TIGER TRACKER 2: Missouri (2-0) seeks to avenge last year’s defeat to Purdue

Cliches. Buzzwords. Coach speak. Whatever you call those familiar football phrases, Barry Odom was full of them in his weekly press conference ahead of Missouri’s week 3 matchup with the Purdue Boilermakers.

“We understand and know we have a long way to go, in a number of areas.

“It will be a great challenge on Saturday night, and we look forward to it.

“We had a pretty good practice today, but we need to be even better tomorrow.

“We just try to go 1-0 this week…..that’s where I want to be.”

Odom may not always present the most interesting sound bites, but he knows the correct words to say leading into his first road test of the young season. Yes, Barry O has learned how the play the game. He looks a bit more comfortable atop the podium than in years prior. Heck, he even has established some running jokes with the local media. Odom can also spot the traps more easily in his third campaign as head coach of the Missouri Tigers football program. Case in point, he perfectly addressed a question that he knew would be coming sometime during his Tuesday press conference:

Would you use last year’s Purdue game to motivate the guys?

“We’ve already addressed that one so many times that we don’t really need to go back there. They know what’s out there. They know what happened that Saturday afternoon and the lessons that came from it…to learn from that mistake and use it to our advantage,” Odom coolly replied.

Odom’s calm — and frankly, boring — demeanor while addressing the media is exactly the kind you’d like to see if you’re a Missouri fan in 2018. Barry’s football team is 2-0 for the first time during his tenure, but they cannot become overconfident before facing a third non-conference opponent……and they certainly cannot take any win for granted. And while guaranteeing a win might be interesting, the bland, cookie-cutter, one-week-at-a-time tone will do just fine for this Mizzou fan/blogger.

For those of you out there who don’t remember last year’s meeting with Purdue, Missouri was on the wrong side of a 35-3 beatdown at Faurot Field that derailed the entire season. Were it not for the Tigers’ six straight wins in the softer half of the schedule, things could have looked very, very bleak for Barry O in year two.

In last year’s meeting, Purdue out-gained Missouri 477 to 203 yards, won the turnover margin comfortably as Mizzou gave the ball over three times — including a muffed punt, and won the possession game as they held the ball for 43:43 to Mizzou’s 16:17. By halftime, it felt like nearly all of the 53,000 supporters on hand had fled from Memorial Stadium as the Tigers were in a 28-3 deficit, and would not score a point for the remainder of the game.

There’s no getting around it. It was a horrendous defeat. At times it looked like the 2017 Tigers had given up on Barry Odom. Lessons to learn, indeed.

This year’s team looks to avenge that loss, but more importantly, they want to continue playing solid football. The schedule will not get any easier after facing the Boilermakers, and a road win would offer an opportunity to gain momentum before conference play. Here’s what lies ahead for Mizzou as they get ready to kickoff against Purdue tonight in West Lafayette at 6:30 (CST).

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Drew Lock is slinging the football

Which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. The senior from Lee’s Summit, MO has led the offense by passing for 289 yards against UT-Martin in week 1 and 398 against Wyoming in week 2 in what would wind up being two comfortable victories at home. On the season so far, Lock’s thrown for 687 yards, completed just under 75% of his passes (52/70, 74.3%), while averaging 9.8 yards per clip and boasting a TD/INT of 8/0. And, just for good measure, Lock has rushed for 56 yards and a rushing TD. The most impressive number that Lock’s put up, however, might be a 0.

Lock’s been sacked 0 times so far this season, which may be a testament to his improved awareness/pocket presence and outstanding pass blocking by the experienced offensive line. #3 has looked comfortable and dominated games against weaker opponents thus far. His performance has led to attention on the national stage, and if he manages to orchestrate a “signature” performance against one of the big boys in the SEC, he may emerge as a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender.

Tiger defense looks confident, wants to create more turnovers

Quite a difference one year and a few coaching tweaks can make. Ryan Walters‘ defense has looked solid and has been able to keep inferior opponents at bay through two weeks. The depth of the front seven has proven to be incredibly valuable. Shuffling in waves of different defenders, particularly on the defensive line, will be key for this defense to stay fresh and compete in games this season. The defense forced and recovered a fumble in each of their first two games, and currently holds a 1.0 turnover margin on the season.

