Secret recipes lie behind each of chef Russell Ping’s creations, but don’t bother asking how he makes his cheese puffs or perfect chocolate ganache. Even our waitress didn't know—or she just didn't want us to know.
Located in a small strip mall in the St. Louis suburb of Fenton, Russell’s Cafe and Bakery invites customers in with its warm atmosphere, friendly service and glass cases filled with desserts like homemade sugar cookies and showstopping cakes. The lunch menu boasts a long list of sandwiches and salads. We loved the B.L.A.T. ($8.50), with crispy bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato on hearty multigrain bread. The sandwich comes with creamy pasta salad or homemade potato chips, both safe bets. After 4 p.m., Russell’s offers additional “snacks.” Four big yellowish cheese puffs ($6) arrive with a side of house ketchup that tastes more like marinara sauce than Heinz. The puffs are the consistency of dinner rolls with a hint of cheese flavor—not bad, just not what we had expected.
You’ll want to leave plenty of room for dessert. The signature chocolate cake tastes every bit as amazing as it looks with its seven layers of chocolate cake and buttercream, an outer layer of chocolate cream and artful ganache. Then there’s the gooey butter cake, a St. Louis original. Russell makes nine versions, including the tried-and-true classic to an exotic toasted coconut. Talk about a sweet ending to an extraordinary yet affordable dining experience.