Before our annual baseball trip to St. Louis, my friend Scott had mentioned that his son, Greg, had eaten at the Square One Brewery near Lafayette Square on a couple three occasions and he thought the food was very good. I had been past Square One a few times, primarily to eat at Arcelia's just down the street. Scott reminded me the day before we left that he really wanted to try Square One during our visit to St. Louis. I thought that was a good idea, so we stopped in to Square One for lunch and a few beers after our journey from the Quad Cities.
The Lafayette Square area in St. Louis has seen a steady rise in socio-culture activities and gentrification over the past three or four years. One of the true historic areas of St. Louis, the neighborhood surrounding Lafayette square is a combination of stately homes, rehabbed apartments, curious shops, eclectic eateries and interesting taverns. Square One, at the corner of Park Ave. and S. 18th St. (see map), is housed in a somewhat historic building that was originally built by Anheuser-Busch toward the start of the 20th century when local breweries would own their own taverns to exclusively sell their beer. A similar tavern run by the locally immortal Griesedieck Brothers Brewery was situated just a block away.
Over the years, the building has housed a number of tavern/restaurants with the most recent descendant being the Lafayette Pub and Grill. A fire in June of 2004 closed down Lafayette Pub and Grill (they've since relocated to the Soulard area) and the building was eventually bought by local restaurateur and micro-brewer Steve Neukomm. Neukomm, a 50-something man who recently sold the Augusta Brewing Company in Augusta, MO, had once operated a restaurant - Ronayne's - in the same location back in the 80's. Neukomm purchased the assets and equipment of the old Heartland Brewing Company in 1999, then a year later he opened his first brew pub in the heart of Missouri's wine country west of St. Louis.
In 2006, after a long restoration of the property, Neukomm opened Square One Brewery. After awhile it became apparent to Neukomm that he was having trouble being in two places at once, so he sold the brew pub in Augusta earlier this year to concentrate on the Square One operation. The hour and a half drive time between the two businesses was taking too much time out of his day.
Actually, one of the big reasons Neukomm sold the Augusta Brewing Company was because of his burgeoning distillery that's part of Square One Brewery. Neukomm became a licensed distiller in 2008 and has created a number of craft liquors that are sold at Square One. And his liquors are getting noticed, as well. At the recent Whiskey and Moonshine Distilling Conference put on by the American Distilling Institute in Louisville, Square One took home a silver medal for their Vermont Night whiskey liqueur. Vermont Night is an oak-barrel aged whiskey infused with Vermont maple syrup, lemon, cloves, orange, cinnamon and vanilla beans. I'm not big on sweet or fruity liqueurs, but that actually sounds sort of interesting.
We parked just down the street from Square One around 1:30 in the afternoon. It was a warm summer day in St. Louis with temperatures hovering around 90 with somewhat stifling humidity. Scott and Marcia had called Greg to meet us at the restaurant and he was on his way when we checked in with the hostess in the bar area. The bar area was this wonderfully ornate room with a huge walnut bar with an arched leaded-glass window directly behind the bar. A row of about a dozen spigots adorned the front of the bar and a number of Square One specialty liquors occupied the back bar area.
On the way down to St. Louis, I was in the sun most of the trip so I had the air-conditioning sort of cranked up to keep me cool. Unfortunately for the ladies in the back seat, it got a little cold for them and when asked if we wanted to sit inside or outside on their patio, Marcia immediately opted for the outside. Cindy said, "She needs to warm up!" The hostess stuck us back in a corner that offered some shade, but after a while the sun had moved and I was soon getting roasted.
The outdoor patio area featured a number of heavy tables with sturdy metal grated chairs. Umbrellas were placed around the patio to help screen the sun that wasn't filtered already by the large trees outside the restaurant. A nice little bar area was along the west wall, but the focal point of the patio was a waterfall wall that was encased in what was once an ornate doorway, probably from a nearby building that had been torn down or renovated.
Just past a large wall of wood and glass-paned doors that appeared to fold out to offer a walk-out to the patio when the temperature was more agreeable was the main dining room for Square One. It had a sky light with an ornate wood ceiling to go along with a nice wood floor. It was tastefully decorated and the only hint of the place being a brewpub/micro-distillery were the huge distilling tanks on the other side of a glassed in room as you walked between the bar area and the main dining room. Cindy had gone in to use the restroom and when she came out she told Marcia, "I think you made the right call. It's rather cold in that dining room. They've really got the AC cranked up in there!"
