As much respect as I have for vegetarian dishes and those who choose them, I admit to being an animal hound. So The Block was a natural for me, with its focus on meat and butchering their own local livestock. Two locations now exist, Webster Groves and the second one, on Sarah in the Central West End, a couple of blocks that seem to be turning into a little Restaurant Row.
Two rooms, one a bar and the other a dining room, plus a very nice outdoor patio that’s screened from the street, the latter extremely popular when the weather is clement, make up this edition of The Block. It’s from Marc Del Pietro – yes, one of those Del Pietros – and Brian Doherty.
It’s very easy to get involved in just the first courses, despite the feeling that this might be one of those piece-o-meat houses. A mushroom soup, thick, creamy and crammed full of funghi flavor, and properly hot, too, was alluring. A flatbread du jour, close enough to a pizza to pass as one, on one visit wore bits of strip steak and mushrooms with cheese, a good crust and tasting of the meat and mushrooms, no froufrou but quite passable, especially if one had a choosy – one tries to avoid the word “picky” - eater at the table. Still, the winner had to be the potted pig. I suppose someone decided that sounded more appealing than pork confit, but under either name, it’s fabulous, wonderfully porky, very spreadable despite its chunky texture and relative unfattiness. To make confit, the chosen meat – one often sees duck or goose in France – is slowly cooked in enough fat to cover it, until it’s completely soft and tender, then mostly shredded and packed into jars. Here’s an example of down-home French cooking using relatively inexpensive ingredients, probably pork shoulder, that shines. It comes with pieces of grilled bread, housemade pickles of onion and cucumber, and some apple chutney. It’d be a fine lunch, and it is, happily, on the lunch menu.
For years, I was a kid who meticulously cut all the fat off the meat my mother served me. It was not, to be sure, a household with steaks ever in the kitchen, but the pork chops were subject to surgery on the plate. It was the texture thing. I’m not sure when I got over that, but as an adult I understand fat carries flavor. That’s one of the reasons ribeyes are so delicious – those ribbons of meat interlaced with fat swirling around the center are the best part of the cut. The center of this particular ribeye did well, but not as well as those edges. It comes with the house’s steak sauce, red wine and other more mysterious things, very good indeed, but purists need to ask for it on the side rather than the small ladleful atop the meat.
Grassfed beef is also in their fat hamburger, which comes with white cheddar cheese. The Potato Queen went all the way, adding bacon and a fried egg, the result being about three inches tall of unctuous goodness, moist and juicy but not totally falling apart, a real sweet spot in burger building. Her Majesty’s french fries met with royal approval, thin and crisp and garlicky. They also rode shotgun with the steak, a nice way to mop up the meat juices.
A grilled portabella sandwich in a carnivore palace? Why not? Indeed, if it’s as tasty as this one, a little smoky from some provolone cheese, arugula to give a little note of bitter contrast, a slice of surprisingly decent tomato, it was totally satisfying and again, beautifully moist. Nothing exciting, unfortunately about the roasted chicken, an airline cut (a breast and the first joint of the wing) that was properly cooked but not remarkable. Alongside came a bread pudding with various vegetables in it, moistened by the juices from the chicken, all soft and reassuring. Their spinach side is stirfried until it just wilts, along with some caramelized onions, all sweet and very respectful of the green leaves, a nice change from creamed spinach and healthier, too.
More pig is available, of course; the braised pork is another winner, full of porcine goodness, more or less a pork pot roast. A dribble of a slightly sweet barbecue-type sauce atop the meat, it was crowned with a shower of finely shredded vegetables, mainly carrot and fennel, quickly dressed, then drained and tossed on. Somehow, this managed to be both hearty and relatively light at the same time, probably due to the vegetables. “Pork fat fries,” promised the menu, and given the popularity of duck fat fries, we figured these would be just as good. But the idea needs work. These were wedges of Idaho bakers, skin on, that were cooked through but hadn’t crisped up at all, and as a result were stodgy, almost sodden. It would be good to taste what this could be like if things were worked on some.
There appears to always be some kind of a crumble on the menu, arriving in little individual cast-iron skillets and baked to order. A strawberry rhubarb take on it was great, more rhubarb than strawberry – bonus points for that. Just be aware this is a crumble, not a crisp, which means less texture in the topping. Chocolate bacon ice cream? What is this madness? Well, it includes the bacon candy, a sort of toffee that’s broken up, so there are small pieces of bacon, and as the ice cream starts to melt, a graininess remains in the mouth until it, too, dissolves, the crumbs of the toffee dissolving on the moistness of the tongue. Not very bacon-y, if that’s what is expected, but more about the texture in this ice cream.
Service is brisk but pretty attentive, and our guy knew the menu well.
33 N. Sarah St.
Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner nightly
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Entrees: $16-$19, steak of the day priced individually