The Tiger secondary, perhaps the biggest question mark leading into the season, has looked rather impressive as well. Odom praised sophomore corner Adam Sparks (who looks like he’s improved greatly from last season) in his weekly press conference. Sparks, who was once a Purdue commit, is poised to have another great performance and to pick up the Tigers’ first interception of the season tonight.

Who will break out as Mizzou’s lead back?

At this point, no one knows. Odom indicated that he will use all three pieces of his running back trio “in some way” against Purdue this weekend. Damarea Crockett, Larry Roundtree and Tyler Badie are averaging 3.7/3.8/3.7 yards per carry respectively this season. All three hope to make the most of their opportunities in a matchup that could be pass-heavy against Purdue’s weak secondary.

Everybody likes predictions, right?

While I didn’t bother to pick the UT-Martin/Wyoming matchups, I think this segment could use a few more hot takes – so I will wrap it with my prediction going forward:

Line: MIZ -6.0

Prediction: MIZ wins, and covers, 49-10

Ship. The. Roll. On the Tigers tonight. MIZ

 

TIGER TRACKER 1: What’s in store for the 2018 Missouri Tigers?

Barry Odom knows he has a job to do.

He knew it in the winter of 2015 – when he was hired to head the Missouri Tigers football program during one of its most pivotal times in recent history. The team’s starting quarterback had been suspended indefinitely. A collective team boycott had recently ended following campus demonstrations for better race relations that had received global media attention. And Odom’s predecessor, the man who delivered the program out of irrelevancy and once to the top of college football notoriety,  had announced that he would be walking away from it all as he continued to battle leukemia. Odom knew he had a job to do then.

He knew it 12 short months after that, when his football team bit and scratched their way to a 4-8 overall season record following a 28-24 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks on Black Friday. The taste of victory may have been sweet that day, but he -and new boss Jim Sterk – knew that the job was far from over when the season concluded at Faurot Field that chilly afternoon in 2016.

He knew it in September of 2017, after a 51-14 drubbing at Faurot at the hands of the Auburn Tigers…And when he declared that his players and staff would turn the season around during the press conference following that embarrassing loss…And when he oversaw his team win 6 of the remaining 7 games (with the benefit of a soft schedule) to improve to a 7-5 regular season record.

So, don’t tell Barry Odom about how he and his team have a job to do in 2018. Because he’s known it for quite some time now.

Although Odom may be coaching for his job to a certain extent in 2018, there seems to be a dash of optimism around this year’s edition of the Missouri football Tigers that hasn’t existed in the two previous seasons. As the voice of the Tigers Mike Kelly put it while speaking to Gabe DeArmond and Mitchell Forde on the PowerMizzou podcast Barry Odom actually likes this team – for maybe the first time since taking over as head coach.

 “I think he does like this team – and rightfully so. Not only does this team have talent, but there’s a lot of good people he’s surrounded himself (with) both in the locker room and in the coaches room.” – Mike Kelly, Tiger Radio Network

There’s no doubt that this should be one of, if not the most, talented teams that Odom will lead. East St. Louis native Terry Beckner Jr. leads a stout front four that should make opposing quarterbacks feel a little less comfortable dropping back this season. (The Tigers ranked an atrocious 106th in Passing Yards Allowed in 2017.) Walter Palmore, and highly-touted Jordan Elliott are also expected to be factors up front, creating one of the deepest d-line corps since the days of Marcus Golden, Harold Brantley and Shane Ray. Behind the defensive line, Cale Garrett, Terez Hall and Brandon Lee make up a more experienced linebacking group that should help plug up the holes.

The situation in the secondary, however, is a little more ambiguous. Adam Sparks and DeMarkus Acy are slated as the starting cornerbacks when the Tigers open the season against the UT-Martin Skyhawks on September 1. Senior Cam Hilton is listed ahead of Joshua Bledsoe for the opener, however Bledsoe did receive a fair amount of playing time last season. Missouri’s two-deep depth chart lists RS junior Khalil Oliver and sophomore Tyree Gillespie as the number one and two options for free safety, and it wouldn’t be shocking if Odom and the staff try to work the second-stringers in against UT-Martin to see who really stands out.

