Category Archives: Eats

Hike #5: Laumeier Sculpture Park

(This is the fifth post of my Twelve Hikes, Twelve Months series.)

I know, I know. How can a sculpture park possibly count as a hike?

Well, I can promise that if you’ve never been to Laumeier Sculpture Park, you’ll find yourself in for a bit of a hike when you go. It might not be one of the entirely rugged, natural type, but I found it a unique way to experience art in a natural setting.

Located near the 44 and 270 interchange in Kirkwood, Laumeier Park offers three short trails and participates in St. Louis County Park’s 30/30 Hikes Program. Two of the trails go through woodlands, and the main, paved path stays mostly out in the open and leads walkers past the most prominent art installations in the park, such as Tony Tasset’s Eye and Alexander Liberman’s The Way, both shown below.

On this particular visit, my friend Stephanie and I stayed on the Central Pathway, the main .64-mile trail, because we had decided spur of the moment to attend the Mother’s Day weekend Art Fair. This annual event attracts artists from all over and offers a variety of food vendors. So, even if you’re not feeling up for a long walk, you can still see some of the main attractions, eat some delicious food, and peruse artists’ wares.

After visiting the food vendors (toasted ravs, anyone?), we followed the Central Pathway trail to the back of the park to escape the crowds and stretch our legs a bit. Works of art are everywhere – a tree trunk covered in hammered metal, a chain of steel buoys tucked just into the woods, a pavilion with a roof shaped like flower petals. Visiting in the late afternoon also provided beautiful golden hour light.

If you’re looking for an out-of-the-box hike, I recommend giving Laumeier Park a chance. I’m looking forward to my next visit to complete the Art Hike Trail once real spring arrives.

Know Before You Go

Address: 12580 Rott Rd, St. Louis, MO 63127

Admission: Free, except for special events like the Art Fair.

Trails: Three trails are available, each less than a mile long. Laumeier’s detailed trail map also shows locations of the sculptures and works of art you can expect to see on whichever trail you choose.

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Hike #4: Southern Illinois State Parks

(This is the extremely belated fourth post of my Twelve Hikes, Twelve Months series.)

At the very beginning of last April, I set out on a day trip with my mom and sister to explore some of the lesser visited natural areas in southern Illinois. Many people familiar with the region think of mainstays like Giant City State Park and Garden of the Gods as worthy hiking destinations. However, if you’re interested in places a little off the beaten path, read on for highlights of that spring day extravaganza.

Ferne Clyffe State Park

We began our day at Ferne Clyffe State Park on the Big Rocky Hollow Trail. Located about a mile outside the town of Goreville, this state park is smack dab between interstates 57 and 24, making it easily accessible for day-trippers.

(Fun fact: Goreville sat in the path of totality during the 2017 solar eclipse, and will be close to, if not in, the path of totality during another solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.)

Big Rocky Hollow Trail is a wide, level path that cuts through woods in a small canyon until it arrives at a short waterfall. A different trail branches off early on and follows the rising bluffs to the right. In early spring, bits of vegetation and hardy flowers pop up among boulders and under the tree canopy. Rock faces are covered in springy, bright green moss. Walking among those boulders was an otherworldly experience for us. To lengthen our hike, we followed the path partway up the bluff and then returned to follow the main trail to the waterfall and back.

Dixon Springs State Park

About 25 minutes southeast of Ferne Clyffe is Dixon Springs State Park. While it does have a few hiking trails, we stopped off to use the park’s picnic facilities.

The almost 800-acre site sits on a rock face and was used as a health spa in the 19th century because of the seven mineral springs onsite. The remnants of a small community remain, including at least two old church buildings perched atop a hill.

We ate lunch at a picnic table right next to a beautiful stream, and spent some time exploring the immediate area and soaking in the lovely spring air. We crossed a bridge overlooking one of the springs and walked up to the site of the old settlement. Because we had packed our day with destinations, we then moved on to make the most of it.

Golconda

We couldn’t come so close to the Ohio River, just ten miles from Dixon Springs, and not go take a look at it. So we turned left out of the park onto Illinois Route 146 and drove into Golconda, a historic river town with a population of 2,000.

