Posted On: 11/01/2015
Naming restaurants after family members is a way to honor loved ones and let diners know that a place is personal. Co-owned by chef Ben McArthur, his father John McArthur (the restaurant’s namesake) and stepmother Kathleen Bibbins, J. McArthur’s An American Kitchen is personal.
It’s a place you feel good in. The newly renovated Lindenwood Park space is warm, comfortable and as inviting as the pop of a wine cork among friends. The covered front patio remains unchanged from its former life as 3500 Winehaus – perfect for nice weather dining – while the back patio is still a cozy place to congregate around the fire pit.
McArthur sources locally, serving pork, beef, poultry, cheese and produce from a steady list of about 15 farms and purveyors. Emphasizing what he calls regional specialties with a twist, the menu trends toward sturdy staples like meatloaf (invigorated by the use of Missouri wagyu ground beef). McArthur’s maxim could also be taken to mean – and this is more observation than criticism – rich and heavy, meat-and-potatoes fare.
In addition to meatloaf (served with mashed potatoes, fresh green beans and a wild mushroom demi-glace), there are a wagyu burger and changing cuts of Missouri beef and pork. One evening it was a rib-eye with sauteed kale and smoked Gouda potato gratin, all beautifully prepared and presented.
Starter highlights include McArthur’s unusual take on chicken wings and tacos. The former were brined in rosebud-flower tea, tossed in a spicy-sweet glaze with charred onion tops and served with vinegary, crunchy cold chow-chow. The seemingly unnecessary Alabama white barbecue sauce served with it – why have two sauces? – actually provided a creamy, piquant counter balance (and perhaps a nod to McArthur’s time spent cooking in the Southeast). The latter had all the makings of a tasty taco: Three large, flash-fried but foldable tortillas held braised cubes of pork, pickled vegetables, chimichurri (which made the tacos a tad oily) and guacamole, topped with pea shoots and cilantro.
McArthur’s “risotto” includes quotation marks on the menu because he uses pearl barley rather than traditional arborio rice. An array of roasted vegetables made the dish vegetarian-friendly – tiny whole carrots, chewy mushrooms, pea shoots and smoked grape tomatoes. While the grain was cooked to the proper consistency, the dish suffered from a thin cream-based sauce. The acidic brightness of the tomatoes helped cut through the creaminess, but the vegetables were mounded atop the risotto rather than blended in to allow the flavors to marry.
There’s a daily fish special, but my favorite seafood entree was an order of diver scallops. In both presentation and combination of flavors, the dish is perfect for the season: Three plump mollusks seared in a cast-iron skillet arrived in a shallow pool of smoked corn bisque with roasted Brussels sprouts, corn, pea shoots and slivers of smoky bacon.
The wine list is surprisingly extensive with nearly 60 bottles, six of them sparkling. Sixteen wines by the glass cover most desires and food pairings. The bar itself sits a bit off the main dining room and with extended hours most evenings, seems like a welcome spot to watch a game or socialize with regulars.
Two of three fun, shareable desserts are made in-house, and the chocolate and cheese board includes Crown Candy chocolates and local cheeses. Rich panna cotta came in a little canning jar topped with sliced figs and apple gelée. On the side were two thick dried cranberry-pecan oatmeal cookies, chewy and alive with a hint of salt. Puffy, hot-from-the-fryer beignets come with a changing assortment of marmalades, which included strawberry and blueberry during my visits.
While some dishes need tightening up and the menu at J. McArthur’s doesn’t break any new ground, there are enough twists to keep me coming back for more. It takes moxie and talent to open your own restaurant, and McArthur has both. Dad should be proud.
J. McArthur’s An American Kitchen, 3500 Watson Road, St. Louis, 314.353.9463, jmcarthurs.com
Don’t Miss Dishes
Chicken wings, pan-seared scallops, any daily cut
Warm, comfortable and laid-back. Bring the neighbors.
$12 to $30
Tue. and Wed. – 5 to 9 p.m.; Thu. to Sat. – 5 to 10 p.m.; Sun. brunch – 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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