It’s difficult to write about Sage without referring to the restaurant that originally occupied its site. The Lynch Street Bistro was strikingly handsome and, in its early life, a very good restaurant. But for too long, it languished. Now, however, it looks as if good things are happening again.
The delightful staircase to the second floor remains, but the downstairs dining room has been softened and broken up, the decor faintly lodge-ish with pillars covered in stone. (One of the long-ago problems was the racket-ridden dining room.) The welcome is warm, and our server seemed to know the menu well.
Sage seems to be a very Modern American sort of name, and that’s pretty much what awaits the diner, recognizable and mostly familiar, interesting but not deeply outlandish. Rather by accident, we found ourselves ordering some of the more conservative choices on the menu. Next time we’ll try the Cha-Cha Calamari or Mardi Gras Quesadilla with blackened chicken and andouille sausage or some other items, but on this night, comfort food seemed the thing. Wings come with a choice of traditional Buffalo, Louisiana honey mustard, Asian hoisin or root beer BBQ; we chose the traditional, which brought 10 fat, moist wings with nice crackly skin and a delicious tongue-tingling sauce balanced nicely by a little sweet. Another good point is that the sauce didn’t exude the usual puddle of fat on the plate.
Our other appetizer involved Amberbock Buttermilk onion rings, and half that description may have come from the brewery across the street. Only six arrived, but they were, to understate it, very large. Sooner or later, someone is going to describe this dish as the Tower of Power, though it neither plays rock music nor preaches revival-style sermons, and it might as well be us. The rings were at least an inch wide, and the largest was more than four inches in diameter. The top of the tower was an end larger than many an espresso cup we’ve sipped from.
They were hot, freshly made, nicely crunchy and very well seasoned, pretty much irresistible. The only quibble we had is that one ring was riding-boot tough from one of those unaccountable membranes that sometimes come on onions. The honey mustard sauce alongside was superfluous.
The Real Deal meatloaf was exactly that and the best single dish of the evening. This is among the best meat loaves (Note to philologists out there: Is it loaves, or loafs?) we’ve ever had at a restaurant. Moist and tender but not falling apart, with a meaty texture and pleasing flavor, it was swell. The garlic mashed potatoes alongside were real potato, complete with a few not-unpleasant lumps. (Note to chef: These potatoes deserve more respect than being called "mashies" on the menu.) We would have been lots happier with something other than the usual seasonal vegetable medley with it, although we’ll allow that it did seem to be freshly cooked rather than reheated out of a freezer. (And one more note: Seasonal, our foot!! Zucchini, broccoli, carrots and such-like are always in season.)
Ordering barbecued ribs at a non-barbecue spot is always tricky. Sage comes closer to pulling it off than most places. The menu describes them as St. Louis style, which is correct. St. Louis ribs are a specific cut, not snything else, They’re too tender to have been grilled the entire period of cooking, and the smoke has come from some judiciously applied sauce. But there’s a lot more meat than bone, they’re full of porky flavor. It’s odd, though, that they’re accompanied by mashed potatoes.
The wine list is rather short, but provides enough variety and price for most diners. A few more at the high end may served as an invitation to thicker-wallet types.
Dessert turns out to be a surprise on the culinary cutting edge. Sage offers "sweet shots". A tray of six glasses the size of demitasse cups arrives at the table with different mini-servings of desserts. Each is $1.95, with instructions that the diner should take as many or few as desired. Pecan pie was good, peach-blueberry cobbler was better, and a brownie with whipped cream and rum sauce was scrumptious. This is an idea we’ve heard of in a couple of East Coast restaurants, but as far as we know, it’s a first for St. Louis, and a very good idea for a number of reasons. We shared three, which kept the calorie count down and the cost to a reasonable $6 for both of us.
As far as the overall experience is concerned, well, one of the definitions of the word "sage" is "wise," and the spot on the border between Soulard and Benton Park looks like a sage experience.
1031 Lynch St.
Lunch and Dinner, Mon-Sat
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Poor