Main Street was absolutely lined with motorcycles that day. We kept going and parked near the Pope County Historical Society, across from the courthouse, and proceeded up the levee steps to peek at the mighty Ohio River.

The Pope County Historical Society was also well worth a visit. Rooms upon rooms tell the story of Golconda and the surrounding area. You can see varied collections exhibiting Golconda’s history, learn about the Trail of Tears, and spy the high water mark from the 1937 flood.

One other notable stop for us was The Chocolate Factory, a gourmet chocolate shop that opened in 1977 and is located across from Dixon Springs State Park. We made sure to stop in and pick up some homemade fudge as we headed westward once again.

Heron Pond Natural Area

To cap off our day of wandering, we headed to Heron Pond Natural Area to see some natural cypress swamp. A lot of people probably don’t realize that southern Illinois has such a gem – it was definitely my first time hiking through a habitat like that.

Heron Pond is located less than 15 minutes south of Vienna. The parking lot was rather remote, and then it was a good half mile at least before reaching the boardwalk that enters the swamp. We followed a dirt path (the Todd Fink Heron Pond Trail) that bridged a creek and then followed it. Turtles sunning themselves on the opposite bank plunged into the water as we walked by.

If Ferne Clyffe felt surreal, this place was even more so. The ground and cypress roots were completely covered in water, which was in turn carpeted with duckweed. Centuries-old cypress trees rose out of the water and towered upward, competing for sky and sunlight exposure. It was the kind of place someone could get lost in time just experiencing the silence.

This year, we hope to complete another similar day trip, picking out places we haven’t been and enjoying the arrival of spring. I encourage you to get out, wherever you are, and do the same.

Know Before You Go

Ferne Clyffe State Park

90 Goreville Rd, Goreville, IL 62939

Dixon Springs State Park

982 IL-146, Golconda, IL 62938

Pope County Historical Museum

112 N. Columbus, Golconda, IL 62938

The Chocolate Factory

990 IL-146, Golconda, IL 62938

Heron Pond Natural Area

Heron Pond Ln, Belknap, IL 62908

 

 

Frozen Custard Season

When temperatures reach almost 80 degrees, it’s the start of frozen custard (and ice cream/frozen yogurt/shaved ice) season. Today was that day.

I would normally mark its arrival by going to some local place, but not this year. Today, I found myself instead in the St. Charles County area, exploring the trail system that meanders through the city of St. Peters.

Walking 3.58 miles in the heat (it sure felt hot) and windy conditions meant I drained the one and a half water bottles I had with me. So at the end, it only felt right to commemorate my survival with a frozen treat.

A Google search yielded several results, and I went with one I hadn’t heard of before – Deters Frozen Custard. It’s a family owned business that’s located off Highway 94 near Interstate 70.

I could have driven straight past it. The bright white building sits at the bottom of a hill, out of view from most of the other businesses lining Highway 94, but their cheery sign draws your attention.

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To my surprise, they offered both frozen custard and shaved ice. I wish I had taken a picture of the menu, because there are literally dozens of flavors to choose from.

Faced with decision paralysis, I asked the person taking my order for her recommendations. I ended up with the beauty below – an apple pie frozen custard sundae. Try saying that phrase ten times fast. It has vanilla custard, bits of apple and pie crust, pumps of caramel, and whipped cream and cherry to top it all off.

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The front had a small seating area with tables and wrought iron benches. I sat at a table while enjoying my sundae, and watched the cars go by. Business picked up right at that moment. Older couples and younger families began arriving in droves and lining up to get their orders in. Everyone stood or sat around while updated oldies hits cycled through the sound system. It was a nice atmosphere for a first warm weather treat.

So there you have it. If you’re looking to mark the start of your frozen custard season, you have my recommendation and two thumbs up for Deters.

 

Know Before You Go

Address: 755 Friedens Rd, St Charles, MO 63303

Hours: Check out Deters’ Facebook page for updated hours.

