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It was glorious today here in St. Louis, and I was stuck inside all morning, far away from even a window. I needed–absolutely needed–to get outside, on a rare 70-degree February day, and shake off the winter that’s been just sucking out my soul for the past 3 months.

Perfect weather, then, for The Royale, home of my favorite beer garden in the city (second, maybe, to Square One Brewery and their patio in the fall).

The Royale

Photo Courtesy of Bill Streeter, via flickr.

With sun on our faces, he and I ordered the brand-spankin-new Schlafly Vanilla Milk Stout. It’s the type of beer that makes you understand why Guinness used to advertise itself as a health-drink: rich, almost thick, tonic-like mouth feel.

With the sun on my (scandalously bare) shins, I ordered my usual: the Garlic Dippy Melt, and the sole reason I’m even bothering to post tonight. Let me tell you: if you haven’t eaten this, get thyself to The Royale. I’m not usually a one-item-orderer, unless that item is sliced roast beef slathered with garlic mayo, topped with melted cheese and served with a side of au jus. Then, I’m that girl that wants to stuff it in her face asap.

The beef was a little thick (remind me sometime to tell you how much I really don’t like an unbalanced meat-to-bread ratio on my sandwiches), but the lunch, the weather, the beer, the boy, were pretty much perfect.

And that, my friends, is my garlic dippy melt lunch. Go get it, St. Louis. Tell them Kathleen sent you.


So, being Catholic really has its upsides. One of them is that for every holiday/feast day/conferral of a sacrament, there’ s a party with food. Baptism? Party! Confirmation? Party! Last Rites? Party! Even Lent, a time of somber reflection, penance, and fasting gives us cause to throw pseudo-parties in the form of a fish fry. I’m not sure how our Catholic guilt gets around that one, but I think it involves the thoughts “we’re eating fish. Jesus ate fish. And he turned water into wine at a wedding, so he’s clearly fine with celebrations. Let’s go.” Sort of along the lines of my Nana making shrimp scampi and crab cakes for my grandfather on Fridays: the sacrifice thing is thrown out the window, but by golly, they aren’t breaking any rules!

So, being a newbie to St. Louis, my question to all of you is simple. Where are the best fish frys (fries?) in the city/county? And while you’re at it, take a look at the St. Boniface blog, which brilliantly features fish fry reviews each week.

I think the day I discovered Gus’ Prezels was the day I realized that I really, really liked this city. I’m a sucker for tradition, for family-owned businesses, for local establishments, for cheap food, and for cooked dough covered with salt (see Exhibit 1, below). I know this is old hat for your seasoned St. Louisans, but indulge this transplant a bit as I pay homage to a local tradition.

(Salzburg, Austria, February 2006. Note the glazed eyes, I’m like a pig in slop)

My love affairs with soft pretzels started during visits to my grandparents home close to Philadelphia. My grandfather would take us to Philly’s games at the old Vet Stadium and we’d buy brown paper bags of the things from vendors hawking them outside. 3 for $1. Much better, I think, than buying them from the regular concession stand. Cheaper, definitely.

But back to Gus. What is not to love? For $2.50, you can get a delicious brat or salsiccia cooked inside the best soft pretzel you’ve ever tasted. The meat is so moist, all the juices kept inside by the perfectly chewy outer pretzel casing, and to get to it you bite through the shiny, crispy, and salty pretzel exterior. You also get a free show for this low, low price: the “factory” part of the shop is behind glass windows, and you can watch the machines roll the dough into pieces of deliciousness over and over and over and over again. Its quite mesmerizing, and it would be hard to tear myself away if I weren’t such a glutton for a good soft pretzel stuffed with sausage.

If you want a pretzel sans meat, they can be yours for $.50 each. Or, if you’re in the mood to buy 99, the price drops to an even more affordable $.35 each. Dip them in a little pot of cheese sauce ($.60), if you must (weenie), or be a purist and only use yellow mustard. I’d even suggest their take-home frozen pretzels, that come complete with cooking instructions and a little baggie of rock salt. I may or may not have had 2 or 3 for dinner one night. Or, just go ahead and get everything…even your name spelled out in pretzel letters.

If it were summer, I’d do what I did when I brought my entire family (parents plus 5 siblings) there when they visited: Get a whole sackful, and walk two blocks down to the park and have a lovely outdoor picnic in the grass, under a tree.

I’m hungry now.