David Bailey, who has given St. Louis Rooster and Bailey's Chocolate Bar, among other places to eat and drink, went into the downtown burger business at Bailey's Range during the time the Cardinals were winning the World Series. We can only begin to imagine the crush on those nights. While the Range looks small, there's an upstairs, and it seats about 120. That's a lot of hamburger-seekers to fall upon a new spot. But Bailey quickly got the ducks in a row, and is cranking out satisfaction day and night. Night, especially, when it's open until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday (or Saturday and Sunday, depending on how you look at the middle of the night).
Regular readers know that for us, it's nearly all about the food. But we'd like to point out before we get swept away in burgerness that the décor is pretty amusing. A looooong communal table (seats 40? Yep.) and a semi-partition made of old windows, a good view of the immense kitchen, and a fair view of the passing street scene all make for fun, as do the old milk cans used as light fixtures.
Don't think that because we're talking burgers, fries and shakes, this is a diner menu. Not at all. Yes, chili cheese fries as a first course, but also chicken liver mousse. That mousse, silky and rich, is as good as it would be in a restaurant with entrees priced three times as much. “Regulars like it,” reports Bailey, although he admits newcomers are occasionally taken aback by its presence on the menu. And cheese curds, sourced from Marcoot Creamery in Illinois, are creamy, just a little squeaky, the way cheeseheads say they should be. Several thin slices of Granny Smith apple are a reasonable garnish.
Not all the Range burgers are beef. There's bison, chicken, duck, lamb, pork and vegetarian (oddly, neither deer nor antelope), and if you like one set of toppings but prefer another meat, well, that can be done, too. We headed for the Ozark, a rustic-sounding name but a sophisticated approach with sauteed crimini mushrooms, caramelized onions and a blob of black pepper goat cheese, with lettuce and tomato alongside. This is a kitchen that understands "medium-rare;" the burger arrived dark pink inside, extremely juicy, the goat cheese and vegetables all dancing in perfect synchronicity. We've just returned from New York, and visited the home base of a small-but-growing group called Five Napkin Burger, a name that, while surely trademarked, certainly applied here on Olive Street.
A duck burger? Yes, especially one named Smoking Duck. And it was excellent, cooked a bit longer to leave just a bit of pink, nicely smoked, topped with some first-rate and notably crisp slaw and a barbecue sauce that had a hit of cassis, the black currant liqueur. It was the sort of dish that causes one to grunt with pleasure with the first bite. Delicious, and juicy, but more complex than its cousin on the next plate.
Fries were pleasant but not outstanding, although the idea of 10 choices of dipping sauces is a winner. The "crazy ketchup" had both sriracha, the South Asian hot sauce, and perhaps Tabasco, providing enough heat to be overkill to some. We liked it but would have preferred some mellow notes to round things out properly. And yes, there are salads.
Desserts are ice cream and their offspring, though there are no ice cream sodas, drat the luck. We tried two shakes, one with liquor. The non-booze featured chocolate and salted caramel, and we can attest to enjoying some very rich ice cream. Additionally, Bailey knows the difference between caramel and butterscotch, and the salt is a splendid balance to the sweet. The boozy one was an adaptation of the mojito shake, which involves cachaca, mint leaves and lime sorbet. We asked for it without the mint leaves, placing it somewhere between a caipirinha and a daquiri. Tart and refreshing, neither too thick nor too thin, it was dangerously good.
We sat at the bar, with fine service, save for a food runner who did the “Who gets the . . . .?” routine, a question that is never acceptable at a table for two. Good people-watching, and good food, with a sound level enough to cover a discouraging word.
920 Olive St.
Lunch and Dinner Wed.-Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good