taking our order, long after the universal menu’s-closed signal.

A Little Piece of Portland…If You Must

2 Girls, 4 Wheels

The food truck game has reached St. Louis.

It’s like a modern-day Lewis and Clark…in reverse…with good food…and less exploitation.

We were clued in to the food trucks by a local and made a random selection based on the menu and dirty pop culture reference. I’m not one to be swayed by the inclusion of ‘gourmet’ as an insinuation of elevated taste, but swayed by my Cheesehead, I went for the grilled cheese with two kinds of the fancy stuff. A little sad and soggy by the time I got to eat it 45 minutes later, but still flavorful enough that I know straight from the truck it would’ve been stretched-out-stringy-cheese perfection.

The highlight came in veggie form with Parmesan brussel sprouts. Obscene. We finished the meal with our first taste of gooey butter cake, another STL invention. I declared it heaven on a fork, while my (over) discerning sister proselytized that it wasn’t beyond her culinary abilities. A deceleration she will now be forced to prove.

Protect Your Wit…Go With the Chicken

Hodak’s

Among the thousands of picnickers at the Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park, we saw many-a cheese and crackers nibblers and Chinese take-out pass-rounders, but I think we found the perfect way to capitalize on a truly STL experience. After picking up our dinner, we made our way to the park. A way that included multiple wrong turns, parking frustrations, and swarms of people, so by the time settled, it had been nearly an hour since we’d gotten our food.

I fully expected to find fried chicken thoroughly wilted by grease and condensation. What I found was still crispy wings (aided by a slice of white bread included in the to-go container) with the perfect annoy-your-neighbor-but-not-the-whole-crowd crunch and in a stolen taste of the vinegar-based slaw (the right away to do it), I found picnic heaven.

Well, It’s a Good Thing I Don’t Live Here

Gus’ Pretzels and Ted Drewes

While a sit-down, scrumptious spread is appreciated for the memories it creates, cheap, quick bites are the foundation of psychosis-inducing cravings.

Gus' Pretzels. St. Louis, MO.

Gus’ Pretzels. St. Louis, MO.

Gus’ Pretzels was a quick stop before the Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour, but I could have stayed all day gorging myself on the warm, salty snack and watching the pretzel twister do his thing. Awwwww yeah. (If you get the reference, you and I can be best friends…forever)

Ted Drewes, a St. Louis sundae staple, took us two tries. We drove by on a Saturday night and quickly abandoned our plans after seeing a line at least a hundred deep. We had better luck for our patience mid-day on Friday and spent 10 minutes debating our choice. Concrete or sundae? Cardinal Sin or Southern Delight? Or maybe Cratercopernicus? Thank god for a decisive sister and the s’more concrete she selected.

I…Can’t…Even

Tenacious Eats

Tenacious Eats at Meyer's Grove. St. Louis, MO.

Tenacious Eats at Meyer’s Grove. St. Louis, MO.

Seriously. I can’t. Our experience at Tenacious Eats was the most delicious fun we had the whole week. They are getting their very own post, so that I can laud and love them into the egotistical atmosphere.

Down by the River: St. Louis (Pictures)

My first time blogging about a trip is far more difficult than I expected. As a traveller, I fill as much time with experiences that I’ve found it leaves no time to write about it. I’ve started taking notes on the backs of receipts, with my camera, and a running log of answered questions in my Google search history.

I ambitiously assumed that I would have at least 2 posts about the trip up so far, but have now decided that my purse full of illegible scraps will have to suffice as notes and I can write more when I get home.

Until then, here are 15,000 words about our trip so far:

Monk's Mound at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Collinsville, IL

Monk’s Mound at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Collinsville, IL

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Gravestone Statue, Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO

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Storm damage in Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO

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Playwright Tennessee Williams headstone, Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO

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St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis, MO

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St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis, MO

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St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis, MO

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Independent bookseller, Subterranean Books, St. Louis, MO

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Fresh pretzel twists, Gus’s Pretzels, St. Louis, MO

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One of the world-famous Clydesdale at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, St. Louis, MO

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Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour, St. Louis, MO

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In the depths at the City Museum, St. Louis, MO

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Climbing towards the 10-story spiral slide, City Museum, St. Louis, MO

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Reflection in mirrored hall, City Museum, St. Louis, MO

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Sun shining through Scott Joplin composition, Scott Joplin House State Historic Site, St. Louis, MO

Sense of Adventure Scale from One to We’re All Going to Die!

Ngorongoro Crater (picture by Jonathan Dunn)

Ngorongoro Crater (picture by Jonathan Dunn)

I’ve never been comfortable rating one’s sense of adventure. It seems that where a cross-state road trip ranks somewhere near a crocheting injury on the risk scale, swimming with baited sharks is…well…swimming with baited sharks.

While listening to the travel stories of friends and reading blogs of the ever-departing, one begins to invisibly chart that sense. The scale differs. Miles from home, unexpected dining experiences, exotic animal encounters, it all factors into the weight you give their adventuresome ambition.

But why?

Isn’t any adventure simply to stave off complacency?

I realize that it’s inherent to human nature to feel the need to compete. To good, better, best your neighbors and friends. I may not ever be able to rail a successful argument against that need, but as travellists (it’s a word, look it up), our competition should instead be with that complacency.

In my circle there is palpable wanderlust. Each day, my Facebook feed is the equivalent of a “what-I-did-this-summer” photo essay. It makes me jealous. I have gone further than 100 miles from home once  in the last 6 months and that was as an airport chauffeur for someone else’s trip.

This may be one of the reasons why my upcoming trip to St. Louis feels like a bucket list accomplishment. But more than the notion that it is an overdue vacation with my sister, leaving my daily life heightens my sense of adventure.

Wisconsin Polar Plunge

Wisconsin Polar Plunge

I’m a difficult person to travel with if you value things like sleep. I find little point in spending time in a new place doing something that can be done at home. I’ve filled my week in STL with experiences that can happen in no other place.

We are going to eat our way through The Godfather at Tenacious Eats. Sunday will find us at the International Horseradish Festival in Collinsville, IL for a 5k and celebratory Bloody Mary contest afterward. A baseball and, subsequently stadium food, aficionado we will be taking in an evening game at Busch Stadium and I’ve talked my sister into a picnic dinner while watching the Twelfth Night at the Shakespeare Festival.

Oh, and the arch, the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour, Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site, the City Museum, the zoo, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Scott Joplin House, the Cahokia Mounds, Molly’s in Soulard, Calvary Cemetery, Bogart’s Smokehouse, Left Bank Books..like I said, no sleep.

Flying planes off the Astoria Column.

Flying planes off the Astoria Column.

I know very little of St. Louis. I’m imagining Midwest sensibility layered with that certain Southern charm and inland Eastern grittiness topped with a dash of Left Coast hipster. It’s easy to say that you keep an open mind when travelling to a new place, but media, blogs, friends, and research have forced me to cull certain opinions.

I’ve heard STL is “scary” and “rough.” I’ve been told to avoid certain neighborhoods or, in fact, the entire Eastern part of the city. I know there’s a musically rich history of ragtime and jazz, two genres absent from any of my playlists. Growing up in Olympia and now living in New Glarus, I understand brewery towns on a small-scale, but the way beer tycoons can shape a city.

It’s these preconceptions and questions that are the fuel for adventure. I won’t climb the world’s tallest anything or collect passport stamps , but by getting in my car and driving 300 miles, I’ve topped out on that imaginary sense of adventure scale.

I’ll be blogging about my trip starting next week, so check back for updates on our adventure.