Go For the Food: Taste the Big Easy in St. Louis

The Broadway Oyster Bar may be a mere block from the home stadium of the St. Louis Cardinals, but its heart lies in another Mississippi River city nearly 700 miles (1,200 kilometers) south.

"We're trying to bridge the connection between St. Louis and New Orleans," says owner John Johnson, a former painting contractor whose annual sojourns to the Big Easy for jazz and food set the stage for his purchase of the oyster bar nearly two decades ago.

Tucked into St. Louis' former French enclave of Soulard, the 1840s-era roadhouse isn't shy about its allegiance to New Orleans. It's decked out for Mardi Gras, sporting everything from those classic beads to purple-and-green Christmas lights and Gulf Coast mollusks.

And then there is the menu — crawfish cakes, alligator sausage and pork boudin sliders as appetizers, with jambalaya, gumbo and crawfish etouffee among the entrees. The shrimp and grits revolves around a firm grit cake made with white cheddar and andouille sausage, providing a sturdier foundation than the more typical, porridge-like version.

Sandwiches include seafood po'boys on bread from New Orleans baker Gambino's, as well as warm muffulettas, which combine salami, ham, cheese and an olive spread on rounded loaves. Grinders are an attempt to pair New Orleans with New England, taking hollowed-out French baguettes and filling the resulting dough trough with minced garlic, onions, peppers and a choice of seafood.

But as the name suggests, oysters are the star attraction, with near-daily shipments from around the country. Those less enamored with raw shellfish can opt for the chargrilled oysters drenched in garlic, cheese and breadcrumbs, styled after those made by the legendary Drago's Seafood Restaurant down south.

The draft beer selection is ample, dominated by local craft brewers such as Civil Life, Four Hands, O'Fallon and Schlafly that have emerged as more complex alternatives to Budweiser, the city's erstwhile King of Beers brewed just a short walk away.

Broadway Oyster Bar — known as BOB for short — is gloriously downscale. Patrons eat off tin plates while sitting on long wooden benches in an enclosed patio that also doubles as venue for live music — and a home away from home for touring artists from New Orleans, whose concert posters are plastered on the walls.

In addition to blues-lovers and baseball fans, the restaurant draws an eclectic crowd that also includes conventioneers and white-shoe lawyers.

This spring, BOB and like-minded neighbors such as The Beale on Broadway and BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups have more competition for Cardinals fans with the opening of Ballpark Village, a Cardinals-approved entertainment district next to Busch Stadium with several themed restaurants and sports bars. But Johnson is unconcerned.

"This is the real ballpark village," he said.