If you find yourself in Saint Louis and in need of breakfast, I have just the place for you: Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. There are two branches, open 24 hours a day, and we’ve now been go the one on Kingshighway twice. It’s not much to look at. The neon sign is broken and it is half-timbered on the inside as well as the outside. But once you’ve slid into a booth and one of the long-serving waitresses has given you an iced water and your first cup of coffee you realise you’re in American breakfast Nirvana.
The first time we went I had the 2+2+2+2 Special for $7.95. That’s two eggs, two link sausages, two strips of bacon, two buttermilk pancakes and an order of hash browns. I don’t know their secret but the pancakes are very, very good with just the right balance of cake-iness and syrup absorbency.
A couple of days later and we were back. This time I had biscuits and gravy with some scrambled eggs on the side. If you’ve never had biscuits and gravy you must give them a go. The biscuits are best described to Brits as very light scones, a bit like a very soft soda bread. You get two, split in half, with the gravy poured over. But this is not gravy as we Brits know it. For starters, it’s white. I’ve made breakfast gravy and this is what you do: crumble some breakfast sausage (the innards of a good banger or two will do) into a hot pan, keep breaking it up with a spoon, and cook it until it is well done and has rendered its fat. Lift out the little lumps of meat with a slotted spoon and sprinkle a tablespoon of flour onto the remaining fat, cook it for a mo, then stir in full-cream milk, or “half-and-half”, or milk and cream – it’s up to you – until you have a good white sauce. Bung back in the sausage bits, stir, season, and there it is. Pour over the warm biscuits until they are well and truly smothered.
Uncle Bill’s were good, though I do think my home-made were better, though I’ll confess to not having made the biscuits from scratch. Just about everyone in the States buys those tubes of ready-made dough which you break open to reveal several ready-to-bake biscuits, so I did too.
I ate half of Lucy’s pancakes. She wasn’t going to make it through her whole stack, not with her corned beef hash and poached eggs.
At the other extreme we dined with our hosts in an extremely smart restaurant called Tony’s, in the heart of Downtown. Our hosts’ daughter worked there many years ago as a pasta chef. She died of AIDS seventeen years ago, but how she became infected is still a mystery. All of her sexual partners were contacted and tested negative and she never had a blood transfusion. The best guess is that she became infected when a burn was being treated. It’s a tragic story, made all the more poignant by the fact that yesterday, when we dined at the restaurant, was her birthday. Dinner was a thank you from the four of us staying in the house to our extraordinary and unbelievably generous hosts.
The cuisine is high-end American Italian and the service is very high-end with a large army of waiters to keep an eye on you. The walls are covered with good modern art, except in the bar which has a vast rogue’s gallery of signed photos of celebs (including three ex-Presidents) who have dined there. Dishes are finished and plated at the table with plenty of pizzazz. I had a Tony’s salad to start – mostly green leaves with strips of salami – and then one of their signature dishes, Lobster Albanello; big chunks of lobster tail cooked with mushrooms, cream and brandy. It was delicious but was nearly eclipsed by the expertly-cooked side dish of spinach. A pity that my trousers were, inexplicably, a bit too tight.
It was a lovely evening but unless you’re on an expense account (which, clearly, several people were) it’s not a place where people on a normal income can afford to eat regularly. As an indicator, their tasting menu, with wine, is $210 per person. Wine-less it’s $180. Bung on top of that tax and a 20% tip (which is what they would expect), as well as paying the parking valet, and the eyes start to water. I’m pretty sure the tasting menu doesn’t include caviar. I say this because I noticed that one ounce of the stuff a la carte is $110.
I’m not sure if you get a stack of buttermilk pancakes with that but somehow I doubt it.