If you've ever lived in Kirkwood, you almost certainly know Spencer's Grill (223 S. Kirkwood, 314-821-2601). The old-fashioned diner is one of the busiest meeting spots in downtown Kirkwood, a must-visit for anyone returning for a Kirkwood High School reunion, and a favorite among the suburb's old-timers. For the rest of you, though, it may be the best diner you haven’t visited.
Spencer’s Grill doesn’t fit into the same category as other iconic St. Louis diners. Since it closes at 2PM each day, you can’t order a sobering-up slinger in the wee hours as you might at Courtesy. This isn’t a place to go for an after-work burger and root beer like Carl’s, nor does it boast the excellent people-watching found at EAT-RITE. Instead, Spencer’s Grill may remind you of the diner in The Andy Griffith Show
Spencer’s Grill first opened in 1947, and its sign along Kirkwood Road features the oldest working clock on a neon sign west of the Mississippi. With a small addition in the back, the restaurant seats 49, but feels much smaller.
Spencer’s has had seven owners in its 68 years of business. Mary Sly and Lisa Campbell are the first women.
“I think a diner is a place where people feel homey and comfortable,” Sly tells Riverfront Times
. “This diner has been timeless.” About half of the restaurant’s business comes from regulars, who typically visit every day or on certain days each week. “We kind of get to live their lives with them,” Sly says. She's been to some of their funerals; the diner has even been a backdrop for wedding and senior photos.
But it's not just about the company. “People come in first for our delicious food,” says Sly. Menu offerings are fairly traditional, but everything is done well. Most regulars come for the crispy pancakes or the incredible hash browns, which might just be the pinnacle of potato perfection.There's also scrapple, a patty of grits and sausage dipped in pancake batter and fried before being topped with sausage gravy.
Lunch favorites include quarter-pound burgers, a cheesesteak, and seasoned fries, but this is the kind of place where breakfast also makes sense for lunch. One thing not to be missed is the pie. The flavors rotate with the seasons – this summer we sampled a perfect white peach and blackberry pie, while current offerings include an apple crumble, strawberry rhubarb and coconut cream. One regular orders a slice of pie before his breakfast – the breakfast of champions.
There may be a wait during the weekends or prime meal hours, but it’s worth it. Spencer’s Grill is not just another St. Louis area diner – it may very well be its best.