On the offensive side of the ball, Mizzou returns all five starters on the offensive line – who average 6′ 5″ and 325 pounds. The big boys should open up plenty of lanes for two speedy backs who are set to split reps to begin the season — Junior DaMarea Crockett rushed for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2016 before hampered by injury during most of the 2017-18 season, and sophomore Larry Rountree III rushed for over 750 yards last season as a freshman. The receiving corp looks as strong as it has in years with Emanuel Hall, Johnathon Johnston, Nate Brown and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, whose breakout season landed him on the 2018 Preseason All-SEC First Team, are named as starters.

The centerpiece of the offense, however, will certainly be senior quarterback Drew Lock. Lock’s name has been tossed around in some early Heisman Trophy chatter heading into the 2018 following what turned out to be a record-shattering 2017 campaign. Lock threw a school and conference-record 44 passing touchdowns, raked up 3,964 passing yards, and led the SEC in passing efficiency, passing yards, total offense, passing yards per game (304.9) and yards per completion (16.38 – also was the best in the country.) Lock’s decision last spring to not enter the NFL Draft and instead return to Columbia for his senior season changed the perspective on the outcome of the 2018 season – and possibly Barry Odom’s head coaching legacy.

In order for Lock to put up video game numbers once again, he’ll have to navigate his way through a seriously tough schedule. The Tigers will host UT-Martin and Wyoming to open the season, before traveling to West Lafayette, Indiana for a matchup with Purdue. After being embarrassed 35-3 by the Boilmakers at home last year, it shouldn’t take much to get this year’s team fired up for a win. And the thing is….they pretty much need to win at Purdue on September 15, because Mizzou will face a buzzsaw of games in the following weeks playing National Runner-Up Georgia at home, at South Carolina and at Alabama, home of the defending National Champions. If Missouri came come away 1-2 or better in those matchups, the chance of a special season will live on. If they find themselves 0-3, they will have to regroup at the Homecoming game vs Memphis to try to bring excitement back to the fanbase.

Will we learn much about this football team after a matchup with the UT-Martin Skyhawks? Most likely not. Unless of course they lose that game at Faurot Field, in which case I will begin writing my retrospective on Barry Odom’s career that evening. But it will be interesting to see what Odom and new Offensive Coordinator Derek Dooley have in store, how much time will the first stringers see, and who makes the big plays on Saturday. Check back on The Maus Haus as I preview the upcoming Mizzou Football games every Friday this year on The Tiger Tracker!

unis

SANDWICH REVIEW #4: Chris’ Pancake & Dining

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But, if you’re like me, you may not be the most comfortable around egg mixers, stoves and skillets.

Yes, it’s true. I am a lousy cook. Ask any of my former roommates and they’ll tell you — if it can’t be made on a George Foreman grill or brought to the front door, then I ain’t making it. Perhaps this is why I forgo a good, solid breakfast so often. And, perhaps this is why I can appreciate a solid slab of meat between two pieces of bread.

My friends, I write to you this Sunday evening to say that sometimes you can have it all. Sometimes you strike gold in the most unexpected places.

Chris’ Pancake and Dining is somewhat of a St. Louis institution. Chris’ and the other member Bartolino’s Restaurants put a premium on quality and they like to keep things simple, as evidenced by their motto: Cook good food and give plenty. I would say they have kept true to their word, as they have been delivering high-quality dining experiences in St. Louis for nearly 60 years.

Settled at the corner of Southwest Avenue and Watson Road in the beautiful Clifton Heights neighborhood, Chris’ has been a longtime favorite brunch destination after Sunday mass for several local families — including my own. Find yourself in the lobby at 12:30 p.m. on a Sunday and you’re likely waiting for a table to open up. Clamoring, laughter and the ‘ding-ding’ of silverware against glass and china fill the room. Nine times out of ten you will see Chris Saracino himself, or his wife Joanie, seating tables. Alongside the benches in the waiting area you will find coffee and butterscotch cookies, which I would guess are more addicting than crack cocaine. This cozy breakfast eatery, however, serves up a sandwich even more satisfying than its butterscotch treats.

