Perhaps because of the economy or the changing palates of customers — or a combination of the two — the restaurant at Starrs Market has been through several incarnations since its debut. Originally a banquet space to host meetings and private parties, Bud Starr made the leap into restauranthood in 2007 by converting the multipurpose banquet area into a restaurant, complete with white tablecloths and leather-bound menus.
The offerings aspired to Bud’s exquisite taste and eye for detail — pheasant enchiladas with a Manchego cheese sherry cream sauce, Alaskan Halibut and New York Strip steaks served with a selection of decadent sauces — but the prices were probably a bit too high for the average customer. Not even two years into its existence, the restaurant has gone through another transformation and is now known as Bar Oliver, a casual space that offers a morevaried menu. Service can be on the spotty side, but be patient — this is one of the few restaurants where the food is so good, it’s well worth the wait.
While you can still get Colorado lamb chops and steaks, the centerpiece of the new, non-leather-bound menu is the pizza. Eschewing St. Louis’s obsession with paper-thin crust and the chemistry experiment we call provel cheese (the menu proudly touts the restaurant as a “provel-free zone”), Bud has forayed into northern territory by recreating a good Chicago-style pizza. Filling the Chi-town void left by the ill-fated Pizzeria Della Piazza (R.I.P.) at the black hole corner of Daggett and Hereford, Bar Oliver has a sturdy, buttery crust to contain your topping of choice without falling into the greasiness that plagues many a thick-crusted pizza. Though my Chicago-native neighbor thinks the pizza was light on the toppings and cheese compared to pizza joints in the windy city, I prefer Starrs measured, even-handed quantities that balance toppings, cheese, sauce and crust equally.
Of course, there is a good 30-minute wait for one of these monsters to go through the oven, so I suggest the stellar Warm Spinach Salad with crispy prosciutto, fried artichoke hearts and balsamic vinaigrette. For a reasonable $5.49, you can’t beat it in terms of quality ingredients and generous portion size. Since the other half of the building is occupied by Starrs’ impressive wine shop, you can buy a bottle of wine and have it with dinner for a small corkage fee. The bar also offers a few well-chosen wines by the glass and a full complement of cocktails and bottled beer. After you’re finished eating your weight in pizza, don’t forget dessert. I’m particularly fond of the blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream ($3.95).