Fun food in a fun place is a quick way to describe The Fountain on Locust. Opened a couple of years ago, the midtown diner near Saint Louis University is a hopping throwback to soda fountain days, serving made-from-scratch designer salads, sandwiches and starters. Here, toppings like pesto, salad dressings and sandwich spreads do not come from bottles and cans.
In addition to that culinary throwback to the days when pretty much everything was made from scratch, the decor is also retro. Brightly painted ceilings and walls have an art deco ambience, and the seating includes church-pew type wooden booths. It has a large soda fountain bar where the restaurant’s piéce de resistance, ice cream, is concocted into tempting treats, alcoholic and non.
Of the small list of starters we had mushroom
bruschetta ($7.59) and the Symphony Platter ($6.59). The bruschetta was thick French bread slices lined up on a plate and slathered with button mushrooms sautéed with butter and garlic. A few strips of roasted red pepper garnished the tasty and satisfying dish. The Symphony Platter was garlic cheese bread topped with very good house-made pesto. Here, the bread was more foccaccia-style, crusty, deliciously oiled, and grilled on the bottom. Mozzarella was liberally melted on top, and the pesto’s basil/walnut/garlic flavors stood up well to the thick cheese.
The ‘entree’ menu offers a mix-and-match option. With about 10 interesting sandwiches, three homemade soups and six salads, you can pair a half-sandwich with a cup of soup or a half-order of salad for roughly $7.29. The sandwiches run the gamut from egg salad on whole-grain bread with spinach leaves, to roast beef with goat cheese and basil, or ham on ciabatta with orange/cranberry/walnut cheese spread. Prices are $7 to $8 per large sandwich.
We tasted several offerings, starting with the Royal Grille ($7.79), a grilled cheese sandwich for grown-ups. The man-sized sandwich oozed with white cheddar and mozzarella on cranberry wheat bread. Slivers of Fuji apple added some texture, while a sweet marmalade spread on the bread made it very sweet. An accompanying side of Stutz salad was quite nice, consisting of tender spinach leaves, chopped walnuts, feta and sweet mandarin oranges. The dressing was very light made from light cream/sour cream and marmalade.
The Number 7 ($8.79) was a bit heartier. The all-vegetable sandwich was served open-face, with toasted focaccia piled high with fresh tomato cubes, chopped spinach, minced artichoke hearts, goat cheese and that wonderful pesto. The combination was tasty, a little tart from the artichokes, a little sweet from the tomatoes, and a little creamy thanks to the cheese. It came with choice of soup, and we opted for the day’s special, creamed spinach tortellini. For a creamy soup it was unexpectedly thin, but not in a bad way. It had very light cream and lots of veggies and cheese tortellini. It had the slightest bite to it, and was a little over-salted, but with a nice blend of flavors.
Now we come to The Fountain’s raison d’etre: the fountain treats. The ice cream is brought in from a dairy in Wisconsin, and according the restaurant’s menu, it is the freshest and finest. Not only that, but The Fountain makes its own sauces—hot fudge, raspberry, caramel, marshmallow, etc.—from scratch. Now that’s a lot of build-up, but we were not disappointed. The Bearcat ($7) had hot fudge and caramel sauces melting over big scoops of vanilla and butter pecan ice cream. It all ran together in a wonderfully sweet and creamy mess. I will say, though, they could go a lot lighter on the whipped cream. A single-scoop marshmallow sundae over coffee ice cream ($3.60) was excellent. The ice cream was dark and full-bean flavored, and you could taste the freshness in that marshmallow sauce.
This place is part blast-from-the-past, part gourmet deli. It has a wonderful, lively vibe, due in no small part to the colorful walls and ceiling, and of course, the omnipresence of ice cream, which simply brings out the kid in everyone.