Trying to combine a sports bar, a New York delicatessen and a barbecue joint under one roof is like trying to pack food for a month into one of those plastic grocery sacks from the supermarket.
It doesn’t work.
Lester Miller, who has ego and optimism and, apparently, capital, has tried again to make a major splash in the St. Louis restaurant pool. Once again, it’s more belly-flop than perfect jacknife. The eponymous Lester’s even has a statue of Stan Musial out front to welcome visitors and remind them that he, too, once was a restaurateur. Remember Stan & Biggie’s, on Watson Road and then on Oakland Avenue?
Lester’s, whose parking lot permits a fine view of traffic jams to come on Highway 40, is very big and very noisy, especially in the bar area. Television sets are everywhere. On a recent night-time visit, five or six different baseball games, several basketball games and a couple of hockey games all were going on at the same time. They were fun for a few minutes, but the almost-constant change of images on each set proved a major distraction as change of light level hit the peripheral vision.
And for men, there’s no escaping the constant sports action. Women can hide in the rest room, but men can get no relief. Screens are above every urinal.
The dining room looks a little like an airplane hanger, with old posters and various sports memorabilia here and there. The display of autographed baseballs had a strong aura of lack of authenticity about it. The balls lacked the sheen of authenticity, there was no commissioner’s autograph, and signatures that should have been more than a half-century old, like Luke Appling, were no more faded than those of current athletes. And all the ink looked to be the same shade of blue. Peculiar.
Miller’s lack of experience shows most completely in his attempt to combine such disparate and idiosyncratic specialities as delicatessen and barbecue. People almost go to war over the preparation of those foods. And then, to sully a so-called New York-style delicatessen by going to New Jersey to learn how to properly prepare pastrami and corned beef? It’s appalling! Might as well ask a counterman from the Stage or the Carnegie how to prepare pulled pork.
In addition, there are no other delicatessen items except for a hot dog that costs $5.95 and some potato pancakes that were the high spot of two visits. They were freshly made, nice and crisp, and the addition of some onion helped both flavor and texture. But no smoked fish, no chopped liver, no smoked tongue or kishka or kasha or kreplach or even matzoh balls. Pastrami and corned beef were barely adequate, with the latter lacking sufficient spicing and suffering from too much dryness.
And even the pickle fell short, lacking the snappy, garlicky, tangy flavor of a true half-sour or the bite of an authentic dill.
When it came to the barbecue, there was no appreciable change. The pulled pork was served, correctly to our way of thinking, with a pair of different sauces on the side. But while the meat had the proper texture, it showed no flavor of the charcoal or wood it should have been cooked over. And it was dry.
Service was good, and there’s a reasonable wine list, though the specialties call either for beer or for one of Dr. Brown’s sodas. Cheesecake was a satisfactory, though not thrilling, conclusion to a dining experience that appeared to presume that hype and glitz would be enough to satisfy a hunger for American classic cuisines. No way!
Lester's Sports Bar and Grill
9906 Clayton Rd., Ladue
Lunch & Dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Good