Frugal Foodie - Thurman Grill & Provisions
By Rose Martelli
Photograph by Katherine Bish
Thurman Grill & Provisions is an eatery probably best enjoyed by those who arrive on foot. Nestled in the Shaw neighborhood, among the quiet residential streets north of Tower Grove Park, it has culinary ambitions as modest as its environs. It seems to exist simply to provide solid, satisfying, reasonably priced fare to those who need it, those looking for a quick breakfast, those looking for an easy destination for a local lunch or those looking for dinner at the end of a long workday.
Hold on—the place serves breakfast, lunch and dinner five times a week (Tuesday–Saturday) with a Sunday brunch buffet and a liquor license and special-event meal planning like the recent Easter brunch feast that included eggs Benedict and crab-stuffed lemon sole and roasted leg of lamb and eggplant ratatouille for 20 bucks a head? Maybe the Thurman Grill’s ambitions reach a little higher than we thought. Maybe when the front page of the takeout menu boasts “Watch a New York deli crash into a California bistro,” we all indeed should watch.
And taste. A dinner entrée of catfish Ponchetrain, thoroughly enjoyable, provides the perfect example of how the Thurman Grill does what you do in your own kitchen but a bit better. You, for instance, might throw together a weekday supper of your basic protein and carbs—say, fish, carrots and salad (you know, whatever’s lying around the freezer, the pantry, the crisper)—but you would never even think (or bother) to ladle button scal-lops, a few peeled shrimp and a just-rich-enough Cajun cream sauce over that slab of seafood. You might dump a can of carrots into a pot, heat them up and call that a side; you likely wouldn’t prepare yourself candied carrots as a slightly decadent accompaniment.
Chances are, you’re not going to pile fillings and fixings into a sandwich the way they do at Thurman, either. The Thurman Club packs the turkey, capicolla, pancetta, lettuce and tomato to near-Dagwoodian proportions. The Italian meats (especially the pancetta) lend the sandwich a robust measure of spice. For something sweet, try the grilled roast-beef sandwich, which is treated to a dressing of rich, buttery caramelized onions. All sandwiches come with a choice of side, but these are less of a sure thing: The garlic mashed potatoes carried a way-too-slight whiff of garlic, and the gnocchi salad (which I last tried months ago) featured way-too-tough, slightly gummy knots of gnocchi. Better to stick with the Cuban-style black beans and rice or a simple helping of potato salad or macaroni and cheese.
Though the turn from afternoon into evening seems to find a few friends of the restaurant parked at the bar stools at the high counter, foregoing the food for booze (about a dozen bottled beers, plus a small array of liquors, are available), the air inside the Thurman Grill could stand to be a little warmer. Perhaps it’s the fresh coat of paint on the walls, but it always feels like the place just opened for business 20 minutes ago. Service isn’t inefficient but is quite casual. The baker’s rack off to the side, holding a flat-screen TV, seems to contain the establishment’s lax attempts at offering “provisions”: a measly array of wines and crackers and not much else. One saving grace: the “art” exhibit bedecking the walls of the unisex bathrooms. It’s a series of photos depicting a cat about to meet its untimely fate through a number of cartoonishly hatched plans. It’s impossible to describe; you’re just going to have to go see it.