The passion that Missourians have for their food and drink scene is unmatched. From the Barbecue Capital of the World in Kansas City to the birthplace of the venerable toasted ravioli in St. Louis, the Show-Me State pulls no punches when raving about a food or beverage that is completely theirs.
I was born and raised in St. Louis and even covered the food and beverage scene of Missouri as a writer and editor—so in the interest of full disclosure, this topic is about as near and dear to me as you can get.
But in researching this piece, I’ve rediscovered it through the eyes of a meeting planner. Hospitality is plentiful in two of the state’s major cities, and opportunities abound for attendees to experience iconic dishes, drinks and old (and new) stomping grounds in both locations.
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“Midwestern hospitality is definitely a thing,” said Derek Klaus, director of communications for Visit KC. “Kansas Citians enjoy welcoming visitors year-round.”
Following are four iconic foods and beverages in Kansas City and St. Louis and group-friendly places to try them.
Kansas City-Style Barbecue
Kansas City being nicknamed the Barbecue Capital of the World isn’t just for show. As of early April 2020, Visit KC said that more than 115 local establishments were smoking the city’s signature specialty, from ribs to burnt ends to pulled pork—and even vegan-friendly options.
For plenty of flexibility, planners should look to local chain Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, which boasts five locations, including one in the city’s famed Country Club Plaza. But its location in the Crossroads Art District, housed in a converted freight house, is sure to wow. There, planners have options for indoor and outdoor private dining, including banquet facilities that can accommodate up to 130 guests.
Photo: Fiorellas Jack Stack Barbecue; Credit: Courtesy of Visit KC
Other group-friendly barbecue restaurants include Q39 in Midtown (and a second location in Overland Park, Kansas) and Country Road Ice House. “The first is backed by a successful competition barbecue team and has really taken off in the last few years with their fire-grilled approach,” Klaus said. “The second is located in the Power & Light District, a quick walk from the convention center.”
Kansas City Cocktails
“When it comes to beverages, Kansas City has a lot to be proud of, too,” Klaus said. “Even during Prohibition, alcohol continued to flow freely in Kansas City, making way for a rich beer and cocktail history that lives on well to this day.”
On their visit to KC, attendees can blend in with the locals by ordering home-grown libations such as a Horsefeather, a whiskey cocktail similar to a Moscow Mule; or a Kansas City Ice Water, a cocktail comprising gin, vodka and lime juice and served in an old-fashioned glass with ice.
(Photo: J. Rieger & Co. cocktail; Credit: Courtesy of Visit KC)
For events, planners should look to the J. Rieger & Co. distillery, which expanded in 2019 to a nearby 60,000-square-foot building that was once home to Heim Brewery. The newly refurbished space features a bit of whimsy with a corkscrew slide running from the second to first floors. Multiple rooms are available for private events, including:
- The Monogram Lounge, which can accommodate up to 250 guests. Features include floor-to-ceiling views of the distillery’s production floor and a 40-foot bar. For something more intimate, the lounge can be sectioned off into a smaller private dining room that can accommodate 64 seated or 100 standing.
- In the basement, the swanky Hey! Hey! Club can accommodate 50 guests and boasts a private bar and fireplace—perfect for a post-meeting happy hour.
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Toasted Raviolis in St. Louis
Open any bar menu in St. Louis, and it’s rare not to find toasted raviolis under the appetizer section. It’s often said that the best of these breaded, deep-fried delicacies can be found in St. Louis’ Italian neighborhood The Hill, where they also reportedly originated.
St. Louisans rave about the toasted ravs found at Charlie Gitto’s on The Hill, opened in 1981, where there are two private dining rooms available to planners that can accommodate 8 to 100 guests.
(Photo: Ballpark Village; Credit: Courtesy of Explore St. Louis)
Groups that are stationed downtown, especially during baseball season, should venture to Ballpark Village across from Busch Stadium for myriad nightlife activities. T-Ravs can be found at bar and restaurant Cardinals Nation, which features a 338-seat rooftop deck with prime views into the ballpark. The Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum is also housed here.
St. Louis Beer
As the home of beer giant Anheuser-Busch, founded in 1852, beer is part of the Gateway City’s DNA. In historic Soulard, planners can organize private tours of Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser brewery to learn about the brewing process, how the famous Budweiser Clydesdales came to be, the architecture of the 19th-century building and its perch near the Mississippi River. The brewery’s expansive Biergarten is available for private events.
Photo: Anheuser-Busch Biergarten; Credit: Courtesy of Explore St. Louis
It’s also not hard to visit any one of St. Louis’ neighborhoods and find a top-notch craft brewery—there are, after all, more than 40 breweries throughout the city. Many of them are spacious and offer private event options. Two standouts include:
- Schlafly Beer boasts two locations in St. Louis: the Taproom in Midtown and Bottleworks in Maplewood. The former offers its Club Room, featuring 12-foot-tall windows and a balcony. The room can seat 156 or accommodate 225 cocktail-style. At Bottleworks, the Crown Room can accommodate up to 50 guests and offers views of the brewery’s operation.
- At 4 Hands Brewing Co., the 4,000-square-foot second floor is available for private events, whether it be a daytime meeting or a post-meeting gathering. Add-ons include an overview of the brewery and a flight tasting (pro tip: don’t pass on the signature City Wide pale ale). Catering options are also available with the brewery’s food partners Sidney Street Cafe and Peacemaker Lobster & Crab, which are restaurants owned by James Beard Award-winning chef Kevin Nashan.
Missourians love to direct visitors to the best places to drink and dine in their home state. Covering the food and beverage beat there for three years, and growing up in St. Louis, I can say with certainty that Missouri restaurant and hospitality professionals are eager to take care of visitors and show them a good time.
COVID-19 has obviously affected the industry, but when it is safe to gather again, they’ll surely be back in full force, whether it’s with a plate of burnt ends or a glass of cold beer. In the meantime, as of press time, many Missouri restaurants continue to offer takeout and curbside operations.
And in early April, two beverage companies, Major Brands and Beam Suntory, launched the Missouri Restaurant Association Workers Benefit Fund to provide relief for Missouri restaurant workers. Simply put by Klaus: “Travel and tourism are resilient industries.”
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