I’ve got the luck of the Irish at the foot of Canal Street

Sorry I’ve not blogged in a hot minute.  With wedding planning, working overtime and the inevitable bout of stomach flu hitting multiple members of my household I’ve been a little busy.  But with both Kyle and myself on the mend we decided to go out and enjoy some of what St Louis has to offer which is no easy feat for us as our tastes vary about as much as our styles in tattoos.  Asking each other what they want for dinner can vary based on the day, the time, the placement of the sun, if the moon is in retrograde or whether or not we are wearing matching socks (which thankfully we don’t….ever…that’s just weird!) but we are always in agreement that it be somewhere that has an interesting menu and can offer up a variety of different fares.

For the past few weeks I’ve been having a real hankering for authentic Irish cuisine.  After the debacle that was O’Connells Pub (which was neither pub nor Irish food) I’ve had a longing for a good hearty Guinness stew or a substantial plate of bangers and mash.  I practically kicked myself for even contemplating going somewhere else other then Soulard’s own Irish rose…McGurks Irish Pub and Garden.

Located in the heart of St Louis’s French Quarter Soulard sits John D. McGurks Irish Pub and Garden.  Mcgurk’s first opened their doors in 1978 as a one room pub house, and over the years has risen among the ranks to the head of the class among the Irish Pubs in St. Louis leaving such favorites and much loved Llywelyn’s Pub being the runner up.

To say that the food there is good is an understatement.  It’s authentic Irish cuisine that has the ability to transport you to the emerald isle where you can wander the Moores amidst the fields of heather in hopes of catching a glimpse of the fabled phantom island of Brasil off in the distance.  It’s seriously that wonderful.  As we walked in we were immediately greeted by a little sprite of a hostess who excitedly chatted with us about the upcoming Mardi Gras celebration that was to happen in a few days.  Her exuberance immediately brought a smile to my face as she told us of how it was her first one in St Louis and that she heard it was always a busy day.  I playfully told her that I apologize for all the tourists who will trash the outside of the restaurant and told her to wear sensible shoes and to carry a Xanax as a just in case.   The restaurant was not crowded by any sense of the word which to me is the ideal time to enjoy a meal.  The kitchen staff is anxious to get food out the door and the quality always seems to be more spot on when there’s a relaxed atmosphere without the stress of the row of tickets.  Our waitress quickly came and took our drink orders as we browsed the extensive menu.  Such favorites as fish and chips, bangers and mash, Guinness and lamb stew immediately caught my eye as did not so traditional local favorites like grilled tilapia, the John D McGurk’s burger and the grilled three cheese sandwich.  All the food looked so good but I was on a mission.  And that mission was good ole traditional Irish food and personally nothing says traditional like corned beef and cabbage.

What is corned beef?  Is it beef made with corn?  Tell me!?!?!  No..corned beef is pretty much beef that has been cured in a salt brine…for a wee bit of time.  Some recipes say to brine it up for at least 10 days..and anything beef can be corned.  The most popular at the inexpensive tough ole piece of beef like tongue and brisket which as they get more tender the longer they are brined and can withstand the low and slow cooking method of the crockpot, sous vi style or by good ole dutch oven on the stove methods.  Want to try your hand at making homemade corned beef from scratch here’s a link for you:

Corned Beef: How to Cure your own

We started our meal very simple with their Galway Bay crab cakes.  Two lovely crab cakes topped with double smoked bacon, sweet corn and a spicy remoulade sauce drizzled over the tops.  Now lets face it, St Louis isnt exactly known for their crab cakes so the idea of getting something that might be reminiscent of the Chesapeake Bay area is hit and miss. While it was not that of a Chesapeake Bay crab cake where the crab is the start it did have a nice mouth feel and wasn’t overly processed.  The pleasant crispness of the cold sweet corn combined with the spicy remoulade left a pleasant burn that lingered away after a minute it was an opener that left us eager for our entree.

