Review: Midtown's Latte Lounge Serves Thrilling Brunch Fare

The breakfast and lunch spot is a welcome addition to St. Louis' daytime dining scene

Sep 1, 2022 at 6:00 am

click to enlarge Latte Lounge serves delicious daytime fare, including latte flights, breakfast samplers, avocado toast, shrimp and grits, pizzas and red velvet waffles.
Mabel Suen
Latte Lounge serves delicious daytime fare, including latte flights, breakfast samplers, avocado toast, shrimp and grits, pizzas and red velvet waffles.

Nyshaun Harvey was tired of giving Howard Schultz her money. After developing debilitating migraines at the age of 14 following the death of her father, Harvey could only find relief in one thing: caffeine. It led to a Starbucks addiction that saw her visiting the coffee chain multiple times a week to drop some serious cash.

Over time, Harvey began to wonder whether or not there was a better option. Instead of shelling out money to a multinational corporation, surely she could find a way to take her funds and invest in her community. After a brief stint in college led her to realize she wanted to carve out her own path, she decided to open a small daycare in a Florissant strip mall. She loved her work, but when a storefront a few doors down from her childcare center became available, she decided it was time to take the leap and finally follow her coffee dreams.

That coffee shop, Latte Lounge, opened in November of 2020 as a small neighborhood cafe serving a variety of coffee drinks, latte flights and a modest menu of baked goods. It was an instant success, thanks to the cafe's signature Side by Side lattes, which allow guests to pair two different coffee drinks in one divided cup. North-county coffee lovers took notice; so did her stepdad, Larry Green, a business owner who operated a construction company and special events venue on Washington Boulevard in Midtown. Green was so impressed with Harvey's ideas that when the massive restaurant space next to his venue came up for lease, he asked her if she'd be interested in expanding her concept to include a full-service restaurant.

click to enlarge Co-owners Larry Green and Nyshaun Harvey.
Mabel Suen
Co-owners Larry Green and Nyshaun Harvey.

Their joint venture, the flagship Latte Lounge (2617 Washington Avenue, 314-833-3087), opened November of last year in the sprawling, loft-like space just west of Jefferson Avenue on the eastern edge of Midtown. From the outside, the restaurant looks like an average, small downtown loft building. Once you step inside, however, the atmosphere takes your breath away. The space is massive with a soaring, multistory-high ceiling and black-metal-paned windows that make up two entire walls. Banquettes line the interior perimeter, and a large, open kitchen takes up the middle of the room. A large bar, whimsically surrounded by swings, occupies the left side of the space. Charcoal gray, tan leather, shades of blush and feathers create an elegant but comfortable aesthetic that softens the loft's industrial feel.

It's a gorgeous setting made even more special by what comes out of the kitchen. Inspired by Green and executed by head chef John Pointdexter, Latte Lounge's brunch fare is flawless in execution. Chicken and waffles, for instance, pair breaded chicken tenders with outstanding, miniature Belgian waffles that have a crispy golden exterior that yields to a soft inside. In place of the usual maple syrup, the dish is lightly drizzled with hot honey; sweet without being overbearing, tingly without over-the-top spice, it's an ideal condiment that brings together the chicken and waffles' sweet and savory flavors.

Biscuits and gravy, too, are the quintessence of the form. Two flaky biscuits are smothered in peppery sausage gravy; its richness skirts the edge of decadence without crossing over into it. Hunks of mild breakfast sausage fleck the creamy sauce, which is enriched with the yolk of two over easy eggs. A side of breakfast peppers accompanies the biscuits and gravy; beautifully seasoned and studded with bell peppers, it adds a pop of spice that balances the dish.

click to enlarge Avocado toast features whole grain bread, smashed avocados, strawberries, pomegranate arils, hemp seeds and sea salt.
Mabel Suen
Avocado toast features whole grain bread, smashed avocados, strawberries, pomegranate arils, hemp seeds and sea salt.

That balance is also present on the avocado toast. Here, two slices of rustic, whole-grain bread are griddled and topped with creamy avocado mash and thinly sliced strawberries. What turns it from good to great, however, are the pomegranate arils that are liberally sprinkled atop the toast. The combination of their tartness with the rich, smashed avocado is a stunning marriage of opposites.

Latte Lounge's pancakes must be immediately added to the city's growing list of extraordinary hot cakes. Crispy around the edges, custard-like on the inside, the vanilla-scented pancakes have a flavor that's evocative of funnel cake. The cakes are so perfect on their own, you don't even need to drizzle on the accompanying maple syrup to enjoy them to their fullest.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the Latte Lounge menu is the breakfast fried rice. This sleeper dish sounds simple — bacon, ham, fried egg and scallions are tossed with soy sauce and rice — but there is something magical about the way the flavors all come together. The onion is more pronounced; the caramelized flavor they release is both earthy and sweet, which mingles with the soy sauce to form an umami bomb. Pointdexter shows his chops by taking something ordinary and turning it into the transcendent.

click to enlarge The breakfast platter includes French toast, eggs, bacon and sausage. - Mabel Suen
Mabel Suen
The breakfast platter includes French toast, eggs, bacon and sausage.

In addition to breakfast items, Latte Lounge offers lunchtime fare, including a delicious smashburger that somehow manages to have that decadent, beefy taste of a thin, griddled patty, while also maintaining the heft of a backyard burger. It might seem like a minor point, but the meat perfectly matches the size of the bun. Not too big, not too small, thick enough to hold up yet not so bulky as to dwarf the burger, the buttery bun feels like it was tailor-made for this particular patty.

However, the lunch menu's must-try dish is the crispy fried chicken. Technically, these are chicken wings, but to call this collection of flats and drummies the same thing as your average bar offering seems like sacrilege. These plump, hefty wonders are excellent on their own thanks to their juicy meat and beautifully crisp exterior. However, when tossed in a sweet and spicy Thai chili sauce, they become lip-tingling magic.

My server recommended the Thai chili version of the wings (they are also available tossed with Buffalo sauce or lemon-pepper seasoned), but it was only one of his many acts of kindness throughout the meal. Attentive, genuinely warm, knowledgeable and infectiously enthusiastic, he was the embodiment of the sort of fresh hospitality you yearn for after a few hard years of dining out. The hostess, too, was a bright light from the moment I walked in the door, as were the food runners, bartender and other servers. Harvey says this is intentional; that every morning, she and her team send out good vibes to each other and the customers they have yet to serve so that they can be a bright spot in people's days. Between the excellent food and the welcoming tone, they've more than succeeded.