The bacon is crisp at Kingside Diner. The fried egg spills its golden yolk. The coffee is hot, your mug is bottomless, and if you need a little more joe for the road, the staff will gladly pour you a fresh cup to go.
Yes, you can get your bacon and eggs the conventional way here, arranged on a plate with hash browns and toast ($8). But for a better sense of this 4-month-old Central West End restaurant’s potential, try the 3 Little Piggies sandwich ($10) instead. This delivers bacon, sausage and ham with a fried egg, tomato, lettuce and a chipotle aioli between two slices of Texas toast. It’s a mess, and it should be too much — it certainly isn’t a light meal — but the aioli’s subtle heat and the tomato’s acid help temper its over-the-top richness.
However you order your bacon and eggs, that bottomless cup of coffee will cost you $3. Actually, that might be the most telling detail about Kingside. This is no throwback diner, all shining chrome and smooth formica, but a thoroughly contemporary restaurant that fits neatly with its surrounding neighborhood.
Kingside takes its name and theme from its neighbors: the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis next door and the World Chess Hall of Fame across the street. Its logo is a chess piece, chess-related photographs decorate its walls, and chess matches sometimes play on its televisions.
(I hoped in vain for a server to deliver the bill while saying, “Here’s the check, mate.” This is why I write about restaurants rather than plan them.)
Owner Aaron Teitelbaum also operates Herbie’s Vintage 72 in the Central West End, and he and former business partner Jeff Orbin ran the late, acclaimed Monarch in Maplewood. Kingside is a far more casual restaurant than either of those establishments, but Teitelbaum’s background in upscale dining as both a restaurateur and a chef influences the menu.
Teitelbaum and executive chef Chris Vomund, who also holds that position at Herbie’s, find the most success when they tweak expected diner fare. The BLTA ($9) swaps in fried green tomatoes for the usual tomato slices, and their tartness is a dramatic contrast to the bacon and the garlic aioli that gilds it. The A is for avocado, an innocuous, if not unwelcome, addition.
Usually, when chefs trick out a grilled-cheese sandwich, they use multiple, strongly flavored cheeses and then add pork belly or something equally ridiculous. The Caprese Grilled Cheese ($8) takes the opposite approach. Here, fresh mozzarella serves mainly as texture, that familiar gooey pleasure, while a bright basil pesto and a silken balsamic-vinegar reduction provide the flavor.
Other attempts at elevated diner fare need further refinement. Roasted turkey breast is the obvious centerpiece of the Thanksgiving All Year sandwich ($9), and while I doubt the holiday bona fides of pepperjack cheese, that, arugula and a cranberry chutney make for sensible accompaniment. The problem is the stuffing, served as cooler-than-room-temperature cubes with a clay-like texture. Waffled French toast ($8) results in a Frankenstein’s breakfast that looks like a waffle but with a flavor that is simplistically eggy, even with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and a slug of maple syrup.
Grandma Rosie’s Rolled Cabbage ($10) entices with its summery, sweet-tart sauce of tomatoes and golden raisins. However, loath as I am to criticize anything abscribed to someone’s grandmother, the cabbage leaves stuffed with ground beef lack any seasoning, even salt.
Still, the rolled cabbage is the sort of dish that can set Kingside apart from traditional diners. Contrast it with the griddled burger ($6, with cheese, bacon and other toppings available as $1 or $2 a la carte additions). This isn’t a bad burger, but the very style — thin patty, minimal seasonings, as much char flavor as beef — means that it doesn’t stand out from any other diner’s burger. Since you can already top it with bacon and a fried egg, maybe Kingside should take a lesson from the 3 Little Piggies and let you add sausage and ham, too.
Where Kingside Diner, 4651 Maryland Avenue • Two stars (Good) out of four • More info 314-454-3957; kingsidediner.com • Menu Classic diner fare, with modern touches • Hours Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily
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