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Eating Like Pujols

July 10th, 2009 · 4 Comments · Baseball, Fantasy Baseball

I’m in St. Louis for a wedding (no, not my own), and I wonder if it can get any better than this:

Sitting in Pujols 5, a grill/restaurant in Westport Plaza, just a few feet outside the front door of my hotel, eating the “Albert’s Favorite Salad” and watching Albert Pujols, star of my first-place fantasy league team, play for the Cardinals/ Live, on one of the 45 big-screen TVs, from Wrigley Field.

Well, if I were from St. Louis and (of course) a Cardinals fan … it couldn’t get any better than this.

St. Louis loves Albert Pujols. Like Angelenos love Manny Ramirez. (Well, like they would love Manny if he had spent his whole career with the Dodgers, never been a knuckleheaded screw-off, had led the Dodgers to a championship and hadn’t yet been caught using performance-enhancing drugs and served a 50-game suspension.)

Anyway, yes, the idea of the sports-celebrity restaurant is pretty much dead in Los Angeles. (The last might have been one owned by Don Drysdale. Yeah, 40 years ago.) But in St. Louis, clearly the sports-celebrity resto is alive and well. Considering the Ozzie Smith restaurant is about 40 yards away from Pujols 5.

But St. Louis is not a normal place. Not by the cynical standards of we world-weary residents of the Left Coast. (Or the Right, far as I can tell.)

First the biggest question you want answered:

What is in Albert’s Favorite Salad?

OK, ready? Grilled chicken, bleu cheese, haricot verts (green beans, that is; Albert! Letting slip your haute cuisine tendencies!), strawberries, grapes and spicy pecans served in “our housemade dressing” — which seemed to be a balsamic vinaigrette, more or less.

Actually, I liked it. Even if the strawberries seemed out of place with the bleu cheese and haritcot verts.

Decent food flies in the face of the history of sports-celebrity restos — most of which were wretched, and just tried to hook customers with the promise of nose-on-the-glass looks at maybe-authentic paraphernalia, a hunk of steak that wouldn’t trigger your gag reflex and the vague promise that the proprietor/slugger might actually walk through the front door and reveal himself to be a dolt.

Pujols 5 might actually work, in St. Louis. Because, I am reminded, this is the ultimate baseball town in the country and because the locals come from the middle-American slice of the country that doesn’t immediately drift into mockery and contempt. (Not that I do, but …)

The rest of the patrons appeared to be well-fed St. Louisan ball fans, most of them in red. And I was wearing a red polo shirt, the one I thought was too loud for Hong Kong … but seemed just fine here … till I realized that the other patrons in the restaurant assumed it was a Cardinals shirt and were looking at it to see what jersey number it had on it. Maybe they decided I loved all the Cardinals too much to choose just one of them.

The two teenage girls at the table near us had Cardinals T-shirts with the numbers 5 (Pujols’, of course) and 4 (Yadier Molina; interesting choice).

Albert is from the Dominican Republic, so the menu has a few Caribbean-type dishes. Jerked this or that. And lots and lots of chicken. (I would not want to be a chicken in the Dominican; its life expectancy must be measured in seconds.)

The space is a big one, with a bar, a glass-encased mini-museum of Pujols moments,  a bar patio and what seems like a rambling dining space. Maybe 200 seats? More? And it’s in a semi-upscale neighborhood, the aforementioned Westport, which seems to cater to conventions and expensive, by Missouri standards, restaurants. Including a semi-posh one owned in part by former St. Louis (football) Cardinals tackle (and TV analyst) Dan Dierdorf.

We were at Pujols 5 for lunch, and it happened that the Cardinals were playing a day game at Wrigley, and I looked up to watch Pujols get an intentional walk. A pretty thoroughly authentic St. Louis experience, that is.

St. Louis is even more fired up than usual about baseball because the All-Star Game is coming to the new Busch Stadium on Tuesday.  Pujols and Molina will play in the game, and the city is a-twitter with excitement. The airport has “Welcome 2009 All-Star Game!” banners everywhere, and the hotels are filling up. The Futures Game is Sunday, and the home run hitting contest is Monday, and the National League’s annual defeat is Tuesday.

St. Louis loves baseball. Have I mentioned that? For half a century it was the western terminus of the major leagues, and often a sort of de facto home team for every American living from the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers … all the way to the Pacific Coast.

St. Louis actually had two teams, the Cardinals, who nearly always were good, and the oft-forgetton (outside St. Louis) Browns, who never won anything — until World War II, when their collection of 4F ballplayers outpaced those of the rest of the American League. Sadly, the Browns lost the World Series in six games to … the Cardinals.

My grandmother was born in the St. Louis area, 119 years ago, and  she was a huge Cardinals fan. Even after 35 years of living in Long Beach. She went to sleep every night in the summer with Vin Scully describing Dodgers games from Chavez Ravine, but in her waking hours she would regale me with stories of the Cardinals of the 1930s, which she always referred to as “The Gashouse Gang” — a name I thought most peculiar for a ballclub. (What was a gas house? And were they thugs, like gang members? When I was 10, I wasn’t at all sure.) And she was always talking up Dizzy Dean.

I remain convinced Cardinals fans the best baseball fans in the country (imagine Red Sox fans, but without the intellectual pomposity and the myriad neuroses … OK, maybe that doesn’t work), and the most recent edition of Sports Weekly suggests just that while doing a story on how the Cardinals draw 3 million fans year after year despite what would seem to be a “small” market, by L.A., New York or Chicago standards. And how St. Louis fans appreciate a well-played game, even if it is the other team playing it.

They love their team so much, they even go to the restaurant/bars with the Cardinals’ names on them.

(Not to say they don’t have lucid, critical moments of their team. Here’s a fairly amusing send-up of Pujols that apparently ran on a local radio station a few years back, and has, oh, about 50 references to his restaurant in it.)

So there I was this afternoon, living the authentic St. Louis experience, having lunch at Pujols 5, with Albert’s Salad in front of me and a bright red shirt.


4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jacob Pomrenke // Jul 11, 2009 at 4:15 AM

    Speaking of Cardinals restaurants …

    Too bad you can’t go to “Stan Musial’s and Biggie’s” anymore; it’s long gone. As is Enos Slaughter’s Korean restaurant in Webster Groves.

    I’d recommend the very tasty “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ,” but it’s in Alabama and has nothing to do with the scowling Hall of Fame pitcher.

    Of course, there’s always J. Buck’s or the popular Mike Shannon’s nearby.

    But as native St. Louisan Yogi Berra might say, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded!”

  • 2 MMRCPA // Jul 11, 2009 at 7:20 AM

    Can’t wait to hear the stories about the train wreck from an impartial observer. Family get togethers are tough!

  • 3 Dennis Pope // Jul 13, 2009 at 12:07 PM

    Why no headline for this?

    I suggest: “Pondering Pujols” or “Pujols Potpourri.”

  • 4 soccer goals // Jul 24, 2009 at 4:05 PM

    Pujols is great plyer and nice guy

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