20160204_190016Kyle had never been to McGurk’s to eat before so this was a rare treat indeed for my St. Patty’s day husband.  After looking back and forth on the menu and being torn between the ribeye, the corned beef and cabbage and the bangers and mash he decided on an Irish classic, the bangers and mash.  In house made sausages steamed and seared, served over Yukon gold potatoes topped with a decadent gravy which featured the famous Irish beer Guinness with a side of sauteed carrots and green beans.  One of the things I’ve come to learn about Kyle is if he enjoys his food he doesn’t make a peep.  He eagerly dug in to his meal making little noises of contentment with each bite. I couldn’t help but smile over my plate of corned beef and cabbage at him, his happiness making the dinner even more enjoyable.  I soon had to face my meal which was sitting in front of me cooling. 20160204_185954 My corned beef and cabbage.  I wish photography did the food justice. The plate consisted of a bed of steamed red potatoes and carrots with a rather healthy wedge of cooked cabbage. Two soda bread rolls accompanied the dish as did a little dish of horseradish and honeyed butter.  The corned beef cooked with the expertise that only your grandmother would master was neither bland nor over boiled.  That’s a normal issue I have with corned beef.  It’s boiled to utter death and you don’t get that pickled taste.  It’s just a complete rubbery piece of dead cow.  This however was a vibrant pink from the curing process with little to no fat (only slight traces of marbling).  I was not disappointed in my choice of entry.  Only in the fact that my tiny surgically altered stomach could only take so much before telling me it was done for the evening but hey perk to tiny tummy is delicious leftovers which i did enjoy..repeatedly 😀

I’ve always loved eating at McGurk’s and while my last experience has been nearly a decade ago I was not disappointed.  The wait staff was fantastic,  the creative masterminds in the kitchen were rocking Ireland hardcore that night and John D Mcgurk is well entitled to boast such esteemed acknowledgements as one of the best bars in America and #3 best Irish Pub in the U.S.A

If you are craving some authentic Irish fare or just a really laid back atmosphere where you can enjoy a pint or 4 with your friends over some music I strongly recommend hitting this place up.  If you find yourself in the city go to

1200 RUSSELL BLVD
ST. LOUIS, MO 63104

 

and if you find yourself out in O’Fallon, MO visit McGurk’s Public House located at

108 S MAIN ST.
O’FALLON, MO 63366

 

Now as you can probably guess by the title of this blog McGurk’s wasn’t the only culinary joy Kyle and I got to experience.  As many people may know this weekend was Mardi Gras weekend and I being a former resident of the Soulard area could think of nothing better then being as FAR away from the commotion of the weekend festivities.  So I decided to toss in a few hours of overtime at my job.  Around noon I started to feel the pangs of hunger and instead of surfing the vending machines located in my office I opted to end my day early and see if the spouse wanted to go grab lunch before he went off to work.  The plan of attack?  The Kitchen Sink located in the CWE (Central West End).  Family owned and operated it’s name implies that everything is on the menu “except the kitchen sink”.  Taking their flavors and food styles from the heart of creole country the menu is very remniscent of New Orleans having mild spice levels but big bold flavors and is a good place for the NOLA newbie to get their shoes wet.

Located right off of Union Avenue by the famed Forest Park, The Kitchen Sink finds itself home in CWE Apartment building.  You can find limited off street parking but your best luck is to park street side and walk the block to the diner.  Yes I said diner.  This offbeat diner is open seven days a week from 11 am to 10 pm Monday thru Friday and from 10 am to 10 pm Saturday and Sunday.  Immediately upon entering you feel as if you’re in a diner that would be found on Canal Street in New Orleans.  Floor to ceiling multi panel windows allow in large amounts of natural light which bounce and reflect off the white walls and counters without causing a glare on the myriad of photographs that plaster the wall with quaint quotes such as:

