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Status in St. Louis

The Pastry family continues to get the job done here in St. Louis. We’re all weary from a longer-than-expected stay, and we have a couple of weeks yet to go, but the hard work is paying off handsomely for the sick one among us, and that’s obviously the main thing. We couldn’t be more appreciative of the city we’re temporarily calling home. I can honestly say: I love this town.

The architecture alone could keep a history nerd like me busy for weeks. Walking the different neighborhoods, I realize how much my city of origin, Chicago, lost in terms of its history when it burned down in 1871. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow deprived us of any of the Colonial-style structures the city may have once had. But you can find block upon block of French Colonial townhouses and storefronts in St. Louis’ Soulard neighborhood:

Then there are the magnificent Second Empire homes not far away in Lafayette Square. Anything like this that Chicago may have once had went up in smoke long ago. Captain Horace Bixby, who employed Mark Twain on his Mississippi paddle boat, built and owned a house here. Notice how these homes pretend to be made of stone in front, but are actually brick.

This was once a police station. Now that’s policing in style.

I do love a good mansard roof!

While it’s sad there are so few truly old structures left in Chicago, the upside is that the burning-down led to a magnificent building-up. The allure of working on the virtual blank slate of Chicago attracted architects and planners like Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and Edward Bennett, who along with many others built the most architecturally advanced city the world had ever seen. To this day Chicago not only remains a center of modern architecture, it is still (I believe) the only major city in the world to set aside 300+ acres of its central-city shoreline for public park space.

But I digress from my digression. While I’m on the subject of architectural jewels, have a look at this glittering example: The St. Louis Basilica Cathedral. You could spend days in here staring upward and still not see everything.

Oh yeah, baking. I’m interested in that as well as I recall. I haven’t had much time for it the last couple of weeks, but I’ve been doing plenty of eating. Check this place. And I thought I grew up in a kolache-loving town! I’ve never seen a bakery dedicated solely to the art of these lovely little rolls. This place does them both sweet and savory, which is a nice twist I think.

And then there are the doughnuts. I’ve visited my share of shops here, eating, drinking coffee and swapping war stories with staff and owners. These are hands-down the best (maybe really the only) scratch doughnuts I’ve found: Vincent Van Doughnut on Tower Grove. I can truthfully say that they are outstanding.

This little neighborhood hole-in-the-wall on Vandeventer Avenue has a spectacular berry-infused cake doughnut. Plus a knockout strawberry jam-filled.

I probably spent half an hour in here talking about batter temperatures with the baker on duty. I recounted the effects an early fall cold snap on my cake doughnuts one year, how the paste-like texture of my shrunken rings caused me to stomp out of my kitchen, flop down in the parking lot, and weep.

“I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who’s every cried over doughnuts,” she said.

We doughnut makers are a unique, deep-feeling breed.

20 thoughts on “Status in St. Louis”

  1. I grew up in St. Louis (in the Lindenwood Park neighborhood). We went to Donut Drive In more often since it was closer, but still frequented World’s Fair Donuts quite often, especially on the way to or from the Botanical Gardens. I was shocked when I moved to the Northeast and couldn’t find Chocolate Long Johns anywhere. An eclair just isn’t the same. This post made me quite homesick! I hope you continue to enjoy the city and wish you all good health.

    1. Hey Katie!

      I know what you mean about long johns. I grew up with those in Chicago. Living in other locales, I couldn’t believe they were considered a “regional food”. I’ll make sure I get one next time I go there (probably tomorrow).

      Thank you for your well wishes, Katie! The same to you and yours!

      Cheers,

      Joe

  2. Glad to hear Clan Pastry is on the last leg of treatment. That has to be an unspeakable relief. And glad to know you aren’t bored or going hungry during the long wait!
    Despite the difficulties, the new year seems to have started well? Wishing you culinary adventures aplenty….

    1. That’s very well said, Charm. The worst is over, and the relief, as you said, cannot be overstated. There’ll be much to do to consolidate the victory in the months ahead, but for now we can all breathe easier.

      Many, many thanks,

      Joe

  3. Glad to hear that St. Louis diverts.

    I’m wishing your family all the doughnuts and architecture and things that delight as possible.

  4. Well, glad there are diversions, and beautiful, and tasty ones. All y’all have a good time, get the perk up, and git back home soon, as nice as that looks. Hoping for, and expecting, the best.

    1. Thank you Naomi!

      We’re looking forward to it too. Many thanks for the well wishes!

      – Joe

  5. Please – a bit of background on “long johns” for those of us who never heard of them. (I assume you’re not talking about gatkes!!)

    Good to see you back.

    1. Hey Chana!

      A Long John is simply a stick-shaped raised doughnut. Always with icing on the top. I think there’s something similar in the Northeast but they go by a different name. Tell me if they sound at all familiar.