Vendor: Chris’ Pancake & Dining (Southwest location)

Sammie: The Chris’andwhich

Bread: Croissant

Dine-In/Carryout: Carryout

Ingredients:

  • Fried Egg
  • Sausage Patty
  • American Cheese
  • Hash browns (On side)

Tasting Notes

What I particularly like about Chris’ is that its menu contains the breakfast essentials done extremely well, with a bit of Italian influence sprinkled in (i.e. Sicilian omelette.) The Chris’andwich takes everything you love about breakfast and smacks it all together. I will add the disclaimer here that unfortunately I was a bit pressed for time, as legit journalists say, on this Saturday morning. Therefore I had to take this sammie on the run and eat it in my car, but to my delight it did not disappoint.

The egg was prepared just how I like ’em — not runny and not too dry. The sausage patty may have been a bit larger than what you’d typically find on your breakfast plate. It tasted a little smoky to me, and unmistakably seasoned to perfection like all of my prior meals at Chris’ have been. My slice of dairy was a bed of melty goodness that complimented the slightly-spicy sausage and egg perfectly. Why do I not eat breakfast again?

chris
As stated earlier, I had to take my sammie on the run. This photo is from Yelp.

I’ve been asked frequently over these past few weeks what I consider the most when conducting my sandwich reviews. I give the same answer every time — it starts with the bread.

The croissant that held this beauty together was the meal’s MVP. Light, buttery, and delicately soft, the croissant made the sandwich for me from start to finish. It wasn’t particularly warm, which may have brought the entire experience down just a bit. Had I been able to sit at a table to enjoy and not devour it as I swerved through south city, I’m sure this note would have been rectified. Overall, this morning-time treat brought it very strong, and I will have again very soon.

Overall Rating: 4.3/5

 

SANDWICH REVIEW #3: The Gramophone

Ladies and gentlemen it feels so good to be with you all again on this calm, comfortable spring evening. The last time I inked to you beautiful people 1) the Missouri Basketball Tigers had two young men on scholarship with the last name “Porter”, 2) we all were driving with our windows rolled up and 3) I had reviewed just two sandwich shops in the Greater Saint Louis area. Well, I’m happy to say that at least two of those circumstances have gotten much better since then.

I write to you all tonight from my parents’ front porch, wearing flip flops and swatting away the gnats as they kamikaze towards my face — a welcome sign that summer is almost here. And better yet – it’s time for sandwich review #3.

This review takes us the wonderful The Grove neighborhood – a place that seems to be exploding with more bars, eateries and culture every time I visit. There aren’t many areas in The Lou that feature Tex-Mex, hand-crafted pizzas, microbreweries, calzones and Afghan cuisine all on one main drag, afterall. Oh, and did I mention the sandwiches?

Enter The Gramophone

The Gramophone is a concert venue turned sandwich pub with an army of craft beers on tap and some damn good toasty subs. There is no character lost on this place. The red brick exterior is undeniably St. Louis, and the inside feels just as intimate as your favorite local corner bar. High top tables paired with bar stools litter the dining room to the right. Arcade game machines and pool tables loiter in the back. A long wooden bar topped with beer taps and band stickers greets eager guests to the left of the entrance. On this particular day a man is picking a slow-paced, bluesy riff on electric guitar in the background.

One could be forgiven for thinking they weren’t in a sandwich shop.

A sign taped near the window among posters for upcoming shows reads “Please Order All Food At The Bar”, so I make my way to the tall slab of wood. Two monitors above rotate a lengthly list of local craft beer options — from small-batch brewers such as 2nd Shift, Civil Life and Founders Brewing Co., to more prominent ale houses such as 4 Hands, Schlafly and Urban Chestnut. Today’s trip is all about the sandwiches, though, and it was now time to choose.

