Posted On: 06/01/2016
Finding the right gastropub equation can be challenging. Is it a bar with good food or a fun restaurant with good drinks? Finding the key variable that keeps diners coming back isnít always easy. The Muddled Pig in Maplewood is one of many causal St. Louis eateries working out that equation.
The Muddled Pig opened in February, just eight days after the previous tenant, The Wood, closed. Like The Wood, itís casual. Unlike The Wood, the food is focused.
Co-chefs and co-owners Michelle Allender and Austin Hamblin (former executive chefs at Bella Vino Wine Bar & Tapas in St. Charles) have created a menu closely following the gastropub equation: house-ground burgers, banh mi, poutine, local beers and, as the name more than implies, cocktails and pork. Half of the 20 menu items include pork in some form if you count the bacon fat-fried cornbread and the pork rind-topped wedge salad. Thereís so much pork that I was nervous: How many ways are there to describe one meat?
Turns out this isnít a problem when Missouri-raised Berkshire pork (a heritage breed known for its rich flavor and marbling) is served. Braising the meat in coffee, as with Muddled Pigís pork shank, brings out the meatís true flavor by breaking down its amino acids. Done properly, as it was here, it doesnít impart any coffee flavor.
The 8-ounce pork steak, first grilled then braised in beer and barbecue sauce, could have easily come off your backyard Weber. However, yours wouldnít have been served on a bed of mashed potatoes and topped with an apple-blue cheese-currant slaw for a bit of funk and crunch.
Those tired of the small-plates regimen will appreciate the restaurantís hefty fare. Poutine is practically de rigueur these days, and The Muddled Pigís version didnít disappoint, inspiring gluttony with house-cut fries, stout-braised pork, hunks of fried cheese curds along with jalapeno and pickled red onion to cut the richness. The poached egg on top seemed like a dare Ė poutine extreme Ė until I noticed the Foie íní Waffles: a rosemary-flecked waffle topped with seared foie gras, a fried quail egg, arugula and a drizzle of port wine-red currant syrup. Over the top, yes. Worth the adventure? Definitely.
Two other standouts include a 6-ounce burger and a salad of Missouri mushrooms and farro. House-ground chuck, brisket and short rib made up the flavorful patty of the Muddled Burger, adorned with foie gras, rosemary demi glace house ketchup and watercress. But the simplicity of the house burger did just fine with the same patty topped with a hearty slice of cheddar and two slices of thick-cut bacon on a soft Companion bun. Like nearly everything else, the pickles are made in-house, as are all condiments, including mayonnaise. The salad wasnít cheap ($9 for a baseball-sized serving) but meaty roasted mushrooms from St. Louisí Mushrooms Naturally blended beautifully with popped farro, pickled red onion and dollops of creme fraiche. It was also the lightest dish on the menu.
Not everything works as well on the plate as it does in print. The apple-onion soup sounded like an interesting, bare bones take on French onion soup, but it suffered from over salting and soggy fruit. Other dishes try too hard. Bone marrow-crusted strip steak served with truffle chips, Muddled Pigís version of steak frites, started with an excellent cut of dry-aged beef. The marrow-salt coating was more a salty slush overpowering the meatís natural flavor than a crunchy crust. A skillet-fried chicken breast was meaty enough, but arrived lukewarm on my visit. Real pan-fried chicken is hard to find, so the sweet and spicy glaze that softened the chickenís fried crunch (and didnít do much else for the dish) was a letdown. Also disappointing: The accompanying cornbread biscuit, which was doughy in the middle.
Like any gastropub worth its weight in suds, the beer list was long, craft-centric and regionally focused, with 16 beers on draft and 40 bottled. The wine listís narrow bandwidth shouldnít deter wine drinkers; 14 selections were varied across most varietals, with not one found on a grocery store shelf. Of the two specialty cocktails I tried, one underwhelmed, the other overwhelmed. The Cherry-Rye-It (rye, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, Fernet) tasted unbalanced, especially between the rye and Fernet. The namesake cocktail, The Muddled Pig, (bacon-washed bourbon, dry vermouth, absinthe, grapefruit shrub, maple, rosemary) sounded better than it drank, mostly due to the overly oily mouth feel.
Despite the quick turnover in operations, signs of a reboot were evident: a communal farm table with candles, a line of wooden banquettes replacing The Woodís retro diner vinyl ones, new paint, dangling Edison lights. But the place felt unfinished, mostly because there was so much space to fill. The concrete floor didnít help warm things up and a few wooden pallets and small, old-timey farm signs didnít add enough of the homey, nookish character they were going for. I couldnít help but think the concept felt forced.
Thankfully, the Muddled Pigís menu is broad enough to make up for a couple of disappointing dishes. Allender and Hamblinís scratch kitchen is the elusive key variable that makes The Muddled Pig a gastropub worth exploring.
At a Glance
The Muddled Pig Gastropub
Donít Miss Dishes
House burger, pork steak, poutine
Large space with gastropub elements
$12 to $22
Tue. to Thu. Ė 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. Ė 11 a.m. to midnight; Sun. brunch Ė 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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