Saturday, January 5, 2013
Dressel's Public House
I have saved my last St. Louis area review for my favorite. For over 20 years Dressel’s has been a favorite of mine, and we made time over the holidays to drop in again. This is one of these treasures that never changes and yet changes dramatically. Dressel's Public House bills itself as a Welsh pub and is located in the lively, youthful and eclectic Central West End. Dressel’s embodies everything that a good pub should be. It is family-friendly and social with a great beer selection and menu. Upon my first visit years ago I was struck by the following – newspapers all over the bar, busts of poets and composers, opera posters, an older gentleman behind the bar and a coziness reminiscent of an aristocrat’s library. I vaguely remember seeing a small TV tucked under the bar. In the 20 years or so since that first visit little has changed. I didn’t see any newspapers strewn about and saw no sign of a television. Some of the posters are in the same exact place. I am still inspired to grab a book and curl up in a corner with a cup of tea, coffee or a beer. On the other hand, the menu was like none I have seen in a true pub. The rarebit and the house-made potato chips remain, while everything else has changed – dramatically.
We were a group of eight and were seated immediately at mid-day on a holiday-weekend Saturday. We got one of the best seats in the house, right in the front window. The table sat the group with ease; nobody felt crowded. It was round, making conversation for our large group a rare treat. Our server, Sean, quickly dropped by with food and drink menus, gave us a few moments, returned and took our order. They had a cask ale on the hand pull, Arcadia’s Hop Mouth double IPA, making that an easy choice for a few of us. A bloody mary, some sodas and we were on our way. Sean quickly exhibited a great sense of humor and the rare ability to take drink and food orders by memory. We quickly added to the drinks with a few orders of the famous potato chips. After a few moments we added a pretzel and royster. The pretzel was gigantic, the size of a baguette and a great appetizer. The royster was simply a roasted oyster with kale and cornmeal – and it was awesome. And through all these mini-orders and all the back and forth, Sean was never flustered.
Moving on to the entrees… Sadly, they were out of poutine. I always have mixed feeling when I hear a restaurant is out of a dish. On one hand, I am bothered that they didn’t plan well and can’t provide their entire menu to all guests. On the other hand, I suppose they only run out because they make small amounts at a time and all guests fortunate enough to get some, get something relatively fresh and recently made. Either way, Sean dealt with it apologetically and with humor. Instead I went with a pub standard - fish and chips and they were excellent, made with a meaty white fish, likely cod, and served in just the right quantity. The steamed mussels were perfectly cooked, steamed in white wine with fennel and chorizo. The Porchetta Louie got a strong review too. Everyone at the table was very happy with their food.
Throughout Sean dropped by to make sure food was ok and drinks were replenished. He displayed a level of service rarely seen anymore. In fact, he was the key to making this trip to Dressel’s memorable. His quick wit, willingness to chat and banter and care for making sure we were all having a great time was most appreciated. Any good pub gains a reputation from its atmosphere and its service. Find the most popular pubs in the world’s big cities and you will find bartenders and servers that make the experience. In fact, many will be popular simply because of their staff. Simply put, it is the relationships that make the difference.
I think I first visited Dressel’s about 25 years ago, and I fell in love with its classic pub feel. It’s pub grub was homemade and delicious. The atmosphere is still the same, even though they have expanded and opened the kitchen to the front of house. The personalities have changed over the years, but the warmth and banter remains with new personalities. The food – well, that’s where the change has happened. There was nothing wrong with the pub grub, but now a true foodie can be pleased with locally and seasonally sourced ingredients, unique preparations and an all-around culinary experience. If it has been a while since you visited Dressel’s, come back. If you live in the area and haven’t been, make a B-line and have a great meal. If you are a visitor, put Dressel’s on your list. I think it will measure up to the very best British/Welsh/Irish/Scottish pubs you will find. And say hello to Sean.