My son, Russ, and I stopped at Starrs Wine and Spirits on South Big Bend. It being the oldest operating wine shop in town, he thought I’d find it blog worthy. In fact, I found it blog amazing!
Starrs started out as a Clayton coffee shop in 1979. (They’re still roasting coffee in the same reliable roaster they had in those days.) But today the place is more aptly a wine, cheese, coffee, meat and fish shop.
Variety and Innovation
I’d estimate that about 80% of the place is devoted to wine and spirits. But there are other items you won’t find in the average wine shop. I talked with John Nash, the resident wine guru, who was the founder/operator of the Wine Merchant before casting his lot with Bud and Valery Starr.
John told me about the 9″ house-made chicken pot pies ($12.99). Their gourmet version is prepared from pasture-raised, antibiotic and hormone-free poultry produced at Buttonwood Farms in California, Missouri. Large pieces of moist, tasty chicken and chunky vegetables are loaded between a double crust. This pie taste more like it was homemade than any I’ve seen sold commercially.
I learned, too, that their fish comes fresh from Chicago and is sold only on Friday and Saturday. I also noted such great party items as the house-made trout spread and cold smoked salmon.
Cheese and Honey
John was especially proud of their broad selection of cheeses and offered me a few samples to taste. I couldn’t resist getting a chunk of their Parmesan, since I was planning to make a minestrone and it needed a sprinkle of fine cheese. Besides, I always throw a Parm rind into a pot of soup for a umami flavor jolt.
When I inquired about a cheese used in an Alsatian dish I had in France, John immediately knew what I was talking about. “Raclette,” he said, “It’s hard to find.” He recommended Gruyere as a substitute, that melted well.
When I asked for advice on honey, he inquired as to what area I lived and then suggested Stinger’s that comes from the bees of Clayton. Supposedly, honey is more effective for what ails you if it’s made from your local pollen.
Jacques Torres Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies
They were sold out of their famous chocolate chip cookies, but more would be cooked the next day. When I inquired about the recipe, John said it was the one used by renown chocolatier Jacques Torres of New York.
Cookie Baking Secrets
Nash also passed on a couple of secrets to making the old favorite—or any chocolate chip cookie. The dough must be refrigerated for 24-72 hours. (The original Toll House recipe called for cooling the dough, at least, overnight.) Butter should be at room temperature. And, rather than chocolate chips, use feves chocolate—flat, ovals of fine, French chocolate that’s broken into pieces and allowed to swirl into the cookies as they bake.
John went to the kitchen and returned with cookies warm from the oven. . . and oh, my goodness! They were slightly crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside, highlighted with ruffles of chocolate.
I considered making a batch of Jacques Torres’ cookies myself. I checked online and found that the bittersweet chocolate discs sell at Torre’s in New York for $17 for 2 pounds. On top of that, they charge $14.50 to ship! Come to think of it, you might not want to get the kids addicted to this recipe.
Starrs is a fun place to visit and I came away having learned something new about chocolate, honey, cheese, coffee, fish and cuts of beef. Bud Starr and John Nash show a unique knowledge of their products and pride in the quality of what they offer and that’s what keeps the shop’s many fans coming back.
Starrs Wine and Spirits. 1135 South Big Bend in Richmond Heights. Open: Mon-Thu10a-8p; Fri-Sat 10a-9:30p; Closed Sunday.