Metro-East Living

Belleville native is the chef at Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. in St. Louis

Belleville native is chef at Peacemaker Lobster & Crab

Belleville native John Messbarger is chef de cuisine at his Benton Park restaurant: Peacemaker Lobster & Crab.
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Belleville native John Messbarger is chef de cuisine at his Benton Park restaurant: Peacemaker Lobster & Crab.

Part of Chef John Messbarger’s daily routine is spent chauffeuring seafood.

“I’m at the airport all the time. The lobster comes in from Portland (Maine) and by 10:30 a.m. they’ve landed. All still alive,” he said. “The shrimp and the crawfish are from Louisiana. The oysters come from a variety of places.”

He’s at Lambert International Airport’s cargo area five to six days a week to pick up a variety of seafood for Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co., in the Benton Park neighborhood of St. Louis.

“We think it’s actually fresher than what people are eating on the East Coast,” he said. “We get it by plane in three hours. There, it takes six hours to drive it to New York.”

At the restaurant’s raw bar, small signs nestled in crushed ice next to oysters big, small and sometimes oddly shaped, identify as many as 20 varieties (four daily), with locales as far-flung as Prince Edward Island, Canada.

“Oysters are probably my favorite. They’re all so different,” said John, 33, a Belleville native. He and his brother Nick share a place in St. Louis. His parents, John and Laura Messbarger, still live in Belleville.

At Peacemaker, John is the chef de cuisine. Last year, the restaurant was named best new restaurant in St. Louis by the Riverfront Times. This is John’s second year nominated as one of the best young chefs. Peacemaker opened in 2014 and is owned by Kevin Nashan, who also runs the acclaimed Sidney Street Cafe.

A graduate of L’Ecole Culinaire, John came a bit belatedly to his culinary career, but is better off for it, he said.

“So many come to culinary school and don’t see how hard it is. I went to college for a while. I started in biology, history and secondary education.” At some point he said, “I don’t think I want to do this.” “I’d already debated on doing this (cooking). I’d already been involved. I did some work for a catering company in St. Louis.”

We think it’s actually fresher than what people are eating on the East Coast. We get it by plane in three hours. There, it takes six hours to drive it to New York.

John Messbarger on his fresh seafood

John oversees day-to-day operations of the kitchen, which can include creating new items for the menu, such as the recently added Smoked Whitefish Salad ($10), a combination of spring greens and spring vegetables, smoked whitefish, radish, shallot, caper, horseradish peas and sesame seeds with bagel croutons and buttermilk poppyseed vinaigrette.

He likes to work the stations in the restaurant, from the raw bar in the dining room to the flat-top grill in the kitchen. He also comes up with different projects, like making gumbo or chowder ($5), or seasoning meat for lobster rolls, which are served on brioche Connecticut Style (warm, with butter) or Maine Style (cold, with mayo).

He created the horseradish aioli for the restaurant’s Smoked Brisket Poorboy sandwich ($9) and the andouille (Cajun sausage) for the Pork Link Poorboy ($10), which is topped with mustard aioli, white Cheddar, sauteed peppers and onion. There are seven poorboy choices.

Because seafood is fresh, prices for lobster, oysters and Maryland Blue crab, for example, fluctuate with the market. Through June, lobster prices will drop, John said, so a whole lobster boil, which might have been $47 in April could drop to $38. That includes boiled potatoes, Brussels sprouts, andouille and a buttermilk biscuit. A similar shrimp boil is $24.

Oysters are probably my favorite. They’re all so different.

John Messbarger on a specialty

Steamed mussels with grilled bread and broth is $15. Sides range from lobster frito pie ($12) and smothered collard greens ($5) to chips with remoulade ($2) and hush puppies ($5). A playful dessert menu includes classic pie ($5 a slice) and snow cones ($3) with housemade syrups.

Wondering about the name of the place? Peacemaker takes its name from the classic po’boy stuffed with fried oysters ($12).

The restaurant, on a quiet residential street, is housed in a vintage, red-brick double-storefront with a wide sidewalk patio. Inside is casual, with white-washed, blue and turquoise walls, worn exposed wood floors and poster-size photographs of lobstermen and crabbers who make dining at Peacemaker possible.

Suzanne Boyle: 618-239-2664, @BoyleSuzanne

Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.

  • What: Lunch, dinner; classic seafood fare such as lobster, oysters, mussels and shrimp, plus a raw bar.
  • Location: 1831 Sidney St., St. Louis
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays; to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 1:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sundays.
  • Information: 314-772-8858, www.peacemakerstl.com
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