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A copy of the old Westport Room menu was embedded in the plastic tabletop where I sat with Martha, Richard and Kelly on another day.
Martha had never dined in the Westport Room but recalled eating in the Grill as a child in the 1960s. "It was dying, dirty, awful," she said. She marveled at the beauty of the renovated room, with its original marble floors and skylight ceiling.
The space can fill up pretty quickly on weekend mornings, but it hasn't caught on with the weekday breakfast crowd yet. Kathy, a veteran waitress (and former saloon owner), told me that the lunch business is pretty steady; the staff expects things to be a lot more hectic with the Bodies Revealed exhibition.
Bill Crooks told me that he hasn't had time to tinker with the menu yet, other than to upgrade the food quality. The dozen or so featured dishes on the breakfast menu are traditional diner fare: excellent fluffy pancakes, baseball-sized biscuits smothered in creamy gravy with chunks of sausage, and the standard omelet choices. The coffee's good and strong, though the thudding background music was somewhat jarring during my visits.
"It sounds like a sonogram," Ned said as he tore off a piece of a big cinnamon roll. Too big, actually: The pastry's outer rings were as dry as the Sahara. The pecan roll was just as big and dry and was served do-it-yourself style, with two plastic cups of warm caramel sauce. As I've written before, bigger is not always better in the world of breakfast pastries.
The kitchen offers a different "daily creation" six days a week, though Ned wishes all of those blue-plate specials were offered every day. He would love to have tried the chicken potpie — available only on Wednesdays — on the chilly Thursday when we had lunch. I ordered the Thursday creation, a thick hunk of roasted Missouri turkey on toast and slathered with a savory gravy. (The manager insisted that the bird was raised somewhere in the state but couldn't say just where.) The salad that came with the special was practically nonexistent, so I was glad I'd also ordered a bowl of creamy tomato-basil soup.
Ned wasn't all that impressed with his hamburger, which arrived in a shiny metal basket sided with what we agreed were fabulous onion rings. "It's OK," he said of the burger. "Nothing extraordinary." Perhaps it was the surroundings that made him expect an extraordinary hamburger. Or maybe it was nostalgia: Many of the eight burger variations are named for the trains that used to rumble in and out of Union Station.
At lunch on the other occasion, our server encouraged Martha to order that day's special. I'm happy to report that the thick slab of meatloaf with mashed potatoes and brown gravy lived up to our high expectations.
I felt daring and ordered a Monte Cristo sandwich (called a Monte Christo here), which rarely shows up on a diner menu these days and is usually some half-realized variation of the real thing. But the Harvey House version is the classic thick, soft sandwich made with thinly sliced turkey, ham and Swiss cheese, dipped in egg batter and grilled. Richard ordered a soup-and-salad combo; he loved the tomato-basil soup but was, like me on that previous visit, underwhelmed by the salad. Fussy Kelly was easy to please for a change, ordering pancakes, eggs and bacon, which are served all day.
Richard couldn't resist a big ol' wedge of coconut-cream pie — a product of Golden Boy Bakeries, which supplies most of the diners in town. It was great, as Golden Boy pies always are.