Photo by Roberto Rodriguez



Any chef or restaurateur wondering how to keep a place fresh and vital long after all the Best New Restaurant hype has faded should talk to Tom Schmidt. His French bistro Franco was the toast of St. Louis when it opened in Soulard in late 2006. Its mix of contemporary cosmopolitan cool and hearty French fare was a revelation. Nine years later, it’s still a great restaurant — which is especially remarkable when you consider that several different chefs have led the kitchen over the years. Current executive chef Jon Dreja (who’s also the pitmaster for Schmidt’s new venture, the Delmar Loop barbecue joint Salt + Smoke) continues Franco’s tradition of delivering classic French fare — cassoulet, moules frites, escargots — with small but significant touches to remind you that a chef with an actual voice, not a cookbook-driven robot, is preparing your dinner. On my most recent visit, I was floored by an appetizer that served crisp veal sweetbreads with a blend of bone marrow and a sweet-potato puree that had been caramelized a la creme brulee.