Our hostess had dropped off menus for us and set up placements for five at a table that was designed to seat four. I took the corner, which wasn't a big deal - other than the sun starting to beat down on me - as the table was large enough for everyone to have enough room.
We didn't wait for Greg to show up before we ordered off the beer menu. Square One features a rotation of over 50 different styles of beers throughout the year. Twelve beers were on the list that day including a Spicy Blonde ale, a single malt Scotch ale, a nut brown ale, a Bavarian weizen, and an Imperial Stout. They also featured a cask-drawn stout beer, as well. I ordered the Park Ave. pale ale - an American pale ale that isn't quite as hoppy as their India Pale Ale (which was also on the beer menu). Cindy got the same thing. Scott opted for the Spicy Blonde (which Greg got as well after he showed up) and Marcia went with their Light Squared beer - a nice tasting lighter beer that goes down good in warm weather.
Cindy wanted to get an appetizer so she ordered up the goat cheese/artichoke/spinach dip. The dip was served warm with a plate of small toasted bread and tortilla chips. It was actually pretty good with large chunks of artichokes throughout the dip.
The dip was part of Square One's "microplate" section on their menu that featured a series of delectable items including pan seared crab cakes, beer pretzels, chicken wings and their version of nachos that included smoked flank steak with corn salsa, jalapenos, jack and cheddar cheese topped with lettuce and sour cream. Seriously, I almost got that for my meal.
One other thing that caught my eye in the "microplate" section of the menu was the grilled mahi mahi fish tacos. The waitress couldn't sufficiently describe them - how big they were or if it would be a full meal - so I passed on them for the time being and looked for something else to try.
Greg said his favorite thing on the menu was the smoked flank steak Philly cheese steak sandwich. They take strips of flank steak and smother it in Swiss and cheddar cheese and grilled onions, then place it on a baguette. That's what both Scott and Greg ordered.
Cindy was torn between a number of items - she was looking at some of the fish dishes in the "Macroplate" section of the menu, which were basically the main entrees served at Square One. They had a jerk mahi mahi that was grilled with jerk spices to give it a little kick (that sounded real good to me), a salmon entree that was grilled with a raspberry pecan butter (that didn't sound good to me), or good ol' fashioned fish and chips - beer battered grouper with french fries.
Cindy got to looking at the extensive sandwich selections they had on the menu and finally decided to get the tuna steak sandwich - a seared rare tuna steak topped with avocado, tomato, sprouts, and a smoked tomato aioli sauce and served with a side of Square One's pub chips. Cindy told the waitress that she didn't want the chips, but asked if she could substitute a side salad with ranch dressing. The waitress said there'd be a slight upcharge and Cindy was happy with that. She opted to get the salad before the sandwich.
Square One features a number of salads and soups to choose from. Greg said that the beer cheese soup was out of this world and Scott and he both got a cup of that. It's served with a side of the pale ale to pour into the soup, truly making it a beer cheese soup. Marcia was looking at a couple of the salads before finally choosing to get the grilled chicken salad sandwich - they take a grilled chicken breast and chop it up, then the add Gorgonzola cheese and pecans and a tarragon mayonnaise with the chicken, then place it on mixed greens on whole wheat bread. I'm not big on chicken salad, but that sounded really interesting.
Me - I was torn between a number of things. Each week, Square One features a burger on their menu - this week it was one of their 1/2 pound pub burgers topped with onion straws and barbecue sauce. It didn't sound very inspiring to me. They had a pulled barbecue pork sandwich that I thought about for a moment. They had a Cuban pulled pork platter in the "Macroplate" section that was enticing me. Their stout-braised pot roast caught my eye until I reminded myself that it was 90 degrees and it would probably sit in my stomach for hours on end. The jerk chicken sandwich was appealing to me. The turkey pub club sandwich would have been a great choice for a hot summer afternoon.
I was in a quandary as what to get when it came to me to order. Finally, I settled on the reuben - thick slices of corned beef piled high on swirled marble rye and topped with lager-infused sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing. I asked the waitress if I could get an order of their onion straws on the side instead of the fries. She said, "Well, we only offer them as a garnish and not as a side."
I said, "But you would have enough to make a side, wouldn't you?"
She sort of stammered for a moment and said, "Yeah, but they're not offered as a side." I told her they should be. I know I sort of flummoxed her and threw her off her game, but I ended up getting the pub fries instead. I also got a cup of their homemade chili. I know - it was 90 degrees out and I was sweating like a whore in church sitting in the sun, but for some reason the description of their chili in the menu sounded great.
