Photo courtesy of The Muny
Change may come slowly to some St. Louis institutions, but it does come. One of the changes some may – still – not be aware of is dining at The Muny in Forest Park. Now in its 98th season, the Muny has evolved from those cartons of tepid orangeade I vividly remember from my childhood to picnic tables and a covered dining area with plenty of fans and proper dinners. There are still hot dogs and ice cream available, certainly, and a new menu of sandwiches and pizzas at Cafe One, near those picnic tables and the pre-show live music. Nevertheless, the Culver Pavilion, also used for rehearsals, is a welcoming option that involves knives, forks, and adult beverages, too, if that’s your pleasure.
The Culver’s format is a buffet that requires advance reservations. Three seating times are offered, 6:30, 6:45, and 7 p.m. before the Muny’s famously punctual 8:15 curtain. No one, however, is hustled out to make room for the next group. Two identical double-sided buffet lines, thus four lines, make for speedy access to the food. Chef Joe Wilson (right) is at the helm and he’s using plenty of help from his alma mater, the hospitality program at Forest Park Community College.
On a recent visit, the lines showed plenty of salad options, greens, and add-ins like mushrooms and slivers of peppers, certainly, but also pasta salad, a tasty quinoa salad with dried cranberries, broccoli slaw and red (sweet) pepper hummus. The cold soup of the week, a bloody Mary gazpacho, was spicy and brisk – no, no vodka. Fruit was of particularly good quality and as sweet as it should be this time of year. Cheese and mini-muffins dwell in this area, too.
Main courses as well as soups change from week to week, and are on the website. Entrees began with a dense, rich and very meaty lasagna. Slabs of sirloin, some even retaining a little pink, waited in a red-wine mushroom sauce. These were changed out very quickly (in a deft, graceful two-person move) when quantities began to get low, no woeful poking about for diners to see if there was any protein hiding under gravy. The third entree was carved to order, salmon baked in puff pastry, not overcooked, nicely moist, tasty with or without the proferred red pepper sauce. Two vegetable sides are on the buffet line; in this case, it was green beans and new potatoes with onions and white cheddar.
The evening’s dessert was a roulade, lemon sponge cake rolled up with buttercream, a raspberry coulis drizzled atop it. Dessert, like drinks, are brought to the table by the server. Coffee and iced tea are included in the price. There are also two special cocktails each week, loosely tied to the theme of the show.
The Culver Pavilion is on the north side of the theater, on the left as you face the front of the building. It is open air but covered, and there are plenty of operable ceiling fans. Our server was excellent, attentive, charming, and swift, except once when the bar was overwhelmed.
Reservations can be made by phone or online, and the latter include a 15% gratuity. Consult the Muny's website for complete details. Note that all reservations must be made in advance, and for Sundays and Mondays, they must be made by 1 p.m. Saturday.
Getting there early means closer parking, too, another selling point. A leisurely start to a happy evening.
The Culver Pavilion
314-361-1911, Ext. 575
Dinner every night there’s a show.
Photo courtesy of The Muny