Cash or Debit: Both. I’ve been to some frozen custard/yogurt places that only take cash, so it was nice to see they also accept cards.

Celebrating National Coffee Day (with Free Coffee)

Because I like coffeeand better yet, free coffeeI wanted to share with you some momentous news.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, September 28th, is National Coffee Day.

Coffee

Which, for many coffee shops, chains, and cafes around the country, means a free or discounted cup o’ brew.

I did some research, and these seem to be the chains offering deals in the St. Louis area:

  • Dunkin DonutsDunkin’ Donuts hot or iced Rainforest Alliance Certified™ Dark Roast Coffee, with a limit of one per guest.”
  • Krispy Kreme“a free Original Glazed Doughnut and a free 12 oz cup of coffee (at participating US locations).”

Don’t forget to check out your favorite local coffee shop! Either way, tomorrow is a great reason to celebrate the delectable aroma and taste of coffee.

And maybe a cupcake too.

Homemade Cupcake

Minding My Own Latte: Comet Coffee & Microbakery

In today’s post, I’m going to highlight a recent find in my exploration of St. Louis: Comet Coffee & Microbakery

In all honesty, I’m still acquiring a taste for coffee. I remember managing to make myself drink a strong cup o’ joe after an early morning cross country meet, but to make it palatable, I had to slather the inside of my cup with sugar and creamer first.

And I have to admit, I still haven’t progressed much past that point.

However, spending a recent Friday afternoon at Comet Coffee & Microbakery may have helped tipped the scales in favor of a less is more approach.

Coffee Art

With the Help of Yelp

I had been planning for awhile to spend an afternoon hidden somewhere in the recesses of a coffee shop doing some reading, writing, and future planning.

The problem was deciding where to go: Should I go somewhere I’m familiar with? Some place where I already know what to expect? Or somewhere new that would expand my horizons of St. Louis?

In the end, my curiosity for exploring won out.

Since I didn’t have any coffee shops sitting on my list of need-to-visit places, I turned to Yelp to explore my choices. If you’re not familiar with Yelp, this website functions as a sort of “Facebook for recommendations.” Users can post pictures, reviews, and other information about a variety of businessesrestaurants, hotels, nail salons, attractions. You name it, you’ll likely find a review of it on Yelp.

One little shop, Comet Coffee, intrigued me because it appeared again and again as I refined and tweaked my Yelp searches. I ended up reading some reviews and perusing their website, which further convinced me that a visit would be necessary.

One Friday Afternoon

After running errands all morning long, not too long ago, I needed a place where I could go clear my head and think. And get a coffee. I remembered back to my prior searching, and to double check my options, I even asked Siri on my iPhone, “Where can I find good coffee in St. Louis?” As you can see, Siri confirmed what I’d found from my research.

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With this destination in mind, I set the GPS and headed out.

When I came in, I was immediately greeted by the barista behind the counter. Which highlights one thing I would repeatedly note about this placethe level of customer service. These people strongly impressed upon me that they know what they’re doing, they’re passionate about it, and they’re eager to share that passion with others. I was open about my lack of coffee knowledge, but after asking a few questions, the barista guided me toward two latte choices I might enjoy.

A homemade caramel latte. Twelve ounces of pure, steaming joy. It may not be the official description of this drink, but it’s an accurate summation of what I was served. And it came complete with coffee art.

To satiate the hunger pangs I was beginning to feel at this point, I also bought a slice of spinach and cheese quiche made by the resident pastry chef (who, I also learned, went through the pastry program offered at St. Louis Community College. Double score for this place using local talent). It was promptly warmed up and delivered to me at the street-facing counter where I’d taken up residence.

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It turns out that Comet Coffee is located across the highway from Forest Park. Unfortunately I couldn’t see much of the park, but it was nice to sit and take in some sunshine and some of the outside happenings. I sat at that counter for quite some time, slowly enjoying my latte, quiche, and a local magazine I’d also picked up. I also got to enjoy other curiosities, like a robin poking its way through the flowerbeds in search of a meal.

A robin outside of Comet Coffee in St. Louis.

