When we last left former Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds and his business partner, Mark Winfield, they had transformed the upscale Jim Edmonds 15 Steakhouse in Downtown West into the much more casual Precinct Sports Bar & Grill, named for its proximity to the city’s new police headquarters and noteworthy (among a certain masochistic set of diners, at least) for its challenge to finish an order of “Hot Pursuit” wings. At the time the two men also revealed plans for a second, higher-end restaurant in Clayton, but that deal fell apart, and instead in January they opened Winfield’s Gathering Place in Kirkwood.
Winfield’s is neither a sports bar nor an upscale restaurant — though you’ll find traces of both on its menu — and as is evident from the name, it isn’t banking on Edmonds’ celebrity brand. In fact, no Edmonds, Cardinals or other sports memorabilia clutter the interior, though, of course, it has more than a few TVs in both the dining room and the bar area for watching the big game.
What Winfield’s is, however, is more difficult to puzzle out, and after multiple visits to the clapboard-lined dining room, I couldn’t shake the suspicion that the restaurant is actually a Trojan Horse hiding yet another barbecue joint. An entire page of the menu is dedicated to barbecue — baby-back ribs, brisket, pulled pork and smoked turkey — and smoked meats also appear in several other dishes.
Winfield’s barbecue might not be ready to stand on its own in our ever more competitive market, but it does show promise. The ribs ($10 for four bones, $13.50 for half a slab, $21.50 for a full slab) display a strong note of smoke, and the texture is good, if a tad too yielding. The seasoning needs to be more distinctive, however.
The turkey breast is tender and very smoky. The pulled pork is tender as well, but the flavor is odd, almost acrid. I ordered both cuts as part of a two-meat platter ($14.75 for 5 ounces of each). The platter includes two sides from a standard selection of choices. Go for the fries and the beans in sweet-tangy sauce heavily dosed with pork. Skip the undercooked macaroni in bland cheese sauce.
The barbecue sauces include a conventional sweet concoction and an equally conventional “spicy” (that is, somewhat peppery) option. If you don’t object on principle to mayonnaise-based sauces, Winfield’s does offer a horseradish-spiked Alabama-style sauce.
My favorite barbecue dishes here — my favorite dishes, period — are both from the menu of sandwiches and burgers. The Smokehouse Brisket French Dip ($12) dresses the tender, thin-sliced beef — not bad on its own, though not as smoky as I prefer — with sauteed onion and bell pepper, giardiniera, fontina cheese and a peppercorn-horseradish sauce. The sandwich is served with a side of jus, but you don’t really need it. Even better is the BBQ Burnt Ends Sourdough Melt ($11.75), a riot of a sandwich that still conveys a strong beef flavor through caramelized onion, roasted jalapeño and havarti cheese. (The menu also mentions guacamole, but it failed to register on my sandwich.)
I dwell on the barbecue because the rest of the menu is such a jumble. Appetizers suggest a very slightly upscale approach to bar-and-grill fare, and while the lobster wontons ($10) do pack a bit more crustacean flavor than traditional crab rangoon, these are still a cream-cheese-larded guilty pleasure. Your best bet here is the straightforward fare: tangy, mildly spicy buffalo-chicken dip ($8.50) or lightly accented guacamole ($6.50, which includes salsa).
Barbecue and bar-and-grill food fit Winfield’s far better than its brief list of entrees does. Baked rigatoni ($14) isn’t much different from what you might cook at home, save for the price-per-serving, with floppy noodles in a sweet tomato sauce studded with mild sausage and topped with fontina. The lemon-basil mahi mahi ($26) promises elegance, a piece of the meaty fish served over spinach and roasted new potatoes in a lemon-butter sauce. What arrived at my table was a mess, the properly cooked fish and potatoes drowned in a sauce that was either broken or had been inexplicably cut with a generous shake of olive oil. The spinach was mostly absent.
I hesitate to suggest that a restaurant be less ambitious, but the heart of Winfield’s Gathering Place really does seem to be in some combination of barbecue and pub grub. With its location and Edmonds’ star status certain to keep it busy, the restaurant might as well serve what it really wants to.
Where Winfield’s Gathering Place, 10312 Manchester Road, Kirkwood • One and a half stars (Fair-to-good) out of four • More info 314-394-2200; winfields.net • Menu Bar-and-grill fare, barbecue, sandwiches and more • Hours Lunch and dinner daily