Rouge Bistro has opened in Midtown St. Louis with a meatball-centric menu

Rouge Bistro — the heavily meatball-themed restaurant inspired by The Meatball Shop in New York City — bounced into Midtown last month, claiming a space formerly occupied by Olive Bar at 3037 Olive St.

Owner Julian Davis has set a dazzling stage. Splashed in bright red paint, industrial-ceilinged and lit like a New York catwalk, Rouge Bistro is a gobsmacker even without the waterfall at the entrance. And it’s huge: 3,700 square feet of dining space with room for over 300 people, Davis said. 

With all this red, it would make plenty of sense to plunk for the meatballs A La Rouge which are four 2-ounce globoids of beef and pork over bucatini pasta with mascarpone, basil and red sauce. But then, we are similarly drawn to the orange chicken balls for their accompaniments — kimchi fried rice, sunny-side egg, green onions and sesame seeds. And drawn again, to the jerk chicken with fried plantain, coconut rice and peas. Some thought clearly has gone into the architecture of these dishes.

But with so many types of meatball already on the menu, we were intrigued by the sound of a forthcoming Meatball of the Month program. What else can there sensibly be in the meatball world beyond jerk chicken, Alfredo shrimp, Italian turkey, tikka masala, Buffalo chicken, orange chicken, chophouse meatballs and an Impossible meatless ball? But Davis said he knows of “at least 200” more meatball recipes the kitchen will be testing in the months to come. He foresees no problems keeping things interesting around here.

However, the smiley owner did say he’s meeting some roadblocks in securing a liquor license. It seems the neighbors are wary of the space morphing back to its earlier purpose. “It was a nightclub and there was trouble,” Davis said. 

Indeed, with different levels and spaces, and a rooftop patio with a partial view of the Arch, it’s easy to see the building in that role. But even though (when we were there) a huge crowd had gathered for a 314 Day celebration, Davis said that isn’t his game. 

In addition to meatballs, Rouge Bistro offers 14 twists on chicken wings, including gochujang, bourbon, Sunkist soda and garlic Parmesan. Salads, tomato soup and grilled cheese, and kimchi fried rice are also on the menu.

While currently only open for dinner from 5 to 11 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, but Davis said he hopes to open for lunch in the next month.