Sunday, May 14, 2017

Saint Lou's Assembly

In the 40s and 50s, there was a style of restaurant, similar to a diner, called a Meat and three, which originated around Nashville and was popular among the blue collar crowd.  Like it sounds, it is a style where a main course, the meat, is chosen from a list of three to six choices like meatloaf, tasso ham, country fried steak, or a pork chop, and then three sides from a list of up to 12 selections are chosen to make your meal.  Restaurant group 16" On Center recently opened an upscale meat and three called Saint Lou's Assembly in the West Loop which was also the former meatpacking district, so would have been a place where a Meat and three would have thrived.  Located in a non-descript brick building with a small sign, it was originally going to be a counter service, cafeteria tray, find your own seat type of place.  While it still has the long order counter and metal cafeteria trays, it has since gone to a wait to be seated place/menu place.  I went one night recently when I was in the west loop.  The place looks like a factory cafeteria with brick walls and small windows.  There is a menu posted at the entrance like you would find in a counter service cafeteria.  Decorations included sports trophies, newspaper clippings, and pictures of Lou, the grandfather of Bruce Finkelman, one of the managing partners of 16" On Center, who owned a meatpacking place in the area.  The seating in the narrow dining room is booths on one side and banquette seating on the other with overhead lighting in the drop ceiling.  I don't imagine that you would find many meat and threes with a beer and cocktail list, but the beer list was pretty good with choices from the big brewers as well as a pretty good craft selection.  The cocktail list was pretty good with many spins on classics.  I liked the look and appreciated the effort that they took to make it look authentic.  My one complaint was the fact that there was an odor of blood in the room (as in a butcher shop).  If that could be addressed, it would be very nice.  I started things off with a Fluffy Gin and Tonic.  A spin, obviously on the classic gin and tonic.  It used London Dry Gin, a Custom Bitter Cube, Tonic, Lime and Egg White, which was what made it fluffy.  It was an interesting drink with a light top and a flavor that changed as the ice melted (adding tonic).
While this is primarily a Meat and three, it also has appetizers and I figured that I might as well try to get the full experience.  Appetizers included Burrata, Artichoke Dip, Beef Tartare, and Bone Marrow.  While I was really interested in the Bone Marrow, the diners beside me got an order so I saw how enormous it was and decided if I was going to eat my meat and three, I would have to scale back a little (or so I thought).  I ordered the Beef Tartare which was also enormous.  In addition to the tartare, which actually looked lighter than I am used to (more fat?), it also included a Foie Gras Torchon (a round slice vice the typical rectangular piece), Fried Celery Root, and Cocoa Nibs.  It was served with Rye Toast.  This was rich, meaty, and very good.  The celery root added some crunch and the cocoa nibs added a bitter finish.
For the meat portion of my meat and three, I wanted Pork Belly, but they had run out.  I did stick with the cured pork though and went with the Tasso Ham with a House Glaze.  For my three, I chose Beets and Carrots, Red Curry Lentils, and Truffled Celery Root Gratin.  Tasso ham is not actually ham, but is a cured pork shoulder using a spicy cure and has a flavor somewhere between ham and bacon.  The glaze was sweet and spicy and seemed to be a cross between brown sugar and cayenne.  The meat was spicy and tender and the glaze went well with it.  For the three, I expected to like the beets and carrots, which I did.  It was simple, but well prepared consisting of the well prepared beets and carrots and had a sweet and earthy flavor.  The Red Curried Lentils I also expected to like.  I have a soft spot in my heart for lentils, but I have to say that other than the slight spice, I found it pretty boring and disappointing.  The Truffled Celery Root I was unsure about.  I expected it to be bitter and have a truffle funk to it, but other than that, I really didn't know what to expect.  It was tender and creamy and kind of reminded me of scalloped potatoes with a truffle finish.  It was really good and I really glad I ordered it.

After finishing my appetizer and meat and three, I was done.  I did think about a dessert, they were serving pie and a tart on the night that I was there, but I was already pretty full and dessert would have made me uncomfortable.  I will say that the food that I had was very good.  They execute the food and look of the place very well.  Other than the small hiccups, I would easily return.          

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