A few weeks ago, I read about a new restaurant opening in the KDHX radio building near downtown St. Louis. It took me by surprise because usually I’m abreast of what opens and closes in the area, and I had no idea that the restaurant, Squatters Café, even existed.
I stopped by for lunch last week and I was blown away. Squatters is the brainchild of Chef Rob Connoley, a St. Louis native and James Beard-nominated chef who worked for a while in New Mexico before coming back to his hometown. Squatters is his first restaurant in St. Louis and he already has plans for another, more high-end concept.
I’m happy that Connoley is back is town because St. Louis needs this kind of lunch restaurant. Yes, there are great places to get sandwiches, soup, and other lunch fare, but sometimes it’s difficult to find a place that specializes in local, organic food (even though there are more and more opening).
Squatters’s food is “vegetarian whimsical,” if that’s a thing. Maybe I just made it a thing. Most of the items on the menu are plant-based even though a few have meat (more on that later). The presentation is artful and it’s clear that Connoley and his sous chef focus on detail.
The first day I went for lunch, I ordered the beet salad. I would eat salad everyday if they all tasted like that. Connoley puts goat cheese and yogurts inside the beets, so when you cut into them with a knife, you see it in the center. He serves the beets with candied nuts, fresh greens, shallots, and a side of his sunflower seed bread.
The bread alone is worth a trip to Squatters. I bought a piece of it to take with me. It’s hearty, filling, and flavorful. It’s the kind of bread that tastes good by itself or slathered with jam. I judge bread by whether it could be an attraction on its own, and this bread meets that qualification.
I ended up talking to Connoley for a little during the first lunch and I told him that I almost ordered the duck hash, but then I didn’t because I wanted something lighter. “Go with your instincts next time,” he said, which is a good rule to follow in general.
When I stopped by for lunch yesterday, I tried the hash and it was delicious. The sweet potatoes were warm and perfectly roasted with subtle smoky flavor. The maple wild rice was slightly sweet and the duck was tender and juicy. Connoley tops the dish with a fried egg. I love the way the saltiness of the egg and the flavors of the yolk contrast with the sweetness of the potatoes and the rice.
Next time I stop by, I want to try more of Squatters’s baked goods. I had their ginger cookie the first time I went and it was amazing, sugary and crunchy on the outside and soft in the center.
They were out of this yesterday, but I’m dying to try their cinnamon crisps and pecan milk. The restaurant sells the crisps in a little bag that you can take away with you and the pecan milk comes with it.
If you’re around St. Louis University or the Fox Theatre, I’d highly recommend stopping by Squatters. It’s only open until 2:00 PM but it serves breakfast all day and it has an extensive coffee menu.
“I could stay here forever,” I told Connoley and his sous chef the first time I ate lunch there, and it’s true. Connoley and his team are warm and welcoming, so when you come by for lunch it feels more like stopping by a friend’s house. Connoley might even sign one of his cookbooks for you. More on that on my Instagram.
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