Friday, May 25, 2012

Blast from the Past

I'm often asked in conversation, "if you could have lived in a different time when would it be and why?" I have a few answers to this question but I'm often drawn to the 1920s: the first talkie films like The Jazz Singer, my favorite authors Fitzgerald and Hemingway, flappers, the allure of the speakeasy, and the excitement of the decade. My second choice decabe to explore? The 1950s. However, unlike Owen Wilson's character in Woody Allen's latest movie, Midnight in Paris, I don't have the chance to explore Paris in the 1920s. But, a hidden lunch gem in St. Louis helps me relive both of my desired decades. Jennifer's Pharmacy and Soda Shoppe, tucked in the middle of downtown Clayton, is a true blast from the past.

The unassuming storefront should not be a repellent but instead a testament to the genuine nature of Jennifer's. Inside, is a true old-fashioned pharmacy with its traditional companion: a soda fountain and lunch counter. The front of the shop sells pharmacy items, although slightly quirkier than your average CVS with fun toys and creative gifts. The back of the shop is a true, working pharmacy. Yet, the middle is what I'm going to focus on, given this IS a food blog. Set-up as a single lunch counter with fewer than 20 stools, Jennifer's caters to regulars. My friend and I were the only diners who didn't seem to know the two women running the shop but instead of feeling like outsiders, we were welcomed warmly. The friendly, neighborhood nature of the place was apparent and also a relic of a type of community that is hard to come by these days. Diners have a choice of 30 traditional sodas, "phosphates,"and a range of more exotic ice cream and phosphate combinations like an egg cream: chocolate syrup, milk and carbonated water. A phosphate is the name of soda's predecessor which involved carbonated water and syrup. I opted for the strawberry phosphate and it was delicious! The bubbles were refreshing and the syrup was just sweet enough. I was a little concerned since I don't love the overly sugary syrups that make up most grape and other fruit flavored sodas today but was not disappointed! I could drink 100 strawberry phosphates on a hot day. My friend got a lime phosphate, which was even more refreshing, a little sweet, but overall, a little bitter for me. Oh well, it's not what I ordered and he enjoyed it! 

The food menu consists of a handful of classic sandwiches, hot dogs with a few different topping choices, and the house chili. I decided to try the turkey reuben and it was just what the doctor ordered! The food is served in a plastic basket but the presentation feels natural and in keeping with the theme of the restaurant. The bread was perfectly toasted; it even had cute little toast lines. The sandwich was stuffed with juicy turkey, succulent thousand island dressing, swiss cheese, and crunchy sauerkraut. The thousand island was creamy and a great companion to the tart sauerkraut and sharp swiss cheese. Not a bite was left. On the side, diners have a choice of chips or coleslaw and I HIGHLY recommend the slaw. I'm not the biggest fan of most slaws but decided it would give me a better taste of Jennifer's than the chips. It was creamy, the kind of slaw I like, but still had a nice vinegary tang. It mimicked the flavor contrast of the sauerkraut and dressing on my sandwich, which made it the perfect side! Next time though, I'm leaving room for pie! 

Whether the 1920s and 50s are your flashback decades of choice or not, Jennifer's is truly a gem worth visiting. The delicious food, old-style soda, and warm atmosphere will really take you on a trip down memory, or imagination, lane. And one of the best parts? The prices feel more like a lunch in 1950 than 2012 too! (Maybe not quite 1950 but it's definitely a deal in the middle of Clayton). 
Jennifer's Pharmacy & Soda Shoppe on Urbanspoon

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