By Tara Mahadevan
By Ian Froeb
By Ian Froeb
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Gut Check
By Ian Froeb
By Ian Froeb
By Gut Check Guides
On a page halfway through the menu at Pujols 5 Westport Grill after the appetizers, salads large and small, soups, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and a few entrées, but before the pasta, ribs, even more appetizers, seafood, steaks and dessert there are "Albert & Dee Dee's Favorites."
342 Westport Plaza
Maryland Heights, MO 63146
Region: Maryland Heights
Chicken wings $7.95
BBQ chicken pizza $9.95
Arroz con pollo $12.50
Flatiron steak $14.95
What do the Cards slugger and his wife like to eat? Chicken. There are chicken flautas, chicken wings, arroz con pollo and applewood-smoked chicken. Filling out the brief list are a grilled pork chop in a pineapple glaze and, for dessert, crème brûlée.
I was grateful for the guidance. On my first visit to Pujols 5, I'd sat at the bar and ordered a cup of chili and a burger, in part because I thought these a decent test for the kitchen, in part because I was flummoxed by how many choices I had. I hadn't noticed "Albert & Dee Dee's Favorites."
The "White Bean Chili" needed more heat and more heat. It was served to me at room temperature and quickly cooled. Both the Spanish chorizo in it and the dollop of "spiced jalapeño cream" atop it were mild to the point of irrelevance. The only flavor was run-of-the-mill chili powder. Besides, of course, the temperature issue, the flaw was the chorizo. An ingredient of the gods, to be sure, here it had been crumbled or chopped into granules of nothingness.
The burger was better than the chili but didn't distinguish itself from the burgers at every other bar-and-grill in town. I tried the "Burger Blue": crumbled blue cheese, applewood-smoked bacon and a tangy barbecue sauce splashed with bourbon. These extras were all fine, the barbecue sauce especially so, but the burger was just OK, juicy and nicely charred, but not very flavorful. I'd ordered it medium, but it was medium-well leaning toward well-done. The menu states, "All burgers are cooked medium or well done." An ambiguous claim, I think.
So I left that first visit unimpressed, worried that Pujols 5 was going to be another quick-buck "celebrity-owned" restaurant.
I should have just turned the menu page.
The chicken flautas (chicken rolled inside a tortilla, then fried until crisp) were good, though I wanted more zip from the pico de gallo and guacamole that accompanied them. The fresh-made guacamole tasted mostly of avocado.
The chicken wings, on the other hand, were outstanding. These will grab your attention even before you eat one: They're served whole. And I don't just mean the drumettes and middle joints are attached to each other. I mean you even get the wingtips. The tips don't have much meat, of course, but each morsel of crisped skin is a guilty pleasure. Pujols' favorite wings aren't Buffalo-style (though those are available). These wings are dusted with jerk seasoning, grilled and served with a pineapple-and-jalapeño chutney that's sweet enough not to be too hot and hot enough not to be too sweet.
Arroz con pollo isn't impressive on the plate. In truth, it's downright quaint: on one side, chicken in sauce; on the other, Mexican-style rice. But it was one of the more satisfying dishes I've had recently. It tasted homemade: Any restaurant tricks that went into it blended seamlessly into the peppery, slightly sweet sauce. I didn't have to think about it, just enjoy.
I wanted to work my way through the rest of "Albert & Dee Dee's Favorites." But as I said, there were all those other categories I had to consider. That's the dilemma sports-celebrity restaurants and their patrons face. It's an illusion: "Famous Athlete loves steaks. You love steaks. Come have a steak at Famous Athlete's Steaks." When the illusion works as it does, say, at Mike Shannon's Steaks and Seafood you get a restaurant that's reliably good, occasionally very good and always fun. But safe. When it doesn't work, it feels like a cynical cash-grab.
Pujols 5 co-owner Pat Hanon Sr., whose Hanon Management Group has owned several area restaurants (including Patrick's, whose location at Westport Plaza Pujols 5 has taken over), and executive chef Greg Maggi, who mostly recently ran the kitchen at the Zodiac Room at Neiman-Marcus in Plaza Frontenac, seem to be aiming for the Mike Shannon's model, though it feels more like a bar-and-grill with ambitions than a steak house proper.
Maggi does offer a few higher-end dishes: pan-seared scallops atop a white-truffle risotto; grilled ahi tuna with a sun-dried tomato and kalamata olive relish. The latter relied too heavily on the saltiness of the olives, which drowned the lighter, fresher flavors of the rare tuna. Additionally, it was too much of a good thing: You can only eat so much nearly rare tuna.
But for the most part Maggi takes safe, satisfying bar-and-grill food and presents it well, and sometimes, as in the case of Albert & Dee Dee's favorite chicken wings, with an enjoyable twist. One of the best dishes I tried was a barbecue-chicken pizza. I don't particularly like barbecue-chicken pizza; the sauce is usually too sweet, the meat dry, the cheese an afterthought. But here the sauce was the same excellent bourbon barbecue sauce that came with my burger, the chunks of chicken were large and tender, and big slices of fresh red onion provided a punch of flavor.
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