When I go to St. Louis, I'm always on the look-out for new places to try. I like reading two local magazines - Feast and Sauce - to get ideas of places that have opened recently. In early 2015, I was reading about a Creole restaurant that had moved from a small storefront in Soulard to a larger place on Big Bend Blvd. in Richmond Heights and I put it on my "Restaurants to Visit" list. On a recent trip to St. Louis, I had lunch at Riverbend Restaurant & Bar.
Sam Kogos was a native of New Orleans whose father was in the fish wholesaling business supplying fresh seafood to a number of restaurants in the Crescent City. Sam had caught the restaurant bug and not long after getting out of college in the early 1980's, he opened the Rendon Inn, a Creole restaurant that he started in 1985. His cousin, Steve Daney, was his chef and the two paired up to run the restaurant for 15 years until Kogos sold the restaurant after Daney had gone to become the executive chef for the Mayor of New Orleans.
Kogos had married a girl from St. Louis, Pat, and she wanted to move back to the city to be closer to family. In 2004, they moved back and Sam Kogos got into the insurance business. But he always had the idea of opening a Creole/Cajun restaurant somewhere in St. Louis.
He took the first step in doing so by buying the Riverbend Bar in the Soulard neighborhood about six years ago. It was a dumpy neighborhood tavern and needed extensive renovations to the kitchen in order to serve food. It was just a bar for the first couple three years while Kogos renovated the place and as he also waited for his cousin Steve Daney to make the move up the Mississippi to St. Louis.
When the kitchen was finished in the Spring of 2014, Daney did make the move and Riverbend Bar started to serve Creole classics. Business with the kitchen now open was brisk, but it didn't come without problems. Because the building was so old there was no gas service provided to the kitchen. Daney had to cook with convection ovens and hot plates. Still, some nights they were able to serve up to 200 people.
Sam Kogos knew that in order for Riverbend to succeed as a restaurant he'd have to move. He started looking at a handful of properties, but many of them had leases that were too high for the business model he had. However, when he found out that the long-time farm-to-fork restaurant Harvest had closed its doors in June of 2014, Kogos immediately put a plan in motion to make the move to the space on Big Bend Blvd. Within four months, Riverbend Restaurant & Bar opened for business. Sam Kogos dad, Ted, is also involved in the restaurant having moved to St. Louis after surviving Hurricane Katrina over 10 years ago.
Riverbend Restaurant & Bar is located just north of 40 Highway (Interstate 64), just south of the Clayton Road/Big Bend Blvd. (see map) The restaurant shares the building with Hank's Cheesecakes, a popular upscale bakery that has been around for nearly 30 years. There is a small parking lot in the back and I was able to get a spot had I pulled in there just before noon one sunny and warm St. Louis day.
I had my pick of tables in the place as the noontime crowd had yet to materialize. It was sort of an open area in the dining room, but it was also cozy and comfortable. There was a sunroom toward the front of the building that was being taken advantage of by a number of diners feeling the warm sun for the first time in the Spring.
I decided to sit at the bar to have my lunch. On the back wall of the bar area - as throughout the rest of the place - were a number of flat panel televisions turned to sports. I suppose you could call it somewhat of an upscale sports bar, but the televisions are provided more as a diversion than anything.
And there was a lot to look over. And a lot of it was downright mouth-watering. The appetizers featured Louisiana oysters, crabmeat-stuffed mushrooms, French bread topped with an oyster spread, and thick beer-battered onion rings served with a spicy cream sauce. Entrees included a Creole meatloaf topped with a spicy sauce and served with dirty rice, the Creole staple of red beans and rice, grilled mahi mahi, Mardi Gras pasta with chicken, shrimp and crawfish mixed in with a spicy Cajun cream sauce, and étouffée with a choice of either shrimp or crawfish.
They also had a number of po' boy sandwiches on the menu - the French bread they use for the sandwiches is baked fresh daily - and they featured such New Orleans favorites as a fried shrimp or a fried catfish po' boy sandwich, or a fried oyster po' boy, or a soft-shelled crab po' boy. But they also had a number of other things they stuck in their po' boys at Riverbend including meatloaf, grilled chicken, roasted pork or smoked sausage. They even had a hamburger po' boy on the menu.
When I went to New Orleans 18 years ago, we stayed at a hotel next to the venerable Mother's Restaurant. They had a roast beef po' boy sandwich that was to die for. I think I went back two more times after my initial visit to the place to get a roast beef po' boy, it was that good. Well, there was a roast beef po' boy on the menu at Riverbend Restaurant & Bar and I decided to get that. But then I saw that they had a lunch time special that consisted of half a po' boy sandwich and a choice of either a side, a salad, a cup or a bowl of soup. I ordered up a half of a roast beef po' boy - Mia asked me if I wanted it "dressed" with a Creole mustard, lettuce, tomato and pickles, but I got it just with the roast beef "debris" gravy on it along with some Swiss cheese - and a bowl of the chicken and andouille sausage gumbo. (They have a seafood gumbo that they serve on Friday nights.)
It wasn't long before the sandwich and soup were brought out to me. I'm glad I just got a half sandwich - a whole po' boy would have been too much food. The po' boy was piled high with thin slices of roast beef with a generous pour of the debris sauce on top. A thick slice of Swiss cheese topped the meat. From the first bite I knew this was a great sandwich. I don't know if I actually remember the taste sensations of the roast beef po' boy at Mother's in New Orleans, but this sandwich had to be close. The taste of the herbs and spices in the debris just gave the sandwich an over the top flavor. The French bread was toasted lightly and had a bit of a hard outer shell, but a very nice and spongy inner core that helped enhance the taste of the sandwich. The roast beef po' boy at Riverbend was simply outstanding.
The chicken and sausage gumbo was on equal ground with the taste of the sandwich. Thick chunks of chicken and andouille sausage were in the gumbo with a mound of rice in the middle. I hopped it up a bit with some Tabasco sauce, but I'm not certain that it really needed it. It was slightly spicy on the taste buds without the Tabasco, but not overpowering. The gumbo at Riverbend was excellent.
The lunch I had at Riverbend Restaurant & Bar was excellent. I can't say enough about the roast beef po' boy as it was similar to the outstanding ones that I've had in New Orleans. And the andouille sausage and chicken gumbo was some of the finest gumbo I've ever had. I definitely want to get back there for one of their delicious sounding entrees at some point. But now I know if I need a Creole/Cajun fix when I'm in St. Louis, Riverbend Restaurant & Bar is an easy to find destination to fulfill my crave.