A wall is lined with portraits of white-haired specimens, apparently the most poised and responsible of the herd. They look correct and predictable. Do you want something else. The Black Sheep, now open on Morgan Ford in Tower Grove South, beckons with that something else: a promise of the unexpected and, on a miserable, pungent night, the seductive offer of warmth.
Out of that unforgiving wind one stomps, grabbing a bar with enough booze behind and enough comfy seats in front to be appealing. But in search of more sustained dishes, we opt for the connected dining room. Cocktail, beer and whiskey menus appear. A finger or two of Irish Red can soothe the chill of a St. Louis winter.
The establishment offers some of the look and menu that would have felt familiar to diners a century ago – St. Louis can never have enough of these places. Steel and wood Jacobsen chairs offer a modern touch, though most Black Sheep appointments give a charming vintage feel. There’s lots of dark wood, pressed tin ceilings, and large windows that face the street. Any night it’s wonderfully welcoming. On a night like this, it’s hard to leave.
Another timeless touch is chicken pot pie. There is no crust. In its place is a greasy, chewy cookie – a golden-brown island of fragrant flakes in a pool of thick, heavy sauce of chicken, peas, carrots, onions and potatoes that begs a spoon to scrape up. to the last bite. If there is a signature dish at Black Sheep, this is it. The portion is more than honorable; the cookie tastes like it didn’t come from a recipe but from a hard-earned practice, a glorious tribute to an edible icon. (Note: Black Sheep hosts brunches as Mama 2’s Biscuits Thursday through Monday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Polenta has a similar intimate taste and that sweet, fragrant texture to corn; it is topped with beef, pork and veal meatballs. The meatballs are thankfully tender, flavorful; the tangy tomato basil sauce and parmesan shavings, however, are the real joy on the plate, infusing the polenta and bringing the dish together.
The rainbow trout tasted and looked like they were fed a diet of shrimp that turned their flesh ruby red and gave them a distinct flavor. The mashed red potatoes and Brussels sprouts were both superb, as was a lemon thyme butter on the fish.
These Brussels sprouts also make a great appetizer. Order them to share at the table with main courses. They’re premium, deep-fried and topped with hearty parmesan shavings and Sriracha aioli, which dresses the sprouts in a garlicky spice that gives them a whole new slant. Another winning entree is asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, painted with a creamy Hollandaise sauce. Southern’s incomparable deviled eggs set the standard for Dixie’s treatment of the simple boiled egg in St. Louis; they’re almost as impressive at Black Sheep, with a crisp taste of tomato, celery salt and “Bloody Mary” inspired by Worcestershire sauce, accented with a dusting of Old Bay seasoning.
Oh, and another nod to the beloved Southern dish, chili cheese, arrives alongside slices of sourdough to coat it. An unusual pickle soup is brilliant with dill. A tomato vegetable soup is hearty and rich, but forget the salty crackers that come with the dish and enjoy it instead with an order of crispy and salty fried pork rinds.
If you think Fuji apples and pulled pork are among the ingredients that belong in pizza, you’ll be well served here. These and other equally bizarre toppings are on offer. For more civilized pies, opt for the Black Sheep’s four-cheese variety, topped with mozzarella, provolone, goat cheese and muenster (eye roll). It’s pretty good; the pesto sauce just works to swell with the cheeses. The crust is thin but lacks the charry crispiness of a truly superior pie.
Triple-Blend Tullamore Dew; Straight Edge, a bourbon matured in old Cabernet casks; High West Campfire, with its ‘sweet and peaty’ combination… Peruse the list of featured whiskeys, and you can see this place is serious about it. Almost every selection intrigues or excites. Black Sheep is clearly a destination for connoisseurs of Hemingway’s lemonade.
Order a drop or two, along with the charcuterie platter, complete with smoked Gouda cheese, prosciutto, roasted garlic and grilled sourdough for an all-bliss evening of entertainment.