Taking the Queen (Out to Breakfast)
The crew from Herbies Vintage 72 conquers breakfast with Kingside Diner.
FIRST THERE WAS THE CHESS CLUB and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Then, the World Chess Hall of Fame emerged. Now on Maryland Avenue, a block east of Euclid, is a chess-themed cafe. As a campus for one of the most widely played games in the world, the Central West End is not only charming, but full of competitive spirit (local and international alike)—and if there’s one other area besides chess that the neighborhood is known for, it’s food.
When Herbie’s Vintage ’72 owner Aaron Teitelbaum opened Kingside Diner in April, he filled a local niche for full-service morning dining and expanded into a lunch and dinner segment that won’t siphon off customers from his higher-end restaurant. And fortunately for those of us who haven’t yet mastered the difference between a rook and a bishop, navigating the Kingside Diner experience doesn’t take any chess savvy at all. The only strategy required is deciding between breakfast (served all day) and the rest of the menu.
ABOUT THAT BREAKFAST The menu’s headline dishes are a mix-and-match medley of six ingredient combinations that can be ordered as omelets, burritos or flatbreads. The spiciest combo—chorizo and pepper jack, plus green peppers, tomatoes and green chili salsa—is a surefire brunch favorite. Chorizo also makes appearances in the slinger and in the biscuits with sage gravy, and the signature breakfast sandwich tops ham, bacon and sausage with chipotle aioli. But this is far from being a Tex-Mex menu: Executive chef Chris Vomund satisfies the quintessential cravings for eggs, pancakes, oatmeal and corned beef hash while also mixing in a few tasty experiments like quinoa pancakes and waffled French toast. The liquor license wasn’t in place at the time of this review, but the plan is for a full bar to serve traditionally beloved brunch-enhancing beverages. The bloody marys are bound to be just as good as they are at Herbie’s. Settling for caffeine instead of alcohol wasn’t that much of a hardship, though, since the coffee is a custom blend made by local roaster Ronnoco Coffee.
OTHER MEALS AND DEALS Every good diner has its signature dishes, and Vomund has positioned early favorites across the board at Kingside. The daily blue plate specials—including pot roast, fried chicken and meatloaf—are comfort food classics. Among the hot entrees, Grandma Rosie’s rolled cabbage—a handful of thumb-sized rolls of beef wrapped in cabbage leaves and topped with a golden raisin-tomato sauce—is a trip down memory lane for anyone with family ties to Central or Eastern Europe. The unusual combination satisfies a sweet-and-savory craving, and the bed of mashed potatoes adds a bonus carb rush. But there’s also Thanksgiving All Year, a hot sandwich with turkey and all the trimmings piled onto sourdough bread. Even the burger is a contender thanks to the hand-formed patties, chock full of onions and garlic. Order it topped with bacon, cheddar and a fried egg, and you could make a very good case for having it for breakfast.
The salads defy the norm: Kale, for example, is dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, then topped with spiced pepitas, grilled cauliflower and ricotta salata. The field greens with smoked trout and horseradish aioli come surrounded by triangles of pita, perfect for either a light lunch or a sharable snack while waiting for the kiddos to finish their chess lessons. And for the chess players themselves, the floats and shakes will be popular post-match rewards for solid effort, win or lose.
The 90-seat dining room is full of TVs tuned to sports and news—unless there’s a chess tournament going on, when they can be used for live telecasts and viewing parties. A private room is set aside for occasional chess lessons in case the diner’s decor inspires non-players to take the plunge in a setting that’s a bit more casual than the chess club next door.
Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg