Today’s family-friendly dining is a lot different than the ball pits and playpens of the past – St. Louis parents want high-quality food in fun environments that also cater to kids.
Fitz’s Root Beer has plenty to entertain youngsters (and the young at heart). The bottling company and craft soda microbrewery was founded in 1947 and has been an institution in the Delmar Loop since 1993. A second South County location – dubbed Fitz’s SoCo – opened in late January to expand its longstanding legacy in the area.
Both locations serve up Fitz’s signature frosty mugs of bottomless craft soda and root beer – using the original recipe from the 1947 drive-in restaurant – plus bottled craft soda, famous floats, malts and shakes from a dominating dairy bar in the center of the dining room. The Loop location features a larger upstairs veranda with a second bar, arcade games and birds-eye view of the fun below. Back on the main floor, multiple windows in the dining room open to vintage bottling in action.
“We scoured for this 1940s bottling line with all the bells and whistles on it because we knew kids would like that,” says owner Michael Alter, before adding with a laugh, “but we underestimated how much adults like to watch!”
In the warmer months, bottling occurs four or five days a week, and after seeing it made, there’s nothing better than a fresh, ice-cold pour from the tap or out of a bottle. Along with its most popular soda flavors – root beer, grape, orange and red-hued Cardinal Cream – Fitz’s also serves limited-edition flavors of bottled soda like Hip Hop Pop (with notes of raspberry, mixed berry and cola) and seasonal releases like Peach Pop.
The floats at Fitz’s are legendary for reason – just one could feed a family. Grab a straw, spoon and plenty of napkins: Mugs of draft soda are topped with huge scoops of ice cream and various sweets like gummy bears, brownie crumbles and whipped cream.
“There’s an art and science to eating a float,” Alter says. “As the float is being eaten, magic happens: The ice cream is starting to melt into the craft soda, and the best part is once the ice cream has completely melted into the soda and develops the wonderful color and flavor to it – you can’t leave that behind. I always tell people to pace themselves.”
Along with the original root beer float, Purple Cub and Ghostbusters are best-sellers among the 16 options. The former tops grape soda with strawberry ice cream, whipped cream and gummy bears, and the latter starts with root beer, adds massive scoops of vanilla ice cream layered with marshmallow fluff, and finishes with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and the requisite cherry on top.
And of course, big and little kids might be craving something less sweet and more substantial, in which case Fitz’s array of burgers, sandwiches, pizzas and entrées fit the bill. Of the 12 burgers, the Bottler’s Burger is the most popular and straightforward: seasoned, seared and served on a sesame-seed bun with a side of tangy Kitchen Sauce. Step it up with the Bourbon – the Bottler’s Burger with smoked Cheddar, bacon and crispy onion straws. Fitz’s has a kids’ menu with standbys like grilled cheese, toasted ravioli and chicken fingers that come with a side and bottomless mug of soda. However, on the regular menu, Alter says the whole family can go for the famous fried pickle chips, fish and chips or the barbecue sampler platter with assorted smoked meats topped with Fitz’s house barbecue sauce made with its root beer.
“There’s never been an issue with kids not having a good choice of food,” he says. “When they come here, they leave happy – especially if they save room for the floats.”
While you’re in the neighborhood, head down the star-lined St. Louis Walk of Fame and take in the bright lights of the Tivoli Theatre and Pin-Up Bowl before stopping at The Baked Bear, a California ice cream shop that opened its first Missouri location in September.
Little ones will love the from-scratch, fresh-baked cookies and brownies that sandwich housemade premium ice cream – and parents won’t mind a bite of the indulgent treats, too.
Creations can be catered to your wildest whims. First, choose the base: a cookie in nearly a dozen offerings, brownie or mix and match. Then, pick out your ice cream middle from 13 flavors, and finish with the toppings. Franchise co-owner Steve Lemley says his favorite is blackberry crumble ice cream sandwiched between two gooey butter cake cookies, all rolled in Fruity Pebbles. However, bright blue-hued Bear Batter ice cream – cake batter ice cream with brownies and fudge mixed in – is a hit with kids, too. Cones, as well as brownie and cookie bowls that can be filled with a scoop of ice cream, are also available.
“And then we do a special thing called a hot press, where we warm up the cookie on the top and bottom in a paninilike maker,” says catering and events manager Emily Westerholt. “Everyone thinks it’s going to melt the ice cream, but it doesn’t – it makes them feel like they’re fresh out of the oven.”
Both the cookies and ice cream are made from scratch using The Baked Bear’s recipes, and the shop also introduces monthly cookie flavors (March was Salted Caramel Crunch with mini pieces of Heath bar, for example) and seasonal ice creams. “Our Salty & Sweet is my new favorite,” Westerholt says. “It’s chocolate-covered pretzels with cookie dough, caramel and fudge mixed into vanilla ice cream.”
For a taste of grandma’s down-home cooking – if grandma went to culinary school – take your cookie monsters to Grace Meat + Three in The Grove. The corner spot is known for its selection of Midwestern comfort-food favorites and savory sides, as the name implies.
“Traditional meat and threes were like town restaurants and gathering places and would typically have a daily menu of a half-dozen proteins and a dozen vegetables and sides, served either buffet or counter style,” says chef Rick Lewis of Southern and Quincy Street Bistro fame, who owns Grace with his wife, Elisa. “Here at Grace Meat + Three, our best hope is that people will walk in and feel like part of our family.”
At Grace, you can choose either one, two or three main courses and up to three sides. The à la carte offerings make it easy to split a meal, but the delicious food might make it hard to share. Rick suggests families try his famous fried chicken as a whole bird, in either the original or Nashville Hot spice level. Other mains include sweet tea-brined turkey legs, sugar-glazed St. Louis-style ribs and cornmeal-fried Mississippi catfish – but po’boy sandwiches, burgers and a traditional kids’ menu are also on offer. This month, Rick is excited to bring back his 2-inch-thick, massive pork steaks, perfect for warmer weather.
Plus, Grace just rolled out a larger version of its classic sides by the quart for families to share, including honey-glazed skillet cornbread, white Cheddar-Gouda mac ‘n’ cheese, garlic-whipped mashed potatoes with pan gravy, slow-cooked collard greens with ham hocks and more. And Rick keeps regulars coming back with seasonal vegetables and sides like beef-fat fried broccoli, roasted Brussels sprouts with caramelized onions and Buffalo-style cauliflower with blue cheese.
Rick also makes sure families try one of the housemade desserts to wrap up the meal, including banana pudding, bourbon-pecan pie and the flagship salted honey custard pie. “It’s kind of like eating honey-flavored crème brûlée sprinkled with sea salt in a flaky pie crust... doesn’t really get better than that,” he says.
The space itself has plenty of room to spread out and park a stroller – seating is either along communal tables with long benches, big circular tables or low booths. You order at the register, then find an open spot to feast.
No need to call a sitter or stop through the drive-thru before dining out – St. Louis has many kid-friendly options, from family-style Southern favorites to all-American burgers, handcrafted sodas and loaded floats.
The Baked Bear, 6140 Delmar Blvd., Delmar Loop, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.578.8576, thebakedbear.com/st-louis
Fitz’s Root Beer, 6605 Delmar Blvd., University City, Missouri, 314.726.9555; Fitz’s SoCo, 5244 S. Lindbergh Blvd., Sappington, Missouri, 314.626.1777; fitzrootbeer.com
Grace Meat + Three, 4270 Manchester Ave., Forest Park Southeast, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.533.2700, stlgrace.com