Eclectic Flavors Keep Frazer’s Fresh

Frazer’s Restaurant and Lounge is a charming Benton Park eatery that strikes a balance between casual comfort and sophistication. With an atmosphere that’s warm and energetic, it’s the type of place that draws both neighborhood residents and destination diners, with enough variety and imagination on the menu to keep them coming back.

Frazer’s current mix of comfort and creativity evolved from more humble beginnings. Chef and owner Frazer Cameron opened Frazer’s Traveling Brown Bag in 1992 for lunch only. The food, inspired by Cameron’s travels across the country and abroad, was served on paper plates, and diners ate with plastic forks and knives. A few years back, the spot underwent an expansion and cosmetic uplift (and it shortened its name). The interior is eclectic and inviting. Guests enter into the lounge area, which is fitted with a curvy banquette covered in brightly colored pillows, architectural artifacts, mosaic tiling and exposed brick. A collection of masks hangs on the walls of the dining room, which features a fireplace in one corner. Windows play across the whole front of the restaurant, looking out to trees adorned in lights. There’s also an upstairs dining room with a small bar, but it lacks the charm of the main level.
With its array of cuisines, the menu is as eclectic as the décor. The food is good, sometimes great. The Caesar salad was lemony and bright, tossed in a light vinaigrette instead of a heavier aïoli-based dressing. A huge bowl of steaming mussels brimmed with flavor, and the broth was great sopped up with the house-made bread brought fresh from the oven. Bowtie pasta served in a thick, rich cream sauce with mushrooms, asparagus and smoked salmon was sumptuous.

Barbecue shrimp is a flavorful little starter: six or so nicely cooked shrimp atop a thick slice of toast sitting in a pool of spicy sauce. Instead of the thicker-style barbecue sauce, Frazer’s version is New Orleans-style, where the shrimp are sauteéd in butter or oil and hit with a big pinch of barbecue seasoning. Cioppino had a nice variety of seafood with mussels, clams, mahi mahi and squid, all perfectly cooked. The dish’s thick tomatoey broth, almost like an Italian gravy, had a nice kick and was well-seasoned.

Save room for dessert: The Key lime pie was velvety and tangy with a great graham-cracker crust, and an almond and cardamom pie, a special on one visit, was different and delicious. Done in the style of pecan pie, almonds were swapped for pecans and cardamom added a unique pop of spice.

The dishes that fall short seem to suffer from a lack of attention to detail. The couscous served alongside Moroccan tilapia was watery and bland; a burger was ordered medium and arrived well-done; and a ricotta-stuffed chicken with rice pilaf, while tender and juicy, needed a liberal sprinkling of salt. The Blue Iceberg Salad, a big wedge of iceberg lettuce with a hefty dose of creamy blue cheese dressing, tasted great, but the cut edge of the lettuce wedge was red and oxidized. Perhaps it was cut ahead of time, but cutting a wedge of lettuce to order shouldn’t be so time consuming that it needs to be done in advance.

The clam chowder had a nice viscosity, not too thick or too watery. Unfortunately, the clams were tough and rubbery and there was a tinny current running through the soup. Ideally, the clams would be tossed in to order so that they’re just cooked, plump and tender, when they arrive at the table.

The staff is friendly and accommodating (although service can lag when things get busy), and each time I visited, there was Frazer Cameron, perched at one end of the bar, making sure patrons were enjoying themselves. Whether you are catching the game or entertaining the in-laws, Frazer’s fits the bill.

Don’t-Miss Dish: Atlantic mussels steamed in Chardonnay; pasta with asparagus, mushrooms and smoked salmon; Key lime pie.
Vibe: Frazer’s is all about the fun mix: young and old, bustling but laid-back.
Entrée Prices: $13 to $24
Where: Frazer’s Restaurant and Lounge, 1811 Pestalozzi St., St. Louis, 314.773.8646
When: Mon. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. –
5 to 11 p.m.