From Crispy Pig Heads to Crafty Cocktails: The Midwestern Lives Up to the Hype

Image credit: The Midwestern

Over the past year, a couple of St. Louis’ most prolific tastemakers have worked alongside entertainment masterminds to bring one of the most highly-anticipated restaurants to life.

That place is The Midwestern Meat & Drink (900 Spruce Street)—Downtown St. Louis’ newest barbeque spot now open in the shadow of Busch Stadium—just in time for baseball season.

The Midwestern is the brainchild of Nick del Gaiso, Jared Ater and Stephen Savage, the business partners behind Wheelhouse and Start Bar. The trio considered opening shop in the suburbs of St. Louis County, but ultimately decided to extend their reach in the Southside of Downtown in an effort to “build a better block” at the corner of 9th and Spruce Streets.

Before committing to barbeque, the owners debated what kind of theme the restaurant should adopt—Mexican? Tiki? But truthfully, nothing captured the vibe of the Gateway City more than smoky, savory meat. Of course, carving out a reputation in the St. Louis barbeque biz is no walk in the park. We’re already home to BBQ big shots like Sugarfire, Pappy’s, and Bogart’s.

Their solution? Recruit an all-star chef who already had clout in the BBQ biz.

Ben Welch, right (image credit: The Midwestern

The chef of choice would be Ben Welch: the dude that dazzled foodies so much that his counter-service barbecue joint, Big Baby Q and Smokehouse, was named best barbeque in Missouri by Food & Wine. As soon as the Wheelhouse/Start Bar team got word that Welch was moving out of Maryland Heights, they teamed up with him.

Today, Welch’s handiwork on The Midwestern’s menu ranges from classic St. Louis-style ribs to a smoked confit pig’s head (which requires a down payment)—a culinary masterwork that’s as jaw-dropping as it is mouthwatering.

“I knew the menu Ben crafted was going to be phenomenal before I even tasted it,” said Ryan Brown, The Midwestern’s Director of Operations.

But let’s not let the meat overshadow the drinks at The Midwestern. Of course, the Wheelhouse/Start Bar crew knows a thing or two about selling booze, but they wanted to take their drinks to the next level at The Midwestern. Accordingly, they tapped a “drink czar” to helm The Midwestern’s eclectic bar.

Tony Saputo, dubbed the “drink czar” during his tenure at The Benevolent King, made a name for himself by crafting one of the most eccentric cocktail lists in town. Now, he’s invented a new menu of drinks that go hand-in-hand with Ben Welch’s barbeque. With more than 200 bottles of whiskey in his arsenal, Saputo mixes cocktails that are both fresh and familiar, like the Bourbon Renewal and the Midwestern Manhattan.

“I want [the drinks] to be approachable and easily understood…I don’t want someone to have to look at a menu for 10 to 15 minutes.” Saputo told Feast Magazine in January.

Tony Saputo (image credit: The Midwestern)

To supplement his cocktail menu, Saputo pays homage to St. Louis with scores of local draft and canned beer, including WellBeing, the non-alcoholic brew that’s taking the city by storm.

“We have bartenders in St. Louis who can easily stand up to people who work in New York [City] and Chicago, and I’m hoping to really capture that essence and show that, but also make it approachable, easily understandable, comforting and welcoming at the same time.”

The food and drinks aren’t the only things that capture the essence of St. Louis at The Midwestern, though. The 13,000 square-foot space has St. Louis fingerprints all over it: Downtown-based branding agency Atomicdust vitalized the space with sleek visuals, most notably the towering red “Ms” that adorn the walls. Even the woodwork was made by St. Louisan David Stine.

But the real ace up the sleeve of The Midwestern is live music. The spacious outdoor patio will be a magnet for baseball fans exiting Busch Stadium and walking towards Spruce Street. But this isn’t a spot for drunken karaoke performances or mom-and-pop acts. The Midwestern tapped former Old Rock House director Brian McCormac to curate local and traveling acts from a plethora of genres including blues, classic rock, funk, and gospel.

If you’re seeking refuge from the sticky floors of dive bars to feast on some of the region’s elite meats, drinks, and entertainment in the heart of Downtown, you’d better head down to 900 Spruce Street.

But hurry—they serve until they’re sold out.

About the author

Dominic Vaiana

Dominic Vaiana is a writer in St. Louis.


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