Review: Old Standard Fried Chicken

Ben Poremba’s latest restaurant, catty-corner to his other two (Elaia and Olio), zooms in on the quintessential comfort food: fried chicken. Seems he’s set his mind to finding the perfect blend of moist, juicy meat and crisp, seasoned crust—and he’s pretty much achieved it.

The fried chicken—the only entree offered, period— is indeed delicious, made more so by a smattering of family-style ‘trimmings’ that smack of Southern home cooking. The chicken is offered by the piece, à la carte, or by the half ($18) or whole ($34). I like the concept, as it encourages you to have a shared meal: tables were ordering baskets of chicken and diving right in.

Trimmings come in small ramekins for $5 each, with lids to seal in heat, and include smothered greens, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet and sour red cabbage, cole slaw, cream corn and salt-baked sweet potatoes. The corn was a favorite, and the cabbage and greens were both good. The sweet potatoes were too sweet (they had a marshmallow topping) for my taste. The slaw was good, though, with its dotting of sweet corn and vinegar-based dressing.

The starter menu is big, so there are plenty of options. Don’t miss the biscuit platter ($8), an assortment of fresh-baked biscuits (both flaky and fluffy) and corn breads. It comes with a choice of three butters, jellies and jams—and the assortment is tantalizing, to say the least (molasses-pecan, pistachio-mint, burnt orange marmalade and others). Also stellar is the peanut hummus, which comes with fiery roasted red peppers piled into a center mound and has an earthier flavor and texture than its chickpea counterpart.

Deviled eggs, called Charlotte’s Mother’s Dressed Eggs ($8), were pretty darn good. They elevated the prosaic egg (just like Poremba has elevated the prosaic chicken) to a near art form. Made with homemade mayo that had an oilier consistency than the bottled version, they were very nicely ‘dressed’ with house-pickled slivers of gherkins, jalapeno peppers and orange bell peppers. The effect was fascinating, offering a stimulating medley of flavors.

As for the place, it is a transformed gas station, with the bar where the car bays would have been and most of the booths/tables in the back of the garage. Poremba has kept the garage ambience, with the big retractable door at one end of the bar, which is also the waiting area. The walls are painted brick with wood framing studs all around the interior, including the ceiling. So you feel like you’re in an unfinished room—or a chicken coop.

The whole concept, from decor to menu, is pretty cool: Southern home cooking, roughed-in decor, communal eating, and chickens that come from Miller Poultry in northern Indiana, where they’re raised humanely on an all-vegetable, drug-free diet and are hormone-and antibiotic-free. My one complaint is the $5 charged for a soft drink in a 6-ounce Tom Collins glass. Really?

[amuse bouche]
the scene | Down-home chicken shack
the chef | Ben Poremba
the prices | $5 to $15 starters, $12 to $34 entrees
the favorites | Fried Chicken, Betty Meade’s Cream Corn, Biscuits & Breads, Peanut Hummus

[chef chat] >>ben poremba
why fried chicken? | It’s very tasty and hard to find good-quality fried chicken in the area
your inspiration for the southern homestyle dishes? | From traveling around the South
who created the homespun decor? | I did. I wanted to make it feel rustic, simple and home-built
any plans to expand the menu? | There are other foods on the menu besides chicken, but overall this is a restaurant dedicated to fried chicken

1621 tower grove ave. | 314.899.9000

Photos by Bill Barrett

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