A Bonus

About halfway through my visit, as I was absorbed in my reading (and my playlist), the barista approached me with a surprise. She’d prepared the other latte she had recommended! I enjoyed a second (this time vanilla) latte compliments of Comet Coffee.

I certainly can’t promise you’ll get free coffee for visiting, but it really was a nice gesture. And next time, I think I will go with the vanilla.

 

Know Before You Go

The following information was up-to-date as of the publication date of this blog post.

Comet Coffee & Microbakery

Phone: 314-932-7770

Address: 5708 Oakland Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110

Website: http://cometcoffeestl.com/

Approaching the Confluence: An Afternoon Near Alton

Itching for Adventure

For some time now, I’ve been getting the itch to do some more exploring outside of St. Louis. While the city and suburbs are interesting in their own right, something about my flatlands upbringing has forever engrained in me the desire to seek out open spaces and sweeping views. And my adventure last weekend quenchedeven if only brieflythat deep thirst.

Confluence of Missouri and Mississippi Rivers

On that Friday afternoon, I had mentioned to a coworker that I wanted to go eagle watching sometime. I asked if she knew of any local hotspots. In response, she told me all about a beautiful area just north of St. Louis where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers meet. My mind began racing with possibilities. By that evening, I had laid the tracks for a Saturday jaunt up U.S. Route 67 into the Alton, Illinois area, for a day of fun and exploration. And what a day it turned out to be!

Seeking Out the Confluence

The first objective of the day was to navigate our way to a small park on the Missouri side known asget ready, this is a mouthfulEdward “Ted” and Pat Jones-Confluence Point State Park. It’s located at the tip of a talon-shaped piece of land bordered by the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

From U.S. Route 67 just before the bridge into Alton, we hung a right, drove past one of the busiest looking gas stations in America, and continued past a visitor’s center and marshlands filled with migratory birds. Before the road took a sharp left, we turned right onto a bumpy, gravelly road that winds aimlessly for four miles before arriving at an equally gravelly parking lot. For all those concerned, there are restroom facilities available at this point. I’m sure some people would be thankful for them after the bumpy ride.

Confluence of Missouri and Mississippi Rivers

The weather was just favorable enough for the short walk through the treeline to reach the water. At this point, the wind seemed to converge from all directions, uninhibited by the open, frigid waters ferrying chunks of ice southward.

A dozen or so other brave souls were also out at the point. There were a few educational signs, an extremely tall pole commemorating the infamous flood of ’93, and a cement walkway that went further out to the edge of the water.

Sign from the Flood of '93

I ventured out to the very last rock connected to land and stared ahead. It was indeed a neat sight to see the slow-moving, albeit powerful currents of the two rivers colliding and merging into one.

Before we turned to head back to the cars, someone pointed out a lone eagle, soaring above the precise point of the confluence.

The Confluence of Two Great Rivers

Bar Food Extraordinaire at Fast Eddie’s Bon Air

After visiting the confluence, my stomach was growling for lunch. To remedy that, we headed into Alton to experience a local legend of a restaurant. Fast Eddie’s has been in existence since the 1920s, and since then it has expanded to seat nearly 400 people. (Be prepared for packed parking and to flash your ID at the door; patrons must be 21 to enter.)

Preparing Burgers at Fast Eddie's

I’m glad we were accompanied by people who had been there before. After you enter, you then need to snake your way behind a bar to join the end of the food line. Fast Eddie’s has a simple and inexpensive menu, and because of the simplicity, the line moves blessedly fast. You can grab a half-pound burger hot off the grill for $1.99. (Another tip: Come with cash, as that’s the only accepted payment method for food. ATMs are available, but you’ll likely get charged a fee for using them.)

The other half of the experience was finding somewhere to sit. The place was packed to the hilt with all kinds of people, which made for interesting people watching, but it complicated our efforts to find a table with four available chairs. We checked both the indoor and enclosed outdoor seating areas. We did end up finding a table and enjoyed tearing into our food and sharing in conversation.

