Every Sunday afternoon, I walk into Russell's on Macklind a tired man after driving into the wee hours of the morning. When I leave, I am wide awake and full of life.
Part of the reason for that is outstanding food, but a fair portion lends itself to a variety of faces, things, occurrences and overall comfort that food can only dream of bringing. Let's talk about them as you make your weekend plans, which by the end of this article will include at the South City institution of good flavors and good times over at 5300 Macklind Avenue.
Let me preface this food confession by informing you that I am not a food critic. I don't go to the new openings and rush home to write about how good that new dish is or snitch on the owner and restaurant that their food is overpriced or not good. I am a film critic, sports writer, and overall life writer-but I do occasionally dip my hands into the lifestyle market when I have something to shout about.
This is due to the fact that I only write about food and beverage joints when I really, really like a place. A spot that I want to push people towards, taking one thing off their mental to-do list for the day or night. This takes more than one visit...more like four or five different stops. You see, in order to truly get the feel for a restaurant, you need to do your homework.
I wrote about Russell's city location (Russell's Cafe and Bakey are located in Chesterfield and Fenton) back in September, but I've been wanting to go more in depth for quite a while, and here is my chance. I've been going there for a year, so I think the homework is complete and I can dish on their goods.
It all starts at the front door. A pair of sweet hostesses greets you with a smile, no matter how many people crowding them or how frantic the room gets. The first impressions simply never change at Russell's, and that includes the rustic interior with lightning that shouldn't harm the eyes of a person who partied or worked too late the night before.
The wait time, which has never stretched outside 30 minutes for me and my family, only allows you to see the lovely Trish at the counter, who will get you started on a Bloody Mary or pastry for the kid that is tagging along. Alcohol for you and sugar for the little one is a fine recipe for a relaxed family. The Kentucky Mule is perfectly made by Luke at the bar upstairs, and there are craft beers from local breweries such as 4 Hands and Urban Chestnut on tap. A San Diego newsman from the '70s once told me it's important to take the edge off with a stiff drink before you consume a large meal. Don't argue. It's science.
You'll need that Mimosa when Nikki, who is a breath of fresh air on the cloudiest day, brings you a platter of cinnamon rolls or buttermilk biscuits large enough to feed your table and the Missouri Tigers offensive line. After some light chair yoga and small stretching session, you'll be ready for the big meal.
The menu is stuffed with classic and creative options for the advanced foodie and the old school breakfast consumer. You can do eggs made your way, bacon, and toast with the Classic Breakfast or the Sunrise on Sourdough, but there are three dishes that could satisfy just about anyone.
First, the Biscuits and Gravy, which includes a lemon-pepper infused house sausage gravy and those delectable biscuits. Lean back, stretch the back, and dig in. This dish will make you feel better about just about everything in the world while making you extremely comfortable.
Second, the Maple Chili Glazed Fried Chicken, which is just as amazing as it sounds off the edge of your tongue. Chicken thighs, soaked in a sweet sauce, come with those biscuits (they are like pizza, paired well with anything!) and dressed arugula so you don't feel too bad about spreading the molasses sea salt butter on top of those biscuits. Dinner plans will be booked with this dish, because there will be leftovers. Oh, and that sauce on the corner of your mouth that you lick up later...you're welcome.
Third, the Roast Beef and Sharp Cheddar sandwich. Kick it old school with this dish, but the details make all the difference here. I'm talking about braised chuck roast, white cheddar, caramelized onions, and roasted garlic mayo inside one food apartment. Take all of that, and press it together between two pieces of toasted sourdough bread. You can get chips with that, or pay a little extra and go for the side Caesar salad that will help wash down the last few bites of roast. Don't think here. Just act on impulse.
The entire menu has something for everyone. A BLATE, which is a twist on the standard BLT with thick cuts of avocado and a sunny-side-up egg thrown on top, is LARGER than life. Caps are used properly here, because the sandwich is huge and takes up the entire platter it is served on. The quiche and strata change each week. The steak and eggs special include a gorgeously cooked strip steak covered in a sauce so secret that the cook could tell you the ending of the next Avengers movie instead of handing you the recipe.
If you like pizza, the Breakfast Flatbread will light your fire, while the Country Fried Chicken sandwich and Brunch Burger each teach you the meaning of love inside one dish. Whatever you decide, get a side of crispy potatoes.
Don't leave without a cherry strudel, blueberry muffin or large slice of chocolate cake. Walking past the delectable counter of sweet treats without taking one home is like skipping Derek and the Dominos at the end of "Layla".
The food gives until it's gone, and the quality stands up right next to the quantity — but the secret ingredient to Russell's on Macklind are the people who serve, greet, and sometimes deliver a hug every weekend.
My visit isn't complete until I get a firm handshake from the tough-looking yet kind-hearted manager, Faron. We will shed a few tears over the St. Louis Cardinals. Justin, the earnest and diligent server, and I will bleed a few fan tears over the St. Louis Blues. A hug from Sandy is required before I leave. Bill, the stoic waiter with cool tattoos and a smile that rolls out a little slower than the others yet is just as assured, is a good dude who will take care of you.
When I happen to catch Meghan flying by me, she seems to be doing seven different things at once, but still holding a smile. Maddie, who will be departing after this weekend for greener pastures so go see her, may be taking care of your double-shot espresso at the downstairs bar or taking your order at the table. She's everywhere, which is the same for everyone under the roof. The tireless Sarah does a little bit of everything, cleaning off tables, delivering food, or just being a helping hand. She's your server's stunt double.
What keeps me coming back are the people. They are genuine sweet-natured souls who do good work. If I knew the cooks in the back, I'd name them off too. Rest assured there are food chemists back there, devising a plate of food with the intent of improving your day or finishing the week off just right. Monday isn't as scary after a stop by Russell's on Macklind. Also, don't be afraid to bring the dog in the spring and summer, because there is a dog-friendly patio outside the restaurant.
Thanks to chef-owner Russell Ping (who opened the first Russell's Cafe and Bakery at the age of 22) for having the bold energy to provide South City with such a unique place to eat, laugh, and show a little love at back in 2014. This particular area/location has a special meaning to me. Located down the street from Buder Elementary school, where my dad went to school, and just a short drive from where I grew up on Tholozan, Russell's on Macklind is a wholesome slice of home for this writer.
I can drive past a spot where I swung a baseball bat as a kid, walked down the street with my dad as an older kid, and currently run around as an adult. It's all home to me, and Russell's reminds me of that every time I go there.
I don't review restaurants that often, but when I do, they are establishments you should visit immediately.
Make Russell's on Macklind your next brunch stop. I may just be sitting next to you, soaking up flavor and good vibes, after a long night of work.
*It is also open during the week for lunch and dinner service.
Photo Credit: Christine and Charlie, WeEatStuff.com