One thing I've noticed over my years of going to the St. Louis area is the volatile nature of many of the Krieger's Sports Grille locations. Volatile, in that they seem to go out of business quickly after they've opened up a location. During a recent quick trip to St. Louis, I was looking forward to getting into the Hampton Inn-Forest Park and grabbing a quick meal at the Krieger's next to the hotel. Upon my arrival, I was surprised to see the Krieger's was now The Highlander Pub and Grille. Well, let's say I was surprised and not surprised, given the history of Krieger locations.
The Highlander Pub and Grille bills itself as an authentic Celtic experience. Although it's very similar in layout and design to the old Krieger's, they're doing their best to make it look like an Irish bar. They still have the large projection screens behind the bar, and there's still televisions all around the place like Krieger's had. But the walls are all a nice dark forest green and they also now have some Irish decorations throughout the place. It still wasn't all that convincing to me.
I took a seat at the bar and was greeted by a 40-something bartender by the name of Karen. I asked her when the Highlander changed from a Krieger's and she said, "It wasn't all that long ago. Krieger's shut down earlier this year (2008) and we soft-opened in the summer."
She gave me a menu and I started to look through it. She asked me if I wanted a wine menu and I said I wasn't going to have wine that evening. I ordered up a Smithwick's on tap for the meantime.
Then for shits and grins, I asked for the wine list anyhow, just to see what they had to offer. Actually, I was pretty impressed with what they had. They had a pretty good selection of wines, primarily from California, that ran from about $15 bucks a bottle up to $90 a bottle. I thought to myself, "Well, this is certainly NOT Krieger's any longer." I'm not certain Krieger's had any wine other than a couple three different house wines for people who didn't want beer or mixed drinks.
Actually, the menu looked even better than what Krieger's had to offer. OK, so this wasn't Krieger's. I had to get that out of my head. It's a new restaurant. No longer Krieger's. Oh, they still had the same St. Louis-style pizza on the menu that Krieger's had. But as Karen told me, "We still have pizza only because we have these big pizza ovens and pizza making equipment in the kitchen."
She said they have a late-night menu at The Highlander which features their pizza. She said, "We were beginning to get a lot of people coming in after a Cardinals game to get something to eat. The pizzas are big with the late-night crowd."
Not only does The Highlander have the usual Irish bar food - sandwiches, burgers, appetizers and salads - they also have some pretty interesting main entrees. And the prices didn't seem to be all that bad. They had steaks, pasta, seafood, pork chops, ribs and chicken dishes. One thing that they continued to have from the old Krieger's menu is a Cajun-seafood fettuccine. I remember getting that at the old Krieger's and I remember that it wasn't all that bad.
After a few minutes, I decided to try something they called Chicken Flamingo - a full chicken breast rolled in Italian breading and grilled. It's topped with a white wine, lemon and butter sauce and served with broccoli and provel cheese. Not only did it sound interesting, it sounded absolutely yummy. I had a choice of potato or rice and she told me the twice baked potatoes were very good that evening. I couldn't pass that up. I also got a small house salad with provel cheese, pepperocini, tomato and pimento, then topped with The Highlander's sweet Italian dressing. It was very similar to what you would find at any restaurant on The Hill.
After eating the very good salad and getting another Smithwick's, Karen brought out the Chicken Flamingo to me. It looked just awesome swimming in the creamy white wine, lemon and butter sauce. And one bite into the chicken told me that this was so much better than what Krieger's ever had to offer. It was very, very good. The chicken was tender, but not dried out like you can get from direct grilled chicken. There was a hint of a burnt taste to the bread crumbs, but it didn't detract from the overall taste of the chicken and sauce combination. And the twice-baked potato was as good as advertised.
Karen stopped by about halfway through my meal and asked how things were. I said, "This is a spot-hitter."
She laughed. "Spot-hitter! I like that," she exclaimed.
When I finished my meal, Karen asked me if I wanted to finish off the meal with some dessert. She was tempting me with Key Lime Pie or a Turtle Cheesecake, but I'd had enough. I didn't want to have to go to bed completely stuffed. I was satiated and ready to wind down for the evening.
With tip, my bill for my meal and three beers came to a little over $35 bucks. Karen took good care of me and she was rewarded handsomely. I was very surprised about the food and service at The Highlander Pub and Grille. It was much better in both aspects than Krieger's ever was. It was a pleasant surprise, to say the least.