When we tried to order the "Hot Pursuit" wings at the Precinct Sports Bar & Grill downtown, our server refused. "No, I can't let you do that," she said. "They're so hot it's terrible. I've only seen drunk people choke them down, and it ends with them in the bathroom, stripped down to their underwear."
I appreciated the warning. However, I could have also used one about the rest of the food at the Precinct, the rebranded bar and grill that occupies the former Jim Edmonds' 15 Steakhouse space. Unlike the "Hot Pursuit" challenge (eat a pound of hot wings in under eight minutes) a meal at the Precinct does not come with a photo on the wall and a free T-shirt. But perhaps it should — eating from the regular menu is a challenge unto itself.
Owners Mark Winfield and Jim Edmonds relaunched 15 Steakhouse as a casual bar and grill to take advantage of the restaurant's proximity to the new St. Louis Police Department headquarters. But the plan has already hit a few snags. The headquarters failed to relocate on schedule, and the building still sits empty. Then came the poorly named "Officer Down" hot-wings challenge, which alienated the very population that the Precinct is trying to serve (apparently, cops don't appreciate people throwing around the phrase — go figure). Winfield renamed it the "Hot Pursuit" challenge as soon as people complained, and the Precinct donates a portion of its proceeds to the St. Louis BackStoppers. Regardless, these difficulties made me wonder how effectively two civilian restaurateurs can appeal to a cop clientele — and that's before I tried the food.
Aesthetically, the Precinct is a nicely appointed bar and grill with lofted ceilings, exposed brick and the architectural details that are characteristic of downtown's old buildings. Winfield and Edmonds go all in with the cop theme, displaying police memorabilia throughout the space. On the nights of my visits, it was nearly empty. Winfield was chatting up the few patrons (myself included), asking for their thoughts on the place. He was a warm and friendly host, but I thought from the dejected look on his face that he knew not all is well at the Precinct. He even mentioned menu changes are on the way.
Unfortunately, we were stuck with the one he has now. For a place that calls itself "the safest bar in town," many crimes against food occur under its roof. This was not true across the board. The chicken wings, for example, were plump and juicy. The black-pepper puree version had a sweet Asian-style glaze, spiced with ground peppercorns. The garlic-parmesan wings, however, were a touch bland and would have benefited from some seasoning.
The Precinct's take on the chicken and waffle craze is playful — fried chicken tenders sandwiched between waffles. The vinegary hot sauce paired surprisingly well with the maple syrup; both were drizzled over the top of this knife-and-fork dish. However, the waffles were a touch soggy, while their contents were surprisingly dry. The kielbasa, a garlicky housemade sausage, was by far the best thing I ate at the Precinct. It was grilled and served with a grain mustard sauce, rustic-style mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. Sadly, Winfield hinted during our conversation that this might not make his new menu. Mr. Winfield, hear my plea — keep the kielbasa. It would make a fantastic sandwich.
Things took a turn for the worse when we got to the Precinct's signature appetizer, "The Potato Bat," which was nothing more than potato chips on a stick. Because they were skewered raw then fried, the potatoes stuck to the stick, making them impossible to remove without cracking them apart into small pieces. We ordered the garlic-parmesan version, which had neither flavor nor salt. I found the buffalo-chicken ravioli appetizer similarly offensive — the pasta was filled with chicken so pasty and flavorless it seemed like it had been cooked to death in a Crock-Pot for days.
Someone should throw the book at the shrimp po' boy — a plain, untoasted hoagie roll stuffed with fishy, freezer-burned popcorn shrimp. It was trimmed with some iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and banana peppers, and it was supposed to be dressed with Sriracha mayo, which I could barely detect. The Italian grinder — a stack of mediocre cold cuts on plain bread dressed with giardiniera and olive tapanade — was about as good as the sandwiches at you find wrapped in plastic at a roadside gas station.
The meatball sandwich, oddly named the "Do You Know Who My Dad Is?" was the biggest offender. The meatballs were mushy and had no flavor. They were supposed to be topped with marinara, but the only thing resembling sauce was an orange grease that soaked the roll. Because of the meatballs' texture, I could not tell where the bread ended and the meat began — it was one big amalgam glued together with a single slice of provolone cheese. I wanted to perform a citizen's arrest on whomever assembled this sad sandwich.
Given how poor the food is at the Precinct, I had to wonder if it will be around long enough to see the new police headquarters occupied. Perhaps — as Winfield hinted — a rejiggering of the menu will turn things around. I have only one piece of advice for the owners when it comes to most of the items I tried: Take 'em away, boys.