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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Louie's Wine Dive Brings Smart Pairings to Clayton

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 7:13 AM

click to enlarge The Coconut Street Noodle, available for lunch for $9 ($14 with shrimp, as shown). - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • The Coconut Street Noodle, available for lunch for $9 ($14 with shrimp, as shown).

Louie's Wine Dive (16 S. Bemiston Avenue, Clayton; 314-875-9373), the newest restaurant to open in downtown Clayton, is the sort of chain restaurant you wish more chains were offering. It's not breaking any new ground, but it's a good place for a business lunch or a glass of wine, all executed with friendly good cheer.

The seventh outlet in a concept that began in Kansas City and is now steadily marching in all directions from there, the first St. Louis area location for Louie's Wine Dive fills the space that used to be Tani Sushi Bistro. It's a relatively small storefront, but there's a lot going on here. A big bar takes up most of the front half of the room, with only smaller tables to the right of it. The back half of the space is split into thirds, with a half-open kitchen, booths and more of those smaller tables.

The lawyers who office in Clayton may be the only people left in America who regularly take lunch breaks away from their desks, and as a result Louie's has been packing in diners ever since it opened a few weeks ago. The servers do a great job of keeping things moving; you could easily get in and out in under an hour here, even if drinks were involved.

And they're certainly hoping drinks will be involved. The wine list is fairly big for a place of this type, and built to be user-friendly, with both white and red organized so you start with varietals that pair well with lighter foods (salads and nuts on the white side; fins, chicken and pasta on the red one) and end with fins and cheese or pigs and cows. You can choose from a lengthy list by the glass or an even longer one by the bottle, so long as you're willing to commit to two glasses — and once opened, our server explained on our visit, everyone in the bar benefits: The rest of the bottle is then offered by the glass, too. The result is an endless opportunity for wine lovers to try something new.

If you're not into wine, there's also a smartly done list of "libations," each for $9 and each featuring the sort of trendy ingredients Applebee's has yet to cotton to ("Sage Bramble," anyone?). This, too, will be proffered at lunch, whether or not you ask.

But you needn't come here just to drink: Even though the menu is exactly the same from location to location, the food is better than that setup would lead you to expect. For either lunch or dinner, you can choose from shared plates, greens, a burger and pasta, including the coconut street noodle, which wowed us on our visit with incredibly bouncy shrimp and cabbage atop pasta.

At lunch, you could also try a grilled cheese or fish and chips; dinner features additional entree choices, including a tandoori Atlantic salmon, a roasted chicken or a flatiron steak. Nothing, even the steak, is more than $22.

For fun, and surely because wine calls for cheese on all occasions, there's both a cheese flight and, separately, fried cheese curds, served with both marinara and a serrano-flecked aioli. Why don't more places outside Wisconsin serve cheese curds? They are insanely tasty as a rule, and the ones here don't disappoint.

You will also see a poutine on the menu here, because hey: Everyone needs a poutine in 2016, even chain restaurants. Here it comes topped with blue fin crab, which seems highly unnecessary. But maybe that's just our sobriety talking. After a few glasses of a good white Burgundy, we're sure we could get on board with that too.

Turn the page for more photos of Louie's.

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