by Aimee Levitt
What, you may ask, can Little Country Gentleman (8135 Maryland Avenue, Clayton; 314-725-0719 ), the new restaurant-within-a-restaurant in Clayton, subject of this week's restaurant review, which combines locally-sourced seasonal ingredients, classic French technique and a dash of molecular gastronomy all in tasting-menu form -- in other words, all that is cool and trendy in American dining right now -- possibly have in common with a truck stop in Doolittle, Missouri?
The answer: Both are home to a couple of the state's most epic eating challenges involving cheeseburgers. At Cookin' From Scratch, right off of I-44 in Doolittle, you have 66 minutes to consume the 66-ounce King of the Road Burger (and the fries that come with it). At Little Country Gentleman, as you may expect, given the French technique and molecular gastronomy and all, the challenge is a bit more sophisticated:
If you finish the ten-course tasting menu -- which, reports our intrepid reviewer Ian Froeb consists of "an amuse bouche, six savory courses, a cocktail intermezzo, four more savory courses, a glass of house-made eggnog, two cheese courses and a snickerdoodle in a little bag to take home" -- and have the gall to complain that you're still hungry, the kitchen will call your bluff by preparing you a cheeseburger.
Since Little Country Gentleman has only been open three months, the preparation of the cheeseburger is not as codified as that of the King of the Road Burger.
"We play it by ear," confides head barman Seth Ferguson. "But it's made from hand-ground strip steak and chuck and it's cooked to order on a brioche bun, maybe with eggs and bacon." Because of the improvisational nature of the challenge, the burger doesn't have a set size, but Ferguson confirms it's a true burger, not a slider.
So far, the challenge has only been issued once, and the challenger gave up in defeat. Had he succeeded, says Ferguson, "we would have found something to engrave his name on. Most people who finish the ten-course tasting meal are too full to walk."
At this point, Gut Check suddenly thinks of the ancient Romans, so committed to the cause of gluttony that they would empty out their stomachs between banquet courses so they could eat more. Might this help out the hapless diners at Little Country Gentleman and maybe move more cheeseburgers in the bargain?
"We try to keep allusions to ancient Rome and our restaurant to a minimum," Ferguson says. "Their lifestyle was not the same as ours. We want to keep our guests as vomit-free as possible."