Vendor: The Gramophone

Sammie: Delcortivo

Bread: (Fazio’s Bakery) Toasted Baguette

Dine-In/Carryout: Dine-In

Ingredients

  • Ham
  • Roast Beef
  • Salami
  • Prosciutto
  • Provel cheese
  • Lettuce
  • Tomato
  • Red Onion
  • Pepperoncini
  • Deli Dressing
  • Pepper Mayo

Tasting Notes

For once I did my journalistic duty of eating the sandwich hot off the grill and inside of the restaurant, and it sure felt like I made the right decision. The Delcortivo is not one to be taken lightly. Not only is the meat stacked high on this guy, but the lightly toasted and buttery baguette offers a flakey crunch that requires careful handling in order to take in all of the flavor. Other than the aforementioned and delicious baguette from Fazio’s Bakery on The Hill, the Deli Dressing (from what I can tell is some kind of olive oil & vinegar mix) really stands out from the first bite. The second bite delivers a kick of smoked goodness in the form of prosciutto and ham, and as I make my way to the belly of this beast on bread, the salami and roast beef enter the mix.

The festival of flavors extends in a very balanced way throughout the sitting. The meat is the most dominant taste, with solid backing from the bread, dressing and pepper mayo. The pepper mayo doesn’t add any mouth-burning taste but acts almost like an accent mark would to the major stars of this sammie.

I really have to tip my cap to the The Gramophone’s flawless presentation of the Delcortivo, and was impressed with how flavorful the sammie was without one over-dominant flavor. My only nitpick here would be that I would have liked to see the provel a little more melty, and the meat a bit warmer and toastier throughout. Nevertheless, this will not be my last visit to this unique sandwich spot on Manchester Avenue.

Overall Rating: 4.6/5

 

RAPID FIRE: One Porter down, one (maybe) to go

Hello, again, my dear friends.

It’s been far too long since we’ve all gotten together, so let’s get caught up on this beautiful Good Friday, shall we? We are quickly approaching the pinnacle of American sports in the calendar year (at least in my opinion.)

The Final Four tips off this weekend, Opening Day at Busch Stadium is just a few days away, the NHL postseason — the most grueling post season in professional sports — will be here soon, and of course who can forget the most competitive (if not the most arrogant) golf tournament of the year, The Masters from Augusta, Georgia. For me, the only time period that rivals April is the consolidation of postseason baseball, the heart of college football season, and the beginning of the NHL regular season in October. That’s why we will veer away from #sandwiches in this blog post and focus on sports.

Before we go any further, I have to give a big “thank you” to all of my readers for your continued support and comments on the content I’ve published so far. I truly do appreciate feedback, positive or negative, and I hope to whip out new posts on a more consistent basis going forward. Now, for you readers who’ve enjoyed the sandwich reviews, I think you will be very pleased with what’s to come this spring and summer. I know I’m excited. Now without further ado, let’s go rapid fire.

Mizzou Hoops’ season ends with first-round loss in NCAA Tournament

The Missouri Tigers men’s basketball season came to a disappointing end two weeks ago as the shorthanded squad fell to the Florida State Seminoles 67-54 in Nashville during a first round game in the NCAA Tournament. The shorthanded Tigers fell behind early and trailed by 22 at the half. They were able to use a second-half run to cut the lead to as little as 8 points, but ultimately ran out of gas before losing to the 9th-seeded Seminoles.

First-year coach Cuonzo Martin knew that the task would be a difficult one as his team was limited to only seven scholarship athletes in the first-round matchup. One of his seven available scholarship players was no other than the savior himself, Michael Porter Jr., who had been sidelined for nearly four months following back surgery. Porter Jr., who recently announced he would declare for the NBA Draft and not return to college, was one of the most celebrated college basketball recruits going into the 2017-18 season. One could argue that his commitment to the University of Missouri breathed new life into a basketball program that had been by all accounts deceased for three years.

Before taking himself out of the game during the season opener vs Iowa State, MPJ was a MacDonald’s All-American, #1 recruit in the nation and widely considered a top 5 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. His explosiveness and 6′ 10″ frame, coupled with his ability to ball handle and shoot the deep ball, made him a kind of player that could take over a game for any team at arguably any level.

That’s not the MPJ Mizzou fans saw in Nashville two weeks ago.

