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Looking Back at Memorable Meals: Spirit House, St. Louis

I did it again recently. I looked at my phone for answers. In the last 18 months I’ve done it a lot: thinking my phone could help or calm me. For the majority of this time it hasn’t helped and it’s mostly made my eyes dry up into matching raisins. Well, this time I did get a somewhat inspiring nudge from my creepy iPhone. My phone presented me with a picture of a time long lost, when you could gather with friends and strangers around a dinner table in a landlocked state and share plates of some of the most sensational Thai food. So deeply flavorful that you need days to prepare it in advance, so spicy that you start uncontrollably laughing while the sweat pours off your forehead and your nose starts to run. Finally, I can take aim in a time of lost direction. In an effort to look forward to the beautiful life of exploration somewhere ahead of me, I’ll look back at the most stand-out food experiences I’ve had in the past few years. Let’s begin with Spirit House.

Spirit House, as magical an experience as it might sound, it lives in a misty corner of my mind. The dead of summer, the still and heavy air, the adorable little porch with a table set for 8 nestled on a suburban street with hardly a passerby. What was in store: a shared Thai food experience, friends and strangers gathered by being the quickest to DM @spirithousestl on Instagram. Hey, it might be a misty corner of my mind but it’s also a very vibrant account on IG. Secret suppers are one of the wonderful creations of our modern world, host according to your own rules, in your own home, no need for a storefront or a business lawyer and you might meet new life long friends or a surprise weirdo. But no matter what, you’ll be slinging great food and you can kick everyone out whenever you want to. Luckily, there were no surprise weirdos to be found at the Spirit House, just great eats.

The chef of Spirit House is Ek. He and his wife, Chelsie, are dynamic hosts playing off of each other’s strengths to fabricate a lovely evening supper. Funny, personable and extremely chill, Ek is all business when it’s time to cook up a storm of whole fried fish, laab, pad grapao, green curry the list goes on! This is all cooked up homestyle. Meaning, back home-style. Meaning, Mueang Loei, Thailand, let’s cook outside in the wok over a viciously roaring open flame-style. And that’s exactly what he does. In the backyard they’ve created their own rig with a propane tank hooked up pretty simply to a solid grate. Turn on the gas, light it up and he’s ready to roll. The wok is nearly engulfed in flames as he deftly adds oil, vegetables, fish sauce and numerous other ingredients. Within minutes the dish is plated up and Chelsie is whisking it away to dazzle their house guests with a symphony of exciting flavors and her sparkling personality.

This was a few years ago and while I can’t tell you exactly each dish we ate or the names of all the people I met, I can tell you that that dinner experience made me feel like a whole adventure had happened. Each dish came with a story as we passed around bamboo baskets of sticky rice and scooped up mounds of umami-laden vegetables and dared ourselves to scarf that chili staring us down from across the plate. I ate Thai dishes with them that my very own Thai mother had only ever mentioned. (She’s not an open flame in the backyard type.) We sat together afterward in a Scoville-stupor, sharing stories and agreeing about how hard it is to find good Thai food as Ek nonchalantly passed us each a rocks glass of homemade Ya-Dong, Thai moonshine. If you ever get a chance to try the stuff, take it.

There hasn’t been a Spirit House supper during this pandemic and although I can get frustrated by missing experiences like this, I think about the other people at that table and I remember that I’m not alone. I am so grateful to have been there and to have shared that wild flavor adventure with friends, new and old. Check out the short video I made from that evening below. You can get some insight into the food and flames but you’ll have to go to a future Spirit House supper to get the fun. Maybe I’ll see you there.


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