Saturday, August 11, 2007

Et tu, Brute?

Once again, I decided to treat myself to a dinner out, this time on South Grand Blvd. in St. Louis. I meant to go to that nice Vietnamese place, the Mekong, where I had enjoyed myself a couple of times in the past. But I had to park on the opposite side of the street, and a traffic signal refused to cooperate, so I decided to cross the other way and have Thai food at The King and I. (Naturally, the light changed as I was crossing the street). But then, as I was strolling toward The King and I, I realized that I was passing an Italian place I had never noticed before. Even though I had eaten Italian within the last 24 hours, I decided to try it.

The place was called Mangia Italiano, and you can't imagine an Italian restaurant more different from The Old Spaghetti Factory. It is two old storefronts converted into dining rooms with a bar stuck between them, the kitchen at the back. Everything looks scuffed and banged up, from the cheap old tables and chairs to the pressed tin ceiling. But the bar offered an interersting selection of beers, including the best beer in the world: Franziskaner Hefe-Weizen. It was so good I almost cried. I haven't had Franziskaner in years. You really appreciate how good it is after drinking the Schlafly, Boulevard, or New Belgium wheat beers for a while. It was like a homecoming for my tastebuds.

The meal I ordered was called a Brutus Pizza. I had to ask the bartender whether I had lucked out with my choice, or whether everything on the menu was so good, because it was the best St. Louis-style pizza I have ever had, and also probably the best cheese pizza. The crust was flat and dark brown, but it had enough "meat" in it (breadly speaking) to make it recognizably bread and not just a crisp or a cracker. There was no sauce on the crust, but only a blend of four cheeses: goat cheese, gorgonzola (mmm!), mozarella, and pecorino - a salty, dry sheep's cheese similar to parmesan. On top of this deliciously melted mixture was a scattering of diced, marinated tomato. This was a stretchy, stringy, tangy cheese pizza with a flavor to write home about. Or, at least, to mention on one's blog.

I also tried a Belgian witbier (white beer) called Hoegaarden, but by that time my sensorium was overloaded with Franziskaner and Brutus. I usually like Belgian-style beer, but I guess you have to approach them with a fresh palate. Even a glass of water didn't help.

I told the bartender I would be back. I will. Franziskaner is mother's milk; and if there are more comfort-food dishes on their menu prepared with as much flavorful flair as the Brutus, I want to eat my way through the lot of them.

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