Porter Jr. trudged his way up and down the court, was mostly kept in check around the rim, was missing touch in his jumpshot and at times looked lost on defense. He shot just 4/12 from the field (1/4 3pt) yet still locked up a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. The most poignant moment of his night came under 10 minutes in the second half in which Porter Jr. simply bent over hands-on-knees in complete exhaustion, almost like something you would see in an adult church league.

Now, let me be clear. I am not here to rip apart the forward from Columbia, Missouri, quite the opposite. It was clear to anyone who has watched 5 minutes of competitive basketball that Porter Jr. was not in shape. There was no explosiveness. There were no windmill dunks. No bone-shattering blocks off a Florida State fast break. No no no. It was obvious that three+ months of not being able to run, jump, take a charge or participate in full contact drills affected his ability to be in game shape. How could it not?

I am not here to rip apart Michael Porter Jr. I would like to praise Michael Porter Jr. for his grit and eagerness to return and try to help his teammates advance in the Big Dance. The guy may have easily told the Missouri coaching staff that he’d decided to watch his teammates from the bench in sweats. He could have (maybe) risked re-injury. He may have already hurt his NBA Draft stock. Michael Porter Jr. had everything to lose by stepping back onto the floor, but he did it anyway. I truly believed that he cared about his team’s success and a shot from the broadcast that showed Michael with tears in his eyes as the final seconds ticked down all but confirms that. For that, I salute you, Michael, and wish you the best of luck in your professional career.

mpj

There still is much to break down from the end of this memorable season, but to go quickly:

  • I put all my chips in on head coach Cuonzo Martin. A 20-win season following three seasons of 8/9/8 wins is nothing short of remarkable. Michael’s return no doubt had serious consequences for how Cuonzo would prepare his team. Asking a player of Michael’s caliber to shoot 10 or 12 times a game rather than his usual 20 is almost an impossible situation to coach around. I’ve been critical of Cuonzo’s in-game management, but his graciousness in interviews, relative recruiting success and the way his team’s defense played down the stretch of this season gives lots of reasons for optimism.
  • Let’s not forget about the other Porter, either. You know, Jontay Porter, the one who reclassified as a high school senior so he could jump up and play with his superstar brother? The one who averaged 10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal per game as a freshman? The one who earned SEC All-Freshman team and SEC Co-Sixth Man of the year honors? The one who may also follow his brother and declare for the NBA Draft this spring? Well, he’s a special talent, like his big brother, and should he return to Columbia next year he will have a great impact on the 2018-19 Missouri Tigers. Stay in school, Jontay. Stay in school.
  • We may never know the impact of losing Jordan Barnett in the first round of the tournament. Barnett was the team’s second-leading scorer and put together a nice senior season as a catch-and-shoot perimeter forward whose defense improved as the season went on. Barnett was suspended per the Missouri Student Athlete handbook after being arrested for suspicion of DUI early on March 10, just a week before the Florida State game. His suspension was even more disappointing (aside from not having him in the game) as Barnett was looked to by many as a leader both on and off the court. I have to feel for Jordan as he probably knows that he let his teammates down, and also that he lost his only chance of playing in the NCAA tournament following his arrest. Perhaps this is a moment to remember that everyone makes mistakes. I just hope that he takes the time to learn from this one.

Check back very soon for another round of Rapid Fire, where we will recap the St. Louis Blues’s late season resurgence, and what to expect from the Cardinals in 2018. Until next time…..

M-I-Z Z-O-U

 

SANDWICH REVIEW #2: Blues City Deli

The kid is back – and with another round of oh-so-good sandwich reviews for his loyal readers. Because I’ve received nothing but positive feedback from my first review of Gioia’s Deli, and because I haven’t given you folks very much high-quality #journalism lately, I’ve decided I’d make it up to you all by featuring two sandwich reviews in this blog post. That’s right folks. Twice the sandwiches, twice the journalism. That’s how eager I am to bring you my hot takes on these hot sammies. But enough horsing around – it’s time for sandwich review #2.

What we have here ladies and gentleman is another staple of the St. Louis sandwich community. Blues City Deli, whose namesake derives from the nickname given to St. Louis, is one of those places you’ve wanted to try for a very long time, but for some reason haven’t made your way there to see what all the buzz is about. I can say this because I was one of these people. My first experience with BCD came several years ago, so I thought it would only be fair to give it another try.

