While perhaps less iconic than Downtown’s Arch and stadiums and less flashy than The Loop’s neon lights and streetside musicians, Webster Groves, Missouri, is a culinary and visitor destination in its own right. Just 20 minutes southwest of the metro, the tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly streets are full of trendy restaurants opening up next to longtime local favorites.
One of the newest on the scene is Olive + Oak, a restaurant that resonates with residents for its food as much as its mission. Formerly Annie Gunn’s general manager, co-owner Mark Hinkle tapped Annie Gunn’s Jesse Mendica to be executive chef at his own place in Webster Groves, which he opened with Greg Ortyl in January 2016. Hinkle and Ortyl met and bonded under tough circumstances – both their sons died young due to congenital heart disease – but have managed to make a positive from the negative with Olive + Oak. Red hearts are a recurring symbol throughout the space, and love is imparted in Mendica’s menu, as well, which changes every day and features standouts like West Coast raw oysters; raw plates of hamachi crudo; The Dip, a roasted lamb-goat cheese sandwich; and a rack of lamb served with a lemon-walnut risotto cake, ramps, apricots and cipollini onion compote.
“I can’t say enough good things about this community and how they support not just our business but also every local business here in Webster,” Hinkle says, who also lives in the area. “It’s a walkable neighborhood, between the Old Webster district and the Old Orchard district, and just walking down the street, there are so many little gems.”
You can reach most of the hot spots on the six-block stretch along Gore and Lockwood avenues that comprises Old Webster. Right on the main drag is CJ Mugg’s Bar & Grill: The prominent bar and ample-sized dining room, replete with dark-stained cherry wood tables, stained-glass lighting and local art for purchase on the walls, is filled with regulars who enjoy the friendly service, live music and eclectic menu. Signatures include meatloaf with garlic smashed potatoes and buttermilk onion rings, pan-roasted Tuscan chicken breast in a white-wine reduction, and the Muffalato sandwich that’s literally the size of a dinner plate and piled with ham, salami, mortadella, provolone and olive salad.
Another eclectic favorite on the edge of the district is Cyrano’s, named after celebrated Frenchman Cyrano de Bergerac, whose miniature statue greets guests near the entrance among quirky antiques, glittery tiles, brightly painted walls and lantern lighting. The date-friendly dessert destination is across the street from well-known landmarks The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Webster University. Aside from desserts including the absolutely cannot-miss caramel brioche bread pudding and the Cleopatra ice cream sundae (a foot-tall concoction of French vanilla ice cream, bananas, strawberries, rum sauce, Gold Brick chocolate topping, and layers and layers of whipped cream), lunch and dinner menu items include rare-seared tuna with wasabi aïoli and chicken spiedini with shaved Asiago and a balsamic reduction.
Another date-friendly romantic spot on the other end of Lockwood Ave is Robust Wine Bar. Opening 10 years ago, the Webster Groves location is the flagship Robust, which has a Downtown location, as well. Owners Stanley Browne and Arlene Maminta Browne are a powerhouse team, with Stanley devoted to curating an extensive wine list and Arlene passionate about hospitality and careful customer service.
“We felt Webster was a great community that was – pardon the pun – thirsty for an alternative restaurant that wasn’t just a burger joint or casual,” Stanley says. “We wanted to offer something else to the growing community.”
They wanted it to be a place for people to socialize and spark conversation, and be a place to introduce patrons to new things, from wine flights and 45 by-the-glass offerings, plus food menus that specialize in small plates for sharing, like the bacon-cured and smoked duck breast with arugula and a farm egg, as well as larger entrées including crab-stuffed trout and pastrami-cured pork belly with carrot hash and sauerkraut chutney.
From wine to tequila: Two Mexican favorites in Webster are only a two-minute walk from each other. San Jose Mexican Restaurant features a menu of Margaritas, including the house specialty, the Don Juan Margarita, a frozen lime Margarita with a splash of sangria. It pairs perfectly with La Bandera (Spanish for flag): a combo plate of a chile poblano with red sauce (red), a chicken chimichanga with cheese sauce (white) and a beef enchilada with verde sauce (green). Steps away is Milagro Modern Mexican, from the owners of Mission Taco Joint. The modern space is decorated with artful metal cutouts over the sleek bar, popular with the happy-hour crowd, who also indulge in elevated Mexican dishes like the artfully plated shrimp and grits, chicken flautas and layered tuna ceviche.
Newcomer to Webster is Pui Nammakhot, who was welcomed into the community with the opening of Sushi Station. Along with head chef Marcos Rivere Leal, Nammakhot sources top-grade fish, cut fresh every morning and used in creative sushi rolls including signature “special” rolls like the Marcos (crab salad, cream cheese, shrimp tempura, asparagus, avocado, smelt roe, spicy mayo), Rainbow (crab salad, cucumber, avocado and topped with a variety of fish) and Old Webster (salmon, tuna, yellow tail, asparagus, avocado, Japanese pickled radish). The bright and clean space offers seating with a glimpse behind the counter to see Marcos at work, as well as colorful displays of the fresh fish.
“Webster is a wonderful community in supporting me; I would not have been able to open the restaurant without them,” Nammakhot says. And her support base is wide: “I have 2-year-olds come in here with their parents and start eating sushi – they know the nigiri and the avocado roll.”
A big annual draw to the area is the Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival, held Sat., Sept. 16 this year. The free festival books diverse local jazz and blues acts to play live on two stages in front of 13,000 attendees in the heart of downtown Webster. After spending the day catching the rhythm, catch dinner and drinks at one of the many fine establishments Webster has to offer.
“One thing I’ve experienced in my own life is that when you travel, it’s best to get to know the people to know the place,” Stanley says. “People here are friendly and open and warm, and it's easy for out-of-towners to connect with people in Webster.”
CJ Mugg’s Bar & Grill, 101 W. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves, Missouri, 314.963.1976, cjmuggs.com
Cyrano’s, 603 E. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves, Missouri, 314.963.3232, cyranos.com
Milagro Modern Mexican, 20 Allen Ave. #130, Webster Groves, Missouri, 314.962.4300, milagromodernmexican.com
Olive + Oak, 102 W. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves, Missouri, 314.736.1370, oliveandoakstl.com
Robust Wine Bar, 227 W. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves, Missouri, 314.963.0033, robustwinebar.com
San Jose Mexican Restaurant, 35 N. Gore Ave., Webster Groves, Missouri, 314.475.5099, facebook.com/sanjosewebstergroves
Sushi Station, 29 N. Gore Ave., Webster Groves, Missouri, 314.733.5511, thesushistation.com