You wouldn’t expect to find a white tablecloth restaurant after walking through a campus food service area, but that’s exactly what Ibby’s in the new Washington University Danforth Center is.
The intimate little gem (open to the public), named for the longtime former Chancellor’s wife (Elizabeth Gray Danforth), is a gourmet delight. The food is remarkably good, and although the menu is small, you can duck in for a Mediterranean platter of hummus, caponata and feta, or dine on herbed strip steak.
The decor is charming, with contemporary high-back seats and tufted booths. There are only about 16 tables, so call for a reservation (we were turned away once). The first indication that we were in for a treat came with the breadbasket. The homemade chive-cheese biscuits and crusty French bread inside were superb.
Of the four salads offered, we had one of mixed lettuces with dried cherries, candied pecans and Maytag bleu cheese tossed with maple vinaigrette ($7). It was stellar, very fresh and a good combination. The dressing was sweet, but not overly so. The portion, however, was not huge.
There are a handful of small plates, and we sampled calamari ($8.25) and Mediterranean platter ($8). The former had a delicious tempura-like coating and came with two dipping sauces: cocktail and lemon aioli, both good. Also on the plate were paper-thin sweet potato disks that had been fried in the same batter, a nice touch.
The Mediterranean platter was very good, with tiny portions of several palate teasers. There was a small scoop each of hummus and caponata, some cubes of feta, a few exotic jumbo olives, some marinated mushrooms and grilled pita wedges. Except for the pita, everything was quite good and together could make up a light meal. The pita had been charred on an open grill, giving it a burnt taste that overwhelmed the delicate flavors.
There are three sandwiches offered: sirloin and caramelized onions on a baguette, grilled chicken burger and grilled salmon on rye ($12), our pick. A hearty sandwich, it had layers of flaky and very fresh salmon, sliced avocadoes, horseradish-Dijon spread and ‘tomato jam,’ a kind of homemade relish. It was quite good and came with house-made sweet potato chips.
From the five entrées, we had potato gnocchi with grilled chicken ($16), pecan-crusted Missouri trout ($18) and herb-crusted strip loin ($24). The gnocchi was divine: soft, chewy dumplings tossed with white-meat chicken cubes, fresh broccoli, well-browned local mushrooms and rich parmesan cream. There was also a hint of roasted garlic, used judiciously.
The trout, filleted, was dusted with crushed pecans and served with a generous mound of butternut squash risotto. The menu listed ‘brown butter sage sauce, which I think was mostly on the risotto, as it was noticeably buttery, maybe too much so. Some broccolini on the plate added color and extra panache as a more upscale alternative to broccoli.
The steak, a strip loin, was big and delicious. Its crumbly herb coating added flavor without being overpowering (like crushed black pepper can be). The accompanying potatoes au gratin laced with caramelized shallots was very buttery, in a good way. I think red meat cries out for creamy sides. Steamed broccolini came on this plate too.
Of the five dessert choices, we had sweet potato pound cake ($5) and lime sorbet, homemade ($2.50). The cake was a mini-bundt serving with a dollop of excellent vanilla ice cream in the center and ‘caramel sauce’ on top. The cake, buttery as expected, was dense and good. It had a thick layer of caramel icing (I guess that was the sauce?), which I found too thick and sugary, and removed. The sorbet was icy and good, and intensely lime-flavored.
Ibby’s is quite a little well-kept secret. Open to students and the community at large, it’s simply too good to pass up. It has a pleasant, ivory-tower ambience, and the food is top-notch. A+!
Cheddar Drop Biscuits from Ibby’s
Executive Chef Justin Keimon says this recipe makes about three dozen biscuits if each one is measured with a 2-oz scoop.
2 pounds flour
½ cup sugar
1/4 cup baking powder
¾ tbsp salt
½ cup cheddar cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese
3 oz butter, melted
½ cup canola oil
2 ¼ cups milk
1 green onion, chopped
1. Weigh out and measure all ingredients. Melt butter.
2. Mix milk, flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a bowl.
3. Add in the oil and melted butter and gently mix.
4. Add cheese and green onion.
5. Mix in the butter until just incorporated.
6. Let rest one hour.
7. Shape into desired size and bake at 375 until done.