No grapes grow here on the outskirts of Chesterfield Mall, just around a bend in the looping drive from the new American Girl store, behind the Dillard's parking lot, in the building that once housed a restaurant called Bahama Breeze. But by law, if not by obvious outward appearance, EdgeWild Restaurant & Winery truly is a winery as well as restaurant.
Here's how it's done: EdgeWild buys unfinished wines from wineries in California, Oregon and Washington, brings them to the restaurant and ages them there in oak barrels. The restaurant then bottles the wine under the EdgeWild label, which bears the same sleek logo that adorns the restaurant signage: the gray silhouette of a tree whose trunk turns into a mirrored reflection of itself in red.
The EdgeWild grüner veltliner is a 2010 vintage from Oregon. You don't see many domestic grüner veltliners; most come from Austria — which, not coincidentally, grows more grüner veltliner grapes than any other country. EdgeWild's rendition doesn't pack the exquisitely crisp one-two punch of mineral and pepper for which the wine is revered, but at $29 a bottle (or $7.50 a glass) it's a no-brainer: cheaper and more interesting than the umpteen run-of-the-mill chardonnays you see at so many restaurants that cost as much or more.
EdgeWild opened in November of last year, the latest venture from prolific restaurateur and consultant Chris LaRocca (Crazy Fish, Triumph Grill and two-month-old Crushed Red in Clayton among them). Here his partners are Andy and Dee Dee Kohn; the three are also minority owners of a winery in Defiance that bottles west-coast grapes under its own label, Chandler Hill Vineyards.
If not for the winery angle, EdgeWild might be most notable for its size. (Or maybe its name, which sounds sleek until you ponder it: What wild is Chesterfield on the edge of? St. Chuck?) In this stop-and-go recovery, LaRocca and the Kohns have dared to open a restaurant that seats more than 300 across multiple dining rooms, a patio and a bar. For all the space (made to seem even more capacious thanks to high ceilings and an open kitchen), the décor is strikingly spare: wood, wood and more wood — call it upscale rustic mountain lodge.
The executive chef is Aaron Baggett, a Farmington native and Culinary Institute of America grad who previously helped LaRocca launch Triumph Grill, its midtown neighbor Kota Wood-Fire Grill and Mile 277 Tap & Grill in Sunset Hills. Jason Tilford of Milagro Modern Mexican and Barrister's also lent a hand in developing EdgeWild's menu. That menu's a long one: thirteen starters, a dozen entrées, plus soups, salads, flatbread pizzas, sandwiches and burgers. (You know what they say: Big dining room, big menu.) Yet for all the variety, the dishes are neither wild nor edgy. There's a touch of fusion here ("Thai Tuna Tacos"), a twist on an old standby there (bison rather than beef in the meat loaf), but mostly this is up-market American fare: crab cakes and mussels, grilled steak and seared scallops.
The most intriguing dish is an appetizer, the oddly named "Kahlua Buns." It's only a typo, but it sounds like what you call a friend who binges on Hawaiian barbecue (a.k.a. kalua) and mudslides (cf. Kahlúa) and then asks you if their pants make their butt look big. It turns out to be Chinese buns served in a plum sauce, topped with pulled roasted pork in an achiote-orange glaze and a drizzle of an avocado cream. I could have done without the avocado, but the pork, plum sauce and buns were a striking contrast of savory and sweet, the tender meat and the chewy buns.
The "Thai Tuna Tacos," another starter, presented a more conventional form of fusion: crunchy blue-corn tortillas stuffed with thin slices of ahi tuna that were seared rare, dressed in a red-curry aioli that unfortunately was too sweet to deliver any Thai nuances. The smoked crab chowder was thick and smoky as promised, but it was made primarily of corn and only a hint of crab. Armed with that knowledge, I skipped the smoked crab cakes.
The entrées are, if anything, even more straightforward in execution than the appetizers. "Tuscan Steak" was five thin slices of flank steak, cooked to temperature (a perfect medium-rare in my case) and arranged atop a very large mound of "crisp, Parmesan-herbed potatoes" — or so the menu would have you believe. Abetted by gravity, the knob of cabernet-infused butter atop the steak mixed with the meat's own juices, drowned out any notes of herb or cheese and turned the potatoes to mush.
Ostensibly finished with white wine, "Mâcon Seared Scallops" were drowned in a butternut-squash "purée" that had a texture like thinned soup. The scallops' buttery sweetness held its own against the (also sweet) squash, which in turn was fortified by chopped pancetta and a hint of cumin. But any subtlety was washed away in the watery tide. The menu lists a nearly identical appetizer, "Chardonnay Seared Scallops," which means the good people of Chesterfield now may choose between "chacun à son goût" and "there's no accounting for taste."
For those who seek a different illusion of variety, there's "Chardonnay Chicken": two boneless breasts marinated in wine, grilled, then extinguished by immersion in a pungent Dijon mustard sauce. The dish exposed another aspect of EdgeWild's unadventurous approach: The chicken was served atop "Garlic Mashers" (please stop using this term) and a few stalks of asparagus. The kitchen did a fine job with the asparagus, ensuring that it reached the table al dente; the potatoes were nothing to write home about, but there's only so much one can expect from...mashers. The same sides accompanied a grilled strip steak. The scallops came with green beans and a rosemary risotto that tasted of cream, which only served to underscore how insipid that butternut-squash purée was.
Look to the sandwich menu for the most reliable dish: a burger. The "Midwest Burger," to be precise: It's not flashy, just tasty, a loose patty of ground beef seasoned simply and cooked just the way I'd ordered it (medium rare), with crisp, thick-sliced bacon and melted white cheddar. The burger came with good, crisp French fries, sprinkled with a light garlic-herb seasoning, that yielded to a slightly fluffy interior.
Drawing from a list of fourteen reds and fourteen whites from the west coast bottled under either the EdgeWild or Chandler Hill label (most are priced between $30 and $45 per bottle), the menu suggests a wine pairing for every single dish. (Imagine that!) There's also a selection of EdgeWild and Chandler Hill wines from Missouri, including four fruit wines (blackberry, raspberry, peach and strawberry) and a couple of fortified dessert wines. Aside from the grüner veltliner (and those fruit wines), there are no eyebrow-raisers: pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
Maybe it's just a coincidence that the suggested pairing for the "Kahlua Buns" is the grüner veltliner. Neither is perfect, but they're both outliers. Edgy? Wild? Stranger things have happened.