A few years ago, Ivan Garcia was reading a self-help book that proposed a pie-in-the-sky thought experiment. Say money was no object and success was guaranteed. What would you do with your life?
His answer wasn’t cocktails, smash burgers and a collection of some 80 pieces of vintage taxidermy — fish, waterfowl, otters, family dogs, a jackalope and an ostrich, among them — but the exercise was the first step on the winding path to the Golden Hoosier.
Garcia, co-owner of the prominent St. Louis real estate company Garcia Properties, thought about the stretch of South Kingshighway just south of his North Hampton office, where the busy thoroughfare approaches Chippewa Street. The area boasted beautiful old buildings, he thought, but wasn’t anywhere close to realizing its potential. With unlimited resources, he could change that.
“I mean, it’s not, like, saving the world,” Garcia says now. “But, I mean, it sounds like a pretty good use of our time.”
People are also reading…
Without revealing his own answer, he asked his brother and Garcia Properties co-owner, Berto, the same hypothetical question.
Fix up South Kingshighway, Berto replied.
“And I was like, ‘Oh, (crap), well, I guess that’s what we’re supposed to be doing,’” Ivan says.
The brothers’ initial redevelopment project would become the Golden Hoosier. First, though, they were marketing the space, previously Southtown Pub, to other potential occupants. None envisioned the sort of venue where the Garcias would want to bring their own families, and South City didn’t need another hole-in-the-wall bar.
Ivan was in the building, ready to demo the circa-1930s bar, when doubt overcame him. He called Berto. The place could be really special, he told his brother, if they figured it out.
“And he reluctantly agreed,” Ivan says.
The brothers spoke to their network of family, friends and business associates. Why shouldn’t they do this themselves? Repeatedly they heard back they could do this. They set up a lunch with Delmar Loop impresario Joe Edwards. He told them if they wanted to change the perception of a neighborhood, they needed to go big.
Hence the Golden Hoosier’s dramatic neon-lit marquee, which evokes an old-school movie theater and will even catch the attention of the typical St. Louis driver. Hence the decor inside, not a creepy hoarding of preserved animal heads but a respectfully curated collection of both taxidermy (read about each species on the restaurant’s website) and works by local artists (also detailed online).
The Golden Hoosier opened nearly two years ago, in the early spring of 2021. I lost track of it in my (seemingly unending) quest to catch up on reviews after the pandemic’s first year. This turned out to be a fortuitous mistake. I decided to write this full review not out of professional obligation but because the Golden Hoosier won me over gradually.
I liked it well enough when I tried it in fall 2021 but didn’t think to return until late last June. I recommended the burger and the cocktail I ordered on that visit in my weekly email newsletter. The burger was the Diablo, two smashed patties with pepper jack cheese, pickled jalapeño slices and tomatillo salsa. The bright, hot accents stood out, and the patties hit what I’ve come to see as the smash-burger sweet spot, skinny and charred hard but retaining a beefy, juicy heart.
The cocktail, the El Dorado, has since left the menu, but this margarita by another name (Gran Centenairo resposado tequila, Duckett Curaçao Noir, lemon and lime juice and agave nectar) showed elegance and restraint in a drink all too often dashed together. It was refreshing without being cloyingly sweet or simplistically tart.
I was compelled to return to the Golden Hoosier not least by the cozy, friendly vibe. In that newsletter, I called the taxidermy “goofy,” which more reflected my mood than the care the Garcias have obviously put into the collection. Better to say, the incongruity of the taxidermy and the sheer number of specimens eases the moment as surely as that margarita or the Fantastic Mr. Fox, a riff on the old fashioned with a beguiling note of smoked rosemary.
When I came back with my wife and kids, it immediately became a family favorite, proof of the Garcias’ concept. (For the restaurant’s operations, the brothers credit general manager James Menousek, who was recently made a co-owner.) This isn’t, to my view, the modern, gentrification-baiting approach of planting a hip spot in an undesirable neighborhood. As Berto himself explains the brothers’ thinking, they wanted to build the business district the North Hampton and Southampton neighborhoods deserve.
Not that you need to be a neighborhood resident to appreciate the small touches that distinguish the Golden Hoosier’s compact menu. For the burgers — a straightforward cheeseburger and three variations — the accents don’t distract from the intensity of the twin patties, whether the spice of the Diablo or the savory sweetness of the Bacon Jam’s eponymous ingredient or the crunch of its fried onions. The fries are crisp and skinny and nudge your elbow with a sprinkling of rosemary and Parmesan.
Yes, there is a fried chicken sandwich, though it gains heat — moderate but definite — from the dressing of spicy pickles, spicy ranch dressing and pepper jack cheese rather than the plump chicken itself. Pesto aioli gives the BLT a freshness to compensate for the bland tomatoes, but the sandwich needs more bacon — not a Crown Candy Kitchen amount of bacon but enough that I don’t check under the bread to see if it’s missing.
You will also find those little touches that give a restaurant real character without clamoring for clickbait. The onion dip tastes like actual onion rather than onion-perfumed cream. (In one of the few overtly St. Louis bids, this is served with Red Hot Riplets for dipping.) The tomato soup leads with a rustic, rough-hewn texture and finishes with a swanky note of white wine and fennel.
While I might be late with this report on the Golden Hoosier’s charms, I can promise that won’t happen next time. The Garcias are already working to open their next project, a pizza joint, nearby.
Where The Golden Hoosier, 3707 South Kingshighway • More info 314-354-8044; thegoldenhoosier.com • Menu Burgers, sandwiches and other bar-friendly fare • Hours Lunch and dinner daily