ST. LOUIS -- "The Grove," as friends of Busch's Grove Restaurant know it, has been around for a century. John Busch started it in 1890 when he turned a general store called the Woodland Grove into a restaurant. His son, along with Paul Kammerer, took over 28 years later; and the rest is St. Louis culinary history. (For further historical information, look at the carving in Busch's Grove's men's bar, where the founders are pictured in bas-relief.)
There is an old-fashioned, country-club feel about this venerable restaurant, some of whose tables have been occupied by the same families for generations. The dining room is wood-paneled, with a cozy fireplace; when we've sat inside, there was so much table-hopping it seemed that nearly everybody who comes to eat here knows everybody else. In the summer, regulars frequently have themselves seated out back in the "cages" -- screened grass-hut gazebos that make dinner a tropical party.
If seated in a hut (or even inside), the traditional way to begin Busch's Grove meal is with a mint julep. These are libations that look like kiddie drinks but pack an adult wallop. They come topped with paper parasols, an orange slice, a stemmed maraschino cherry and fresh mint leaves; and they are served in the traditional julep manner -- inside a big silver tumbler filled with shaved ice and oceans of good Kentucky bourbon. We have yet to find such expertly made and delightfully presented juleps in any other restaurant.
The thing to eat at Busch's Grove is traditional American food: steaks and chops with au gratin potatoes on the side, prime rib, and big, expensive shrimp. There is one peculiar local oddity on the menu -- toasted ravioli, which is the uniquely St. Louisan way of serving the familiar Italian dumplings: deep-fried, sprinkled with sharp cheese, with tomato sauce on the side. Have it as an appetizer.
Salads are the dishes that best capture the spirit of thi tradition-loving place. They are old-time classics served in big, happy mounds, made using familiar, non-intimidating greens (iceberg and romaine lettuce), and dressings made from good ol' mayonnaise and familiar oils (no raspberry-flavored vinegar or other such nouvelle affectations). There is a spinach salad, lavishly adorned with bacon and eggs and delicious sweet-and-sour dressing; and there is Russ' salad -- a customer favorite for many years. It is like a chef's salad, but made even richer and more luxurious by the application of "Bellevue" dressing made with hard-cooked eggs and a dusting of garlic flavor. Don't use fresh garlic in this recipe (it's too raw-tasting), and do use bottled mayonnaise (it has the body this salad needs). Serve it ice cold -- in very small portions as a starter, or on big plates as a meal, accompanied by some good, crusty bread.
Serves 4 to 6.
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup chopped green olives
6 to 8 tablespoons cream
2& 2 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped
1/2 head romaine lettuce, washed and broken into bite-size pieces
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, washed and broken into bite-size pieces
3 ounces julienne of ham
3 ounces julienne of chicken
3 ounces julienne of American cheese
3 ounces diced cooked shrimp
Prepare dressing by combining mayonnaise, garlic powder, olives, cream and chopped eggs, adding enough cream to attain a proper salad-dressing consistency. Beat well.
Toss lettuce together in large bowl. Toss with dressing. Top with ham, chicken, cheese and shrimp.
Busch's Grove, 9160 Clayton Road, St. Louis, Mo. 63124; (314) 993-0011.