Café Ventana customers drop by the Central West End French bistro for a number of reasons: the fresh beignets, the vibe, the seasonal ingredients, the artisan approach to the fare, the locally roasted coffee and espresso.
The warmth of wood and brick – and large windows and skylights that allow ample natural light to flood in, even when the stone fireplace isn’t glowing – are emblematic of an environ that beckons patrons to nestle in and stay a while.
“It’s very home-like. When people come in, they tend to stay for a long time,” says executive chef Wil Pelly.
“Everything’s made fresh and from scratch,” says Pelly, who harvests greens, cucumbers, peaches, pears, raspberries, heirloom melons and other ingredients from the on-site garden for use in the daily fare. Go-to items like the Cuban wrap and housemade potato chips are perennial faves with the college crowd at the nearby Washington University.
While customers flock from all around, Pelly’s thinking of those homesick students when the housemade cookies, cupcakes, muffins, pies and more emerge from the oven every day. They, in turn, have latched onto these treats, as well as indulgences like the brown butter pretzels – soft pretzels flavored with browned butter and sprinkled with playful, colored salts.
This offering of staples doesn’t mean Pelly doesn’t find time to play in the kitchen too. In a French Quarter-themed restaurant where beignets must never be in short supply, the warm pastries recently inspired the addition of the “Beignet of the Day” where, on any given day of the week, puffy beignets could be drenched in chocolate or made into pulled pork sandwiches. Pelly’s answered the call for paleo-diet-friendly meals as well, creating dishes for those following the popular diet craze, which focuses heavily on meat and vegetables. “If you can catch it or forage it, that’s the main thing with paleo. No oil, no cream, no grains. We use only clarified butter when we need to.”
“The [success of] paleo really shocked me,” Pelly says, pointing out a coconut milk curry that always sells out in short order. The Paleo Day Starter – two eggs, sautéed Brussels sprouts and onion, portabella mushrooms and housemade paleo pork sausage – is a breakfast favorite, and Pelly has been experimenting with Mexican chocolate paleo waffles and crepes (both paleo and gluten-free) that he plans to introduce in the fall.
Café Ventana not only feeds the body, but also the soul with live music, local art and more regularly on display.
Business hours are Mon. to Sun. from 7am to 10pm.
Café Ventana, 3919 W. Pine Blvd., Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.531.7500, cafeventana.com
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