To begin with, yes, Pickleman's, or Pickleman's Gourmet Cafe, to use its full and proper name, is a chain, albeit a small one. Obviously aiming at the college trade (as compared to the carriage trade), it's at the southern edge of St. Louis University's Grand Center campus. Other college-town homes are Columbia and Springfield, Mo., and Lincoln, Neb. A good example of adaptive re-use, it's in a former warehouse that was remodeled into condos. Student-friendly, with free wi-fi and televisions tuned to local sports, it's open late, and delivers late, as well. When we've been there and the place was less than half full, the noise levels were reasonable. More patrons would, we think, raise the decibles.
Sandwiches are the raison d'etre: specifically toasted subs. The large counter provides a good view of a sandwich assembly line where the work is done to order, a reassuring sight and one that allows for immediate changes like, “Y'know, I think I'll have some pepper oil on that, too.” There's also a selection of salads and soups, of which our favorite is the tomato basil bisque, rich and creamy with a lush tomato flavor. Baja chicken is only okay, a chicken vegetable soup laced with cumin and little pepper of note. The chili, on the other hand, is pretty good, medium-thick, and with beans, of course; hardly anyone in these parts sells beanless chili. A little more sweet than we expected, but with a little heat. Some of that pepper oil would help. The salads, all chopped, look fresh; we tried the asiago caesar dressing which was quite tasty.
The dairy-intolerant should pay attention when they order. Sixteen of the seventeen sandwiches have cheese, and so do all the salads. This isn't necessarily a criticism. It's just how menus are built these days. Fat carries flavor, as chefs, even the corporate kind, understand, and the near-ubiquity of cheese on casual dining menus is just one of those things. However, it's easy to say, "No cheese, please." We did it with the turkey bacon club. The turkey was honey-smoked, and while the faint sweetness didn't add much, the smokiness was nice.
Pickleman's doesn't have a meatball sandwich, but the one called The Pizza Guy stands in its stead, subbing pepperoni for the meatballs. Marinara sauce and cheese should make it really messy to eat, but the sandwiches are tightly wrapped and then sliced in half, making them easier to manage. And it's a delightful sandwich, especially with a little of that pepper oil dribbled on once in a while. It really pops. The Italian club was salami, pepperoni, ham and capicola with provolone and the usual toppings, plus (happily) some vinegar and oil, which we more and more prefer to mayo on this kind of sandwich. Heating this sub turns it into a whole different beast from its cold cousin, but it works very well.
Yes, there are pizzas. But this is a sandwich spot with no pizza oven, just a toaster. We passed.
Gourmet? Of course not. But overall pretty tasty.
Pickleman's Gourmet Cafe
3722 Laclede Ave.
Lunch and Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good