Sandwiches aside, this shop is famous around the region for its unique and upbeat atmosphere. The menu is almost entirely blues themed. Some of its items such as the “Memphis Stax” and the “Delta Bayou” give a “tip of the hat to many cities on the ‘Blues Highway'” as explained on the deli’s official website. In addition to its menu, BCD’s walls are adorned with photos of blues music legends such as Robert Johnson. B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Tommy Bankhead and more. And, of course, a trip to the Benton Park-neighborhood sandwich shop is not complete without the music. Many times you will find a live band jamming inside while the line snakes its way from outside and down the block to the front counter.

band

I made my trek after a several years’ absence on a rainy February afternoon to find the line out the door and beginning to curl to the east alongside the brick building wall. Fortunately for me and my colleague Michael Krupp (shoutout to Michael for joining me on this review) this place has their craft down to an exact science, and to my amazement we had reached the front of the line in no more than five minutes. Our wait in line provided an opportunity to take in every little bit of ambiance that comes along with this corner store. The front windows are covered with ‘Riverfront Times Best of’ and ‘Sauce Magazine Reader’s Choice’ stickers, and one that states “People Love Us on Yelp!”. Go figure, as not even a week earlier Blues City Deli had been ranked in the Top 10 of Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat for 2018. As we approached the front of the line, blues music playing through the speakers and all (there was no live band today) it was now decision time.

Vendor: Blues City Deli, 2438 McNair Ave., St. Louis, MO

Sammie: “The Thunderbird”

Bread: Toasted Hoagie

Dine-In/Carryout: Carryout

With a lineup as deep as BCD’s, choosing the most satisfying sandwich is no easy task. So I relied solely on the eye test — which sandwich looked so tasty that I simply couldn’t say ‘no’ to.

Enter The Thunderbird.

Ingredients

  • Turkey
  • Pastrami
  • Cappicola
  • Bacon
  • Provel Cheese
  • Tomato, Onion, Pepperoncini & ‘Boom Boom’ sauce

Tasting Notes

The first and most obvious flavor was the ‘Boom Boom’ sauce – which reminded me of a kind of smoky thousand island. But it was hot, oh boy, was it hot. Unfortunately the folks at BCD were a bit too generous with their spread of secret sauce, and it proceeded to drip and pour out of my sammie with each proceeding bite. No matter – I would ultimately persevere.

Working my way into the heart of the sandwich, the turkey was the meat that stood out in taste for me. The occasional bite of bacon was at times over-powering, but coupled with the provel cheese it made for a delicious bite. But what about the pastrami? The cappicola and pepperoncini? All of these ingredients — all generally underrated in their own way — seemed to be lost by the excessive slathering of ‘Boom Boom’ sauce.

While delicious, I couldn’t help but feel a little let down by the hype surrounding ‘The Thunderbird’. A big consideration for me is always the bread – I tend to favor french bread that has a little crunch to it. The hoagie that nestled the Thunderbird was fine, but felt a little too chewy for my liking.

Overall Rating: 4.0/5

In my overall excitement of getting to the front of the line, I ordered a second sammie to take home later for its own review.

Sammie: “The Redbird”

Bread: Hoagie

Dine-In/Carryout: Carryout

Yeah, I know, there must be a thing about sandwiches with “birds” in the name. The Redbird was a Special of the Day, and it too passed the eye test. I requested to have this one prepared cold because I knew I would likely eat it the next day.

Ingredients

  • Turkey
  • Cappicola
  • Bacon
  • Provel cheese
  • Lettuce, Tomato and Sweet Red Pepper Sauce

With lots of overlap with ‘The Thunderbird’, ‘The Redbird’ brought it strong with a mix of turkey/provel/bacon flavor. The first bite through the last featured a turkey flavor. The biggest difference here was the missing ‘Boom Boom’ sauce, and instead featured the Sweet Red Pepper as its replacement. The sauce was really more of a paste, however, and unlike the ‘Boom Boom’ sauce the Sweet Red Pepper cooled this sandwich off quite a bit. To me it was a nice compliment, but the flavor could be over-powering at times. (I would compare it to the Legend Club at LeGrand’s, for all of you other sandwich aficionados.) I try not to penalize the sandwich too much on taste given that I chose to eat it leftover, but the hoagie still didn’t do a whole lot for me. Perhaps dressing it down with less sauce would bring out more of the meat flavor that was missing, but nevertheless, I have to stick by my ratings here.

