Review: Das Bevo in Bevo Mill
After years of immobility, the iconic Bevo Mill windmill is spinning. The Dutch-style structure at the corner of Gravois Avenue and Morgan Ford Road has been painstakingly restored to its former magnificence when August A. Busch Sr. had its Quixote-esque windmill built as a stopping point midway between the brewery and his Grant’s Farm estate 100 years ago. A restaurant is also back, including traditional Sunday brunch replete with cheddar and chive biscuits like those that once drew generations of after-church crowds.
When InBev bought Anheuser-Busch in early 2009, the Belgian-based beer behemoth bequeathed the building to the city, but the restaurant continued to flounder. A catering company used the kitchen for off-site events until last year, when the city requested proposals to redevelop the landmark.
Enter husband-wife team Pat and Carol Schuchard, who opened Das Bevo in May. (He’s a former painting professor; she’s an artist.) Like their other restoration projects – Majorette in Maplewood and Boo Cat Club in the Central West End – Das Bevo is spectacular. Outside, there’s a patio and covered Biergarten with whimsical accents like metal sculptures, topiaries and a vintage red fire truck perfect for kids to play on while their parents listen to live music, as I witnessed one afternoon. Inside, the Schuchards spent big bucks peeling away decades of tackiness and neglect to reveal Rookwood architectural tile flooring, a massive stone fireplace built to look like a castle, gorgeous stained glass and an intricately carved wood bar back.
The main dining hall’s vaulted, wood-beamed ceiling, antlers and beer steins create an atmosphere somewhere between contemporary public house, German Bierhall, European castle and Alpine hunting lodge. It’s a stunner, for sure, but were it not for the elegant overstuffed green leather settees flanking the fireplace, the room’s sheer size, harsh lighting and televisions would make it difficult to cozy up to. The hexagonal Mill Room, with its grandiose arched ceiling accented by two beautiful Bavarian murals made from Austrian tile, offers a bit more privacy.
Unfamiliar with the food side of the hospitality business, the Schuchards teamed with Sugarfire Events to create a pub fare menu suited to beer drinking with heavy appetizers, sausage boards and sandwiches. It’s where you’ll find the excellent Das Bevo Burger: A satisfying 8-ounce beef patty slathered with savory, melty pub cheese and topped with a thin pickle slice and two crunchy pretzel-breaded onion rings on a grilled bun. The word is out about Anne Cronin and the malty, sausage-length pretzels she bakes in the basement. Their thin, crispy snap and soft, fluffy interior were perfect to dip in the accompanying beer cheese sauce.
Das Bevo’s relationship with Sugarfire Events ended over the summer, and the kitchen has gone through a couple of lead chefs since. That may explain why my order of the German classic Brathendl looked like a weak imitation of the thoughtfully presented dish I saw in many online photos. The ingredients were the same: a half spit-roasted chicken on a bed of seasonal vegetables. But my bird was blackened compared to previously beautifully burnished skin. My coarse-cut carrots, green beans and red peppers were fresh and vibrant enough, but they used to be long and elegant with roasty edges. And where was that damn charred lemon half I saw in every photo? While I could see that a dry rub had been used on the chicken, it contributed nothing until I added a bit of salt to bring out its brightness.
The brown blanket of beer-bacon-bratwurst gravy smothering the pork schnitzel, another nod to Bevo’s German heritage, will make you quiver with either excitement or fear, as may the layer of Gruyere hidden underneath. The scoop of carrot-sauerkraut slaw crowning the dish proved too little to cut through such extreme richness. But come mid-winter, my body will crave such savory salaciousness.
Brunch runs the gamut from savory to sweet. Those soft and buttery, drop-style cheddar-chive biscuits were an obvious must. The South Side Florentine looked great and had all the flavor that two poached eggs covered in creamy spinach and melted Swiss cheese on a brioche bun could offer – though the yolks were slightly overdone and jammy. Tepid potatoes only accented the disappointment. The chicken schnitzel and waffles, though, was one of the better riffs of the southern dish, incorporating a breast, pounded thin and breaded, atop a yeasty Belgian waffle with a drizzle of maple syrup.
I found the paltry selection of four German beers surprising, but the excellent selection of local and regional beers made up for it. The cocktail menu is extensive, with each drink named after a Busch family member, while the shorter wine list included a couple of Germans (a reisling and a sweet red) and a decent Italian pinot noir from a German family producer.
A good soundtrack accentuates the dining experience. Unfortunately, I found Das Bevo’s curious and ill-fitting with the environment – ranging from ’50s and ’60s greatest hits to banal ’80s power pop. More curious was the level of service during my visits, ranging from clueless – resulting in misunderstood drink orders, long gaps between water refills and a familiarity verging on TMI – to frantic and distracted. It’s something that will need as much of attention as the resurrection of the building itself.
AT A GLANCE
4749 Gravois Ave., St. Louis, 314.832.2251, dasbevo.com
Pretzels, cheddar-chives biscuits, Das Bevo Burger
Historic St. Louis landmark restored to its former glory
$9 to $18
Mon. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 11 a.m. to midnight, Sun. – 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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