27 June 2006

Trip Log, Day 3; St. Louis

Note: This is one of a series. You can find the complete series index here.

Day 3 in St. Louis was Saturday, and I was already a little worn out. Sleeping in until the mid-morning (not all that usual for me on vacation) was a nice little treat. Once we finally got dragging out of the hotel, it was time for lunch.

First stop was O'Connell's Pub (Kingshighway in The Hill section). O'Connell's has made a few lists for best burgers. I have been there once before, and on that trip, I was encouraged to order the roast beef sandwich. The argument was made that a good burger could be had in any number of places, but it was much harder to cross paths with a good roast beef sandwich. The roast beef was excellent, but I also saw a burger head out from the kitchen to a table and it looked really good. I was certain that if I were to ever come back to O'Connell's, I would have to order one of those burgers. As we drove down, I mentioned my plan to my fellow travelers, who immediately scoffed at my suggestion. The same argument was thrown at me -- why get a burger here (especially after eating at Blueberry Hill a few days prior), when the roast beef was unique to this particular place? I was hearing nothing of it. I wanted a burger -- and, by god, I was going to order one.

When we arrived, I kept telling myself to order the burger and not be swayed. In my head, I was replaying "order the burger...order the burger...order the burger..." The server came by and asked what we would like. Around the table, my travel companions, one after the other, repeated "roast beef...medium rare...fries." Same thing at the next stop. OK...my turn, and I am still thinking "order the burger...order the burger..." when I can only assume the film director in my head said "stop...cue the roast beef sandwich!" Because, right at that very moment, about five gorgeous roast beef sandwiches were carried right past my snout and on to their awaiting patrons. "I'll have the roast beef," I muttered, immediately taking on a heap of grief from the rest of my table. Heck, I even sprung for the extra 25 cents to get a ramiken of au jus.

I remembered the roast beef as being very good. I don't know how it happened, but in two years, it has somehow improved to be the best roast beef sandwich I have ever eaten. The au jus was a little bland, but it made for an excellent texture. I was just a little surprised, because this meat is well seasoned. I am really disappointed that I didn't get any pictures, because you can actually see the difference in the color of the meat from medium-rare to medium -- each of which was perfect for my tastes. The french fries were superb, but I was again told that onion rings should be the compliment to most sandwiches. Also, while toasted ravioli gets the press as the local appetizer native to St. Louis, it also seems that many places have excellent stuffed mushroom caps.

My friend who had lived in St. Louis previously said that he understood what I was going through with the hamburger choice. When he lived there, he would go to O'Connell's for lunch, have the roast beef, and then try to come back for dinner, thinking he would order the hamburger. He would sit down, see a roast beef go by, and order the roast beef.

After a filling and very fulfilling lunch, we needed an activity to burn off some of these needless calories. My choice was a visit to Grant's Farm. I admit...I only wanted to go to Grant's Farm to see the cabin in which the worst president in the history of the United States once lived (present company excluded, of course!). This is another free attraction in St. Louis, which I now believe to be a very affordable vacation option for many Americans (I read somewhere that St. Louis is within one day's drive to more than 1/3 of the US population). Since there is virtually no mention of President Grant, except for a brief pass in a guided tram, I guess I was a little disappointed. But, without the whole lack of Grant thing, this place is a hit. The Farm is now run by Anheuser-Busch, and is home to one of the full Budweiser Clydesdale teams. The Clydesdales are truly majestic animals, and you just don't get the opportunity to see them every day. A few other positives -- free beer in the hospitality area (gotta love that!) and a great wildlife preserve and petting zoo for kids. Rain dampened the day a little, but there are enough dry attractions there to keep you busy even in the rain.

On the way towards downtown, we stopped in for another visit to Ted Drewes. I know that Ted Drewe's a St. Louis institution, but I had no idea that it was so ingrained into a native St. Louisan that it would be a necessary stop for a wedding party. While we were there, in early afternoon, TWO wedding parties drove up in full coach buses. I overheard a conversation between two of the counter girls. They didn't seem the least bit phased by the wedding parties, but were a little surprised at the SIZE of the wedding parties, and the necessity for coach buses. I have to admit, I am not too inclined to think about marriage again, but if I find the woman who insists on including Ted Drewe's as part of our wedding party, I may know that I have found a keeper! Check these fine ladies out....

After the stop for concrete (mine was chocolate chip cookie dough), we made off for a stop at Union Station. If you are a fan of Roman architecture, this is a must-stop. If you want to find a serious shopping tourist trap in the middle of downtown, this is also a must-stop. Fortunately, I was able to accomplish much of (A) with little interference from (B). History and train buffs are also sure to already know that this was the hub of train service between the east and the west for many, many years. One of the stained glass windows celebrates this:

You can also see that one of the more bizarre feats of architectural accident - the whisper arch (scroll down). One can stand and face the wall into the inside arch, speak at a normal tone of voice and be heard by someone else at the other end of the arch. It was discovered purely by chance during construction, and has since been used by proposing grooms to pop the question, as well as practical jokes on unsuspecting noobs.

For dinner, we sought out a sports bar to watch the College World Series (Miami vs. Oregon State), Game 6 of the NHL Finals (yeah, right), and just soak up some sports environment. Frankly, the food was secondary, but cold beer was a must. We ended up at a place called the Locker Room in Florissant. The locals at the table next to us raved about the wings, so we grabbed some of those. We also added an appetizer sampler - your basic bar food. The wings were heavily breaded (kind of like Hooter's wings, but with a little more taste), but the hot sauce had a little tang. Overall, the food was average, but reasonably priced. The beer was cold, and they had some good local and national selections. The service was exceptional -- the owner was around and visible, keeping control and tabs on all of the televisions set to the proper mix of sporting events. We must have been the only folks in the bar watching the CWS, and he went to change TVs on us, but upon brief discussion, he reaccommodated us to the perfect viewing scenario. Really, in a sports bar setting, can you ask for more? Adequate food, cold beer, and the availability of all the sporting events you want!

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