Overall Rating: 3.7/5

redbird
‘The Redbird’, featuring turkey, cappicola, bacon, provel cheese, lettuce, tomato and sweet red pepper sauce.

 

SANDWICH REVIEW #1: Gioia’s Deli

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some pretty cool places in my quarter-century of existence. In fact, just within this past year I set foot in Denver, Miami, Louisville, Chicago, Las Vegas and a handful of islands in the Caribbean. I enjoy the hell out of traveling; Waiting out a delay with a beer and a friend at the airport bar. Exploring unfamiliar city streets. Sinking $80 into a single dinner. (That ribeye was definitely worth it, though.)

Of course there will always be things we miss while we are away from home. Some people yearn for their beds. Others, for clothes that they haven’t already worn three times in four days. And some people just miss the cozy feeling of being home. As for me, there’s always one thing I seem to miss when I’m away from home for a time:

Deli Sandwiches.

There are few things in this world that are more satisfying to me than a good deli sandwich. And I happen to think that St. Louis has some very respectable sandwich shops, if one knows where to look. Luckily for me, I have a brand new platform via this blog to share my sandwich hot takes with all of you. So let’s jump in with both feet: here’s sandwich review #1.

Vendor: Gioia’s Deli, 1934 Macklind Ave., St. Louis, MO

Sammie: Hot Salami & Hot Roast Beef (aka “The Big Al”)

Bread: Garlic Cheese on French Bread (Tosted)

Dine-In/Carryout: Carryout

Sandwiches can be a sensitive issue. Debate over the title of the River City’s best sammie has led to complete, purple-in-the-face-angry screaming matches amongst my friends, as silly and barbaric as that sounds. That’s why for sandwich review #1 I chose to review a shop with unquestionable STL sandwich prestige. To all my future sandwich review recipients, take notes here.

Gioia’s Deli is your textbook mom-and-pop kind of lunch eatery. Nestled at the corner of Daggett and Macklind Avenues, Gioia’s stands at the same exact location as it did when it first opened its doors in 1918. A staple of “The Hill” neighborhood, Gioia’s is blistering with Italian heritage, as evidenced by the Italian flag mural at the store’s entryway. The fact that it’s just a baseball-toss across the street from the notable Berra Park makes the ambiance all the more real. And we haven’t even gotten to the meat yet.

salami

Gioia’s is famous for its “hot salami”–which is cut in thick splices more like a sausage than a traditional lunch meat. For those wanting the full experience, I would recommend trying the Hot Salami & Roast Beef as I did this past weekend. 

Ingredients

  • Famous “Hot Salami”
  • Thin-cut Italian beef
  • Toasted garlic cheese bread
  • Pepper cheese
  • Giardiniera spread
  • Mayo (add on)

Tasting Notes

The flavor I notice first is the tempered zest of the hot salami. Seasoned to perfection, the meat seems to escalade in taste with each passing bite. The bread is crunchy and fresh. While biting into the center of my first half, the pepper cheese now dominates the taste buds, but only for a moment. The next bite couples the sweet-spicyness of salami with the savory goodness of cheese melted on top of roast beef. Perfection. The kick of the giardiniera is there, but isn’t overbearing. While deliberately savoring every bite, I pause before making my way to the second half.

Other Reaction

I feel obligated to note here that I didn’t eat the sandwich on location, but rather I took it home with me. I am going to try to do as many of these reviews on location as possible to ensure optimal freshness. I also would like to take photos of the sandwiches to share here before they are devoured, but I didn’t do that this weekend either. In spite of these facts, this was an excellent sandwich, guys. Even after the 20-minute commute home to eat, my “Big Al” was still relatively warm and not lacking in flavor. As far as hot sammies go, consider this the new gold standard.

Overall Rating: 4.8/5