Update: This restaurant has closed.
Ben Poremba's long awaited fried chicken haven finally opened its doors this past week and I made sure to be there opening night. It should be no surprise that it opened at the intersection of Tower Grove and McRee, also known as "Ben's Corner". Like Olio, it's in what looks like a revamped old garage, which also means it's on the smaller side.
I expected the inside to be a lot like Peacemaker's: low country-inspired with a cleaned up and modern twist. I was way off. If I didn't know this was a fried chicken joint, I'd think I was about to be eating some lihapullat or smörgåstårta from a waiter named Bjorn who looked like this. It's very Scandinavian in there. Perhaps originally Poremba was going to open a Swedish meatball spot.
Old Standard has a large selection of drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. We decided to try some of their homemade teas and sodas. From left to right you have the [symple_highlight color="blue"] Mango-Orange Blossom-Vanilla soda[/symple_highlight], [symple_highlight color="blue"]Ginger Lemongrass tea[/symple_highlight], and [symple_highlight color="blue"]Lapsang Souchong tea[/symple_highlight]. All three were good. I'm not a big fan of sugary drinks, but the soda was tasty. Very summery. I was surprised they had Lapsang Souchong, a smoked Chinese tea. It has a very distinctive smell: it's meaty. It's like the peaty scotch of teas. A tea that smells like bacon.
The first bite we got was an order of [symple_highlight color="blue"]Charlotte’s Mother’s Dressed Eggs[/symple_highlight]. These were some fancy deviled eggs. Poremba's specialty is in Mediterranean flavors, which is apparent here with the use of capers, pickled peppers, cornichons, celery and a drizzle of chive oil.
For as long as I can remember, Olio's been serving up a smoked whitefish salad that is muy bueno. How can they improve on that? By frying it, of course. [symple_highlight color="blue"]Laura Lee’s Smoked Whitefish Croquettes[/symple_highlight] are served with Old Standard hot sauce and house ranch and you've got yourself a pretty delicious little party. We also got some of the [symple_highlight color="blue"]Old Standard Pickles[/symple_highlight]. I could munch on those all day.
The "bread basket" came with a flakey biscuit, a fluffy biscuit, and Yankee cornbread with a side of your not so run-of-the-mill butters, Molasses-Pecan, Lemon-Honey, and Pistachio-Mint. All three were good, though the lemon-honey and pistachio-mint almost had an icing-like taste to them. The jams & jellies included a stone fruit, burnt orange marmalade, Concord grape jelly and a Strawberry-blueberry jam. Strawberry-blueberry was my favorite.
This is probably the most elegant [symple_highlight color="blue"]tomato & cucumber salad[/symple_highlight] to ever appear in a fried chicken joint. If I was served this at a blind tasting and told one St. Louis chef made it, I would instantly know it was Poremba's team.The bright pop of mint and use of fresh cucumber gives it away.
Here's the headliner: [symple_highlight color="blue"]fried chicken[/symple_highlight]. I've heard more than a few people say the price of the chicken is too high, with a three-piece (below) costing $12, a half-chicken costing $18 and a whole chicken at $34. While I don't disagree that these are high prices, it's worth noting they're buying Miller Poultry birds. As their menu says, "The chickens are cared for by Amish families in the most humane, ethical and natural manner in a stress-free environment. They are fed an all-vegetable, drug-free diet, and are hormone and antibiotic free." I'm willing to pay a little more for that.
The chicken meat itself is juicy and flavorful. However, having had my fair share of fried chicken, I prefer my chicken with a bit of a spicy kick and a crunchier texture, much like the chicken nuggets Poremba and his team served at the United Provisions opening party.
If you go with a friend, you could split a half chicken for $18, get a couple starters and drink, all around $8. If you skip out on the booze and you're looking at $17 a person. I think it's worth the money.
I have a self-imposed policy of not giving a rating to recently opened restaurants as they work out kinks, but I will say that I enjoyed the meal and look forward to returning. If you're into fried chicken and some 'elevated' takes on Southern classics, give it a try.
1621 Tower Grove Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63110