Prolific restaurateur David Bailey pulls off a delicious contradiction in terms: sumptuous vegetarian fare.
EVERYTHING ABOUT THE INTERIOR of Small Batch exudes a speakeasy vibe. The former Model T showroom revels in ornate flourishes and refined black lines. It’s the perfect backdrop for a venue featuring American bourbons and whiskeys. At such a place, you’d imagine, the menu would be full of smokiness and umami. Meat, in other words.
MEAT-FREE FARE But there’s not a hoof, fin or claw to be found at David Bailey’s sixth eatery. The expected flavors are there, though, thanks to chefs Peter Clark and Stephen Trouvere, who aren’t afraid to explore the sumptuous side of vegetables and grains. Everything is made in-house (or at Bailey’s central kitchen facility Downtown). This includes freshly baked breads, the gougeres (pastry-like buns filled with cheese), the pastas and the vegan ice creams.
One of the most successful dishes is the burger. Rather than trying to mimic meat, Small Batch uses a corn fritter patty. The black beans, lettuce, avocado and condiments round out a set of flavors strong enough to stand up to one of the most powerful cocktails on the menu, the Smokeysweet. Another success is the pho, a rich broth poured tableside into an artistically arranged bowl of mushroom wontons and vegetables.
Having other restaurants to draw on gave Bailey an edge as he worked on the menu for his newest venture. The excellent bun, for example, was perfected at his burger joint Baileys’ Range. The crepes pay tribute to Rooster; the brownie, Baileys’ Chocolate Bar. And the central theme of Small Batch, the bourbons and rye whiskeys that give the restaurant its name, are the compilation of Justin Austermann at Bridge Tap House. But they’re not afraid of branching out. For example, the menu is filled with pastas—gnocchi, cannelloni, linguine, pappardelle and more—in sauces that run the gamut from traditional carbonara to caramelized fennel with Moroccan citrus.
WHISKEY AND BOURBON The 25-foot marble bar buzzes with bartenders pouring beers and wines or mixing and blending with various bitters, liqueurs, tinctures, tonics and sodas for the dozen or so whiskey cocktails. They’re a snapshot of the spirit’s versatility—smoky, delicate, comforting, eyepopping— but purists will skip past the mixology and scan the six pages of mash bills, proofs and tasting notes for individual whiskeys.
Aside from a smattering of international labels from Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand, Small Batch’s list is a tribute to American diversity. There’s whiskey from Indiana, Utah, Iowa, Oregon, Missouri and Tennessee, among other states. But the vast majority comes from Kentucky, and most of it fits into the legal requirements to be called bourbon: at least 51 percent corn, distilled at less than 160 proof, additive-free and aged in new, charred white oak barrels (for at least two years to be called straight bourbon).
Kentucky bourbon has been booming for a couple of years—to the point that some producers can’t meet demand—with the higher-end “small batch” bourbons leading the surge. This is where the three-glass flights help bring home the nuances. One follows bourbon from the distilled spirit through Buffalo Trace’s aging process, illustrating the flavors added by the charred barrels; another offers a comparison between bourbon and Scotch. But perhaps most educational of all are two flights side by side: three smallbatch bourbons versus three non-corn whiskeys. The comparison reveals the sweeter characteristics of bourbon (and explains all the talk about sugary sweets in the tasting notes).
Owner David Bailey is already at work on his next venture, a second Rooster. Soon, his business office—always located near his newest work-inprogress— will relocate from the Locust Business District to a new space south of Tower Grove Park. As he packs up, he can congratulate himself on another job well done.
Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg