The thing people say about tattoos is that it's hard to stop with just one. One day you're on spring break in Panama City getting a dolphin inked on your ankle, and the next thing you know, you've got two full sleeves and a replica of the Last Supper on your back. It's fitting, then, that the Tattooed Dog, Wentzville's new "upscale dive grub" burger joint, also does not seem to know when to stop. Whereas tattoos are considered by many illustrated men and women to be addictive, the Tattooed Dog seems to be hooked on condiments. Want cheese? How about American? And Gorgonzola? And while you're at it, why not throw some garlic aioli and a farm egg on there? Depending on one's burger philosophy, this can be interpreted as either "decadent" or "too much of a good thing." I count myself in the latter camp.
Chef and owner Josh Lemmon reimagined his successful Burger, INK food truck as a brick-and-mortar eatery, and the colorful vehicle is moored in the parking lot awaiting a buyer. It's an odd location for a new restaurant — its neighbors are a biker bar, an old motel and a cemetery. The interior of the restaurant is sparsely appointed, save for a mural of its menu and some local music-themed artwork. The restaurant is still waiting for its liquor license, but it's certainly not waiting for customers — I found it packed on both weekday and weekend nights.
The proper utensil for many of the appetizers is a tortilla chip. The "pico fromage" is a blend of white American, Provel and mozzarella cheeses, spinach, and pico de gallo. It reminded me of a dip you would bring in a Crock-Pot to a Super Bowl party, and without some spice to cut through the rich cheese, it was difficult to eat more than a few bites. The pork verde bowl has hunks of tender pork simmered with mild, tangy green chiles, but it was done the disservice of being covered by a layer of what seemed like nacho cheese and jalapeños. I would order it plain next time.
The Tattooed Dog offers four different types of loaded housemade fries. I opted for the classic chili-cheese version. Lemmon's chili is rich, beefy, a little sweet and the perfect texture for topping fries. It was covered — again — with a generous helping of cheddar-cheese sauce, making this a fork-necessary dish.
Even a salad at the Tattooed Dog comes with fried cheese. The baby arugula and fruit salad was topped with sliced strawberries and three mild, warm goat cheese fritters. Still, the fresh greens, berries and bright blueberry citrus vinaigrette imbued my meal with some much needed refreshment.
Lemmon may have started out doing burgers, but he has expanded his sandwich repertoire at the Tattooed Dog. The herb-crusted pork sandwich is made from roasted Berkshire pork cutlets, crisp housemade bacon, arugula and roasted garlic aioli, made even more delicious by the fact that it's served on fresh, crusty French bread. I was less impressed with the "Philly" — the menu described the meat as thinly sliced roast beef, but it tasted more like very salty, blackened steak tips. The sandwich was slathered with an equally salty horseradish crème that comingled with melted Provel cheese to form a sort of goo. It was finished with overly seasoned peppers and onions, and stuffed into a hoagie roll. It was one of those dishes that makes you wake up parched in the middle of the night.
The Tattooed Dog's hot chicken pancake is a take on the chicken-and-waffles trend. Lemmon's fried chicken — unfortunately overcooked and tough — is coated in mildly hot pepper aioli, topped with melted cheddar cheese and sandwiched between two apple pancakes. Flavor-wise, it was spot-on. The sweet apples and malty pancake perfectly countered the aioli's spice. Texture-wise, though, it was a bit of a mess. The pancakes were light and delicate, and when combined with crunchy fried chicken and sticky cheese, it broke apart, leaving me with a platter of crumbs.
Burgers at the Tattooed Dog are fresh, thick, well-seasoned and juicy. Servers do not take a temperature, asking simply, "Pink or no pink?" They are good enough to stand alone without a bunch of toppings (there's one like that on the menu called "Boring"), but I suppose the dog wouldn't be tattooed if that were the case. The "Dubliner" style is covered in Guinness-braised white onions, white American cheese, roasted garlic aioli and spring mix, and it's served on a malty pretzel roll. It was an indulgent, multi-napkin affair. The "Benedicto" was basically a hearty breakfast served on top of a burger: a fried egg, three strips of bacon, American cheese, the ubiquitous garlic aioli and spring mix. This was the one burger we tried where the taste of the beef was able to shine through the best. I was skeptical about the "Perzola" — poached pear on a burger just sounded odd. However, it was my favorite of the three that I tried. The poached pear was balanced with funky Gorgonzola cream sauce and finished with mixed greens and some (unnecessary) white cheddar, giving the burger an interesting balance of sweetness and earth.
For diners who do not feel that they have done enough damage with the savory offerings, the Tattooed Dog's dessert menu includes its signature blueberry roll-up. It's a blueberry cheesecake wrapped in a tortilla and deep fried. Lemmon tops it with vanilla ice cream and some housemade granola. Like the rest of my meal, it was shamefully good, if not a little too much.
Lemmon shows he has many tricks up his tattooed sleeve, but he's at his best when he reins himself in a bit. It may take only a half hour to eat a meal at the Tattooed Dog, but the guilt — that's forever.
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