Grand Tavern Launches with Culinary Gusto

 In Feature, Food

The dictionary definition of “tavern” is a drinking establishment that rents rooms upstairs. In our imaginations, it’s so much more—a gathering place for locals where strangers sometimes wander in, livening things up a bit. Where the food is good, and the owner is jovial and welcoming but also lays down the law when he has to.

Grand Tavern by David Burke fits both descriptions. The new restaurant in the luxurious Angad Arts Hotel in Grand Center serves as a fueling station for guests at breakfast, lunch, dinner, weekend brunch and room service. Grand Tavern’s ground-floor bar and lounge area debuted on Monday, with the main dining-room set to open by the end of November.

It’s a serious drinking establishment, with cocktails from Chicago’s mixology whiz Meredith Barry and wine from sommelier Denise Mueller, a St. Louisan who owns the Mid-American School of Wine. But the driving force behind this tavern is on the culinary side, with celebrity chef David Burke. His pioneering influence reach stretches across much of the United States, both on the ground and on TV. The James Beard award-winning chef comes to St. Louis in partnership with ESquared Hospitality, which runs more than 20 restaurants around the world.

As he prepared to launch Grand Tavern earlier this week, Burke was fully in jovial and welcoming mode. He’s satisfied with the kitchen—where most of the employees are from St. Louis—and feels they’ll do a good job executing his menu. The majority of dishes appear on other Burke restaurants around the country, including famous ones like his Clothesline Bacon (where thick hunks of maple-glazed bacon are suspended from a wire with clothespins and served with a fiery flourish) and the Himalayan Salt Brick-Aged Steaks (using the dry-aging process Burke patented in 2011). Even the banquet menu that will be available for private events in the hotel’s atrium relies heavily on tried-and-true items from Burke’s culinary empire.

Grand Tavern Launches With Culinary Gusto

Image courtesy of Madison Sanders Photography.

Keeping the menu consistent gives Burke a frame for the creativity and hospitality he wants to see throughout the restaurant’s operations. “People can come in here and learn,” he says. “Five years from now, you’ll see chefs coming out of here who learned from the right people.” His progressive approach to running a kitchen includes heaping servings of education—Burke says he loves to teach, especially a fresh staff like the one in St. Louis—as well as the willingness to turn on a dime if something doesn’t work.

An example of that is the St. Louis salad, which Burke added as an adjustment just before opening. It’s a beautiful dish, piled with shrimp, octopus, dorado, cucumbers, cantaloupe and more, with a swipe of chipotle sauce on the side. And if that doesn’t work, he’ll substitute again.

One experiment that seems destined for success is the gooey-butter donut dessert. The pastries are filled with gooey-butter filling, topped with an equally sweet sauce, and garnished with a heap of cotton candy.

“I like gooey butter cake,” Burke admits. “I think the guy who invented it is a f’ing genius.” He’s also a fan of toasted ravioli, but he hasn’t quite nailed down how it will be incorporated onto the Grand Tavern menu. He’s still in the recon phase—which means trying a whole lot of variations around town. ‘I’m driving the idea machine,” Burke explains. Once he has a dish in mind, it will be up to the kitchen to refine the concept and make it menu-worthy.

Two examples of Burke’s effervescent approach to food are the Couch Potatoes (pictured in the featured image) and the Emotional Lobster Dumplings. Each dumpling represents one of the “mood rooms” within the Angad Arts Hotel. The rooms—which guests can book to match their current state—are red for passion, green for rejuvenation, yellow for happiness and blue for tranquility.

Lobster makes another appearance as well, in scrambled eggs on the breakfast menu, served in an ostrich egg shell. At $26, the decadent dish marks the higher end of the price spectrum; Burke has carefully kept a balance that keeps Grand Tavern in line with other upscale eateries in St. Louis but also feels like a true value for the service, presentation and quality of ingredients.

Grand Tavern Launches With Culinary Gusto

Image courtesy of Madison Sanders Photography.

Grand Tavern adds another welcome option to the pre-show and post-show dining scene in Grand Center. But even without tickets in hand, customers will be well entertained during their visit, if the preview weekend is any indication. The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra music director designate, Stéphane Denève, was part of an impromptu song with mezzo soprano Kelley O’Connor, who had performed across the street with the symphony that afternoon.

As a nightlife destination, the rooftop lounge called the Angad Rainbow Terrace, or A.R.T., will offer food selections from the main menu plus its own menu of cocktails, developed by Barry and based on the room colors. For cocktails, there’s also the 12th-floor Chameleon Lounge and the Angad Playroom, where guests can relax with their favorite board game or musical instrument.

One unusual feature of the whole operation is summed up by a note on the menu. In his welcome message, Burke writes, “Your feedback at this time is very important to us as we try to find our rhythm in the great city of blues.” When asked about that, he explains that Midwestern politeness can get in the way of working out the kinks, a lesson he learned the hard way in Chicago. “A true friend will tell you to fix your makeup,” he quips. And that’s where the jovial and welcoming tavern master shows he’s very serious about this new venture living up to high expectations.

Featured image courtesy of ESquared Hospitality.

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