Sarah Crowder

Chef John Perkins has been making waves in the St. Louis culinary scene for a while with his Entre Underground pop-up dinner events and his catering prowess. Then he took a space in the historic Gaslight Square and revamped it for private events and also used it as home base for a series of month-long specialty restaurant concepts he put together. Late last year, he decided to forgo the monthly experiments and use the space to house an ongoing restaurant based on one of them, a successful Southern-influenced event. He called the new eatery Juniper; and it's a cozy, comforting platform for Perkins' unique takes on down-home specialties.

Inside, Juniper is a rustic wonderland, with plenty of raw brick and weathered woods. Seating is a mix of two- four- and six-tops, as well as some long community-type tables and, of course, the bar.

There are plenty of large-plate Main Attractions on the menu, like the Fried Chicken ($18). We've had another of Perkins' version of this dish before and can attest to its deliciousness. For our inaugural Juniper visit, though, we wanted to try as much as possible and spread our selections over some of the smaller plates listed under Snackies and Potted & Cured.

To start, the Bread Basket, truly is something to behold. There are five different breads in the full-sized basket ($9), or diners can choose the half-sized option like we did, which offers a choice of three for $5. We went with the angel biscuits, cornbread and the popover (the other options were buttermilk biscuits and hushpuppies). Texture on each bread was spot on--the biscuit was flaky, the cornbread dense and the popover delicately layered. Baking is one of the most difficult of the culinary arts to master, but Juniper makes it look easy.

We've noticed corn dogs popping up on menus around town recently, but Juniper's Andouille Corn Dogs ($6), are the best version of this dish we've had. These little bites of spicy southern sausage wrapped in sweet batter and served on a stick have tons of flavor in a tiny package.

Food doesn't get more comforting than the Pimento Mac 'N Cheese ($7), flavored with bits of bacon and topped with cornbread crumbs. This and some Old Grandad bourbon ($6) may be our new favorite pairing. We also grazed across plates of Fried Pickles ($8), which included chunk of caulifower and strips of sweet peppers ensconced in a crispy batter, and Smoked Trout and Country Ham Rillete ($8), potted meat at its finest, accented with tart pickled apples to cut through the fat.

To wrap things up, The Elvis ($8), a decadent slab of banana upside down cake with peanut butter, honey and a dollop of bacon-bourbon ice cream—truly fit for a king.

Juniper also has a small but well-curated cocktail list, broken down by flavor profiles for easy selection. Manhattan fans would do well to try the Scarlet O'Hara ($11), a bittersweet concoction of bourbon, Cynar and Aperol.

Kudos to Perkins and his crew for their fabulous food, and for taking a chance and helping revitalize a historic St. Louis neighborhood.

-- 360 N. Boyle Ave., 329-7696,

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