A Great Room in Lafayette Square

Sqwires, located in the Lafayette Square neighborhood, is a great space, a union of old and new. The building used to be a bed factory, then a wire factory. A system of pulleys still hangs overhead, while the room below incorporates steel, concrete and exposed brick. Red-cushioned seating, flowers on the tables and artwork on the walls adds a softness to the industrial styling.

The menu is also a mix of old and new, offering current spins on classic American fare. Many of the small and large dishes, including sandwiches and a list of nightly specials, are prepared with local ingredients; a list of the restaurant’s purveyors adjoins the menu.

Amongst the small plates, the antipasto is a delicious place to start your meal: a perfectly charred apple sausage, smoky portabella mushrooms, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, fried chickpeas, caramelized dates and pesto all spread on a rustic wooden board. The caramelized dates were especially enticing, served warm and melty on a skewer.
A special small plate one night was a salad of deep-fried oysters nestled on a bed of greens. The oysters were plump, tender and served piping hot. Their light, crisp coating held up well to a dunk in the little ramekin of thick and lemony tartar sauce. Another night, the special was a take on the classic Caprese salad, with thick slices of mozzarella and tomato on tender greens, drizzled with a sweet-tart balsamic dressing.

Of the entrées, don’t miss the pork tenderloin. It’s very simply grilled, then sliced and served over a bed of smoked Cheddar grits, and topped with sautéed bell peppers and onions. The whole dish had a wonderful smokiness, and the meat was juicy and tender, the grits heavenly.

A beef brisket sandwich was also unbelievably tender and juicy, not even the slightest bit dry. The beef was piled on a bed of sweet caramelized onions and drizzled with a horseradish sauce for a little oomph.

Sqwires has developed a reputation for great seafood, but my experience indicated otherwise. A deep bowl of seafood chowder with crawfish, shrimp and fish in a white wine and tomato broth was daunting in appearance – made worse by the miniscule spoon provided to eat it with. If I had consumed the entire bowl with that little spoon, I’d have been there all night.

But the soup hardly warranted such an effort. The flaky white fish tasted off. The shrimp weren’t deveined, which some people don’t mind; I do. So although the little crawfish were tasty and the broth was fine, I gave up on the dish within minutes.

Service at Sqwires is also a little fishy. The host on one visit had a look of disinterest when we approached – not even a hint of welcoming warmth or cheer in his face. Servers were figuratively clumsy and seemed completely detached from their job. It seemed glaringly out of place: If you’re going to make an effort to use local purveyors, have a nice wine list and a one-of-a-kind space, then the service should be on par.

The desserts lightened my mood. The bread pudding was moist and yummy, but the real showstopper was the Brandy Alexander. The dessert consists of vanilla ice cream and crème de cacao. I was expecting a sundae of sorts, but instead, out came a velvety, creamy, drinkable, boozy dessert (one glass, two straws) that had me and my dining companion forehead to forehead – a nice note on which to end an enjoyable dining experience.

Don’t-miss dish: The pork tenderloin, the brisket sandwich and the Brandy Alexander.
Vibe: The one-of-a-kind setting manages to have a neighborhood feel, thanks to a mixed-bag clientele of locals and destination diners.
Entrée Prices: Small plates, $4 to $13; large plates, $13 to $17
Where: Sqwires Restaurant, 1415 S. 18th St., St. Louis, 314.865.3522
When: Lunch: Tue. to Fri. – 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner: Tue. to Thu. – 5 to 9 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 5 to 10 p.m.; Brunch: Sat. and Sun. – 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.