Elyse Petite Sirah Port

Sidney Street Café, 2000 Sidney Street, 314-771-5777.

Take your Central West Ends, people, and shove 'em. Downtown restaurants: Go suck an egg. You taste like dirt. U. City? They couldn't make a dirty martini to save their charred souls. Clayton serves sawdust, Brentwood's for tourists, South Grand is for weirdoes who eat funny-tasting food. Lafayette Square is too big for its britches; Webster and Kirkwood eat alfalfa paste and drink low-carb beer. West county, shmest shmounty. And Soulard?

Soulard's OK because it's so close to Benton Park.

We've got it going on over here, losers. Ten years ago we Benton Parkonites were nothing. Sure, we had a few decent joints, but we were basically Soulard's vomitorium during Mardi Gras. Now we're as shiny and sparkly as the cars that line Sidney Street every night. We're clean, well lighted and, um, humble. Sure, a few of our lesser blocks still shill crack, but it's the finest crack.

Niche. Truemans, Frazer's. Yemanja Brazil. Venice Café, the dozens of Cherokee taquerias (OK, not officially Benton Park — but we hereby claim that land as ours!), the new Blues City Deli, Hodak's for the fried chicken! Not a clunker in the bunch, and a pretty good slugging percentage, to boot.

And our Pujols?

The Sidney Street Café, of course. The Victorian gem at the corner of Sidney and McNair stuffed many a Republican belly through the '80s and '90s. Patrons walked fur-lined sidewalks into the building, where the restaurant served them choice cuts of beef, velvet potatoes and buttery pudding. It was a great place to get fat.

Last year, however, the Sidney Street Café changed hands. A couple brothers, Kevin and Chris Nashan, bought the storied restaurant. The locals were worried. What would become of the cuisine? What of the wine list? The answers became readily apparent: The food got even better, and the wine list maintained its excellence.

On a Thursday night, we leave our house at 7:43 p.m. By 7:47 we're sitting at the bar and have a glass of Carl Graff Riesling 2004 in front of us. Soon thereafter, we're eating a simple dinner salad done right, chomping some mouth-melting beignets. We zip through some outstanding asparagus-and-morel risotto in world-record time. Then we get some carrot cake.

Usually we like chocolate with our port. But this 2003 Elyse Petite Sirah Port, from California's Russian River Valley, works with a nice piece of cake as well. It's a soft, seamless dessert wine, sweet without being slutty. It coddles the buds with overripe blueberry and melted dark chocolate.

Like most good ports, it makes you feel a little overindulgent, like maybe you should rein it in a bit and stop being such a loudmouth. But it's so nice to feel spoiled, to roll around in the rose petals of good fortune, to live like you deserve the rewards headed your way. After all, we used to suck. Now we don't. Let's hope it lasts.

 
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