Winslow's Home Run: U. City gets a postmodern grocery store with a kickass kitchen, food writer rejoices

May 20, 2009 at 4:00 am

I wanted the beef brisket, but the kitchen was out of brisket. How about the chicken- bacon club? Nope — the chicken-bacon club had sold out, too. The roasted turkey with jalapeño cream cheese? The kitchen could still do roasted turkey.

The cashier handed me a plastic card with my order number. I took a seat at the only open table, a two-top beside a display of Moleskine notebooks and an antique school desk topped by a row of contemporary cookbooks, stuck my order number in a metal holder and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

It was a little before one o'clock on a weekday afternoon, and Winslow's Home was clearly the place to be. What's more, the kitchen doesn't rush: "Prepared foods emerge from the kitchen honest, unhurried," as Winslow's website ( states. It's the truth. I waited half an hour for my sandwich. That's longer than I usually allow for "unhurried," but in the end I didn't mind. And not simply because I had those cookbooks to help pass the time.

Winslow's opened a year ago on Delmar Boulevard in University City, roughly a mile west of the Loop. The two-story brick building opened in 1926 as a market and general store, and following a lengthy, thorough renovation, husband-and-wife owners Randy Lipton and Ann Sheehan Lipton have returned the location to its roots. Sort of: Winslow's is a general store in the postmodern sense, with modern and retro-chic style, rather than mere convenience, the watchword.

Here you can find food packaged and prepared, with an emphasis on local purveyors. There are housewares, cookbooks and gardening supplies, as well as what Winslow's ungrammatically but accurately calls "uniques," like the giant refrigerator magnet that I found propped against the Moleskine notebooks next to my table.

It's a gorgeous space, with hardwood floors and wood fixtures, packed with goods but not cluttered. Dining tables are spread amid the merchandise, and there's patio seating out in front. The patio is covered by a striking awning made of large, overlapping sheets of fabric.

The kitchen is located at the back of the store. There is a coffee bar and a selection of cookies, pies and other ready-to-eat baked goods. Most food is prepared to order, and while this can lead to delays when the kitchen is slammed, everything I ate was worth the wait.

The roasted turkey with jalapeño cream cheese on grilled ciabatta is as straightforward as it sounds. Simplicity is a virtue, of course, but the real virtue here is the turkey itself: These are not your water-injected wafers of deli meat. Instead, the sandwich features plump slices of freshly roasted turkey breast, very juicy, the rich flavor nicely contrasted by the spicy jalapeño cream cheese.

The chicken-bacon club isn't a true club sandwich: There is no third slice of bread in the middle. Terminology aside, it's excellent, with chicken breast sliced into two thin, tender halves and crisp, freshly fried bacon. The condiments play a key role: The black-pepper mayonnaise has just enough bite to be noticed, while the sun-dried tomato pesto adds a wonderfully tart note.

After a couple of near misses, I finally managed to arrive at Winslow's before the brisket sold out. The brisket, from local butcher Baumann's Fine Meats, is roasted overnight and served with mayo and Havarti cheese on toasted flaxseed bread. Now, I'm no fan of beef brisket — roasted, smoked or otherwise. In truth, the only place I would choose to order brisket is midtown barbecue mecca Pappy's Smokehouse.

Until now.

Winslow's brisket sandwich sells out for a reason: It's damn tasty. The brisket is thickly sliced and piled high. The meat is tender — always a crucial variable with brisket — and dripping with a distinctive basting mixture. I tasted a little mustard and something like a teriyaki sauce. Mostly I tasted beef so fully flavored that I happily would have eaten a pile of brisket all by itself.

The reuben is the closest Winslow's comes to a traditional deli sandwich, but it will be a disappointment only if you have the brisket first. White cheddar and fontina cheeses make for a gooey grilled-cheese sandwich, but the sourdough bread is sliced so thickly that, after chomping through two slices of it, the cheese seems like an afterthought. Besides the grilled-cheese sandwich, vegetarians can choose a grilled portobello or egg-salad sandwich. Vegans will want to ask about specific dishes.

Besides sandwiches, there are soups and quiches du jour. Of the latter, I tried a slice with bacon, red pepper and spinach, a sensible flavor combination that didn't overwhelm the delicate flavor and texture of the egg. The crust was excellent, very lightly flaky with a slight chew.

Winslow's offers a very limited dinner selection, available after 5 p.m. The menu, one or two entrées, changes weekly. (I tried to score dinner on a Saturday but didn't do my homework. I arrived at 6:45 p.m.; Winslow's closes at 7 on Saturdays.) Egg sandwiches, as well as Winslow's wide selection of baked goods, are available for breakfast. Those baked goods are incredibly tempting. I succumbed to a slice of oatmeal-pecan pie, which featured a buttery, flaky crust and a filling that struck the perfect balance between sweet and nutty.

As if serving all of this food in the middle of a general store didn't already set Winslow's apart, the store has its own farm. Located on four acres in Augusta, Winslow's Farm grows vegetables, herbs, blueberries and even some fruit trees, as well as chickens and bees. I visited Winslow's Home rather early in the growing season, so I didn't expect to find a bounty of produce available. All the more reason to return.

Winslow's reminds me a great deal of another of my favorite new spots from the past year, Local Harvest Café & Catering in Tower Grove South (see "Plant Power," April 2, 2009). Both ventures are committed to local produce, and the commitment of each goes beyond that basic buzzword. Both restaurants seem to be fostering a sense of community, a place where getting to know the source of our food isn't simply a matter of learning the names of nearby farms, but of building the same sorts of relationships and routines as you would at your favorite coffee shop. If that means waiting longer than you normally would for lunch, or choosing something else because the restaurant doesn't keep back-stock and your first choice sold out, then so be it.

St. Louis has been waiting for these sorts of restaurants long enough. What's a few more minutes?