By ED FINKELSTEIN
Kimmswick, MO – If you’re looking for a spectacular lunch or dinner for someone special, or want someplace different and unique, Port of Call is a new restaurant in the charming village of Kimmswick in Jefferson County, a short half hour drive south of St. Louis.
The restaurant is part of the Delta Queen riverboat operation, whose menu was created by one of the Midwest’s most talented chefs.
And its staff is 100 percent union, members of the Seafarers Entertainment Trades and Allied Union.
The log cabin restaurant was once a quiet work refuge for General Ulysses S. Grant. You can imagine the Civil War hero sipping a whiskey as he reads in front of the fireplace just a few feet from you. Today it serves a French-inspired menu created by talented Executive Chef Ben Edison.
For your visit, plan some time to walk through the shops of Kimmswick for the beautiful, whimsical or kitschy art and crafts sold there.
MENU IS KING
At a recent autumn lunch, we wanted to sample everything, but the belt buckle strained and we groaned “Uncle!” before we could.
Starters included a twist on our area’s ubiquitous toasted ravioli: Twisted Raviolis stuffed with pork served with a green tomato marinara.
There’s also smoky sweet chicken wings and Fried Missouri Cheese Curds, Asian baby back ribs with crisped and glazed Chinese BBQ sauce (rib lovers. . .to die for!).
The menu continues with Four Squash Bisque with crab, Piney Point crab cakes, an incredible New Orleans-style Po’Boy Sandwich with either alligator sausage or shrimp. No lunch menu would be complete without a burger, only this one is made from hand ground Illinois Wagyu (a special Japanese style of beef), Angus short rib and chuck.
Dessert underscores the restaurant’s connection to the Delta Queen. The bread pudding uses the Queen’s 90-year- old recipe, and was served on the regal paddleboat. It’s a New Orleans style bread pudding served warm with an incredible bourbon sauce and homemade ice cream.
A few of the dinner menu items are just as enticing: Missouri Heritage pork chop with Cider Bourbon Gastrique, Missouri farm Crispy Braised Chicken thighs with Veal Crawfish Diablo, and Sorghum Sweet Chili Salmon with smoked pepper fried cornbread or a 14 oz. black Angus Ribeye or 10 oz. King Sirloin.
“Our goal is simple, “ says Executive Chef Ben Edison, “to not just meet, but to exceed people’s expectations.”
And do they. Everything is cooked from scratch with ingredients that are locally sourced or grown in the kitchen garden. They use beef and pork that never received antibiotic treatment, and seafood is flown in regularly.
Once the Delta Queen returns to the river, Chef Edison will buy products from local sources in every community and vary the menu according to the special dishes in that region.
As an example of the length they’ve gone to locally source ingredients, they have a local producer making cheese curd especially for their menu’s Fried Missouri Cheese Curds appetizer. They have the only Missouri-produced cheese curd.
Meals are served by carefully trained wait staff dressed in the same river boat uniforms as on the Delta Queen, whose artwork hangs on the restaurant walls.
The Port of Call restaurant is the first step in the process of bringing the famous Delta Queen paddle wheel riverboat back to the Mississippi.
DELTA QUEEN COMING BACK
The Delta Queen, the last of the original paddle wheel steamers, is now in dock in Louisiana, but is expected to call Kimmswick home in 2017 and will again ply the Mississippi waters between Minneapolis and New Orleans. Owned by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, the boat is awaiting congressional approval to get back on the river.
Once on the river, its crew will also be 100 percent union, says Becky Sleeper, retired Seafarers Port Agent, who was instrumental in organizing the Delta Queen and helping to bring her back to the St. Louis region from Chattanooga, TN where she was a dockside hotel for a short time.
Kimmswick will serve as the Delta Queen’s port and headquarters.
The original building dates back to 1772 and was moved to Kimmswick from Arnold, Mo. It not only served as a work retreat for General Grant before he became the 18th president of the United States but framed radio broadcaster Paul Harvey did broadcasts from it.
The current restaurant is decorated from memorabilia from the Delta Queen. Each of its three dining rooms has a unique theme.
Port of Call is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday thru Sunday. It’s located at 6035 Second Street in Kimmswick. For reservations call 636-223-7170.
Congressional action needed to get Delta Queen back on the river
‘Queen’ offers investment opportunity for union pension funds
Considered the true queen of the river and the last surviving authentic river steamboat with overnight accommodations, the Delta Queen will hopefully once again be plying the inland Mississippi waterways next year.
When the Delta Queen was originally built in 1926 at a cost of over $1 million, it was the most expensive river steamboat every built. It has been designated a “national treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is considered the most celebrated steamboat in American history.
The key to getting her back on the river is the U.S. Congress.
While the Queen has a double steel hull, the rest of the boat is wood, and maritime law says riverboats must be made of all steel. For decades, there was an exemption in the law for the Delta Queen. A bill is currently pending in the Congress to extend that extension which expired when the boat no longer was active on the rivers.
Becky Sleeper, retired St. Louis Port Agent for the Seafarers International Union who has worked tirelessly for years to help get the Queen operational again, said the Queen offers great investment opportunities for union pension funds looking to diversify.
The Missouri AFL-CIO has already made an investment as part of the Council’s on-going commitment to stimulate economic growth in Missouri by helping create jobs for union members.
Anyone interested in looking at that possibility should contact Leahann@DQSteamboat.com for details.
85 YEARS ON THE RIVER
The Queen is the only remaining authentic overnight river steamboat still in operable condition that has been plying the inland waterways for 85 years until ending operations in 2008, said Leah Ann Ingram, chief operation officer for the boat’s new owners, The Delta Queen Steamboat Co. The new ownership group includes previous veteran employees.
The previous owners turned the vessel into a dockside hotel in Chattanooga, TN for five years. The Queen now sits in a Louisiana dry dock waiting to once again become the true Queen of the river, providing overnight cruise services for 176 passengers in 88 cabins to some 80 ports on the Mississippi River inland waterways and all with a 100 percent Seafarers union crew.
“The goal is to get this national treasure back into the water operating in the same splendor and glory that befits this true river queen,” Ingram said enthusiastically.
With turn-of-the-century luxury accommodations, gourmet meals, onboard entertainment and shore tours at every port, the Delta Queen will become an international sensation attracting visitors from around the world to the St. Louis region, Ingram added.
Once fully operational, the Queen will create more than 170 jobs and produce an estimated $37 million for the local economy.