High Concept

It may be a machine, but it's a very well-oiled one.
The Berkshire Grill in Bridgeton, within sight of I-270 on St. Charles Rock Road, is new to St. Louis, but it's actually part of the same Massachusetts-based restaurant conglomerate that owns several other "concept" restaurants, the most recognizable around these parts being the Ground Round. The formula for the Berkshire is moderately upscale, with a sprawling 10-page menu promising something for just about everyone.

Most important, though, is that they seem to manage to deliver on that promise with almost military precision. This was illustrated to us first thing through the door, when we were handed a beeper and told that our wait would be 10-15 minutes. Exactly 11 minutes later, a vibrating hip massage told us it was our turn, and we were seated promptly. And throughout the meal, if an item was going to take a few minutes extra, our waitress alerted us. In the case of our entrees, she actually told us she would hold the order for five minutes so that it wouldn't overlap our appetizer course.

My jaded side led me to suspect that such efficiency was aided in part by standardization of orders, precooking or other preparation shortcuts, but we could uncover no evidence of this. Take, for example, our entree of grilled tuna steak ($12.99), an 8-ounce fillet sauced with a spicy teriyaki sauce advertised as "Korean." To begin with, not many restaurants inquire about the requested doneness of tuna, although because this was advertised as sashimi grade, it was perfectly appropriate to do so. I opted for medium-rare and it came out precisely that way, indicating that it had been cooked to order, and expertly at that. As reflected in this and several other of the items we ordered, the Berkshire Grill has no qualms about spiciness; the sauce was accented with sesame seeds and fresh-chopped scallions but also featured a decidedly lip-tingling fire.

Our test on the prime rib ($14.99) was a little more ambiguous in results, but the product was certainly of high quality. Again, we ordered medium-rare, a level of doneness that's sometimes hard to pull off, given the long cooking times for good prime rib. The approximately three-eighths-inch cut was certainly pink in the middle, but only top to bottom -- it appeared that the slice had been pan-seared after it was cut, browning the top and bottom surfaces while leaving the interior pinkish. The side dish here was just a basic -- but humongous -- baked potato.

As noted, the menu really does feature just about every possible alternative, from Asian spring rolls and egg rolls, to calamari and sauteed mussels, to all the basic bar food groups for appetizers; a half-dozen dinner-sized salads; steaks, ribs, chicken and seafood; fajitas; burgers and sandwiches; about 10 pastas, ranging from simple ravioli to stuff like "blackened chicken Florentine"; and, of course, a selection of ever-trendy wraps.

For appetizers, we'd focused on the Asian and Italian connection, ending up with the fresh vegetable rolls ($5.99) and the mussels zuppa ($8.99). "Fresh" was certainly an accurate description of the interior of the three rolls, which had each been flash-fried and then halved to reveal garden-quality spinach, snow peas, sprouts, scallions, carrots, bell pepper and zucchini, accompanied by a spicy Thai peanut dipping sauce. The 18 or so mussels were the smaller domestic variety rather than the now-popular giant greenlips from New Zealand but were still adequately plump, served in a broth of their own juices, wine and olive oil and a tangible dose of mild minced garlic, along with a sop-up of crusty bread.

Our dessert was called a liquid-chocolate truffle, a dense disk of chocolate with a texture somewhere between flourless chocolate cake and a souffle, dusted with cocoa powder and sitting atop a star-shaped pattern of hot fudge.

The wine list is fairly short, including for some bizarre reason a $100-plus Dom Perignon, but there are also pages of classic cocktails, martinis, margaritas and frozen and hot spirited drinks. The design of the place -- tables to both sides of the host's station, with booths in clusters separated by eye-level frosted glass and dark-stained wood -- allows it to seat well upward of 100 without major noise problems.

In short, the Berkshire Grill, despite its self-promotion, is no "neighborhood grill" -- but despite that little bit of disingenuousness, it's also proof that some formulas are much more successful than others.

12455 St. Charles Rock Rd. (Bridgeton)
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-1 a.m.;
Sun. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Entrees: $6.49-$16.99

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