The Stable is sure to be the destination for beer connoisseurs in St. Louis — if it isn't already. Here you'll find two dozen beers on tap, many of which you would be hard-pressed to find on draft or even in bottled form at any other area bar. Nothing on tap strikes your fancy? The Stable's list of bottled beer is lengthy, and it's curated with the sort of care that the average restaurant doesn't offer its wine list.
The draft selection runs the gamut from hoppy (Bell's Two Hearted IPA) to rich (Old Rasputin Stout), from local favorites like Schlafly and O'Fallon to beers that will push back against your assumptions about what a beer should taste like. I, for one, spent an evening wondering whether I liked the sour Duchesse de Bourgogne, from Belgium, or merely appreciated it.
(Not a beer snob? Don't worry. PBR, Stag and even Mickey's malt liquor are available.)
The only drawback to the Stable's beer list is trying to locate it, especially if you aren't sitting at the bar itself, where you can at least browse the tap handles. The current draft selections are written on a chalkboard, but with two dozen names crammed together, I found this impossible to read from afar. A printed list of both draft and bottled beers is available, but there appears to be only a few copies of this to cover a very large area.
The space, as the restaurant's name suggests, occupies the former stables of the Lemp brewery. Its transformation by partners Jesse Jones (of Grafton's Rotten Apple restaurant and bar), Mark Naski, Paul Pointer and Aaron Whalen (formerly chef of Bastante) has retained a historical charm, with antique bric-a-brac decorating the walls and such striking fixtures as a massive chandelier above the bar and a large fireplace.
There is a single, big dining room. The bar is located at the back. Adjacent to the dining room is an area that isn't quite a patio — it has a roof and four walls — but with iron grating in place of windows, it isn't quite another dining room, either. On one visit I was offered the option of sitting "outside"; another time this area appeared to be closed for a private party.
Back inside the main room, you'll likely notice the brewing and distilling equipment tucked behind glass between the bar and a small stage. The Stable plans to sell its own beer and spirits, though as of my visits, these weren't yet available.
The Stable calls itself an "eatzzeria." This translates into a menu heavy on pizzas and sandwiches, with a few appetizers and pasta options. As a complement to an evening's beer drinking, the menu works well. On its own merits, it's less compelling.
Here the sandwiches are called "grinders." This isn't a specific description so much as a regional variation in nomenclature — think sub, hoagie and so on. The steak grinder brings several sizable hunks of steak tucked into crusty French bread and topped with mozzarella. The steak is cooked to order, and at medium-rare mine was reasonably tender, given the $9.95 price. But the sandwich was difficult to eat as a sandwich: The steak wasn't quite tender enough to give as easily as the bread and cheese.
I fared better with the "Cajun" grinder: shrimp and andouille sausage in a spicy tomato sauce, topped with mozzarella. The shrimp were plump and perfectly cooked. While the sauce did carry some heat, it didn't overwhelm the flavor of either the shrimp or the sausage. A tasty sandwich.
The "burger grinders" are more akin to loose-meat sandwiches than traditional burgers. Loose-meat sandwiches succeed or fail on the quality of the meat. The Stable's ground beef is much too lean, relying on the grinders' accompanying sauces, rather than its own fat, for moisture. The menu itself hints at the result, describing the "lean steak burger" as "cooked till crumbled."
I sampled two of these burger grinders. The "Spicy Joe" featured ground beef, chopped onion and peppers in a moderately hot sauce. The "Basic Bleu" topped the ground beef with sliced jalapeños and Gorgonzola cheese. In both cases the meat lacked flavor, and the sandwich had to rely on its toppings. The "Basic Bleu" fared better in this regard. The Gorgonzola's funk contrasted nicely with the jalapeños' heat. On the other hand, the sauce in the "Spicy Joe" wasn't interesting enough to carry the dish.
Pizza is available as an eight-inch "personal" pizza for lunch and a sixteen-inch pie for dinner. You can build your own or choose from a selection of specialty combos. A few of the latter struck me as more interesting than appetizing. The "Potato Pie," for example, features ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, ground beef, cheddar cheese, onion and Tater Tots. ('Nuff said?)
I opted for the "Carbonara" pizza, which features olive oil, garlic, bacon, prosciutto and mozzarella. What I received, I realized a couple of bites into the first slice, was the jerk-chicken pizza. This includes chicken in a rather mild jerk seasoning, bacon and mozzarella atop a strikingly sweet pepper sauce. The crust — hand-tossed using dough from Vitale's Bakery, on the Hill, according to the menu — was the best part, thin but imbued with a definite chew.
Appetizers are beer-friendly. Oven-roasted dates wrapped in bacon are as compulsively snackable as potato chips. A dip of artichoke hearts and roasted fava beans blended with goat, cream and mozzarella cheeses, the surface given a light brown broiling, is rich and tangy. One salad is available, served family-style: mixed greens (though mostly of a pale variety when I had it) with red onion, red pepper, artichoke hearts, olive, white beans and salami in a lemon vinaigrette.
Service is hit-or-miss. I found my servers to be friendly and, crucially, well studied in the beer list. But long waits between my servers' visits, especially when waiting for drinks, were routine, despite the fact that the restaurant wasn't busy during any of the meals I ate there.
Most telling, I believe, is that my favorite visit to the Stable came when I went only to sit at the bar and try a couple of beers. I happened to be sitting next to two out-of-towners who make it a point to sample other cities' beer selections when traveling on business, and we fell into an easy, casual conversation about beer — both those we were trying that evening and in general.
I have no doubt the Stable will prosper as a bar. And as a restaurant, it provides exactly the sort of food that we ordinarily associate with beer: pizza, burgers, shared appetizers. But the Stable's beer selection isn't ordinary — hence the connoisseurs' excitement — and I can't help but think that the restaurant has an opportunity to double down on its unique qualities by featuring more interesting cuisine to complement the more interesting brews.
That would be something gourmands and hopheads alike could raise a glass to.