Fried chicken and whiskey anchor Ben Porembas trendy new eatery firmly in the South.
At his much-anticipated new Botanical Heights eatery, Old Standard, Ben Poremba puts his signature on a comfort classic: fried chicken. In these new digs, the all-American deep-fried delicacy shares top billing with whiskey—a trendy pairing that Poremba surrounds with Southern sides and house-made sodas.
After establishing a reputation for globally influenced cuisine, Poremba recognized a growing niche around casual, familiar fare like pizza, barbecue and tacos and embraced the movement with fried chicken, a consummate comfort food. Rather than doctor it up with fancy spices or giving it an international flair, he went with a simply delicious recipe: dredging the pieces in flour and frying them in peanut oil to just the right ratio of crispiness to juiciness.
Pedigree is important for both the birds and the booze. The chickens come from Amish farms via a supplier in northern Indiana. The whiskey comes from distillers and bottlers throughout the American South: Familiar names like Buffalo Trace and Four Roses appear on the bar’s shelves, as well as rarer ones like Orphan Barrel.
The whiskey list is no doubt an educated one, but this is still an all-ages joint (with high chairs below the wall-mounted jukebox to prove it). Like the menu, the decor comes down to basic elements like raw wood and whitewashed cinderblock walls. The tables are where things come alive visually, with intricate serving pieces for everything from butter to sweet potatoes.
Beyond the Bird
The chicken choices are deliciously simple (white or dark meat, and how much of it); the sides and appetizers are a little more complex. Some are meal-worthy on their own, like the smoked whitefish croquettes or the Virginia ham with fried focaccia. Sharing is a very good idea for these trimmings. For example, even though the diminutive crock of salt-baked sweet potatoes with nuts and marshmallows looks like an adorable little portion, it’s plenty filling in combination with the chicken. Choosing between the selection of sides is no easy task with decisions like fried green beans wrapped in bacon versus mashed potatoes and gravy. And you get the impression that their names— Freda, Oleta Brown, Betty Meade and others—have stories to tell.
Whatever you choose, leave room for the biscuits and breads. A must-try: the lemon-honey butter on a piece of authentic cornbread. The butter is as rich as ice cream, and the two together literally melt in your mouth. Biscuits are best with the jams and jellies, particularly the burnt-orange marmalade.
Behind the Bar
You’ll find three categories of beverages at Old Standard. First, of course, are the whiskeys. They’re mostly traditional straight bourbons plus a few high-rye, wheated and corn whiskeys. The cocktail list is built around mint juleps, old fashioneds and manhattans—all customizable according to your whiskey preference. If whiskey isn’t your thing, it’s best to go with something bubbly, perhaps one of the lighter lagers, pilsners or a sparkling wine. Next to the robust whiskey menu, these are pleasantly simple and succinct.
The most playful part of the menu has to be the sodas. The house-made plum-cherry-pumpkin-spice concoction, for example, brought to mind my mom’s deliciously sugary crab apple pickles. You can also try flavors like rosewater and toasted almond, mango and orange blossom with vanilla or elderflower. Bottled sodas are equally diverse, from local favorite Ski to Peruvian Inca Kola and Mexican apple-flavored Sidral Mundet. And a Southern menu wouldn’t be complete without iced tea (four variations) and lemonade (three variations). There’s also tasty coffee (hot or cold-brew), perfect for washing down banana pudding, cheesecake or apple cobbler. They’re all sweet dessert counterparts that complement the salty, savory chicken at Poremba’s new joint that—if you ask us—was well worth the wait.
Where to go
Old Standard, 1621 Tower Grove Ave. 314.899.9000
Hours Mon.-Sat. 4:30pm-12am, Sun. 11am-3pm, 3-8pm
Photos by Jennifer Silverberg