To the World you are One person, yet to One person you are the World

and

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity – Edgar Allan Poe

We came on a busy day.  Hello?  CWE on a beautiful Saturday afternoon?  I’m shocked we didn’t have a queue to get a table.  As I hoisted my short frame up onto my seat I immediately was drawn into the artwork which decorated the walls.  Above us was a blown up photograph of the funeral procession of John F Kennedy featuring the iconic salute of his son standing next to his grieving mother.  As we glance around at the potential goodies the other patrons were eating our server brings us two glasses of water in what my father refers to as “texas china”.  i.e Ball canning jars with handles.  Right away I smile with amusement because I find places who serve their beverages in fancy glasses to be a bit to pretentious.  Yes..something is too pretentious for me? Possibly the most food pretentious person on the planet (okay maybe that’s an exaggeration.  probably most food pretentious in my circle of friends).  We are handed our menus and start to look over the options.  Some of the options have very unappealing descriptions of what the food is.  For example.  S.O.S…Now being a military kid I know S.O.S to stand for “shit on a shingle”.  It sounds disgusting but is amazing because essentially its a chipped beef that is served on toast.  It looks like shit but tastes amazing and is quite possibly the best hangover food this side of the Mississippi.  Now of course The Kitchen Sink’s description was

(Shit on a Stick) Different marinated meats charbroiled & served on a skewer

*insert crickets*..Wait..different marinated meats…What type of meats?  It didn’t say so it was like okay what the hell are we gonna get.  So being the culinary risk takers that we are Kyle and I opted for that as our appetizer.  Now to the bigger task at hand.  The entree.  With a selection ranging from chicken and waffles to jambalaya and quite literally everything in between we were having a difficult time in narrowing down what we wanted our first experience to be.  And then we saw it.  Nestled at the bottom of the entree selection 3 little letters.  I.D.K.  What in the hell?  The description read that of a game of tummy roulette

“You don’t know what you want?  Neither do we but we’ll try..No Refund”  What the hell was that supposed to mean?  We’ll try.  Were the chefs going to randomly select something off of the menu?  What if it had pork in it or black olives, or worse?  What if it was a mixture of two things that totally don’t go together like biscuits and gravy with peanut butter and jelly?!  I wanted it.  I wanted it bad.  So I take the plunge into the hands of chefs I don’t know and order it, my only stipulation was it could not contain ANY black olives.  Allergic reaction was not on my menu for today’s lunch.  Kyle ordered the same and our server showing her obvious excitement stating “We don’t know what it is and the chefs dont until they get the order but everyone loves it”..That’s both promising and terrifying but hey what’s life without a few risks.   And then..the waiting game.

Being a person of industry I totally understand what it’s like to be both a patron in a busy restaurant as well as an employee working the busy lunch shift.  People get ansty, annoyed causing a ripple effect amongst the staff.  Our server checked on us periodically ensuring our order was being handled and that it would be out as soon as possible.  We politely say no rush we understand and our minds set to work at what possibly is waiting for us.  We see tray after tray of food coming out, each more delicious looking then the last.  Belgium waffles cooked to a golden brown served up with crispy fried chicken, art deco style bowls filled with gumbo and jambalaya and etouffee.  Salads that make my stomach wiggle with excitement, but I could not help but wonder what my lunch was going to be and what were the meats going to be in our S.O.S.  The answer to the second question was quickly answered as long awaited appetizer was laid in front of us.

20160206_134330

 

Laid out in a little row were three pieces of charcoal grilled pieces of skewered meat next to what looked like an etouffee.  On the first piece of “meat” was a bleu cheese type cream sauce, the second was naked and the third was topped with a cheese over slightly warmed diced tomatoes.  Okay still not sure what it was so I cut into the first piece and am given the identify of my protein selection, chicken.  Breathing a very audible sigh of relief I try the “etouffee” and confirm what my eyes had told me.  Only it was missing the crayfish and the chicken and the shrimp.  Essentially it was vegetarian.  Kyle cut into the tomato cheese covered skewer and woo 2 for 2.  Chicken.  That only left the naked skewer which was shocker, chicken.  And then…the main event…The I.D.K

