by Tom Finkel
Last night, just as a friend and I were railing about a recent spate of pathetic customer service at some touted St. Louis restaurants and bars, Greg Pusczek leaned toward us over the Dubliner's bar and asked how we liked the place. How...unexpected!
I'd been to the new Washington Avenue pub and restaurant late Saturday night and walked out a mere five minutes later. Like a lot of the downtown retail, the place has high ceilings and most unfriendly acoustics. It wasn't full and yet you needed sign language to order a drink.
Last night at the Dubliner was different. The eavesdropping was effortless. The crowd, neighborhood residents. No, we couldn't discern what band was playing over the stereo, but at least we could converse. After a pint of Smithwick's and a delicious serving of crubbeens -- a terrine of pigs' feet, which I was told chef Tim O'Sullivan butchers himself -- I was starting to like the place, indeed.
Greg made it all the better. A downtown resident, maybe 50 years old, and an ex-Federal Reserve employee, he's now a Dubliner bartender. He's also a vegetable and fruit grower who appears prominently at the bottom of the pub's menu. And, might I add, a damn nice guy.
When my vegetarian friend confessed she didn't find the fare appetizing, Greg scurried off to the kitchen and re-emerged with a door prize: three gorgeous heirloom tomatoes picked from his fields that day. I inquired about the Marine apple orchard listed on the menu, and he squired up an Empire and a Jonagold for me to take home. (Greg's own fields are located on the Mills Apple Farm property.)
I'm a huge local-foods fan. Greg's beans and tomatoes are exactly the kind of thing I want to spend my restaurant money on. How cool, then, to go to a pub and talk grub with one of the guys growing the stuff! Anywhere -- including in St. Louis -- that's a great surprise, and a treat.
(FYI: You can taste Greg's produce at Cafe Provencal in Kirkwood and Atlas in St. Louis. Sadly, he doesn't sell at any of the farmers' markets around here, preferring to travel Wednesdays and Saturdays to Springfield, Illinois. The capital apparently shuts down a big street over there for its 30-some vendors. And it only allows in growers -- no resellers like you find at the Soulard Market here.)