      – Joe

  6. Soulard is lovely, isn’t it? And (in normal times) so vibrant and full of fun neighborhood activities, with everyone joining in. I truly enjoy visiting my friends who live there.

    Very glad to hear the positive Pastry Clan news! And of course that you have managed not to starve.

    If you haven’t yet and have time, a visit to City Museum is always a treat for both young and old(er). If the weather is clear, that slide on the roof is a hoot…reminds me of the giant slides at the state fair. (Every state fair, it seems!) And of course the temple to horses that is the Budweiser Clydesdale stable – their stained glass windows are marvelous.

    1. Hey Essbee!

      We’ve been to the City Museum before, back when they young ones were younger. They had a ball. The Magic House was also a hit with them…but talk about an expensive play date. Wow.

      And thanks for reminding me about the Cydesdales! We need to see them before we head out later this week!

      Many thanks!

      – Joe

  7. Not in St. Louis proper, but I’ve heard great things about Nathaniel Reid Bakery, so you might want to check that out of time permits!

  8. So glad to see you enjoying St. Louis! We live in Benton Park (just West of Soulard). Be sure to grab some gooey butter cake from Park Avenue and to check out La Patisserie Chouquette and then go across the street from some bread from Union Loafers.

    1. That’s a great reminder, Katie! I’ve been to Park Avenue on Lafayette Square twice already. The butter cake is fabuloso. I have yet to hit Chouquette. I tried to drop in a couple of weeks ago but they were closed for “winter break” like so many small businesses in St. Louis. What’s the deal with that? Don’t they know there are some people who are only here in January?

      But I shall try once again this week!

      Thank you,

      – Joe

  9. Joe, I have just started reading your blog and immersing myself in better ingredients for flours, homemade bread , pasta etc… a recent Hashimoto’s diagnosis has me on a quest for better ways to live but still enjoy the things I Love! I would like to support local while purchasing Italian and French Flours (and not pay double or triple from the BiG A. ) I actually live in STL and would love if you have found any local distributor, grocers, bakeries that sell either country flour. I Am going to take a trip down to the hill in hopes : DiGregorio’s or Viviano’s carries such products. Also wondering if you found anything in Soulard as far France is concerned? Also do you have any recommendations on American Brands that Mill similar to France, Italy, or European? I’m trying to convince my husband it’s not just organic it’s the milling process that makes the big difference. On another note, I read something of your health and wish you all the best. My mom is 74 young after surviving 3 relapses in her 30’s with Hodgkins Lymphoma. We have world class medical care here (another thing that surprises people about STL. ) I am glad you are enjoying our beautiful, historic city. I lived in the CWE for years and the Basilica was my “parish” church (imagine that beautiful specimen being your weekly place of worship:) if you have not and will still be here, Forest Park on a spring day:the boat house, art hill, history museum, zoo, and just the grounds itself, it’s a gorgeous city hike, truly our crown jewel! Be well!!

    1. Hello Christina!

      Very nice to make your acquaintance. I’m sorry about the diagnosis. That said, my experience with illnesses is that the new modes of living that arise because of them are frequently superior (sometimes far superior) to the ones that came before. So my advice is to press on in hopeful optimism, and revel in your new discoveries.

      As for me, I haven’t had much time to bake, and the kitchen we’re in isn’t really set up for it anyway. That said, I have been doing at least some exploring. The Hill is probably a good bet for some 00 flour. I’m usually there early mornings or on weekends, filling up a bag at Missouri Baking Company. That funky little place reminds of the bakeries I grew up with in the Chicago area. Those chocolate drops of theirs are great, and I could eat their little Italian shortbread cookies until I popped. (I’ll probably be there again in the morning in fact, just before we head to the Cathedral for mass!).

      Failing the Hill, Global Foods in Kirkwood would be my next stop. I didn’t look for flour specifically while I was there, but they seemed to have staples from just about everywhere.

      For mail order European-style flours that aren’t actually European, King Arthur is the place to go, though their flour can get pretty expensive if you have to buy it online. You might pick up some to get you by while you look for other sources. Restaurant supply houses often have large sacks of imported flour which can be very economical provided you can use it up fairly quickly. If you can’t get a membership at one of those you can try a place like BakeMark that certainly has a location here in St. Louis, and should allow individuals to set up accounts. Again, you have to buy in quantity.

      And ah yes, Forest Park. We’re in it most days, even when it’s quite cold. The art museum is fantastic for its size.

      Lastly, my congratulations and salutations to your mom. I’ve known several great lady survivors. One who survived 6 bouts until she finally passed in her mid-80’s — and from another cause if you can believe it. Another 70-something I met back when I was in treatment had survived pancreatic cancer for 14 years. It’s a pity most people don’t hear about these kinds of triumphs.

      But thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. We’re loving this town and the people in it!

      Cheers,

      Joe

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