Tucked between gleaming high-rises, local boutiques, historic homes and sprawling Shaw Park lie an array of unique restaurants, coffee shops and bars: At its core, the city of Clayton is an all-day destination packed with plenty to see, do and, of course, eat and drink.
Start your day at Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co. – there are two within Clayton’s city limits. The original DeMun location was built in 1994 and was the first location for what is now a regional coffee company, with 16 locations spanning Columbia, Missouri; Kansas City; and Atlanta, plus two more planned to open in St. Louis in the coming months. The Clayton-Crescent location in the business district is popular with The Crescent Condo residents and visitors of The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis, which is just around the corner.
“For us, Clayton is an area that’s always been here, always been thriving and vibrant, and it continues to grow in the restaurant-and-food scene,” says Frank McGinty, director of culinary development and marketing. “We catch a lot of men and women in the morning stopping by to grab a coffee and breakfast before heading into the office or a meeting, but besides the 8-to-5 business, there’s also a great nightlife scene with cool bars and restaurants.”
Kaldi’s hand-brewed coffee and espresso uses beans sourced from the finest coffee regions worldwide that are then carefully roasted and prepared for a smooth, complex cup. Or, opt for a seasonal latte, including brown sugar-rosemary or baked maple-pumpkin, as well as the recently ramped-up Firepot tea and smoothie programs. Assorted sweet and savory pastries are a good go-to, but save room for a more filling options like the ham-and-Swiss sandwich with pickled cranberry jam and grain mustard on a pretzel roll, apple-Brie salad or hummus plate with flatbread, vegetables, Kalamata olives and Feta.
Vincent Van Doughnut is another hot spot for coffee, donuts and other baked goods – but make sure to stop by early, as the shop sells out every day. Owner Vincent Marsden chose Clayton for his flagship location for its urban feel and walkability. (A second location just opened in The Grove in February.)
“It’s super attractive because it’s the second downtown in St. Louis, with all the bankers and barristers and the dense population and incredible restaurants we get to be neighbors with,” Marsden says. “The streets, the people, the feel – there’s always something going on in Clayton.”
Marsden and his staff work tirelessly all morning and night to prepare everything from scratch (“We don't mine our own salt or grow our own nuts,” Marsden jokes, “but if we can make it from scratch, we do.”), and the pillowy yeast-raised and rich cake donuts showcase Marsden’s care and dedication, in flavors like top-selling maple-bacon and French toast and rotating hits like lemon-lavender and triple PB&J. Also available are coffee drinks made from local Sump Coffee and other baked goods including muffins, pop-tartlets, quiche and savory kolaches.
For lunch, there are a range of cuisines and dining styles to choose from. Frida’s, on the north side of the city, serves vegetarian fare and filling healthful smoothies in an airy and light space. Longtime favorite Pastaria and neighboring Sardella, which just opened in November, are both run by James Beard Award-winning chef Gerard Craft and feature robust bites like Neapolitan pizzas, housemade organic pasta and gelato at Pastaria and expertly prepared Italian-influenced dishes at Sardella.
A five-minute drive down the road, Weber Grill Restaurant holds corner real estate at the Saint Louis Galleria mall, greeting diners with a larger-than-life eponymous grill on the roof and four industrial-sized versions inside. The majority of the menu is prepared on the grills, including UDSA Prime bone-in rib-eye, Tuscan chicken and grilled crab cakes.
After a jaunt around the mall or the boutique shops lining Maryland Avenue and the financial district, it’s worth a stroll through the green space in Shaw Park, which is routinely filled with visitors enjoying festivals, movie nights, picnics and more. In June, the Music & Wine Festival fills Carondelet Plaza with live music, street entertainment, and wine and food samples, and in the fall, Clayton hosts the Saint Louis Art Fair, which draws in 130,000 visitors to view the exhibits of more than 150 local and national artists.
For dinner, if you’re looking to try a hallmark of downtown Clayton, snag a coveted booth at The Crossing, boasting an impressive wine menu and contemporary dishes by chef-owner Jim Fiala and chef Brad Watts. The multicourse tasting menus showcase ingredients in elevated preparations like delicately roasted halibut with prosciutto-tomato coulis or asparagus with morels, a quail egg and a balsamic reduction. Another popular dinner spot with a more laidback vibe is Boundary, attached to The Cheshire hotel in the crossroads of Clayton, Richmond Heights and the city of St. Louis (hence the name). Rex Hale, corporate chef of LHM, the restaurant group comprising Boundary, is a well-respected advocate of local sourcing to create his farm-to-table fare.
“You see a lot of really great spots in downtown Clayton and DeMun where people can sit back and enjoy themselves,” Hale says. “They want to be comfortable – and that was the whole idea with Boundary’s menu – comfort food from around the world, different items from different cultures blended together.”
The menu highlights seasonality and freshness including smoked pork ribs with gochujang barbecue sauce, local raspberries and pickled radishes; Kona Kampachi with beet-ginger-chile dressing, Fresno chiles and micro-cilantro; seared sea scallops with smoked-bacon risotto; and lemon-curd cheesecake with candied dried lemon slices. Boundary’s striking backlit bar serves an array of whiskey, wine and beer to pair with the dishes.
Wherever you decide to go in Clayton, the biggest piece of advice from locals is to take your time.
“My best advice for out-of-towners is to get a hotel room,” Marsden says. “There are so many nooks and crannies, and there’s always something going on and something to check out. Make the rounds, but work your way through slowly and don’t try to rush it.”
McGinty agrees: “There are great high-end restaurants, as well as incredibly affordable places to grab a burger and a beer. It’s also one of the most foot-friendly spots in St. Louis, so you can park or get a hotel and spend a whole day checking check out the area by foot.”
Boundary, 7036 Clayton Ave., Hi-Pointe, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.932.7818, boundary-stl.com
The Crossing, 7823 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, Missouri, 314.721.7375, thecrossing-stl.com
Frida's, 622 North and South Road, University City, Missouri, 314.727.6500, fridasdeli.com
Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co., multiple locations, kaldiscoffee.com
Pastaria, 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, Missouri, 314.862.6603, pastariastl.com
Sardella, 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, Missouri, 314.773.7755, sardellastl.com
Vincent Van Doughnut, 40 N. Central Ave., Clayton, Missouri, 314.899.9500, vincentvandoughnut.com
Weber Grill Restaurant, 1147 St. Louis Galleria St., Richmond Heights, Missouri, 314.930.3838, webergrillrestaurant.com