314 Westport Plaza
St. Louis Mo.
Workday lunch edition.
Rob and I left behind an all-day pot-luck buffet at work. We were to join several folks we used to work with at that really large beer company (whose name I shall not speak). We do this from time to time. A few of our buddies were given the ‘opportunity’ to retire right after the company’s merger (sellout) with that other beer company (whose name I also shall not speak.) so they have lots of spare time. Most of the old bunch, like Rob and me, left the company for better pastures. That old company was very family like even though I spent only a little more than three years there. I made lifelong friends who like to stay in touch, frequently. At first the reunions were all downtown. That’s a long lunch commute for those of us that work out in the western suburbs. So recently the ringleaders have started staggering the lunches, one downtown, one out west, and Rob and I are able to at least attend the latter.
As much as I’d love, love, love to go to Chili Mac’s (I hear the ladies miss me) It’s a twenty-five minute drive each way, street-luck parking, and cramped seating. When we do go Rob and I are usually late and end up just sitting with each other, entirely missing most of the point of going. That’s why we don’t do that much anymore. The other downtown place they regularly meet, Hodak’s is much bigger, but I really don’t care for the food that much, even though most of the guys rave about it. I find Hodak’s chicken bland and greasy, a verdict that could potentially get me kicked out of St. Louis. I’ve tried other menu items there and was never really impressed.
So this time we were on the west side, at a place I’ve been to a half dozen or more times.
Located in Westport Plaza just across the sprawling Page Avenue from where I work, five minutes max. It was dreary, breezy, a bit rainy. We parked in the underground lot to avoid a long walk in the unpleasant weather. The garage opens to the interior hotel/mall. We walked right past the restaurant named for a now-ex St. Louis Cardinal, a great first baseman, former National League MVP and two-time world series slugging star (whose name I shall not speak.*) Rob and I arrived at the Trainwreck to find a small clutch of three or four others waiting at the front. The organizer of the meet, Wings, was not there yet, but emailed us earlier and he’d said he’d made reservations since we were a large party. ‘Wings’ is his nickname, self-assigned since his consonant-heavy, quadrisyllabic, German last name is almost always mispronounced and misspelled.
As our numbers grew we checked and found out there was indeed a reservation, so we elbowed ahead of several other people and found our spot. The Trainwreck is popular and usually quite busy, this day was no exception.
Wings arrived after a short while as did others including Art and his lovely wife Linda. There were ten of us in all. I sat by Art, once the proper table challenges were solved by the staff. Art is one of my favorite people on this particular planet. He and Linda are both retired, Art after forty years at that very beer company. He started there after high school, never worked anywhere else. He’s a classy gentleman by appearance and demeanor, until you get to know him better. Great stories about the old days, and some great jokes that occasionally verge on embarrassingly disgusting.
The interior was decorated modestly for the holidays. The all-wood walls held fake Christmas packages, from the ceilings were suspended large ornaments. The overhead train was not running (drat!). The place goes for a 1800’s saloon theme, though it’s really more like a dark wooden barn. When I think Saloon, I think wild-west. It takes more than dark wood to evoke that feeling, maybe some ‘pardners’ with six guns, wearing chaps, spurs and ten-gallon hats, spitting big brown globs of tobaccy juice into brass cuspidors. Okay, now that I think about it, I don’t really want to see that at all. In other words if it isn’t as depicted on the cover of a ‘Pure Prairie League’ album, I just don’t see ‘saloon’.
The burgers at Trainwreck are excellent. I already had a favorite, the cheddar-bacon. That’s what I ordered, along with the seasoned fries. Others around me got the Reuben or a salad and one guy opted for the bison. Further downstream on the table I couldn’t quite make out what was being ordered. Art decided on the Chili.
A few of us opted for just water, a few went a little stronger.
Service time was slow. The place was busy and the fact that we were in a party of ten would naturally slow us down. This place likes to serve a full table at a time, so we were going to all be waiting for the slowest dish. Which was okay, we had catching up to do. Mostly this group’s catching up has to do with who’s gone to work where, and the status of a few lawsuits against former companies. Wings had marched in with a coupon offering a free appetizer. He ordered the Ravioli, St. Louis style, breaded and fried. He generously passed the basket around even though there were only about eight raviolis in it. I was told they were quite good.
The food eventually arrived. Their burgers are half-pounders, not for the timid. I new this going in but had decided I could stop halfway, or get a box. The thing about this burger that I like so much is not the size, I could easily be as pleased with a smaller one, but the cheese. It’s real, sharp cheddar, and there’s lots of it. This is a messy meal, order extra napkins. It was served in a basket filled with fries, leaving virtually no room for a pool of ketchup. I had to restack the fries and bank the burger to hold it all. About halfway through the thing it started to disintegrate, the moisture from the tomato and cheese turning the undersized bun into a pasty mush. Like I said, it’s messy.
I asked Art about his chili, it looked pretty good. “Good but not spicy.” He said, then quickly adding: “But not nearly as good as Linda makes me at home.” Smart man, they’ve only been married a couple of years, he still publicly compliments his wife.
All around me the meals were disappearing, I lagged a little, as usual, since I was taking notes. Nothing was sent back, I heard no complaints, plates were cleaned. I saw no signs at all of dissatisfaction from anyone, including the dude that ate the bison.
The price was lunch-friendly, my bill came to eight dollars and change. The food is exceptional at Trainwreck. The cheddar-bacon is about my favorite burger in the world. It’s the cheese. Sloppy, too big, but very, very tasty. I’ve never seen anyone disappointed with their meals here. The staff is busy, professional, but overworked. Drink refills were scarce, too late, or non-existent. Time between order and delivery was slow. Probably because its such a busy, crowded place. It’s like a ‘Who’ concert, if you want peace, quiet, no crowds, and easy, fast in and out, forget it. But the food is simply great. Even though some of it is not quite as good as your wife makes for you at home.
* I frankly am not angry at Albert Pujols for leaving the Cardinals. He's at his peak and had the opportunity to grab an even shinier brass (platinum) ring. Good for him.