Cellar + Plate Mary Guccione

Mary Guccione is the owner of Cellar + Plate.

Mary Guccione is the quintessential hostess. With a charming mischievous streak and a knack for flavor pairings, Guccione presides over Cellar + Plate, her Springfield, Missouri, tapas and wine bar. With 35 wines available by the glass, another 15 on bottle reserve and six seasonal rosés currently available, Cellar + Plate is a unique gathering place for wine aficionados and social butterflies alike. Guccione believes that’s largely because of the spot’s warm, communal environment. “I wish everybody would stop and think about wine and food a little bit more,” she says. “When you put people around a table with really good wine and food that has been prepared with passion and care, so many powerful things happen that you couldn’t plan for.”

Springfield’s communal dining scene has long been limited to small plate menus at otherwise traditional eateries – a standard Guccione hopes to challenge. “I want my guests to enjoy an experience they can’t get anywhere else with food they can’t get anywhere else,” she says. That includes Cellar + Plate’s recently updated seasonal tapas menu. Currently on offer are tastefully plated shareables like the Beauty and the Beast, a simple crostini that Guccione describes as “almost like peasant food” – upscale peasant food, that is. “You put it in your mouth, and there are so many flavor explosions, so many textures,” she says. “You get the texture of the crusty crostini, the melty goodness from the cheese and the al dente crunch from the fresh green apple. So many things happen to your brain as you’re tasting it.” It’s that passionate approach to simple flavors that continues to make Cellar + Plate one to watch.

What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? Because it’s spring, I’ll say fresh herbs. I have a fruit tart that I make; it has a cream cheese base with a pecan-brown sugar crust, and I absolutely love pairing different fruits with fresh herbs. The one I’ve become known for is an apricot and basil tart. The basil adds herbaceousness to the sweetness, and it all marries so well together. You also get herbaceousness from a lot of wines. For example, from Chilean wines you get a bit of an herbaceous vegetal aroma mixed with the fruit. You’ll get a bit of green pepper and dried thyme with your pears or quints. In Italy, you’ll get wine with oregano and basil flavors mixed with dark cherries.

How has the local food scene evolved over the past year? I’m so excited about where Springfield is going. We have some really young chefs in the area who are completely fearless about what they do. We also have some chefs who’ve been around for a long time, and they’re adopting new flavor profiles while holding onto those beautiful traditions. I’m seeing this emergence of a whole new attitude and approach in a way that Springfield has not seen in a very long time.

Who are Springfield chefs you admire at the moment? One of my biggest heroes is Joe Gidman [of Cafe Cusco, Van Gogh’s Eeterie and Chabom Tea & Spices on Springfield’s Historic Commercial Street]. He’s traveled all over the world, so he knows what he’s talking about. The man is absolutely fearless in his approach. In the early days, no one was opening businesses on Commercial Street. Not only did he open up a restaurant – he opened up a Peruvian restaurant. He’s not a cowboy; he approaches everything calmly, kindly and with a quiet demeanor. Then, of courses, he ups the ante and goes and opens a Dutch eatery. He’s done everything with grace, and he’s done it with expertise.

If you could tell home wine aficionados one thing, what would it be? Taste, taste, taste. We don’t taste enough, especially as Americans. We dive into everything. We dive into our food and dive into our wine without thinking about it. For budding wine connoisseurs, it’s important to prioritize constant education and evolution of the palate. You’ve got to taste something multiple times and observe what it feels like in your mouth, what it feels like on the different zones of your tongue.

How do you approach R&D at your restaurant, and what inspires that process? I wanted interesting wine, and I wanted interesting food. I wanted people to come and get wine and food they couldn’t get anywhere else. I didn’t want steaks, I didn’t want burgers – I wanted people to think about eating in different way. That’s been my biggest struggle: People don’t understand opening a tapas restaurant. It’s a communal way of eating. That, for me, is more intimate, more sacred. It’s also healthier because you’re not sitting in front of a gigantic plate of steak with a baked potato.

What are your future plans? We’ve established a strong audience, but every single night I’m seeing people come in who have never come in before. Of course, when you open something, your hope is always to expand. I’ve looked at properties, but we don’t have set plans at this moment. Eventually, I would like to have the opportunity to have more seating capacity or a place with private room.

Cellar + Plate, 2916 S. Lone Pine Ave., Springfield, Missouri, cellarandplate.com 

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Lillian Stone is a writer based in Springfield, Missouri. Her life revolves almost entirely around her next meal.

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