Broadway Oyster Bar: The Way It Was and The Way It Is

By Joe Pollack,
Relish: Food, Wine & Spirits in St. Louis,

Thursday, January 13, 2011 / 10:04 AM

Thirty-some years ago, when I was working and lunching downtown, a favorite spot was the grungy, tumble-down saloon known as the Broadway Oyster Bar, one of the most truthfully named places I ever patronized. After all, it was on Broadway, it served amazing oysters, and it certainly was a bar, frequented by newspaper types and others who could be considered equally grungy and tumble-down.

Dennis Connolly was in charge then, and the budget was grim enough that he hung a piece of carpet inside the front door to keep the chillest of winter winds outside. It didn't work very well, but the minuscule kitchen turned out the best oyster poor boy I've ever eaten. The secret was that the oysters were not battered and fried, but simply sautéed in butter and garlic, sometimes with some chopped green onion. The bread, hollowed out, was stuffed with the oysters and the liquid, the open end plugged with the chunk of bread that had been removed. When the sandwich was served, the juices were busily soaking through. The result was sloppy but glorious, especially for those who really like oysters and really don't care much about breading.

Fast forward a generation or a little more:

John Johnson is in charge now, an outdoor area has become a fixture on the south side of the building, and there's a real storm door. A few new posters have been nailed onto the walls, adding another layer of insulation, but the old days remain supreme, like a yellowed newspaper clipping from 1984, with my name on it. Mostly, however, it remains tumble-down and grungy, two of its finest attributes. In truth, the building is one of the oldest in St. Louis, site of many legends; there are stories that tie most of its history to the liquor trade. It also had upstairs rooms for weary travelers and sometimes offered companionship for the lonely.

But times change; the Broadway Oyster Bar has more kitchen space for chef Brad Hagan, along with a slightly expanded menu. Johnson has instituted festivals. A crayfish boil has been quite popular. In December, he had a Po' Boy (his spelling) Festival that offered nine different kinds of sandwiches including - shudder - a Thanksgiving po' boy that packed the entire traditional dinner onto a baguette, including roasted turkey, sausage stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and pepper mayo. It was quite a mouthful, but every part of dinner, except Uncle Charley's annual tales about his Marine Corps adventures in World War II, could be experienced in a single bite, and no one has listened to Charley since 1955.

If the Thanksgiving sandwich is an example of the Kitchen Sink school of po' boy ingredients, a companion is the Pot Roast po' boy, which included pulled pot roast, mashed potatoes, onions, carrots, celery and gravy. Roast beef, certainly related to pot roast, arrived with gravy that added sour cream, garlic, and horseradish to the beef, then was topped with caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle, and pepper mayo.

By the way, Johnson brought the authentic Leidenheimer bread from New Orleans, which certainly added splendid texture and flying crumbs to the event.

We believe that po' boys are best with seafood, but we made an exception for the Hot Andouille Sausage po' boy, which showed community with The Hill in that it combined sausage, peppers, and onions with the other fixin's, and added Monterey Jack cheese's wealthy cousin, "Monetary Jack," as the menu described it. That one was extremely tasty, with a nicely fiery pop from the sausage a fine companion to the onions and peppers (sweet ones).

We sampled several seafood po' boys, too, including BBQ Shrimp, with tasty shrimp soaking in the traditional Worcester sauce, butter, and cream. Perhaps not up to the classic from Pascal's Manale in New Orleans, but a worthy disciple. Shrimp also showed up on the NOLA sandwich with fried green tomatoes, house-made remoulade sauce, lettuce, onion, and pickle.

Deep-fried soft shell crab, always a favorite, was a delicious sandwich, the crab crisp outside, juicy inside, and topped with the same ingredients that arrive when you order a po' boy "dressed," meaning lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mayo. Marinated, fried alligator chunks, with remoulade sauce and blackened redfish completed the selections, though when we learned that the old-fashioned, sautéed oyster po' boy is available on request, we requested and oh, boy! was it superb.

Johnson said he was satisfied with attendance at the inaugural po' boy festival, and plans to repeat it, but not necessarily in December. "I'd like to have one every month," he says, "except in February, when Mardi Gras is all the festival we need."

Copyright 2011 St. Louis Magazine


Downtown Bars Expand Before Opener
Brian Kelly, KMOX News

March 21, 2011 5:10 AM

ST. LOUIS (KMOX)- While the Cardinals are trying to build a winner in Florida, some downtown bars are building additions in time for the new season.

The largest is at Paddy O's, where owner Chris Dorr says the $ 2 million expansion, including eight thousand covered square feet, topped by an eight thousand foot patio, will allow him to serve more Cardinals' fans, "We're definitely bullish on Cardinal baseball. The Cardinals draw from a multi-state area and those are our customers."

