St. Louis may be about as far as you can get from the ocean, but thanks to Bob’s Seafood in University City, top-grade seafood has been within reach for nearly four decades. Bob Mepham opened Bob’s Seafood in 1978. Prior to setting up shop, Mepham worked on Mississippi River barges, explains store manager Tony Rivituso. “He traveled down to Louisiana and saw seafood we didn’t have in St. Louis,” he explains, adding that Mepham started small, selling things like crab and shrimp on the side of the road. Before moving to his current brick and mortar location on Olive Boulevard in 2005, Bob’s Seafood operated in an outside market in the Delmar Loop in the ’80s, followed by an indoor facility on Delmar Boulevard.
Bob’s relies on a large network of suppliers that have been carefully curated over the decades. Each day, a few thousand pounds of fish are flown in, adding up to tens of thousands of pounds trucked in weekly. “When Bob saw firsthand the quality that suppliers in Louisiana offered, he built up relationships with them, and since I started 25 years ago, we’ve had a lot of the same suppliers,” Rivituso says.
Many top restaurants and country clubs in St. Louis purchase seafood at Bob’s. The list is long, but on it, Rivituso cites Cardwell’s, The Ritz-Carlton, The Block, The Crossing, Four Seasons, and St. Louis, Bellerive and Old Warson country clubs. And, of course, Bob’s also sells to the general public. The retail side of Bob’s offers harder-to-find items like softshell crab, bluefin tuna and sushi-grade fish. And because the turnover is quick, it means fish and seafood is more likely to be ultra-fresh—no salmon lingering in the display case for days. “A run-of-the-mill grocery store might carry just a handful of options, and a lot of it will have been previously frozen or is frozen,” Rivituso notes. “We’ve built a trusted relationship with our customers, and they know I’m not going to offer them anything that’s compromised.”
For restaurant-quality meals at home, obtaining the freshest possible seafood is essential, he adds. Although seafood that is frozen or preserved in some way may technically be ‘fresh,’ those methods may alter the taste, texture or appearance of the finished dish, Rivituso says. “Scallops that have been treated, for example, have a preservative that throws out water when you cook them, so they won’t caramelize the same as if they were truly fresh.”
For ambitious cooks wanting to try a new fish, Bob’s routinely provides pointers on how to prepare something new, and the store will steam shellfish like lobster and crab on-site at no additional charge. Bob’s also regularly works with L’Ecole Culinaire to offer demonstrations on filleting, deboning and other fish techniques.
when » 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday
where » 8660 Olive Blvd.
why » To find a wide variety of fresh seafood
Photo: Bill Barrett