Stepping Out: Alumni St. Louis
The homage to St. Louis past and present begins with the decor. Black-and-white photos of St. Louis buildings and dead celebrities decorate the walls, contrasting with the modern-chic furniture and layout. A steady stream of inoffensive funk music accompanied our meal. Catty-corner from your correspondent’s table was a typical St. Louis nuclear family, clad in Cardinals red and obviously enjoying their hamburgers. Overall, the vibe was sophisticated but welcoming.
The food certainly delivered on the promise of upgraded St. Louis classics. The gratis bread service was a serving of pretzel sticks with beer-cheese-mustard dip. The soft pretzel sticks paired nicely with the rich and nicely spicy dip. The Alumni Toasted Ravioli ($8.75) had a unique shape, more like dumplings than pasta, and were filled with salsiccia, beef, veal and cheese. While the flavors of the filling didn’t stand out, the spices on the outside of the ravioli packed a punch. The accompanying marinara sauce complemented the ravioli well, as did leftover beer-cheese dip. The duck stroganoff ($14.25) is as decadent as it sounds. The rich, buttery noodles were accented by a nutty, slightly sweet, sherry sauce.
All of the house burgers have two patties. The Johnny Rabbitt Pizza Burger ($9.50) is topped with marinara, fried Provel cheese and basil and served on thick slices of garlic toast. The sweet marinara nicely complemented the savory meat and garlic elements, elevating the humble Provel cheese. The Smokehouse Burger ($9.50), piled high with pulled pork, onions, cheddar cheese and barbecue sauce and served on a pretzel bun, elicited sighs of “oh my god.” The pulled pork was smoky and perfectly tender. The fries that accompanied both burgers were quickly gobbled up, along with the remaining beer-cheese dip.
One aspect of the restaurant that stood out was its exceptional accommodation of those with dietary restrictions. The menu itself contains numerous vegetarian and gluten-free options but nothing obviously vegan. The assiduously friendly waitress assured me the chef “would whip something up”—in this case, a vegetable terrine. The terrine was a deceptively simple-looking mound of rice, lentils, mushrooms and spinach. The vegetables and mushrooms were seasoned to savory perfection. Along with the terrine ($12.00), our waitress brought out a bowl of house chili ($5.25, though I was not charged). The chili was delicious, if not revolutionary. Packed with kidney beans and roasted tomatoes, it was mildly spicy, warming and substantial.
We ended the night with two takes on St. Louis classics: gooey butter cake and frozen custard. The blueberry gooey butter cake ($5.25) was more like a light cheesecake and big enough to share. The creaminess of the base rounded out perfectly by the grittiness of the blueberries. Resting on top was a mini lemon cannoli that rounded out the fruitiness of the dish. The almost erotically delicious peanut butter frozen custard ($5.25) is served on a piece of warm banana bread. The interplay of warm and cool created a pleasing contrast.
Final assessment: this culinary love letter to the Gateway City succeeds in providing delicious, updated versions of St. Louis and American classics. But where it really stands out is in creating an atmosphere as inviting and special as St. Louis itself.