A few years ago there was a little restaurant that sat in the corner of the Baraka building in southwest St. Louis. It wasn’t even a restaurant really, it was more like a sporadic community gathering place where local artists and musicians could get together, perform, and drink coffee. The rest of the building consisted of apartments upstairs and a couple of meeting rooms adjacent to the restaurant/coffee shop.
On Sunday mornings however, the owner, French pastry chef Neika Sessions, turned out the best brunch in all St. Louis. For $10.00 you could belly up to a table filled with several kinds of omelets, quiche, thick slab bacon cooked in real maple syrup, and a selection of French pastries that I can’t even begin to describe. Fresh coffee, tea, and a good selection of juices were available too, but the best drink to top off all the great food with was the hot chocolate. This wasn’t just any old hot chocolate, but rather real gourmet Godiva-quality chocolate that was melted and whipped into a frothy glory.
Alas, Neika has moved on to bigger and better ventures in San Francisco. There are still a lot of good places to get breakfast or brunch in the St. Louis area like the Bristol Bar and Grill, Patrick’s, and Duff’s, but here are a few of my favorites:
South City Diner: 3141 South Grand (314)772-6100. South City features early morning specials from just $2.95 every weekday morning. The regular menu features Huevos Rancheros, a meat loaf omelet, and an omelet made with, of all things, oysters, bacon, and cheese. And, the lunches here aren’t half bad either. The décor is sort of customized, slick 1950’s diner with lots of period stuff hanging on the walls. The outside patio is pretty neat also, with lots of bright chrome tables and chairs scattered everywhere.
Uncle Bill’s Pancake House: 3427 South Kingshighway (314) 832-1973. Breakfast at Uncle Bill’s at any time of the day or night (open 24 hours) is a St. Louis tradition. The clientele change as the day/night wears on. They range from munchies-suffering bar hoppers at 3 a.m. that spill out of the adjacent White Castle, to families and church going seniors on Sunday morning. All of them enjoy freshly made to order eggs, bacon and sausage, or some of Uncle Bill’s custom pancakes. Try the Panama Banana, Pancake Hawaii, or the Chocolate Alaska, a stack of pancakes topped with ice cream and hot fudge.
Pere Marquette State Park Lodge: Highway 100, Grafton, Illinois (618) 786-3327. Located about 5 miles west of Grafton and about 45 minutes from St. Louis, this is Illinois’ largest state park. The park is famous around the country for its great fall foliage and as a home for bald eagles in the winter. They also have one of the best brunch buffets in the area. From the made-to-order right in front of you omelets, to a great selection of beef, pork, and fish, fresh salads, muffins, and a fabulous dessert bar. After you eat, you can go to one of the scenic overlooks that rise over the Illinois and Mississippi rivers or just hang out at the lodge.
Check out the huge working fireplace that is over 30 feet tall and weighs about 700 tons, and the human-sized chess board. On your way back, traveling on the river road near the town of Alton, be sure to check out the Piasa Bird. The Piasa Bird is a local legend in these parts. Its founding goes back to 1673 when father Jacques Marquette, in recording his famous journey down the Mississippi river with Louis Joliet, described the “Piasa” as a birdlike monster painted high on the bluffs along the Mississippi River, where the city of Alton, Illinois now stands.