Friday, May 20, 2005

Restaurant 23: Soulard Coffee Garden (St. Louis, Missouri)

RESTAURANT: Soulard Coffee Garden
LOCATION: 910 Geyer Ave.
DATE: May 15, 2005
FOOD: Chicken Panini with Spinach and Swiss Cheese; Side of Potato Salad; Fudge Pie Brownie.
BEVERAGE: Schlafly Pale Ale (St. Louis home brew); Decaf Soy Mocha Latte
PRICE: $20.00

St. Louis, like New York, is a city of neighborhoods. Soulard, a neighborhood mixing the open-minded embrace of all individuals distinct to the West Village (I’m politely trying to suggest that it is an area where many homosexuals live…not that there’s anything wrong with that…yet another of the world’s most overplayed jokes appearing on this blog…) with the townhouse, tree lined sidewalk feel of Brooklyn. If Park Slope, Brooklyn was moved west of the Mississippi, it would most likely be Soulard (yes I was in Saint Louis, Missouri. Never, never, NEVER go to East St. Louis. Trust me on this). Relaxed and slightly artsy, the brown brick buildings and elaborate gardens of Soulard make it one of the most attractive areas in the city.

The Soulard Coffee Garden fits in perfectly with this mildly bohemian atmosphere. In an eclectic neighborhood where a wine shop also sells lawn furniture and costume stores sit next to an Irish pub, the Soulard Coffee Garden is diverse enough to meet all residents’ demands. Half coffee house, half bistro, you can sip a coffee for hours while reading Everything Is Illuminated (review coming soon), or plunk down for one of the many delicious panini, soups, or desserts.

Libby and I arrived at the Soulard Coffee Garden late on Sunday night after returning from Kansas City. I ordered the chicken panini. While the chicken was slightly dry and tough, the fresh spinach had been wilted nicely and the melted cheese made the sandwich overall very tasty. Not a potato salad fan per se (with a visit to Per Se coming up in just a few weeks, be prepared to see a lot of references of this sort), I ordered it anyway and was pleasantly surprised. Though there was too much mayonnaise for my taste, that the dressing had been loaded with herbs and peppers and that the potatoes were firm and offset by pungent red onions made this much better than run of the mill Food Lion, sit in a display counter for weeks on end, potato salad. The Schlafly Pale Ale, a St. Louis staple, was great as always.

For dessert, Libby and I split (by split, I mean I ate 75% and she was lucky not to get her hand bitten off trying to reach in for 25% of the fudge decadence) the fudge pie brownie which was basically pure chocolate. The brownie might have been too much on its own, leaving my mouth with the same thick gooey feel of eating a spoon of peanut butter, but the perfectly bitter and steaming decaf soy mocha broke up the brownie, forming as appropriately formidable a duo as G.B. Shaw and class divisions or Kathy Lee Gifford and slave labor. Soulard Coffee Garden may have a wide menu, but the coffee was the best thing I had, a decaf that truly tasted like “real”, fully caffeinated dark roasted coffee.

The Soulard Coffee Garden is an example of why there need to be less Starbucks and more independent coffee houses. In the perverted future of Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, corporations have gained such ubiquitous control, that characters call shoes nikes and coffee starbucks. I hope Mitchell’s vision never becomes reality. It would be a shame if there ever came a time when places like the Soulard Coffee Garden no longer existed.

RATING: 6.7/10

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