Who ever thought that "the quiet little village of Webster Groves"would become a destination for diners? It seems to be moving in that direction, especially just west of the T-shaped intersection of Lockwood and Gore, where a large handful of new restaurants offers a wide variety. The most recent is The Block, as in Butcher rather than Cement or Building. Marc Del Pietro, part of a family that has been feeding St. Louisans at many restaurants for many years, has styled his new operation as “restaurant, butcher and bar.” Visitors are greeted by a meat case and then a bar. The dining room is just beyond.
With large windows facing the street providing plenty of autumn light, it seems quite popular with young families. The Block's menu, extremely carnivore-centric, attracts lots of youngsters, busy fueling up with moms, dads and granddads before returning to homework and pajamas. But it doesn't look like a restaurant aiming for children; its rustic, industrial, lots-of-wood interior goes nowhere near cutesy.
Creamy polenta, called grits in an odd choice for a family with an Italian heritage, was a base for what the menu described as crispy shrimp. Large shrimp wore a thin layer of cornmeal batter that slid off at the touch of a fork. But the shrimp were fat, flavorful fellows, and we just alternated bites of shrimp and coating. A drizzle of honey barbecue sauce, made in-house, was okay, but its sweetness didn't add much to the other components. Pork confit arrived in the suddenly fashionable glass canning jar. We expected a rich, soft dish of spreadable shreds of pork, but found crumbly bits of pork, not nearly moist enough to spread on the grilled bread that came alongside. And the bread was dry on one side, as though it had been sitting out too long, but saving the day were the pickled vegetables and tangy-sweet grape chutney. Slices of pickled red onion, radish and cucumber, the latter rather like an upbeat bread-and-butter pickle, were first-rate. The chutney was absolutely delicious.
The Block Salad chops tomato, greens, good housemade croutons, bacon (of course) and adds pieces of blue cheese about the size of a pencil eraser. Tossed in a buttermilk dressing, the crunch factor is a high one, a salad satisfying enough to make a good lunch entree.
The restaurant's grass-fed beef, from Rensing Farms in New Douglas, IL, offers a nightly special, and we arrived to be offered a 14-ounce T-bone ($23) cut about an inch thick. Good flavor, a little chewy, as grass-grazed beef usually is, and well-seasoned. It arrived sitting in a puddle of The Block steak sauce; the sauce was tart as well as savory, a thicker and more complex Worcestershire sauce, if you will. We decided it would be better with pork than beef, and that we'd order it on the side the next time, so that we could have the steak with or without the sauce and we, not the chef, could make the decision.
The house's garlic-rosemary fries come in a cone of paper, a nice visual that also keeps fries warm while letting steam escape so they stay crisper. But does rosemary really belong on French fries? We know garlic does, but it may be time to muse on rosemary.
The pork chop that deserved the steak sauce showed up resting on a little reduction of the pork juice with some sweet mustard. The sauce for the beef was better. The first-rate pork chop had a hint of pink in the middle, and was juicy and tender, obviously from a prime-quality porker. The promised potato-and-bacon hash showed quarters of red potato, fried or oven-fried, and dressed with something like a German potato salad, minus the vinegar. Not a hash, and rather a disappointment. The apple slaw was creamy style, the flavor of the dressing dominating that of the apple, lacking most of the necessary crispness.
Dessert pulled the chestnuts out of the fire, though, with an apple-date bread pudding that was fluffy, with pleasing pieces of apple, and date-ish flavor, although none were visible.
The Block boasts of its beer selections, and while there are not as many choices as one might want in a pub, there are enough good ones to meet the demands of a restaurant clientele. The wine list is right for a Lake Woebegon cafe, where the wines are above average.
Crisp service, including some fancy footwork by a couple of employees who had to swerve like wide receivers to avoid zooming-around children. What we liked, we liked a lot; removing the kinks is a necessity.
146 W. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Entrees: $13-$15, plus “market price” steaks