Served up in two vibrant orange art deco style bowls were two completely separate dishes.  Can you imagine being the server who had to decide who got what?  I’d be a nervous wreck if I had to be the one to do that.  I can barely decide on what type of socks to wear on a daily basis.  By means of the playground rules she did the “eeny meeny miney mo” method and handed me the bowl in her right hand and presented Kyle the bowl in her left, although in hindsight whatever she presented both of us would have been happy with.

gumbo

I wish the photograph did my bowl justice however I was ravenous and while I normally want to get just the perfect picture, my stomach had other ideas which primarily focused around instant gastro-satisfaction.  Hunkered down in a bowl of rich flavorful gumbo were little fried hidden treasures of shrimp, catfish, tilapia and crayfish.  The gumbo itself was a veritable trove of tasty meats featuring chorizo, andouille, crab, crawfish and shrimp. The breading slightly spicy with that definitive southern style technique using seemed like cornmeal.  It wasn’t heavy, it was crispy without that aftertaste of oil and it didn’t lose its crunchy texture in the gravy of the gumbo.  Each bite offered more and more flavor as I dug through the the bowl like a kid playing in a sandbox that has buried treasure in it.  I was so wrapped up in my own lunch that I completely spaced about Kyle and what he had in front of him.

We are still attempting to figure out what exactly Kyle had because it had a very prevalent feel of being Asian in style yet with it being a creole/cajun diner we were curious if it was a play on a teriyaki stir fry but using bourbon in the sauce.  bourbon shrimp His also was presented in an art deco style bowl served over a bed of white short grain rice and showcased expertly seared shrimp with a lovely saute of zucchini and yellow squash.  The “sauce” had a lovely smokey quality which hinted to the possibility of bourbon with a sweetness that reminded us of a simple rustic teriyaki.  I wish I could get more descriptive with Kyle’s but he was not in the mood to share and made quick work of his lunch, being ever so quiet as he savored every succulent bite of shrimp.  It smelled amazing and I wish I had the opportunity to try his but I was enthralled in my own lunch and while I offered up some for him to try I was very happy when he turned me down.  I didn’t want to share it.

As we paid our bill which was roughly $46.00 for the two of us we looked at our to-go containers and experienced a brief moment of sadness over the fact that the I.D.K we had today may never be the I.D.K we will order in the future.  I failed to ask our server how many times the chef team repeats an order but since its a crew of 9 young chefs eager to stretch their culinary legs and make a name for themselves then I doubt there is much redundancy.  Knowing that made my lunch experience all the better.  The possibility that my lunch was unique just to me and that no one else would get to experience the same dish in quite the same way.  Yeah…I’m good with that.

So all in all both of these restaurants offered up unique experiences which did not take from the other.  McGurk’s with its rustic old world Irish pub feel, amazing homestyle Irish food and friendly wait staff started my week out amazingly and The Kitchen Sink brought it all home to mama.  These are two spots in St. Louis I strongly recommend you going to be it the first time or the seventh time.  Good places are hard to find but once you get there oh the joy you experience.

If you want to plan your next outing around these two fine St Louis establishments please take in the other sites that their location has to offer.  McGurk’s is located on the edge of Soulard which is home to a pretty awesome farmers market and provides an eclectic environment to wander and casually stroll about the streets.  The Kitchen Sink is located a block away from Forest Park where you might want to go after you eat to work of the sleepies that come with eating rich food.  Either way you can’t really lose…Unless you go on a day when they are closed.

Enjoy and let your food experience be amazing.  I’ve provided the websites for you to look at and as a FYI for the Kitchen Sink online menu?  The I.D.K does not appear.  It’s on the menu inside the restaurant.

The Kitchen Sink: The Name Speaks for itself

 

John D McGurk’s Irish Pub

 

 

 

 

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