Alumni St. Louis

St. Louis has a multitude of signature dishes associated with it. Alumni St. Louis, which opened earlier this year on the ground floor of the Park Pacific Building downtown, is putting its own unique spin on many of these favorites and elevating them--and the local dining scene--in the process.

St. Louis itself, not just its cuisine, is the focus of Alumni and the space is chockfull of Lou accoutrement, from the pics of local landmarks and celebrities on the walls to the St. Louis trivia cards on the tables to keep guests occupied. It's guaranteed you'll find something that'll spark a memory or two, and you might even learn something! The restaurant is a product of the Lawrence Group, the folks behind such projects as Triumph Grill and Hotel Ignacio, so it goes without saying the decor and design are sleek, subtle and very tastefully executed.

While the room is slick, it's more than equaled by Chef Eric Brenner's menu. We started off with a basket of Gus' Pretzels and Rarebit ($7). The pretzels were served piping hot as nature intended, and the rarebit was exemplary, made with some Schlafly Pale Ale to augment the tanginess of the four-cheese blend.

To follow that up, an order of Crab Rangoon ($9). Apparently this creamy delicacy was introduced at the 1904 World's Fair. Who knew? Instead of the usual fried dumplings filled with cream cheese and crab, the Alumni version is a crab dip with fried wontons served alongside. This edition had lots of crab and goes lighter on the cream cheese, so the flavor of the seafood comes forward. The slices of avocado on top were a nice touch.

‘The Hill’ House Side Salad ($6), was a lighter take on that classic, with tasty mixed greens providing the base and shaved parm replacing the usual thick curls of provel. The vinaigrette was also a touch milder than ‘normal,’ without as much bite, allowing the fresh greens to shine.

The Farmhouse Burger ($10) is a quality entry into the burgeoning local gourmet burger scene. It features a smashed and seared double patty, bacon, egg and cheese sauce barely contained between an English muffin. We got ours with a side of crispy zucchini fries.

While many of Alumni's offerings feature twists on traditional favorites, the Baked Mostaccioli ($13) was a straight-on recreation of this church-social favorite. Thick noodles, tons of melted provel, tomato sauce and two enormous meatballs made for a fine homage. This dish is guaranteed to stir up some nostalgia.

Once we saw a gooey butter option under the desserts, we looked no further. Alumni's Blueberry Gooey Buttercake ($5) strikes just the right balance between 'gooey' and 'cake,' no easy feat, and the blueberries don't take over flavor-wise. It was topped with a meringue cone filled with whipped cream, for a presentation as pretty as it was delicious.

Alumni is definitely a fine place to rediscover old favorites and find a few new ones.

--200 N. 13th St., 241-5888,

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