The drawing board creates food masterpieces Dive-Bar | Coffee | Saint-Louis | Saint-Louis News and Events

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When you first step into the drawing board, nothing makes you think you’re anywhere other than a typical southern Saint-Louis dive. The old dark-wood bar that looks exactly the same as it did when brewery workers and long-missing steelworkers went to their knees for a project by Falstaff, the low pewter ceiling repainted to cover decades of stain of unfiltered cigarette smoke, and the pool table, lit by a vintage beige and orange Tiffany style lamp, paint a picture of the quintessential waterhole on the south side.

This initial impression, however, begins to fade as you take a closer look at it. While both Stag and PBR are on offer, the bar is stocked with craft beers, fine whiskey, wine, and adult seltzer. Chalkboards dot the space, inviting guests to indulge in their inner artist as a replay of Bob Ross airs on local television. The finished wood floors add sparkle to the space; a painting by Jimi Hendrix and a massive mural of the St. Louis skyline give it some sparkle. Then there’s the Rangoon Crab, a dish you order to satisfy your craving for fried sea bass food. You are shocked when its contents consist of chunked crab meat. If you needed to be convinced that this was a different type of diving, Rangoon does the trick.

Those unexpected, higher touches are exactly what Paul, Matt Wamser and Alexa Camp had in mind when they took over the space last January. Previously, the corner building next to Chippewa Street near Gravois Road served as Ryder’s Tavern, a southern town gathering place known for its welcoming atmosphere but, apart from a regular burger special, not necessarily for its culinary offerings.

See everything RFT Restaurant reviews from food critic Cheryl Baehr

When Ryder succumbed to the challenges of the pandemic in May 2020, the Wamser brothers saw an opportunity to finally open the bar they had often spoken of running. The movement made sense; Paul owned the building and needed a tenant or income from the space, and Matt had extensive experience in the food and beverage industry. They loved the idea of ​​Ryder’s neighborhood bar model, but wanted to give it their own twist with thoughtful details, such as music, art, and food.

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  • MABEL SUEN
  • The renovation gives the drawing board a more polished feel while maintaining its low-light drama.

For this last installment, Matt reached out to his longtime friend and former colleague, Alexa Camp. While working together at Urban Chestnut’s Midtown site, the two became great friends and developed a mutual respect for each other’s professional abilities. When it came time to find the drawing board menu, Matt knew there was no one he would rather take over than Camp. He and Paul brought her in last December and gave her carte blanche to develop her vision.

For Camp, who has worked everywhere from the Corner Pub and Grill to the first iteration of Quincy Street Bistro, accessibility and comfort were the most important factors she took into account when developing the menu for the drawing-board. As she will often note, the offerings aren’t all that different from what you’d see in any other bar or restaurant chain, but they have special touches and an emphasis on quality that make them special. Just like Rangoon Crab is homemade and filled with real crabmeat, other dishes are just as high compared to what you think you’d get at a southern bar. Jambalaya balls, for example, are a delicious arancini game. Mandarin-sized golden donuts have a crispy exterior; when pierced with a fork, they reveal a steaming and perfectly cooked jasmine rice, sprinkled with chicken, andouille, peppers and onions that evoke all the flavors of the classic Cajun dish. While excellent in itself, a side dish of remoulade sauce adds a zesty touch to this exceptional snack.

Camp’s knack for NOLA-style cooking is also evident in red beans and rice, a warm and satisfying side dish enriched with smoked pork for a rich, savory flavor reminiscent of chili with a Louisiana twist. If you’re craving that quintessential cold-weather dish, red beans and rice will satisfy it, but if you’re around on one of the days that Camp makes their chicken chili, you’ll want to seize the moment. She uses smoked chicken, which gives the depth of chili not often found in a poultry version. There is no better dish to enjoy sitting around the fire pit on the drawing board dog friendly back patio.

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Co-owner Matt Wamser and Chef Alexa Camp.  - MABEL SUEN

  • MABEL SUEN
  • Co-owner Matt Wamser and Chef Alexa Camp.

The drawing board offers a handful of sandwiches, including an excellent smash burger, which is a holdover from the Ryder Tavern days (Chef Tony Collida, currently chef and owner of Le Grand Pied, is the one who deserves this creation) . The edges of the cake are perfectly lace, as you would expect from the style; melted American cheese seeps into every crack in the patty, creating a decadent wonder that’s balanced with a grated romaine salad, onions, dill pickles, and bread and curry butter pickles mixed with a Thousand Islands dressing. Called “Medart-style” after a burger restaurant of the same name with long shutters, the topping is touted as optional, though there’s really no question of whether you should add it.

Camp takes every opportunity to show off its meat-smoking abilities, from which we all benefit. A traditional Philly cheese steak consists of finely minced smoked strip loin, topped with peppers, onions and a creamy house cheese soup, all slipped into a soft bun. The earthiness of the smoke permeates the entire sandwich, making it more complex than the usual Philly. Even the grilled cheese is special. Instead of the standard orange or American cheddar, Camp uses white cheddar and herbed goat cheese to give it a tangy tang. It pairs beautifully with an optional garnish of wild herb mushrooms, making it the kind of grilled cheese you’d expect to find on the lunch menu at an upscale bistro rather than a working-class tavern. .

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The Philly consists of smoked and minced striploin, topped with a homemade cheese, peppers and onions mixed on a hoagie.  - MABEL SUEN

  • MABEL SUEN
  • The Philly consists of smoked and minced striploin, topped with a homemade cheese, peppers and onions mixed on a hoagie.

If Camp is going to become known for one thing, however, it’s the Gooey Babies, its superb version of the gooey butter cake in single servings. The muffin-shaped treats are chewy, cake-like, and significantly less cloying than the traditional version of St. Louis’ staple; you might even call them a gooey butter soufflé that even your out-of-town friends will enjoy. You wouldn’t expect to find perhaps the city’s best version of its official dessert at a bar in the south corner of St. Louis, just as you’d be surprised to see some real crab or an exciting riff on the arancini on his menu. The fact that the brothers Wamser and Camp figured out how to thread this needle perfectly without losing the essential character of the bar is what makes the drawing board such a special place.

The drawing board
4123 Chippewa Street, 314-899-9343.
Tue-Sat 5 p.m. to midnight; Sun. 11:30 am-midnight. (Closed on Mondays.)
Jambalaya balls $ 8.
Smoked philly $ 8.
Grilled cheese with mushrooms $ 9.50.

We are always hungry for advice and feedback. Email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com.

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