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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010 09:53 am

Off the beaten shopping path in St. Louis

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Winslow's Home is a feast for all the senses.

If you’re planning a St. Louis holiday shopping trip, why not check out some independently owned stores and get away from frenetic mall mobs for at least part of your trip? There are hundreds, from funky shops in University City’s Loop on Delmar Street, to antique stores on Cherokee, to pricey boutiques in Clayton – so many that it can be hard to choose.

For those with a culinary bent or buying such a gift, here are two recent discoveries. Both are now in my top St. Louis holiday and year-round shopping destinations. Both are relatively new. Both offer unusual goods and artisanal products, many/most made in-house or locally sourced. And both provide unique and uniquely pleasurable shopping experiences.

I’d driven past the old building on Delmar about a mile west of U. City’s Loop several times in the last few years. Each time, I’d think, “That looks interesting.” But each time, I was on my way somewhere else and, though intriguing, the small sign said only “Winslow’s Home.” Was it a store? A restaurant?

Now I’ve been there, and can say yes, it’s a store. And it’s a restaurant. But it’s more than that, more than the sum of its parts.

I walked into Winslow’s Home and stopped dead. It was impossible not to; there was so much to take in. A barrel on one side held rolls of genuine oilcloth, a plastic tablecloth precurser that’s tactilely and visually superior. Rugs made from recycled materials protruded from one on the other side. In front of us was a wooden display case. Floor-to-ceiling shelves held an eye-catching assortment of toys on the left, equally interesting dishes and tableware on the right.

Shelves and displays continued into the store: hand-lettered signs announcing sections for kitchenware, eco-friendly household products, groceries, books, fanciful decorative items, and more. On the right, an old counter ended with a wine room off to the side. Interspersed between everything were iron trestle-supported tabletops around which clustered folks contentedly eating, conversing, and pecking at computers. Delicious smells wafted from the back, which sported a counter of sweet and savory baked goods, blackboards listing breakfast, lunch and dinner possibilities, and a tantalizing glimpse of a bustling kitchen beyond. It was as if we’d stepped back into the nostalgic past of a general store and neighborhood diner, viewed through a contemporary lens.

My husband and I slowly wandered back and ordered lunch: a pulled-pork pot pie and WH’s signature brisket sandwich that Riverfront Times’s (IT’s St. Louis counterpart) Ian Froeb, listed among his hundred favorite St. Louis dishes, calling it “a triumph.” Waiting for the food to arrive at our table was a pleasure; providing time to further peruse everything around us. Lunch matched the surroundings: unpretentious, a bit unusual, and utterly delectable. The brisket was as advertised. The “pot pie” wasn’t a typical American version, rather an American take on a classic English meat pie: a cylinder of tender meat completely enclosed in buttery hot-water pastry. Both were accompanied by salads and vegetables that we learned came from WH’s own four-acre organic garden outside St. Louis.

Our purchases, an old-fashioned remedy for furniture scratches, a mesh food mill and a lacy paper garland, were only a fraction of what we wanted. It took self-discipline to resist, for example, the child-sized functional wooden catapult, not because we needed one (although, come to think of it, I could use it for lobbing nuts at squirrels on the bird feeders), but because it was beautifully designed and fun. We left with appetites sated, smiling faces and plans to return as soon as possible.
Winslow’s Home is the result of owner Ann Sheehan Lipton’s creative, community-based vision, serendipity and hard work. In 2006, after 13 years as a stay-at-home mom, Lipton, with a background in architecture and design, was ready to return to the workplace. She’d initially thought she’d work in a firm, but spying a “For Sale” sign on the old building in her neighborhood changed her course.

“It was built in 1926 and had always been a community market, although the quality had gone down – it was just a convenience store,” Lipton says. “It would probably turn into a bank or shoe store. And I really believed it needed to stay a community market. Lipton and her husband Randy purchased the building and first finished the second floor, from where Randy helps with accounting and bookkeeping and runs his real estate business.

Lipton had formed the idea of a general store, but not kitschy-nostalgic. “It was about what I needed from a community store, about kids, and about food that’s local, healthy and joyful.” Lipton’s initial vision of WH continues to evolve: “We’ve been very fluid in allowing it to emerge,” she says. “Initially there wasn’t supposed to be inside seating, but people just liked hanging out here, so we added tables.”

A visit to Winslow’s Home is worthwhile for shopping, eating, or simply reveling in its ambience. (It’s at 7211 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis. 314-283-3964, www.winslowshome.com)

Unlike Winslow’s Home, Salume Beddu’s intriguing name doesn’t match its exterior in a small Hampton strip mall. Inside, though, visitors find a small, well-appointed shop that local food periodical, Sauce, calls “St. Louis’ premier artisanal salumeria.”

What’s a salumeria? Basically, a place making Italian-style salume, a category of cured meats and sausages that goes far beyond (though including) American “salami”. Methods and recipes for salume (and French charcuterie, German wurst, and other preserved meats worldwide) developed in pre-refrigeration times as a way to preserve meat. The word derives from the Latin sal (salt), one of the most common and ancient ingredients used. Though they began through necessity, cured and preserved meats endured because of their deliciousness.

A decade ago, small salume/charcuterie makers, along with local butchers, seemed on the verge of extinction. These days, however, top chefs and a new generation of artisans are sparking a renaissance of the old art.

Salume Beddu (Sicilian translation: Beautiful Salume) co-owners Mark Sanfilippo and Ben Poremba are part of that renaissance. St. Louis native Sanfilippo graduated from college with a philosophy degree emphasizing German literature. But his Sicilian family background had giving him an interest in cooking and salume; in 2002 he moved to Los Angeles to work in Osteria Mozzo, a restaurant making its own salume. “I started making my own stuff, turning a closet in my small apartment into a curing chamber, which didn’t make my wife too happy.”

In 2007, he returned to St. Louis. “All the good pork in LA comes from the Midwest,” he says. “I wanted to get closer to that pork… and my family was here, too.”

The week he moved back, he built a curing chamber in his basement. Shortly after, a former professor introduced him to Ben Poremba. Poremba had emigrated to St. Louis from Israel as a teen, been a student in Slow Food’s Italian University of Gastronomical Sciences 2004 inaugural class, and, incidentally, Winslow’s Home’s first chef.

Initially they sold their products at area farmers markets, opening Salume Beddu last May. It’s worth noting that the kitchen and curing facilites are larger than the retail area. Sanfilippo is in charge of the cured meats, a rotating, expanding list including three kinds of coppa, soppressata, pancetta and two kinds of fresh salsiccia. Some seasonal sausages have waiting lists, such as unctuously delectable cotechino, traditionally poached with lentils (I ordered two). Poremba makes occasional pâtés and confits, accompaniments such as eggplant caponata, cannellini bean spread, mostarda (a traditional mustard/fruit “chutney”) and is responsible for décor and the small, thoughtful selection of cheeses, dried pastas and beans, tableware and cookware. Gift boxes, salume platters, and pasta bowls (a pottery bowl, dried pasta, cooking utensils, and appropriate salume and cheese for the included recipe) are available.

Sanfilippo and Poremba will happily explain, recommend, offer cooking suggestions and advice – and lots of free samples of their uniquely traditional products. 3467 Hampton Ave., 314-353-3100, www.salumebeddu.com.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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