Posted On: 07/01/2012
Veritas Gateway to Food and Wine, 1722 Clarkson Road, Chesterfield, 636.530.9505, veritasgateway.com
During a recent visit to Charleston, S.C., my goal was to eat as much shrimp and grits as humanly possible. I indulged; they know what they’re doing down there when it comes to seafood. But I could have saved a lot of time and effort and just headed to Veritas Gateway to Food and Wine in Chesterfield. Here, an appetizer of two plump, fresh, head-on shrimp came nestled in a bowl of real grits – as in stone-ground, coarse, creamy, rich, thick and chewy. That singular dish, bathed in a broth with house-cured bacon and tender, young onions, accentuated with a soft-boiled egg – a surprisingly perfect accompaniment – defines the character, philosophy and integrity of Veritas: unfussy food, expertly executed. And as its website states, nearly everything at Veritas is made in-house: sauces, dressings, pickled vegetables, ice cream, pasta and cured bacon.
While tucking into that dish – the rich yolk spreading across those grits like a soft, yellow blanket – a server passed by on his way to the neighboring table. “Here’s the scallops if you want to take a look.” It was a quick look, and they were tempting: nicely seared and served with grilled asparagus and arugula, peas and peanuts. But it was Cinco de Mayo. The pork tacos were calling my name, and the new summer sangria sounded irresistible (riesling, merlot, brandy, juice, fruit, Champagne … tell me you can resist a carafe for only $12).
Eight years ago, David Stitt quit the corporate life and opened Veritas with his wife, Stephanie. Back then, the little retail shop in the Dierberg’s Market Plaza focused on wine, specialty foods and kitchen gifts while also serving breakfast and lunch. In any number of hands, this would be a recipe for disaster, with too-charming gifts, wine with cutesy labels and a lunch menu catering to rich ladies of leisure. Fortunately, none of this is true. David has a well-studied wine palate; son Mathis went to culinary school and now runs the small, open kitchen; and Stephanie keeps the place humming. (Interesting to note: David’s brother is Frank Stitt, owner of Birmingham, Ala.’s highly regarded Highlands Bar and Grill and a James Beard “Who’s Who” inductee.)
Since opening, the Stitts have nixed breakfast, kept lunch and added Sunday brunch. And for the past few years, they’ve fashioned Veritas into one of the best, most underrated dinner destinations in town on Thursday through Saturday nights.
Have a seat among the wine racks and shelves of gifts, order a glass of wine from the small but well-curated list and look over the menu, the one that changes weekly and focuses on locally sourced ingredients to the greatest possible extent. (A few regulars are always available on the lunch menu.) You can purchase any wine to drink with your meal for a $10 corkage fee. Better yet, step up to a chair around the open kitchen. It’s the best seat in the house to interact with Mathis and the assistant cooks, especially if you’re even remotely curious how your trout is prepared or how the burger is constructed. That burger, labeled “baby burger” on the appetizer portion of the menu, is a 4-inch tower consisting of a quarter-pound patty of grass-fed, grass-finished ground beef – firm, meaty and cooked to a juicy medium temperature – layered with a crunchy cucumber slice, lettuce, mayonnaise, pickled onions and pimento cheese spread. The last three, as with all of the restaurant’s condiments, are made in-house. It’s a delicious mess held together by a wooden skewer and impossible to eat without a knife and fork. But it’s hard to imagine eating such a production as a prelude to a full meal without splitting it.
Like the trout on my grill, Veritas’ version is trimmed, with crisp skin, delicate white flesh and a mild, clean flavor. That’s the point of fresh trout, after all. Lemon and herbs, yes, but mine isn’t stuffed with bacon, grilled and then plated with a schmear of mashed edamame, oven-dried tomatoes and grilled asparagus. It isn’t topped with a dollop of lemon aioli, sliced leeks and pickled onions, either. Clearly, my fish needs more style. Even with that much diversity in one dish, everything came together beautifully: simultaneously citrusy, earthy, creamy and pungent.
Those tacos had all the flavor you’d expect from pork braised in cocoa, coffee and beer – deep and concentrated – and all the bright freshness of the black beans, salsa verde, tomato relish, arugula, crumbles of queso fresco and lime wedges topping the whole shebang. Coffee and cocoa appeared again as a rub for the 10-ounce rib-eye, giving the cut a charred crust and robust smokiness. Sandwiched between cauliflower mashed potatoes, tomato relish and arugula, with grilled asparagus to the side, it was a colorful example of how the kitchen takes a simple dish like steak-and-potatoes and tweaks it just enough to make it interesting without approaching pretention.
The spaghetti was made that day and had the proper chew and bite of a quick boil. The sauce was a flavorful blend of fresh and canned tomatoes, a bit of butter for gloss and viscosity, soft mozzarella and fresh basil. Simple and rustic. Desserts change, but there are always cookies – double-chocolate chip, white-chocolate chip and pecan, oatmeal raisin – made to order, warm and soft from the oven.
At this point it should be obvious that Veritas is one of my favorite restaurants … has been for a long time. And because the Stitts believe in serving simple yet creative food and well-chosen wines in a relaxed, convivial setting, it’s also my go-to recommendation. Dream of having a big, open kitchen where friends congregate and have a good time while you’re cooking? That’s Veritas. This isn’t food meant to challenge you; it’s just honest, unaffected – and good. And that’s the truth, plain and simple.
Michael Renner still believes truth and happiness are found around a table with friends and simple food and wine.
Veritas Gateway to Food and Wine, 1722 Clarkson Road, Chesterfield, 636.530.9505,
Don’t Miss Dishes
The menu changes weekly, but be on the lookout for a rib-eye steak, baby burger, and any fresh pasta or fish dish.
Looks like a homey retail store with dining tables. So casual as to belie the quality of food and attention to detail.
$15 to $28
Closed July 1 to 9 for holiday. Brunch: Sun. – 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lunch: Tue. to Sat. – 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner: Thu. to Sat. – 5:30 to 10 p.m.
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