The Tenderloin Room
232 North Kingshighway Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63108
Sun-Thurs 5:00-9:00 PM, Fri & Sat 5:00-10:00 PM
St. Louis Magazine writes:
It’s evening, and the cold outside is knife-sharp, making the interior of The Tenderloin Room all the more inviting. It’s the penetrating, late-winter kind of chill when one is weary of the season and knows that there is still a month and a half, maybe two, of such weather ahead, so why not dress up and go out for the place’s signature dish? A hefty chunk of beef won’t make spring come faster, but it almost certainly will make the interim easier to bear.
Located inside The Chase Park Plaza, the restaurant is too upscale to be categorized merely as a steakhouse, with mossy carpet so thick, it stifles most sound, save for the tinkle of glass and soft burbles of conversation. There’s plenty of dark oak. Linens are as white as a December snow. The gentle, atmospheric lighting makes everyone look just a little more elegant than we are. Rosemary Clooney is warbling overhead as we’re seated. Is there another place in town where this woman is on the playlist?
There was a time, not coincidentally, when Clooney was on the charts, that such places as The Tenderloin Room were a natural gathering place for the well-heeled, a time when Christian Dior’s rounded shoulders and tucked waists were the New Look for the city’s courtisanes de marque. Men wore high-waisted, pleated pants and twill and chubby ties and, on nights like this, tweed Ulster coats when visiting restaurants of this caliber.
No simple steakhouse could conjure this atmosphere nowadays—yet this place does.
There are other choices of a carnivorous persuasion on the menu: a strip steak with the bone in, a filet bulging with crab meat and Dijon mustard sauce, a pork chop fatter than the St. Louis Yellow Pages. We are here, though, for the specialty of the place, the Pepperloin à la Tenderloin.
“It’s not at all spicy,” the waiter says. It’s a reminder that, at our age, a restaurant’s staff sometimes thinks it’s necessary to let us know “pepper” in a menu description should not intimidate us. We’re tempted to ask, “Could you make it so?” Instead, like all those of the generation that remember David Hockney, Ho Chi Minh, and a flag fluttering in a lunar breeze, we cluck about the prices. Few preparations of tenderloin across the region match what it costs here, at $38, which has occasioned critical comments: Patrons are to pay the equivalent of an entire meal at some restaurants for a few generous pieces sawed off a communal cut? The gripe is understandable, though one could say the same of prime rib or roast beef that a chef carves at an upscale banquet.
“Don’t touch the plates—they’re hot,” warns the server. The china is practically radiating heat, so we resist the temptation to hoist the plate in our hands and dig in. Instead, we opt for a knife and fork. The arrangement is beautiful, with spears of roasted asparagus and a twice baked potato served alongside. We’re offered some of the “special house sauce,” and we allow a dribble on one of the pieces of tenderloin.
Old Blue Eyes is crooning as the steak arrives, not quite fork-tender. It gives way under the knife, deep-carmine and glistening in the middle. The surface is crusted to the inviting darkness of unpolished mahogany. We can detect the prickle of pepper; our waiter, though, didn’t mislead—it isn’t spicy. Instead, it’s lovely and warm, with a rich, earthy tang, the taste of grass and grain turned to muscle. We notice, too, that the tenderloin has been roasted so expertly, all the juices stay inside. There isn’t a drop on our plate, though the juices explode on our palate with every bite.
Around us, waiters greet regulars like family members, asking about their children. At our table, service is perfunctory—professional, nothing more—but we take it in stride, surveying the atmosphere. The experience is, in a way, reflective of the city and region where we live, with insiders and outsiders. The Tenderloin Room has hosted leaders, artists, other Clooneys…all sorts of luminaries. A few meals here, and the waiter likely would know all about our spawn as well—we’re not necessarily strangers forever. Tonight, though, we’re like steerage passengers who’ve stumbled into the first-class dining room, duffers who’ve mistaken Bellerive Country Club for a public course. We might as well have ambled into Overland’s Chazzez Place and ordered a Fruit Tingle.
We are happy to be slumming on this night, though, enjoying the beef and conversation around us, the clubby ambience of it all. We’re observers, and it offers a not-unpleasant remove from which to take it all in.
Before we leave, we pause to do a little more of that: take it all in. Despite the open kitchens that have grown popular across town, there’s probably no better view of what a good restaurant looks like than here. You can see into the bustling kitchen, at the same time viewing much of the dining area. You don’t even have to squint to imagine what it looked like half a century ago: It wasn’t much different.
Outside, a few blocks to the west, are palatial homes along Westmoreland Place and Portland Place, hulking like glaciers. To the north, there’s Hortense Place and Pershing Place. To the west, down Lindell Boulevard, it’s the same, with houses of the Gilded Age just as the gild was wearing off, thanks to the Great War and ensuing Depression. It feels as if the towering hotel, as well as the restaurant inside, anchor all of this, keeping the neighborhood solid, fixed in that “other time.”
It’s bitter-cold on this night and snow threatens, so we get in the car and drive back, through the decades. We might not be regulars at The Tenderloin Room. But on a night like this, it’s a great place—and an even nicer era—to visit.
Bar,Dinner,Fine Dining,Private Room,Wheelchair Access
Pricey - $36 - $60