Delta Force: The Wedge is a tavern, through and through — but the pizzas take bar food to another level

The Wedge

442 Bates Street; 314-351-1200.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Wed., 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Thu.-Sat. (Bar open till midnight Sun., 1:30 a.m. Mon.-Wed.)

RFT Slide Show

View a slide show of photos from new south city tavern the Wedge.

The Wedge
Meatball sandwich...$7.95
"Tasty, Tasty Murder" pizza (9-inch)
$9.95 "Stinky Pizza"(16-inch)...$16.95

A list of all the awful foods I've eaten while smashed could fill twice the space I'm allotted here. Sometimes the damage is self-inflicted. Beer-soaked grad-school nights often ended with a microwaved concoction I dubbed the Nachos of Death. I'll spare you a detailed description. The microwave in question belonged to my girlfriend: She did agree to marry me — though not until several years after the nachos' final appearance.

But usually I just grab whatever's available. Available and hot is preferable, but I'm not picky. I bet many of you are the same. Fast food, greasy spoons and pizza. Especially pizza.

(When I lived in England, my drunk ass was saved many times by Indian and Pakistani restaurants that remained open long after the pubs went dark. A searing-hot lamb vindaloo not only soaks up the booze, it also clears your head enough to prevent any international drunk dials. Would St. Louis support a late-night curry shop? I pledge to do my part.)

Sometimes you get lucky, and the bar where you're imbibing serves food. I'm talking about bars, of course, not food-focused gastropubs. The darker, smokier and louder, the better.

Sometimes you get really lucky, and the food is actually good.

The Wedge is a bar. Though it opened only three months ago, it's a renovation of an old corner tavern and evokes the timeless feel of a neighborhood watering hole. Stop in for lunch ,and you're likely to see someone ordering a shot. Employees hang around the bar, smoking, playing the bar-top video games and shooting the shit. The female bartenders aren't afraid to work what God gave 'em. One wore a sheer black top that left so little to the imagination that I might have been in Alton.

The space is narrow, with seating for two to three dozen at tables and booths around the bar. (The Iggy Ziggy room upstairs is used for live music.) Photographs adorn the walls, many depicting rock & roll bad boys like the Sex Pistols. It wasn't crowded when I visited, so I can't comment on the noise level, but I did notice the cigarette smoke. Those who object should know that there isn't any escape.

The Wedge's name is a reference to its location, the tiny triangle of land formed at the intersection of Bates Street and East Virginia and South Compton avenues. You could also take it as a reference to pizza, the menu's focus. Blake Brokaw, of the late Hungry Buddha and Tangerine, served as a consulting chef on that menu, which helps to explain why the pizzas have more flair than you'd expect from a corner tavern.

Those pizzas are available as nine- or sixteen-inch pies, with the smaller size being the right size for one hungry diner. Each is baked in a brick oven and features a very, very thin crust — not St. Louis-style cracker-thin, but thinner than New York-style. The menu includes a detailed description about the making of this crust — it ferments overnight and is then allowed to rise twice — but for all that it isn't especially distinctive. It does possess just enough body to support and provide textural contrast to the toppings.

You can build your own pizza, but I opted for the Wedge's own combinations. These range from a simple pizza margherita to the aptly named "Stinky Pizza." This combines fontina, Gorgonzola, Taleggio and goat cheese with a touch of roasted garlic to make one pungent pie. Seriously: I ordered one to go, and even though it was in my car for all of ten minutes, I could still smell it the next day. So, yes, it's stinky, but it's delicious, too, with the relatively mild fontina serving as a backbone for the small but punchy bites of the stronger cheeses.

The "French Connection" pizza is much more restrained: shaved fennel, goat cheese and a simple, herb-heavy tomato sauce. Fennel's distinctive anise flavor rounds out the savory-sweet sauce, while the goat cheese provides a strong, but not overwhelming, counterpoint.

Carnivores will want to try the "Tasty, Tasty Murder." Whether the homicidal reference pertains to the pig that gave its life to provide the pizza's combination of pepperoni, pancetta and housemade salsiccia, or to how all that meat will clog your arteries, I was disappointed by the modest amount of each atop the pie. Still, those meats are tasty, especially the crumbles of spicy-sweet salsiccia. (And it's pretty cool to have a receipt that reads "9 inch MURDER.")

Like the "Stinky," the "Hot Hot Pizza" lives up to its name, thanks to powerful, fresh red chiles. Those chiles command your attention, but not so much that you can't enjoy the other toppings: pepperoni, mozzarella and provolone, marinated tomatoes, and very good smoked-tomato sauce.

Besides pizzas, the menu lists a brief selection of calzones and oven-baked sandwiches. I was very impressed by the calzone with salsiccia, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions and mozzarella. The crust is slightly thicker than the pizza crust and baked to a beautiful golden-brown. Though the interior ingredients are a standard combination, it's a winning one, with the housemade sausage again the standout.

The meatball sandwich features plump, tender ground beef lightly sauced and topped with mozzarella and provolone on bread brushed with garlic butter. The meatballs would have benefitted from a touch more seasoning, but on the whole this was a good sandwich; I especially liked that the sandwich wasn't swimming in bad tomato sauce the way so many do.

Appetizers run the typical bar-food gamut: onion rings, hot wings, fried calamari. The onion rings were disappointing, not very crisp and lacking a strong onion flavor. Their accompanying "Cajun aioli" added bite.

Also typical is the beer selection. In accordance with South City Hipster bylaw 1.32(d), Stag is available in cans.

I was tempted, but I knew it would lead to me rifling through my cupboards at three in the morning, trying to find enough chili powder to make the Nachos of Death.

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