Whether you're a card-carrying beer geek or a craft newbie still weaning yourself off lawnmower lagers, Flying Saucer casts a spell on you.
Flying Saucer Draught Emporium landed in St. Louis in March from its home planet of Texas, but you don't need to possess an advanced extraterrestrial intelligence to grok its descent into downtown. Could there be a more perfect marriage of concept and location than a craft-beer bar serving suds-friendly grub a pop fly away from Busch Stadium? Back when you thought Ballpark Village might open during, oh, the same decade as the actual ballpark, Flying Saucer was the sort of establishment you imagined would occupy it.
The first Flying Saucer opened in Fort Worth in 1995. The chain now stretches across sixteen locations in six states. (St. Louis is the second Missouri location, after Kansas City.) As the Draught Emporium half of the name suggests, beer is the primary attraction. The downtown Flying Saucer boasts 80 beers on draft and 150 bottled selections. Though you will find several of the best-known and most-highly respected craft names among them (Bell's, Great Divide, Firestone Walker, Stone), St. Louis' booming scene receives more than token appreciation on the list, which includes multiple beers from most of the local brewers.
Do your eyes boggle at the sheer number of beers available? To help narrow your search, the menu groups them by style (lagers, IPAs, etc.) with a description of each style's characteristics. Or do you instead regard the beer list as a challenge? Join Flying Saucer's UFO Club. Once you have consumed 200 different beers, the restaurant hangs a commemorative saucer bearing your name in its "Ring of Honor."
Whether you're a card-carrying beer geek or a craft newbie still weaning yourself off lawnmower lagers, Flying Saucer casts a sort of spell on you. I must order a pint — or two or three. (No more than six, however; the menu explicitly states you will be cut off after half a dozen.) Credit the décor. With its dark wood à la your favorite pub and the communal vibe and volume of a German beer hall, it draws you inexorably into the tradition of beer. To this, the Saucer adds unique touches. Collectors' plates crowd the walls. A mosaic of pennies forms a backsplash behind the row of tap handles.
Slideshow: Photos from Inside Flying Saucer
You will likely find choosing a beer far more difficult than choosing your meal. The menu more or less restricts itself to classic American bar grub: burgers, pizza, wings. Not that you can argue with this. Few things pair better with beer than a plump soft pretzel slathered with butter and sprinkled with coarse salt. An order from the "Share Plates" portion of the menu brings two pretzels with your choice of dipping sauces (spicy mustard, a cream cheese-chive spread and queso).
These "Share Plates" offer Flying Saucer's most reliable pleasures. The menu informs you that the "Rocket-Tots" are "really good!" As a general rule, I prefer a menu not to have an opinion of itself, but in this case the bragging is justified. These are a crisp, tasty snack: spicy, cheesy Tater Tots served with a dip of sour cream spiked with habaneros. The spinach-artichoke dip actually tastes of both spinach and artichoke. The queso is thick, mildly spicy and just tangy enough to convince you it might contain real cheese.
Though you would never mistake Flying Saucer for a German restaurant, the menu does trumpet its selection of bratwurst dishes. The "German Plate" brings two links: a tender pork-veal bratwurst (uncured and thus off-white in color) and a juicy more conventional (to American tastes) beer brat. Sauerkraut atop the sausages and a side of vinegary, bacon-laced potato salad complete the Teutonic trifecta. Coins of sliced bratwurst likewise help distinguish the "Pig and Peppers" pizza. The sausage, along with slices of jalapeño and a spicy tomato sauce, rescue the pie from its bland crust.
Yet the array of burgers and sandwiches reminds you that Flying Saucer is, after all, a chain. While the choices are inoffensive, you will struggle to remember them. The burgers are a half-pound patty of Angus beef that may or may not be cooked to your requested temperature. (Mine overshot the medium-rare mark by several degrees.) The seasoning is muted, so the garnishes must do the heavy lifting. Likewise the chicken sandwich: A grilled breast is ballast for its toppings of bacon, guacamole and pepper-jack cheese.
Remember, though: You are here for the beer. Which is why I was baffled and then disappointed when a simple beer order turned into a comedy of errors. I ordered an English pale ale from local brewer Civil Life. The server brought me the porter. I sent it back. A different server returned with the same wrong beer. I sent it back again. The original server returned with a different beer, but still the wrong one, insisting it was what I'd ordered.
One wrong beer I can forgive. A staff at a craft-beer bar that doesn't realize it has poured the wrong beer (or connected the wrong keg to a draft line)? The Flying Saucer might be primed for success thanks to its location, but it shouldn't take that for granted.
Great beer and places to drink it? We already have that on our planet.
Slideshow: Photos from Inside Flying Saucer