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Musing on Biggie's 

Stan the Man is nowhere to be seen, but this South Side restaurant is a hit

Biggie’s is, in more ways than one, between Hatfield’s Tavern and Trattoria Marcella, but closer to Hatfield’s.

Probably not well known to anyone beyond a few blocks of the intersection of Watson Road and Fyler Avenue, Hatfield’s is a saloon. Trattoria Marcella, as most local food junkies know, is a nearby temple of “rustic” Italian cooking.

And anyone of legal age or older almost certainly free-associates “Biggie’s” after “Stan Musial and,” as in the restaurant (and, later, even hotels downtown and at the airport) run by the all-time Cardinal and Polish-American great Stan Musial and his partner, Julius “Biggie” Garagnani, and later by Garagnani’s family. But the current Biggie’s, located at 3332 Watson Rd. for about eight years now, takes its name from the high-school nickname bestowed on chef and co-owner Mark Preiss. So despite the sports stuff all up and down the walls, this Biggie’s isn’t that Biggie’s. Nonetheless, the place does have an interesting pedigree. Preiss and his family previously had two restaurants called Marc’s, the first on Gravois and a spin-off in Creve Coeur. Remnants of the specialties at Marc’s now show up, complete with the “Marc’s” designation, on the Biggie’s menu.

The overview: aces with pork (outrageous signature oversized pork chop and very good Saturday-only ribs), OK bar-food appetizers, a mixed bag of pastas. Lots of pregame traffic, nice place to bring kids. In short, Biggie’s is a good old-fashioned neighborhood joint with a couple of items that lift it over and above, but not enough so to warrant a special trip from, say, Arnold or Florissant.

In addition to sports memorabilia, the walls are jam-packed with everything from the Three Stooges to the LA Philharmonic and even a few Route 66 signs, making for some interesting diversions if conversation starts to stall. Extremely smoke-averse folks should be forewarned that you must walk through the bar and a sizable smoking section to get to the rearmost (and equally large) dining area; conversely, we sat with our whole family in smoking because it was the only available table large enough to seat us, and the air circulation kept the smoke level tolerable to us, even among the puffing crowd.

The appetizer menu comprises pretty much the definitive list of bar food in St. Louis, wings, toasted ravioli, zucchini sticks, poppers, fried artichoke hearts and so on. These were just your basic swill-beer-or-soda-and-snarf foods, good-sized portions, but no better or worse than those at a bunch of other places in town.

Ahh, but that pork chop. Well over an inch thick, an on-bone loin cut weighing a full pound before cooking, it featured an almost intangibly sweet glaze and matching side bowl of dark jus, a “secret sauce” in which I detected just a hint of horseradish for an ending spike. Exceptionally juicy and full-flavored, an almost identical cut at a fancy steak-and-chop house would cost half again as much as the $12.50 they charge at Biggie’s. The Saturday-only ribs followed a similar motif, not slathered with sauce, which was more of an afterthought, but well-trimmed, thick and moist. We didn’t get around to any of the beef selections, but Biggie’s also features a couple of straight steaks, including an almost-pound-and-a-halfer, as well as the inexplicably popular adulteration of good beef with Provel variously known, especially around the South Side, as “modega,” “modiga,” “mudiga” or, here, “medega.”

Like the appetizers, a couple of the basic pastas we tried, cavatelli and spaghetti, were fine for the kids, but pretty standard mom-and-pop spaghetti-house stuff. The angel hair Marc’s, though, showed a bit more imagination, a simple but interesting combination of the density of flavor of sun-dried tomatoes, the toastiness and crunch of pine nuts, a smattering of diced fresh tomatoes and the warm afterglow of roasted garlic. Fifteen pastas are offered on the menu, primarily of the spaghetti-ravioli-cannelloni norm but also including a carbonara and even one with livers.

The Provel also showed up in another of the “Marc’s” holdovers, chicken Marc’s, a ’70s-style veal Parmesan comfort food substituting boneless chicken breast for the veal and adding some chopped fresh broccoli. What’s not to like about provolone or mozzarella, I dunno, but the synthetic stuff and I have never gotten along, although this was again a moist, large, nicely cooked cut of meat underneath it all. On a whim, we also tried the deep-fried shrimp, and it continued a string of disappointments that has ensued since we found an ideal version at the original Lemmon’s several years ago.

Dessert? Cheesecake.

As noted, we observed Biggie’s to be an excellent family spot, with plenty of folks dragging along everything from toddlers to teens. On one of our visits, we had a bunch of kids along, and the waitress went out of her way to recommend half-orders without our asking. The staff was solicitous of the kids throughout the meal, keeping the sodas refilled and generally keeping an eye out when the squirming quotient indicated a potential imminent meltdown. I was also conscious of, for the first time in recent memory, the waitstaff referring to everyone as “Sir” or “Ma’am.”

A quick note if you’re not familiar with Biggie’s immediate ’hood: Watson is a four-lane major street, and the side streets on the Biggie’s side of the street are all one-way, outbound onto Watson in the case of Biggie’s exact corner. There’s some parking in the alley out back, but you may have to negotiate your way onto Clifton and out Arthur to get pointed in the right direction to find a spot. But it’s a cute neighborhood to get to know, with everything from Hatfield’s Tavern to Trattoria Marcella and a whole lot in between.

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