Dorr says the expansion also allow the bar to open on non-game days, "We can be a private venue for large private parties, graduation parties or birthday parties."

A few blocks to the east John Johnson is expanding his Broadway Oyster Bar's patio and kitchen to better serve the sea of red, "We're going to have two, three, four tables we didn't have before. And with a bigger kitchen we can expand our menu."

Johnson says after two strong years, despite the down economy, "Since we have been fairly successful in a down economy, I don't think it's going to get any worse in a growing economy."

To the north of the stadium, at The Hilton St. Louis Ballpark, work continues on a roof-top bar 26 stories up, that should open in July. General Manager Erich Smith tells KMOX, "It's going to be spectacular. A third of it's outside looking directly into the stadium. You'll be able to see the entire field except the very, very corner of left-field. We're bullish on downtown. We're bullish about the hotel and the success we're having, about the summer season and about the Cardinals too."

Copyright KMOX Radio


Cajun and Creole food for Mardi Gras

By Mary Mangan
Special to Metromix

(AP): No matter where you live in the country, you've probably had the pleasure (and sometimes privilege) of tasting really great Cajun or Creole foods, whether eating shrimp ettouffee in New Orleans or warming up with gumbo at your favorite local restaurant; the regionally influenced cuisine has such heart, soul and flavor that it is crafted and enjoyed all around the country, including the lovely city of St. Louis. I found some great Cajun/Creole places around the city and highlighted some of their wonderful dishes.

With Cajun on my mind, I had to begin my journey with Broadway Oyster Bar, one of my favorite establishments that hosts New Orleans bands, crawfish boils, oyster festivals, and everyday fare from "The Big Easy." Having been to the Broadway Oyster Bar on a number of occasions, I had to admit to owner John Johnson that 90% of the time at his restaurant, I simply enjoyed raw oysters (and beer of course)... they're so good I could never get past them on the menu, even when I arrived with a plan to try something else. Well, this day was a new day... I had some fantastic Cajun and Creole dishes and learned a lot about their Louisiana philosophy. John frequents New Orleans, staying in tune with the food, music and culture, and I knew I was in good hands through a tour of their menu.

I started with their char-grilled Gulf oysters. Like I mentioned, I have very rarely made it past raw oysters, but I was excited to try these. They are shucked and put directly onto the grill, then flame grilled with garlic butter, spices and grated Parmesan cheese for just enough time to suck in that smoke and melt the components. Their rich smell enticed me to taste these slightly firm and meaty oysters; they were mildly briny, a little smoky and slightly indulgent because of the touch of garlic, butter and cheese. Even though I'm a diehard fan for oysters on the half shell, I am convinced that this is the bridge between raw and cooked and I will definitely be sure to fit these into my oyster rotation. And for those of you who can't get past the decadently smothered Rockefellers, this may be your bridge to the raw side.

Next on the menu at Broadway Oyster Bar was a shrimp Po'Boy, a simple dish but thought out to the last detail. Lightly battered shrimp sat among lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles and mayo on Leidenheimer bread, the authentic Po'Boy bread brought in from a New Orleans bakery that specializes in French bread. The large sandwich, though intimidating in size, was delicious and surprisingly light between Leidenheimer, which was crispy and flaky on the outside and soft and delicate on the inside. It had that perfect crunch, including the lettuce and onion, and the lightly battered shrimp allowed a sweet meaty taste that came through the crispy fried coat. Their house made chips (a mix of yellow and sweet potatoes) were a delightful treat that also proved not to be too heavy or salty: they were thickly cut, expertly fried and a great accompaniment to a smart sandwich.

Next at Broadway Oyster Bar, I tried an off-the-menu (and an apparently soon to be on-the-menu) appetizer: an alligator sausage and shrimp cheese cake. Influenced by the recipe at Jacques-imo's in New Orleans, Broadway makes this savory appetizer with their slightly spicy alligator sausage, shrimp, gouda, Parmesan and cream cheeses. The dish looks like a quiche, but melted, allowing the cheese to ooze the ingredients out the sides of the pie slice of indulgent goodness. It was cooked to a beautiful golden brown, the cheeses were rich and the sausage added just enough zing; I definitely didn't come close to finishing it - so bring a few friends to help you out.

Lastly at Broadway Oyster Bar, I not only got to try some delicious, freshly boiled crawfish, but I also got a little tutorial on how to eat it "the right way." As crude as it may sound, the best way to eat a crawfish is to break off the head, suck the warm butter and juice out of it, then break away the shell around the tail meat, dab in butter and enjoy! The meat was sweet and delicate, and getting to it was actually easier than I thought it would be. Although a little bit of tail meat might not fill you up, the act of eating it is an experience in itself and proves to be very tasty.