Winding Down at Grafton Wineries

As the sun was setting, we followed Illinois Route 100, also called the Great River Road, north from Alton toward the smaller town of Grafton. The road tightly hugs the curves of the Mississippi to the left and gives way to the region’s rising bluffs on the right. The combination of scenery and sunset was spectacularly beautiful.

Sunset from Aerie's Winery

We reached our destination,  Aerie’s Winery, with enough light left to enjoy the view. The winery overlooks both Grafton and another confluence—of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Reaching it involved a steep ascent up several hills, but the view at the top was entirely worth it. It was the perfect place to relax, unwind, and enjoy some locally bottled wine.

Another Sunset View at Aerie's Winery

We also stopped by the Grafton Winery, which sits right off Main Street. The owner herself took care of our wine tasting and poured a sample of an item not even listed on the menu. She and her staff earned a lot of points in my book for their attentive service.

All in all, our experience in Grafton was the cherry on top of an exhilarating dayand that has only whetted my appetite further for exploring the area surrounding the Great River Road.

Know Before You Go

The following information was up-to-date as of the publication date of this blog post.

Fast Eddie’s Bon Air

Phone: 618-462-5532

Address: 1530 East 4th Street, Alton, IL 62002

Website: http://www.fasteddiesbonair.com/

 

Aerie’s Winery

Phone: 618-786-8439

Address: 800 Timber Ridge, Grafton, IL 62037

Website: http://www.aeriesview.com/winery/#aeries-winery

 

Grafton Winery and Brewhaus

Phone: 618-786-3001

Address: 300 West Main, Grafton, IL 62037

Website: http://thegraftonwinery.com/Winery-In-St.Louis/

Falling for Flour House Bakery & Coffee

Over Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to travel home (northern Illinois) to visit family and friends for an extended weekend. One friend in particular, Sarah, and I hadn’t seen each other in over a year. It was amazing that not only where we going to be in the same area at the same time, but we both had time in our schedules to hang out and catch up.

Now, one thing I’ve noticed is that when you’re planning to see old friends, the challenge always seems to be, ‘Where do we meet up?’

For us, Flour House Bakery & Coffee was the perfect answer. The year-old addition to Princeton’s downtown art district has attracted a lot of attention from the local community. I had also been there over the summer, and the atmosphere (and need I mention the coffee?) was just right—artsy, vintage, and fresh. My second visit did not disappoint, either.

Exterior of the Flour House Coffee & Bakery

The vibe of the Flour House starts from the exterior facade. The signage almost looks like dough-shaped letters strung together, just in a much more polished way. It sits atop a generously sized black-and-white awning that flaps in the breeze, almost beckoning passersby to come inside. Sarah and I were glad to escape from the late November chill that hung in the air.

Inside, we were greeted by the sight of whitewashed walls—built in bookshelves, actually—lined with an assortment of books, lamps, and other curated items. The place was bustling with people placing and collecting orders, and filled with the din of conversations rising up to the original tin ceiling.

The scent of cinnamon and coffee grounds mingled with that of the baked goods displayed behind the counter. For a small batch bakery, the Flour House offered a variety of options.

Fresh Baked Goods in the Flour House

As appetizing as everything looked (many of the names were also mouthwatering—hello Heath Bar Cheesecake!), I went for the tried and true bagel. These were also freshly baked, with four flavors to choose from. I ordered a plain one, with cinnamon spread on the side.

Bagel and Hot Chocolate from the Flour House

While I also ordered coffee, Sarah tried out some hot chocolate. And, as you can see from the above picture, it was topped with a rich foam. What a decadent treat!

We sat at one of the several small tables available and took in the sights, sounds, and smells of the cozy bakery. It ended up being the perfect way to while away the morning after Thanksgiving. Instead of getting caught in throngs of frazzled deal hunters, we enjoyed the slowed pace of our hometown life.

This place is definitely on my list for a return visit. What is a hidden gem from your area?

Interior of Flour House Bakery & Coffee

Know Before You Go

Hours: Thursday – Monday: 7 am to 4 pm

Address: 950 North Main Street, Princeton, IL 61356

Website: http://www.princetonflourhouse.com/

They also post their daily menu on Facebook.