Tucked back into a residential neighborhood east of Grand and south of Meramec, The Original Crusoe's chugs along feeling, in some ways, as though it was 1975. Or maybe 1955. The décor is slightly nostalgic, the menu features home-style food and the portions are gargantuan. Just what St. Louisans go for. And while we have a good time at ethnic restaurants and are open to thrills from molecular gastronomy, sometimes it comes time for a simple American dinner.
Or lunch. Ann's tried the fish and chips, with a nice piece of fish, carefully breaded and fried, moist and not overcooked, although the fries were pretty ordinary; and a Crusoe's Special sandwich, ham and provel on a garlic-buttered roll, gooey and irresistible, if potentially threatening to the arteries and the gallbladder.
'width=640,height=480,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0' ); return false" href="http://stlouiseats.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341c0b6a53ef013487f91385970c-popup"> Dinner entrees offer a choice of two sides, and it's telling that two of the 20, yes, 20, options are apple sauce and cottage cheese, offerings we haven't seen at a restaurant for eons. Very Midwestern traditional. We kicked things off with a cup of firehouse chili, thick with beans and hamburger, a few pieces of onion cooked into it, not killer hot but not wimpy, and with a slight edge of tartness, as though some of the heat came from a vinegar-based hot sauce. Cheese melting on top, not surprisingly, along with a little chopped onion.. Baked Kartoffel is what they call their potato soup, described as an old family recipe. Very thick potato soup, arriving under more cheese and a generous amount of good-quality crumbled real bacon. Grandma would have died of shame if they'd served it with fake bits; we're glad they understand that.
The dinner salad is large, iceberg lettuce, but nice and fresh, a little tomato, a nice shower of thinly sliced red onion. Crusoe's house dressing is described as a Mayfair, another very St. Louis-y touch. (Named for a hotel in downtown St. Louis, where it originated, it's thick and creamy, with notes of anchovy and celery. Various versions were once common around town.) Crusoe's take benefits from a nice hit of black pepper, and works really well with the salad; we can understand why they also sell it by the jar.
Fried chicken was clearly cooked to order, arriving smoking hot. The coating is probably a light batter with a little cornmeal for added crunch, rather than a breading, to judge from its thickness. Very good, both hot, when it didn't overwhelm the flavor of the juicy chicken, and cold the next day when leftovers of the half a chicken per serving were on our table. Meatloaf emphasized the meat, tender but not bread-y, gently seasoned and moist enough not to need the gravy that could have used Grandma's touch, since it tasted like beef bouillon cubes. A side of greaseless onion rings crowned the plate, crisp in what seemed like a beer batter.
Certain things draw us on dessert menus. We're always curious about bread pudding, for instance. And we might have gone in that direction here, if it were not for the sort of you'll-never-get-to-try-this-anywhere-else offering that is irresistible. A Ding Dong Delight (say that without giggling) starts out with a smashed Ding Dong, tops it with chocolate pudding and then a generous amount of whipped cream. Chocolate syrup, too. Come to think of it, it's not extremely far from that old English (and American Southern) dessert called trifle. Cool and chocolaty and with lots of variation in texture.
Our server was as friendly as the menu, quick and casual and chatty. No wine list here, but there's a full bar. (And behind the building, they run Patrick McKeane's, a bar with a 3 a.m. license and much of the same menu.)
Once upon a time, south St. Louis was a place where middle-class families raised their families in flats they rented for decades on end, pizza was just beginning to become common, and teen towns, as they were known, gave youth a place to dance and see their friends on Friday and Saturday nights without parents worrying about more than who was sneaking a cigarette behind the building. Crusoe's certainly feels like old south St. Louis brought up to date. The customers at night fit right into that same groove. We overheard two people chatting about their cousin, the nun. (In the old days, between the Catholics and the Lutherans, it was a wonder the public school classrooms were so well-populated.) Lunch seems to be more eclectic, and that's good, too.
The Original Crusoe's
Breakfast Sun., Lunch & Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair