Best New Restaurant: Olive + Oak

Mark Hinkle and Greg Ortyl first connected through tragedy: Both of their young sons passed away due to congenital heart defects, and they each founded organizations to fund research for the birth defect. In January, they opened Olive + Oak in Webster Groves, Missouri, with a menu focused on fresh seafood and seasonally inspired fare.

Hinkle has 18 years of hospitality experience, most recently as general manager of Annie Gunn’s in Chesterfield, Missouri, where he worked for five years. That’s where he met Jesse Mendica, now Olive + Oak’s executive chef. Menu highlights include soft-shell crab; rabbit with black pepper gnocchi, red cabbage and thyme; spiced vinegar-honey butter chicken wings; and a griddled double cheeseburger.

“The food needs to be great – that’s a given – but the way we make people feel is what it’s about,” Hinkle says. “When people tell me they feel the love, nothing is more important.”

And diners are definitely feeling the love, booking weekend reservations for three months out in its dining room (although walk-ins are welcome). Dining at the restaurant feels personal, too, like being invited into someone’s home for a meal: maybe it’s the family and staff photos lining the walls, or the olive and oak leaf sculptures made of copper, an homage to Oliver and Oakes – Hinkle’s and Ortyl’s sons, respectively.

“You can only be grateful,” Hinkle says. “This is a hard business, and you put a lot of yourself into it. It feels amazing to know that people appreciate what we are doing.” (Photo by Judd Demaline)

★ The Ollie Hinkle Heart Foundation and the Mighty Oakes Heart Foundation were started to fund research for congenital heart defects, and the restaurant’s name serves as an enduring tribute to Mark Hinkle and Greg Ortyl’s children, Oliver and Oakes, respectively.

Olive + Oak, oliveandoakstl.com

RUNNER UP: Southern, stlsouthern.com