photo by Justin Barr

By Trish Muyco-Tobin

In the past, you may have referred to it as “the Manchester strip,” maybe even “Adam’s Grove,” if you were around in the ’50s. But in recent years, The Grove, the diverse, trendsetting 1-mile stretch of Manchester Avenue in St. Louis’ Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, has had its eye on the future, and is continuing its metamorphosis to meet the ever-evolving needs of the district.

It wasn’t always that way. After World War II, the well-to-do residents of Forest Park Southeast (who started populating the area in the 1930s) headed for the greener grass of the suburbs, sending the neighborhood into a downward spiral that would last for decades. Following years of decline that saw a decrease in population and property values, and an increase in crime, The Grove started to get its groove back. As The Grove Community Improvement District noted, the initial wave of re-investment began in the ’80s with the opening of Attitudes Night Club, as well as with “community members devoted to filling one vacant storefront at a time.”

Presently, The Grove is home to more than 50 businesses such as sandwich shops, cafes, music venues, LGBT-friendly nightclubs, tattoo parlors and even a brewery. People are moving back and even more businesses are setting up shop. It doesn’t hurt that the neighborhood now has an IKEA nearby; and next year, City Foundry STL—a combination food hall, retail and entertainment destination—is slated to debut in adjacent Midtown on 15 acres of former industrial real estate.

This month brings The Grove’s signature Grove Fest. Back for its 13th year, this family-friendly street festival is all sorts of fun, complete with a kids’ zone, street performers, live music, and plenty of food and drink from Grove establishments. An annual tradition is the paint-by-numbers wall mural, where everyone is encouraged to leave their mark. Plus, local artists and vendors will keep the shoppers shopping all day long!

photo by Dave Tobin

GROVE FEST

2 to 11 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6

thegrovestl.com

The annual event puts the “festive” in festival, with a Food Village, Family Area and Merchant Village, as well as street performers, DJs and live music on a main stage. Admission is free, but a suggested $5 donation funds the production of Grove Fest.

 

Trish Muyco-Tobin savors the Hummus Trio at Layla. photo by Dave Tobin

 

A few of the menu offerings at Layla photo by Dave Tobin

IN AND AROUND THE GROVE 

Layla

We knew we’d feel right at home the moment we stepped inside Layla. Steeped in ‘80s music, old movie posters and a menu that winks at pop culture know-how, this burger-shawarma-cocktail-shake establishment delivers the goods on each of those modifiers. Take, for instance, the burgers: How can you go wrong with a burger called Fat Mike (two beef patties with cheddar, hickory-smoked bacon and house-made pickles)? There’s also the Clarice (seasoned lamb burger) and Buffalo Bill (bison burger)—if you’re catching the drift, no, there’s no Hannibal burger. As for the Shawarma selection, there are so many combinations to be had, but we sampled the spicy falafel and fell in love. For starters, we recommend the Hummus Trio, a fresh, colorful dish that really primes your palate for what’s to come. Post-meal, if you’re in the mood for some Bad Company, try Feel Like Bacon Love (get it?) shake, or, “Roll with the Changes” with the Oreo Speedwagon shake…OK, we’ll stop. laylastl.com

 

The lunch buffet at Everest photo by Dave Tobin

Everest Café & Bar

We’ve become big fans of Everest Café’s lunch buffet—a plethora of Nepalese, Indian and Korean dishes that are thoughtfully prepared every day of the week. The spread can include dishes like the sweet and spicy Chicken Bulgoki and Chap Chae (sweet potato noodles) from Korea; Indian Vegetable Korma and Chicken Tandoori; and Tibetan-style steamed dumplings called momos. The rest of the menu is also impressive, with plenty of vegetarian and meat entrees, as well as a selection of clay-oven and noodle dishes. everestcafeandbar.com

 

Firecracker’s Godzilla Pizza photo by Dave Tobin

Firecracker Pizza & Beer

This relative newcomer to The Grove has some pedigree: “Chief Ignition Officer” Chip Schloss is also the owner of next-door neighbor and Grove mainstay Atomic Cowboy. Firecracker proudly welcomes “rebels, punks, hooligans, delinquents…” to this irreverent space, where you’ll be greeted by a poster of Johnny Cash’s flippant middle finger and served a “beer-forward” cocktail in a tall, frosty “F* Yeah! glass. But really, they’re serious about the food, too. From the almost-too-pretty-to-eat Whistlin’ Kitty Chaser salad with seasonal berries, toasted pecans and house-made berry vinaigrette to the Cherry Bombs (meatballs stuffed with bleu cheese and cherry pepper relish), it’s all good. The pizza dough and sauce are made fresh daily—and you can taste it. We particularly enjoyed Godzilla (sweet chili chicken, cucumber carrot slaw, spinach, mozzarella and crushed wasabi peas) and the Funk-a-delic (sausage with three kinds of mushrooms). And don’t forget to try a cocktail or two: Our favorite was the Hopical Storm—a refreshing mix of gin, IPA, ginger liqueur, grapefruit and lime. firecrackerpizza.com

Whistlin’ Kitty Chaser salad photo by Dave Tobin