Cindy sort of chided me for hassling the waitress about the onion straws. I said, "I guess I don't get it with some restaurants. If they've got them in the kitchen, then they should be able to make them available as a side. I don't care if it costs me a buck or two more above the price of my meal. I wanted the onion straws."
Scott reminded me of a similar circumstance when we had all gone out to eat at Granite City back in Davenport one evening. "I remember you'd asked for onion straws instead of fries and the waitress had to go back to check," he said. "And she got 'em for you!"
After a bit, the waitress brought out my chili, the beer cheese soup for Scott and Greg, and Cindy's salad. My chili consisted of three different types of beans with chopped smoked flank steak topped with cheese and onion straws. Cindy said, "Well, thank God you got some onion straws as part of your meal!" I made quick work of the chili, it was damn good.
Scott and Greg's beer cheese soup was served with a small amount of pale ale in what looked like little metal pitchers, the kind you'd used for pouring maple syrup on pancakes in upscale restaurants. They just poured the beer in and went to town on the soup. Scott said, "Oh, man, Greg. You were right about this soup. This is good stuff!" I was sort of jealous that I didn't try the beer cheese soup. Next time...
Cindy and Marcia were intrigued with the specialty liquors and liqueurs on the menu. They featured a bloody mary made with Square One's made-in-house Spirits of St. Louis vodka. She got one of those. Cindy wanted to try the Citrus Mello Cello liqueur - it's Square One's take on an Italian Lemon Cello liqueur, only they make theirs out of rum and infuse it with blood oranges and Agave nectar. Cindy said she liked the flavor, but that it was too sweet for her taste. For me, I switched to Square One's India Pale Ale as I thought their Park Ave. pale was a little flat. The Park Ave. pale was good, but the I.P.A. was much better.
Not long after we finished our soups and or salad, the sandwiches showed up at the table. The description of the reuben in the menu didn't do it justice. It was overly piled with thick slices of tender corned beef although they could have put a little more sauerkraut on the sandwich. A ton of melted Swiss cheese covered the top of the corned beef and the marble-rye bread was thickly cut. I could tell the Thousand Island dressing was homemade with large chunks of sweet pickles mixed in. I got a side of the dressing to dip my sandwich in to as I like to do with reubens. And my sandwich was very good and very filling. Well, I'm sure a combination of a couple three pale ales, the cup of chili, and some of the dip with the toasted bread had something to do with it, as well.
Cindy's tuna sandwich looked lonely on her plate, but she showed me how it was lightly seared and rare inside. She said it was very good. I knew that I was going to have trouble finishing my sandwich with all that meat piled on there, so I offered her some of my fries. She must have been very hungry as she eagerly grabbed some off my plate.
Scott and Greg's smoked flank steak Philly cheese steak was a monster sandwich. Scott said, "Oh, boy. This is really gonna be a gut bomb. I may not be able to eat pizza later on tonight." But he said it was "great". Greg didn't steer his dad wrong with either the beer cheese soup or the flank steak Philly sandwich.
And Marcia said her grilled chicken salad sandwich was also very good. I told her that I don't know if I've ever seen grilled chicken in a chicken salad sandwich before and she said, "Oh, I have. But you certainly don't see it very often. I'm guessing it might be a pain to make."
Before lunch, we talked about getting an after-lunch beer at a new place just across the street from Square One called the Lafayette Fire Company - a restaurant/bar that had opened just last year. It looked pretty interesting from the outside. However, after a couple three beers and the big sandwiches, Scott and I pretty much vetoed that idea. We were absolutely stuffed. But it will be one of those places that we'll have to check out on subsequent visits to St. Louis.
I'm glad Scott reminded me about Square One Brewery just before our trip. The food was a good value with large portions for all and it tasted very good. The beer was above average, but I felt the Park Ave. pale was a little flat. Drinkable, but not the best American pale ale that I've had. But it was fine for a hot summer afternoon. But I really liked the ambiance of Square One. I could see myself sitting at the bar some rainy Saturday afternoon pouring down a few specialty beers and having a burger or sandwich. Too bad it's not back home in Davenport.
I'm beginning to really like the area around Lafayette Square and when I stay downtown as I sometimes do when I go to St. Louis, it's not that far of a drive to the Square One Brewery. It's another good restaurant that I've now found to add to my list of places to eat when I'm trying to figure out what I want for dinner when I'm in St. Louis.