Saturday, January 10, 2009


When we moved to St. Louis we decided to experiment in living without television or daily newspapers. The basic idea was to cut down on the barrage of advertising that assaults our brains. News, weather, Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, all the essentials, are on line. Six months in, I mostly enjoy the result but I admit some key information slips by. For example, we recently got an email from our friends in Syracuse, Jim and Allison, who asked whether we had been to a St. Louis restaurant called IronBarley they had seen on the Food Channel. We had not only not been there, we had never heard of it.

We trust the food instincts of our good friends with whom we had dined many times. It was just too cool that they told us about a restaurant in our own backyard. We decided to go at the first chance.

Last Tuesday was a stressful day for me. An unexpected icing event glazed our front steps. I bumped down all four on my butt at 4 am when taking Joli out for her morning constitutional. Court also had it's challenges and I was sitting none too comfortably. I needed a break. First, I used my Christmas gift certificate from Merry to get a massage – that helped. Then we went to IronBarley.

IronBarley is located not far from where we live in South St. Louis, but it's in a neighborhood not known for restaurants. It looks like a common neighborhood tavern. We opened a cheesy aluminum storm door and found ourselves standing in a crowded bar right next to a guy with a huge grin in an oversized top hat decorated with rhinestones, playing the guitar and singing “Down on the Bayou” to the accompaniment of his friends on tuba and accordion. We were sold at that moment.

We moved to the adjoining room where a waiter seated us. The music was actually pretty mellow and the musicians very talented. The dining room is paneled in rough sawn boards. The wall sconces are iron frying pans with light bulbs. Paper menus are in a basket on the table with the silverware wrapped in paper napkins. The menu is an eclectic mix. Specials are listed on a chalk board. Our waitress informed us that Tuesday was “steam cake” night and even though they don't usually have live music on Monday and Tuesday, the band was there to kick off Mardi Gras. The dinner specials were heavy on cajun food: gumbo, shrimp etouffee, jambalaya and so on but also included non-cajun items.

We started out with some very tasty local beer while we decided – a smoked porter with a taste too complex to describe adequately – smooth, hoppy, with a strong hickory smoke aftertaste. A different person, who did not seem to be on the restaurant staff, brought us pieces of steam cake before we had even ordered. It is a dense yellow cake with a glaze of hard icing topped with sugar sprinkles. Umm – eat dessert first.

After much deliberation we ordered a large “wedge” salad with blue cheese and Jack Daniels dressing to share. I got the gumbo and german pancakes. Merry was brave and ordered the “Double Dog” with chili, cheese and onions.

While waiting for the food we enjoyed the music and looked around. Many of the other patrons looked like they lived in the neighborhood. Young to middle aged working people just kicking back and having a fun meal. Merry pointed out a foursome at a table near us that didn't fit the general MO of the place. Could that really be the Coen brothers (the filmmakers of Fargo and No Country for Old Men)? We checked them out closely. I'm convinced it was them.

The waitress brought our salad. It turned out to be nothing very special. We asked her about the Food Channel show, and, yes, she was there when that was filmed about a year ago. She mentioned that the Travel Channel was there in the last week and the week before that local TV news had taped a show. She admitted she liked being a “cable channel rock star.” We asked if they really served the “Ballistic Elvis Sammich” shown on the menu. Yep – texas toast, peanut butter, strawberry jam, bananas, and bacon.

The food came. My gumbo was to die for; spicy, thick with fresh ingredients and hot. Three german pancakes with carmelized apples and red sour cabbage slaw was perfect. The double dog was served in a huge stainless steel bowl with two quarter pound beef hot dogs covered in good chili. We ate well. I couldn't stop smiling.

As we left, the singer was between tunes. He turned to us and asked if we had enjoyed ourselves. We assured him we had.

“Well, I'm glad y'all had a good time. By the way - this hippy right here is Tom Coghill, the owner. He put this all together just for you, so promise Tom you'll come back soon.”

We promised. Check it out for yourself at

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