Review - Sage
Soulard may be known for the beer, but this spot aims to prove that doesn’t mean you have to settle for bar food
By Dave Lowry
Photograph by Katherine Bish
There are worse locations. Tucked into a corner between the charming rehabs of Benton Park and a little up-and-coming local brewery you may have heard of, Sage serves the neighborhood—along with out-of-towners emerging from tours of that brewery—by resurrecting the space that was once the Lynch Street Bistro.
The menu’s large without being intimidating: about a dozen main courses and appetizers and half that many salads, sandwiches and wraps. Appetizers are just the right size; only open a few months, Sage has already established a deserved reputation for its onion rings, doorknob-sized circles of sweet onion in a deep-fried batter of buttermilk and AmberBock beer. Gus’ famous local pretzels arrive, as nature intended, still warm and chewy, along with a piquant mustard dip and a couple of chips of fried Asiago cheese. Blackened shrimp, a quartet of them, are just lightly charred, sweet and juicy, though their cayenne-spiked sauce has a kick that’s not entirely ameliorated by the mound of Cajun rice on the plate; make sure you’ve got a beer or something else to drink when eating them. Salads—a Caesar and one with greens tossed with onions and tomatoes—are competent, though uninteresting.
There is probably not a better meatloaf to be had outside of an Iowa Baptist church supper than Sage’s. The size of a brick, this slab of ground beef is so tender and moist it tastes and feels like it’s been cut with sausage. It’s swaddled in a tangy catsup sauce and slathered in a rich brown gravy; a nice crusty top adds texture. It wouldn’t be meatloaf without mashed potatoes, and here a miniature mountain range is piped onto the plate, creamy and golden buttery. Herbed rice, another side here, is pleasant and a good complement. The vegetables that accompany the meatloaf—and most dishes—seem an afterthought. Spears of asparagus sautéed in butter make a bed for a spray of slivered green and red peppers and carrots. Nothing special, but perfectly adequate.
A chunk of filet mignon, 6 or 8 ounces, is recommended simply to demonstrate how well the kitchen handles this difficult cut of meat. What the French call a tournedos, the cut is lean and can get dry quickly. Worse, even if the center is properly rare and the surface caramelized, there is often a layer of unattractive gray. A combination of grilling and roasting at Sage avoids the dreaded gray zone; every bite is full of beefy, robust flavor. It is artfully simple and rewarding.
Brining is to poultry what the little black dress was to Coco Chanel; it can never be in bad taste and is usually a delight. Here, chicken breasts are given a salty bath that includes just a note of garlic, then lightly breaded and pan roasted. Superb, with a delicate crust, the meat is cooked just until done, leaving it juicy and full of flavor. The presentation is attractive; the chicken, drizzled with a mustard cream sauce, sits beside a puff of that herbed rice, which provides a fine accompaniment. Shrimp and clams in a light, aromatic white wine broth of garlic and herbs are tossed along with artichoke hearts and slices of Roma tomatoes in capellini. This is as good as any seafood pasta dish in any local Italian restaurant. The chef, who made the rounds at least twice in the dining room, was instantly apologetic when we noted the dish’s lack of the lump crab advertised in the menu, and he promised to investigate, but we never got an explanation.
Lighter fare comes in sandwiches and wraps. Even though it’s on grilled rye with sauerkraut and Russian dressing, we had to pass on a Reuben constructed with “cornflake-crusted tilapia.” On the other hand, a burger dressed with a dollop of Russian dressing and blanketed with melted pepperjack, cheddar and Swiss cheeses on Texas toast practically begs for a taste-bud tryout. (Sage serves lunch every day but Sunday; its location, prices and lunch menu make it a perfect place to take new-to-town guests after that obligatory
Using an idea hatched at Boston’s Meritage Restaurant, desserts at Sage—Key lime and Dutch apple pie, crème brûlée, brownie sundaes and other goodies—are artistically arranged in large shot glasses. There’s enough for about three good mouthfuls, about as much as most of us actually want after a meal like those served here. Others will no doubt copy this presentation. Most, unlike Sage, will give you a spoon that’s unsuitable for getting into the glass completely. It’s also nice to see the array of desserts presented on a tray; ask for one, and it’s instantly at your table.
The wine list is small yet well-selected. Most of the main courses, though, would benefit from something from that next-door brewery that could really use your business to stay in the black.
Parking is along the street. If the weather’s at all amenable, come early enough to take a preprandial stroll along the lanes of Benton Park, one of the handsomest neighborhoods in the city and a tribute to the efforts of the homeowners who’ve rehabbed it. A walk around any residential block here is the perfect prelude to a rewarding meal. Interiors at Sage are as stylish as the blessedly few pieces of artwork are forgettable. Soothing pea-green walls, fieldstone arches and wooden floors and ceilings are an aesthetic success. The main floor has a separate bar, along with tables and booths. Upstairs is airy and roomy. There are two levels of patio dining during the warmer months. It’s weird, though: A flock of widescreen TVs hovers overhead inside, broadcasting college and pro sports. Given the decidedly upscale chic of the place, they add an incongruous sports-bar touch that doesn’t distract, but doesn’t do much for the ambience.
Overall, Sage promises to be among the best new restaurants in town. And maybe its draw will be sufficient to keep the lights on at that brewery next door.
Address: 1031 Lynch
Average Main Course: $16
Reservations: You won’t regret it, especially on weekends
Dress: Think weekend in the Hamptons