Just south of the market for which it’s named, Soulard’s Restaurant offers a dark, brick-walled interior, dotted with black-and-white drawings of St. Louis landmarks. Owners Dan and Tom Badock offer Saturday breakfast, handy for market-goers, along with lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Lunch is busy, with local business types knocking back sandwiches; dinner seems quieter. The large dining room upstairs works for private parties or overflow; on a weeknight, a large alcove off the bar holds five or six tables and does nicely.
First courses seem to be what the kitchen does best. A dish of grilled mushrooms and angel hair pasta brought a larger pasta, which may be a wise decision; angel hair is the very devil to prepare al dente. This still was a little overdone, but the rich creamy sauce with a light note of sherry was rewarding. The menu had promised tasso ham, but the thin bits of pale pink meat were milder than we’d expected. Shrimp in a tasty New Orleans-style barbecue sauce, which is to say warm, brown and spicy, were arranged around a few leaves of flash-fried baby spinach. The "petit biscuits" had been cut in quarters with the sauce also ladled over them. The crustaceans and the sauce were just right, but the biscuits seemed to have been hanging around for a day or two, dry to the point of crumbling when forked to mop up more of that sauce.
Two winners on the soup front: Tomato-mushroom bisque was thick and chunky, with a little tartness was accentuated by a nice hit of dill. Joe, who loves roasted garlic, was quite taken with the creamy roasted garlic soup, deeply flavorful and aromatic. And the salad, large, full of fresh greens and a generous handful of blue cheese, failed only because of a wan piece of tomato and so much balsamic vinegar in the dressing that the sweet-and-sour notes ran roughshod over everything.
The nightly special of sea bass, allegedly crusted with blue cheese, gave no evidence of the cheese; instead, a layer of slightly damp bread crumbs coated the fish. The lemon beurre blanc that the chalkboard near the door had promised wasn’t tasted either. Pork chops with a Guinness gravy were a pair of large but thin chops between a quarter and a half inch, well trimmed but slightly burnt, with a mushroomy brown gravy lightly flavored with the stout.
A slice of grouper, not overcooked, wore a tomato sauce over its coating of finely minced mushrooms, and proved the best of the group. Of the side dishes, both broccoli florets and spinach were overcooked; the twice-baked potato was clearly the best of the lot, maintaining a good potato flavor and a nicely chewy skin.
The desserts turned out to be variable, too. What the menu terms Amish cheesecake is a crustless cheesecake, served with several hills of whipped cream and a single large, quite good, strawberry. Skipping the crust on cheesecake is no sin to us, and the cheesecake itself was creamy and lightly tart, very pleasant. The bread pudding, with a few diced peaches in it, was unpleasantly gooey, almost as though it had been made without any eggs. The coffee, however, was fresh and hot and full-bodied, clearly from a properly maintained source.
Service seemed awkward and uncoordinated, with clean silverware being removed before a course was served, and unnecessary reaching across one diner to deliver food to another. We have friends who rave about Soulard’s for lunch, and in their lunch price range (under $20), food and service like this might be less disappointing. But at $25 to $30 for an entree, even though that includes a soup or salad, the overall experience should be considerably better.
1731 S. Seventh St.
Lunch & Dinner Mon.-Sat, Breakfast Sat.
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Poor