As Seen In...


J. Adams is the columnist responsible for the "Certified Man Hole" section on the InsideSTL website, covering health & fitness, sex & relationships and local business. 
Here's what he had to say after his recent visit to BOB............ 

Certified: Broadway Oyster Bar
J. Adams posted on April 01, 2012 19:34

There are places you go to drink and enjoy live music that require you check their website beforehand to see who is playing. Broadway Oyster Bar is not one of them.

You just go.

You wake up one absurdly nice March morning, run a few errands with your favorite Pandora station cued up and almost suspiciously serving your favorite tracks with little ad do a little yard work... you realize it is a perfect night for Broadway Oyster Bar. You call a close friend you have known since high school, one who after so many years of good times and laughs you know will be able to comfortably relax with you into the ambiance of the event, and you go. 

You just go. Because you know the place you are heading will deliver.

Broadway Oyster Bar delivers.

Ironically, I had been there many times before I ever sampled the oysters. I'm not really into oysters. They remind me of snot. That is until you cover them with garlic and butter and parmesan cheese and grill those sons of bitches, which Broadway Oyster Bar does with precision.

Whether their oysters are an aphrodisiac, I cannot say. I have been too busy enjoying the refreshingly balanced ratio of women to men. In fact, the first time I sampled their signature dish, a girl I had met that night convinced me to give them a try and showed me how to slurp them properly.

Later that night she introduced me to a bottle of wine I also had not tasted before. At her place.

Oysters may be an aphrodisiac.  

There always seems to be attractive women there. And not the insecure, uppity women that flock from Washington Avenue club to Washington Avenue club with lips puckered in contempt even tighter than their buttholes. Generally speaking, the women who frequent Broadway Oyster Bar will actually smile back at you. Appears to come from a mutual appreciation of our collective humanity or something. 

Baffling, I know.

While I have never met the person or people who own the place, or even those who manage the place, what is clear is that someone there is doing something right. 

Saturday night was no exception. My friend and I arrived a little after 10 o'clock, about the same time the band Big Brother Thunder & the Master Blasters took the patio stage. Theirs was a high-energy act with a Prohibition, speakeasy type flare... funky, soulful brass instrumentals with sexy, playful lead vocals in a delicate red dress.

Flawlessly tangled between their sets were the talents of one DJ Mahf. If you have not bared witness to the stylings of Dan Mahfood - mix master behind local hip-hop group Earthworms - you probably don't get out much. The dude is simply a staple of the local music scene; a true artist in every sense of the word and one hell of a nice guy.

Frankly, if you find yourself at a venue with him operating the turntables and people are not bobbing their heads in accordance, leave immediately and begin stocking your pantry with batteries and potable water: the zombie apocalypse has begun.

Big Brother Thunder & the Master Blasters, on the other hand, I had not heard of them prior to Saturday, yet I enjoyed them just the same.

This is why Broadway Oyster Bar is a success. All aspects of the operation are evenly and tastefully distributed in such a way that it would be difficult to leave dissatisfied.

Everywhere you look, the place is accented in a kind of raw, artistic fashion. Oyster shells garnish the mural on the wall to your left as you enter the outside bar and are also used in the landscaping as one might use loose rock. Christmas lights add to the festive atmosphere without giving it the feel of a college dormitory. Even the cramped, mosaic-mirrored restrooms are somehow endearing.

Somewhere Jimmy Buffet eats a cheeseburger and is pleased by all of this.

Baseball season is now right around the bend and preludes the immediate and oft-unjustifiable patronage of bars and restaurants neighboring Busch Stadium. In droves we will head south to the cavernous warehouse that is Paddy O's to loiter with fellow fans and north to Shannon's Outfield where we will tolerate the awful playlists of Curt Copeland and Z107. Both will honor our patronage with outrageous drink prices and an indifferent staff.

That's not a shot; it's just the nature of the beast. There is no doubt a time and a state of mind suitable for such environments. I've had great times at both.

But just yards away in distance and miles apart in value, Broadway Oyster Bar waits coolly with fair prices and the aesthetic appeal of a place that has weathered time. It is a place you can count on to provide a vibrant and diverse scene, unpredictable but good music, and arguably the best Cajun-Creole fare in the city.

They have been around for over 30 years already. I'll never forget attempting to tell my dad about the place and discovering that he knew more about it than I did.

Oh, and the best part about Saturday night? My bar tab was $18.

Eighteen dollars, y'all.