Upside Down Drumstick from Matthew's Kitchen

Lately, there has been a proliferation of chefs doing their takes on comfort foods around town, those dishes that remind us of the favorite flavors of childhood. One of the latest—and in our opinion one of the best—is chef Mathew Unger, who recently opened Mathew’s Kitchen in South City, setting up shop in the space that was the long-time home of Del Pietro’s Ristorante.

Unger, the former executive chef at Missouri Athletic Club West, has put together a menu he refers to as comfort food with a twist—the twist being a focus on quality ingredients and a creative spin on preparation.

For starters, we had the Cheese and Crackers ($8) and the little version of the Seafood Gumbo ($5). An entree-sized edition also is available under the Out Of The Pan section of the menu ($18). The cheese and crackers were actually a warm pile of toasted bread, served alongside a cast-iron pan of baked goat cheese in a tomato basil sauce. It made for a savory, playful take on a favorite after-school snack. The gumbo was a faithful recreation of the NOLA standard, chockfull of shrimp, crab and andouille sausage served over rice. Some gumbos we’ve tasted locally remind us more of a soup than a proper gumbo, but Unger’s edition was made with a thick, flavorful roux as it was intended.

The fresh fish special during our visit was Popcorn Scallops ($15), a plateful of tiny scallops fried in a light tempura batter, scattered over a bed of flash-fried spinach. This was our first experience tasting this mini variety of scallop, as well as the first time we’d had scallops fried. One of the things we love about scallops is the fresh, sweet taste, and we weren’t sure how they’d stand up to the fryer. We were pleased that the cooking method didn’t adversely impact the mild taste of the fish one bit, and the batter stayed nice and crisp. We’d love to see a small version offered as an appetizer.

Whenever we come across meatloaf on a menu, we have to give it a try, so when we saw that Mathew’s Kitchen had one ($14), that was all we needed to see. It came wrapped in bacon (always a plus!) with boursin potatoes and green beans. The sauce on top was similar to a sweet BBQ sauce, reminiscent of the ketchup and brown sugar sauce mom used to make.

We topped off by sharing an Upside Down Drumstick ($5). This spin on one of our favorite childhood treats had the familiar topping of peanuts and caramel plated next to the inverted ice cream and sugar cone. Unlike the ones we used to buy from the ice cream truck, this drumstick was more than enough for two to share.

Not only were the dishes we tasted at Mathew’s Kitchen the epitome of comfort food, but the prices were really reasonable. Unger also is a certified sommelier, a rarity in these parts, and the restaurant has a solid list of California wines he’s chosen, all of which pair nicely with the menu offerings. The service also was exceptional, with everyone from the hostess to our server to the chef himself making sure our experience was top-notch.

If you have a hankering for some comforting tastes, we suggest heading to Mathew’s Kitchen.

More Food & Dining articles.