by Aimee Levitt
>Fancy, it ain't. The beef is of unknown provenance -- and the menu doesn't even mention whether it's grass- or corn-fed. The stuff in the salt shaker was probably not gathered from some remote cliff on the French seacoast. The condiments come straight from the supermarket, still in their original bottles. There isn't even real china, just Chinette and tagboard baskets.
Yep, the grub at O'Connell's Pub is about as basic as it gets -- and that's a good thing. When something's already perfect, why bother dressing it up with unnecessary frills? (No, ordering your onions grilled does not count as a frill.) There are far too many restaurants that serve burgers made from grass-fed beef (with the address of the farm printed on the menu) with artisanal cheese and house-made tomato chutney on brioche buns that can't even come close to O'Connell's.
Some diners rhapsodize over O'Connell's roast beef, rib tips, fried mushrooms and onion rings, and Gut Check is sure they're all worthy, but whenever we come here, we always get the exact same thing: a cheeseburger, medium-rare, with American cheese and an order of fries, done extra crispy.
Then we wait. It's unspoken, since nobody at O'Connell's likes to brag, but everything is made to order, including the fries. No soggy steam tables here! Fortunately, there's a vast array of beer on the bar menu to help you while away the time.
And then when the food comes out -- perfection! The sesame-seed bun is ever-so-lightly toasted, and the cheese is melted just enough to blister. The burger comes gently charred on the outside, pink and juicy inside. It's a lovely contrast, the crispness of the exterior yielding to the soft meat inside.
And the fries! Also crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. (They're of the skinny French variety, not their hearty thick-cut British cousins.) It's impossible to taste one without wanting to devour the entire basket. So that's what we do. Every time.
Beginning last year, RFT restaurant critic Ian Froeb counted down -- in no particular order -- 100 of his favorite dishes in St. Louis. Now Gut Check has taken up where he left off. Check back frequently as we detail our 100 favorites, and don't hesitate to send us yours, too, either via the comments thread or at firstname.lastname@example.org.