Joe Pollack Has Died

The hard-working, well-known, and friendly St. Louis dining, theater, and movie critic died Friday at age 81. The Post-Dipatch has an appropriately detailed obituary, and my friend George Mahe has a very nice post at his Relish blog, noting that Joe was at work the night before on five — five — movie reviews. I met Joe and his wife (and writing partner) Ann during my St. Louis Magazine days, when George brought both of them into the contributors’ family. We were lucky to have them. My condolences to the Pollack family.

Gerard Craft on Niche's Early Days

From the post:

In 2005, I didn’t know what the midwest was let alone what midwestern cuisine was. Niche opened on the basis and goal to serve simple, quality food in the Benton Park neighborhood in St Louis, Missouri.  We had zero connections upon moving to this city: no friends, family, business ties. I was 25 years old, in a new and unfamiliar city. I ended up wandering around and introducing myself to all of the local chefs. It was then that I met one of my closest friends and colleagues, Kevin Nashan, chef of Sidney Street Cafe- a restaurant a block away from Niche’s current location. 

We opened up our doors to twelve covers, diners who consisted of neighbors in our building, my parents, and people that I called off of the street offering a free meal. At the time we opened our doors to the “public”, we had less than 10 employees, including myself. We had a half-page wine list, because that is what we were able to afford at that time. We had horrible service due to the fact that there were little to no servers or bartenders in St Louis who knew who we were or were willing to take a chance on us. No one knew our name and no one wanted to work for us. I was warned countless times that I was making the biggest mistake of my life. We kept pushing and cutting away at our path.

During my St. Louis Magazine days, Craft — considered by many the most exciting, most important chef in the city — could often be seen manning sample tables at parties and events himself, rather than just sending someone who worked for him. 

Tamara and I have eaten at Niche once — a great special-occasion meal. Craft’s less expensive spot, Brasserie by Niche, is probably our favorite place to eat in St. Louis.

His is a great story of success, earned with a ton of work, good will, and risk.

Monocle Names Helsinki the Most Liveable City

I haven’t received my new issue of Monocle in the mail, but the editors just announced that Helsinki (population 590,000) grabbed the top spot in this year’s “Most Liveable Cities” ranking. Now that I’m resettling back in St. Louis after eight months in Europe, I found myself watching the magazine's video segment on Helsinki thinking, What could St. Louis learn from that city’s successes? From the segment’s narration:

With major public-service initiatives underway, Helsinki is doing much to grow intelligently, in part by recognizing that its smallness is an asset… Helsinki’s small size and tight-knit communiities, where everyone seems to know one another, might be seen as a weakness when it comes to fostering a dynamic urban environment.

Obviously, that’s followed by a pretty significant ‘But…’

I was also struck by these two comments from two of Helsinki’s own:

You can make a very small thing, and it becomes very significant.

And:

It’s partly from realizing that we can’t have another Nokia — that Finland is such a small country that going for big isn’t the way to go. But it’s more about really creating a lot of small initiatives and a lot of small companies that then together make the big Nokia.

Trust me that I know St. Louis is not and never will be a Helsinki. But that attitude — embracing high-quality, of-scale projects; comfortably admitting what kind of city you’re not; recognizing that you’re more than one company’s HQ — has some major appeal to these ears.

Sarsgaard on Elkin & Gass

I recently came across Terry Gross’s 11/17/03 interview with actor Peter Sarsgaard, in which he was asked about his early career wishes:

I wanted to be a writer. One of the reasons I went to Washington University was because Stanley Elkin, a great short story writer and novelist, was teaching there. And I was just a huge fan. So I got to meet Stanley, and I performed his short story “Poetics for Bullies,” which is in the Criers and Kibitzers, Kibitzers and Criers collection. And then it turned out William H. Gass was teaching there, who is also an incredible novelist. Howard Nemerov was there at the time. You know, I don’t know that I learned anything from any one of these guys except just to be around people that were just so fully committed to something so specific. Stanley’s writing is so specific, and he did it his entirely life.

The exchange – which includes a bit more about Elkin’s battle with MS – comes in around 12:50 into the interview.

The Pulitzer & Foer

Back in St. Louis this week, T. and I headed to the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts for the new exhibition Hiroshi Sugimoto: Photographs of Joe. I remember seeing my first Sugimoto photograph a few years ago in the Cleveland Museum of Art, when I was visiting that city for a wedding. “Joe” is the 125-ton Richard Serra sculpture pictured above. If you want to see my own recent photos of the piece (the above is one), you can go here. I recommend Sugimoto’s, though, as he’s Sugimoto and I’m me. His black-and-white images have an amazing delicacy about them, considering how hulking the Serra sculpture really is. For the big-spenders among us, the Pulitzer is selling an $80 exhibition catalog, which won’t officially be out until late fall. The catalog features the beautiful work by Sugimoto, with text by Jonathan Safran Foer. (I was told that JSF was on site around the time of the opening last week. This blog post mentions the photographer’s visit, but not JSF’s.) An email announcement from the Pulitzer describes the catalog this way:

Foer’s deep interest in the juxtaposition of the visual arts and poetic language predestined him to be part of the project. He composed a text in relation to the sculpture and the photographs without describing or defining them.

The book looks absolutely delicious. If you’d like to PayPal me $80, I’ll happily buy it, then describe it page by page.