It was past the noon hour when Cyndy and I pulled into Lafayette Square. I had tried earlier to lunch at Polite Society, the trendy bistro on Park Avenue. The restaurant opened about 7 months ago, but just started keeping lunch hours during the last few weeks.
The Patina of a Bygone Era
Polite Society is, as its name implies, a restaurant where the rules of civility are combined with fine food. That doesn’t mean it hoity-toity, just sensitive to all things tasteful, whether they’re on the table or the walls. The dining area has the feel of a subdued, well-appointed Victorian reading room, making it a fit appendage to the historic neighborhood. Recessed book shelves, eclectic furnishings, even an old card catalog from the St. Louis library give the place a patina of a bygone era.
As I surveyed the tables, I swore I saw Professor Henry Higgins huddled over a cup of tea. But probably not. While my imagination is as good as it ever was, my eyesight can be faulty.
Menu: A Chic Rendition of the Classics
Cyndy went straight for the Chicken Sandwich on pretzel bread. I was inclined toward the Chicken Pot Pie, but our server sadly informed us they had run out. Hmm. . .the Croque Madame looked mighty good as it passed by. From its description, the Jimmy Burger definitely had a touch of gravity. The ground chuck patty came with onion straws, sweet-smoky tomato glaze and whole-grain mustard aioli on a pretzel bun.
After much indecision, I ordered the cod fish sandwich with lemon-caper aioli. Both my sandwich and Cyndy’s were nicely accessorized with tasty sauces and veggies. Our server proudly noted that the fries were hand cut to achieve just the right degree of thickness. Great! I like a chef who’s sniffy about his French fries.
The tables were close enough that we got into a conversation with the couple next to us. (Food is such a uniter.) Turned out, it was Steve Neukomm, owner of Square One Brewery just down the street. They weren’t open at the time and decided to have lunch with their business neighbors.
Not surprising, there’s a local air about the place. Besides being a lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch destination, the late hours make it an evening hotspot as well. I noticed nearly three dozen different beer selections and a good number of specialty wines on the menu, enough to rival the best of bistros.
I glanced at the dinner menu and saw such attractions as Peking Duck Breast (with gnocchi, fennel confit and heirloom winter squash) and Diver Scallops (with mushrooms, Swiss chard, field peas and lemon-pepper butter). The Ozark Mushroom Tagliatelle (with spinach, white wine, garlic and herbs) reminded me of the dish we make at the farm during mushroom season.
The idea for Polite Society was conceived in 2010 by owners Brian Schmitz and Jonathan Schoen. The pair finally got started on the Lafayette Square location, putting a year into re-imaging the space before opening in May 2017. If, like me, you judge a place by the feel you get the first 5 minutes you’re there, you will be pleased by the hearty welcome, warm decor, and comfortable menu.
Expect the hospitality of yesteryear and a variety of American favorites calibrated for contemporary palates.
Polite Society. 1923 Park Avenue, Lafayette Park. Open: Nightly Dinner from 5:30p; Lunch: weekday 11a-2p; Brunch: Sat-Sun 10a-2p; Bar Service: 5p-1a, seven days a week.
* The term “penny-farthing” used to describe this 19th century bicycle comes from the comparison of the wheels to the size of two British coins: the penny (front wheel) and the smaller farthing (rear wheel).