January 31, 2023
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Spencer Pernikoff

The steak fries from Wright’s Tavern are sure to become a St. Louis classic.

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Matt McGuire and Carey McDowell may have discovered Wright’s Tavern (7624 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton; 314-390-1466) only a little over a week ago, but the restaurant was created much longer – about 23 years.

“I met Matt 23 years ago at King Louis; I met my wife Holly there, so my romance with Matt started with my romance with Holly,” says McDowell. “I started litigating there and we became best friends. I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t my best friend and we always talked about doing something together one day. That’s all”.

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It’s hard to imagine a more impressive culinary dream team than McDowell and McGuire, two industry veterans who have helped shape the St. Louis culinary landscape through years in the business.

For McGuire, it started with his bygone but never forgotten King Louie’s, a south St. Louis establishment that defined the perfect upscale tavern for the contemporary diner. McGuire went on to work at some of the city’s esteemed restaurants, serving as Director of Service for the Niche Food Group, and eventually opening the widely acclaimed Louie Restaurant in DeMoon, today considered one of the area’s most important restaurants.

click to enlarge Matt McGuire and Carey McDowell are the dream team behind Wright's Tavern.

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Cheryl Baer

Matt McGuire and Carey McDowell are the dream team behind Wright’s Tavern.

McDowell’s resume is no less impressive. From working for respected chef Daniel Bulu in New York to opening Crossing in Clayton with Jimmy Fiala, McDowell spent most of his career at the pinnacle of fine dining before leaving camp to help Chris Sommers run his pizzeria Pi, which included other properties such as Gringo and Pi Rico.

Earlier this year, McDowell found himself ready to take on a new challenge — and, luckily, it was around the same time that McGuire was in talks with legendary St. Louis restaurateur Zoe Robinson to take over the site of her former Italian restaurant I Fratellini. . It was the sign both men needed to recognize that it was the right time to finally bring the restaurant they had always envisioned to life.

“In this business, the most important thing is time, as well as the people who are in the room,” says McGuire. “If I did a nationwide search for the person I would like to get for this, it would be Carey. He’s the best cooking instructor in St. Louis, the best chef in St. Louis. … And we like each other.”

click to enlarge Photos adorn the walls of Wright's Tavern dining room.

Cheryl Baer

Photos adorn the walls of Wright’s Tavern dining room.

Although McGuire describes Wright’s Tavern as a local steakhouse, he emphatically says that he and McDowell are less obsessed with the concept and more focused on creating a place that embodies what they want to experience when they go out to eat out. A restaurant is a feeling, McGuire insists, and he and McDowell hope to create a special kind of alchemy based on fundamental principles: an outstanding, well-executed classic; subsequence; and hospitality and an overall experience that just makes people happy.

“It’s good to eat well,” says McGuire. “You don’t need to explain why. People are so passionate about the origin of things, but you don’t need to explain why a tomato is good. You just experience it and you know.”

To this end, McDowell and McGuire built Wright’s Tavern to become a celebration of iconic food. Excellent Caesar salad. A crab cake made with real crab meat, not breadcrumbs and pieces of shellfish. Perfectly fried ribeye. As McDowell explains, at this point in his career, he feels it is his duty to shape these dishes to perfection and remind people why they are quintessential.

click to enlarge Shrimp shrimp.

Spencer Pernikoff

Shrimp shrimp.

“Matt and I have always shared the opinion that good is good, and there is a certain sincerity in some things,” says McDowell. “Often the most difficult things are often perceived as the simplest. It’s hard to make a really good Caesar salad every time. You must know your role and play it. a perfectly seared ribeye steak and mashed pompe or a really good creme brulee. It may sound grandiose, but I find beauty in purity. I feel obligated to suggest the right iteration of things.”

To that end, Wright’s Tavern’s menu combines all the flavors you’d expect from the perfect steakhouse. Half-shell oysters, crab cakes, prawns with garlic sauce or a cocktail and a salad wedge are examples of classic entrees, while sirloin, rib-eye, strip and steak fries make up the bulk of the main course section. As McDowell and McGuire point out, these may be dishes that seem simple, but they require impeccable technique and uncompromising searching because there is nowhere to hide. They sell for the price of traditional steakhouses; McGuire admits that Wright’s Tavern is not cheap (steaks range from $39.95 to $74.95), although, atypically for a la carte steakhouses, all main courses at Wright’s Tavern come with side dishes.

Like I Fratellini, Wright’s tavern is small and decorated in a shotgun style, though the black and white color scheme has been replaced with dark green (almost black) painted brick and a light wood ceiling. White tablecloths, amber glass candles and brass chandeliers decorate the space, while photographs depicting scenes from the life of McDowell and McGuire hang on the walls. A sparkling three-seat bar is tucked away at the back of the room, and the open kitchen, with slightly higher ceilings than the dining room, gives the illusion of more space than meets the eye.

The overall feel, from the menu to the ambiance to the service, is both elegant and comfortable, stylish and welcoming. As McGuire explains, it’s not only what he looks for in a restaurant, but what drives him to create.

“For me, everything I do is born out of enthusiasm,” says McGuire. “That’s why I say yes or no to anything. I’m never going to be a spectator, but if I think of things as if I were a spectator, and if I’m not happy with the place, why do it? to preach what you think someone else likes, you miss out. You must make sure that you do what is right for you. want to wear. It has to be a place where you want to go, where you want to be a member of the audience.”

Wright’s Tavern is open Monday to Thursday from 17:00 to 22:00 and Friday and Saturday from 17:00 to 23:00. Scroll down for more photos of Wright’s Tavern.

click to enlarge The burger and fries at Wright's Tavern are the perfection of form.

Spencer Pernikoff

The burger and fries at Wright’s Tavern are the perfection of form.

click to enlarge Wright's Tavern Crab Pie is made with large chunks of crab meat.

Spencer Pernikoff

Wright’s Tavern Crab Pie is made with large chunks of crab meat.

click to enlarge Fillet, grilling.

Spencer Pernikoff

Fillet, grilling.

click to enlarge A painting in the dining room of Wright's tavern.

Spencer Pernikoff

A painting in the dining room of Wright’s tavern.

click to enlarge Carey McDowell strives to serve quintessential versions of classic dishes.  - Spencer Pernikoff

Spencer Pernikoff

Carey McDowell strives to serve quintessential versions of classic dishes.

click to enlarge Chef with embroidered Wright's Tavern logo.

Spencer Pernikoff

Wright’s Tavern is now open in Clayton.

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