Retreat Gastropub is celebrating its two-year anniversary in style. Owner Travis Howard and bartender Tim Wiggins have planned a week of specials at the Central West End restaurant that run from Wed., Oct. 4 through Sun., Oct. 8. In addition to a spiked version of Retreat's much-loved bread pudding topped with amaro caramel, guests can enjoy two brand-new specialty beers made in collaboration with the upcoming Rockwell Beer Co.
"We’re just very thankful for as much support we’ve received over the past two years, so it’s just a chance to invite people in and have some fun," Howard says. "We're excited to offer things to our customers that are a little bit different than what they usually get when they come in here."
The beers are inspired by the most popular cocktails at Retreat: Timber and Pompadour. Each brew mimics the flavor profile of the cocktail; the Growing Rings double IPA has piney Simcoe and Chinook hops, while the High Fade is a grapefruit-forward Belgian double IPA with spice and citrus along with biscuit notes. "You can't get these beers anywhere else," Wiggins says. "Andy [Hille of Rockwell] is amazing; he really just pushes the limits on flavor and style, and we have similar visions."
We sat down with the pair to chat about this week's celebrations, advice for home bartenders and the joys of gas station fried chicken.
What is your favorite ingredient to work with and why? Fresh ginger juice is something that we use frequently in the kitchen and bar. One of the beers we’re doing for the anniversary is inspired by our whiskey and fresh lemon juice, that has the juice we cold press in house a couple times a week. One of the IPAs we’re doing has spicy Belgian hops that mimic the heat from the vegetal spice of fresh ginger juice. It’s an ingredient that we’ve found to be kind of a secret weapon behind the bar. It doesn’t have any sweetness like a liquor, but it’s super dry, spicy and has really awesome texture when you shake it into a cocktail.–Tim Wiggins
Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique? I would say the cold-pressed juicer we have is a secret weapon that hopefully after reading this not everyone else starts to use. We cold press vegetables, syrups, cordials and juices, so anything like kale, ginger or carrots go through that cold-pressed juicer. I think the flavor and the color and the yield is something that is pretty unique to what we’re doing and definitely one of our secret weapons. –T.W.
What's your perfect day of eating in St. Louis? I would definitely end the day at Taste for dinner and cocktails. I think everything there is always great. –Travis Howard.
We usually spend our Sundays with at breakfast at The Mud House and Sump for coffee, and maybe Taste or Vista Ramen for a cocktail and dinner. –T.W.
How has the local food scene evolved over the past year? I think it’s super exciting to see the experimental, daring side of newer restaurants that have opened that are pushing the limits and not just doing comfortable techniques and concepts. You see people actually spending money and time and effort on doing things that will hopefully advance the scene in St. Louis instead of knowing that a concept is safe and it will make money. We’ve seen what Vicia is doing, Vista Ramen – you see these newer places opening that are doing things that aren’t just your typical St. Louis fare. There's also the overall feeling of trying to remove the pretense and the stuffiness. Hopefully the new wave – and what I’ve seen recently – is trying to do things really well but trying to keep it comfortable and casual no matter the price point. I think Niche transitioning to Sardella was a pretty good picture: It’s still fantastic product, but in a more comfortable, brighter, more modern space. –T.W.
We talk a lot about a place like Vista, where there’s always something different, or flavor combinations I haven’t necessarily seen before. It’s awesome to see people try new things. Or a place like Vicia – there are obviously places that have done farm-to-table, but they’re taking it to another level here. I think it’s exciting seeing people try new things and concepts that are different. On top of that, we talk about how restaurants are paying more attention to their beverage programs; you can’t just open a restaurant and have some wines that people can order in addition to their food. You’ve got to pay attention to the beer and the cocktails. If you go to a nice restaurant, they’re going to have some pretty solid cocktails you can order as well. I think that’s been something that has been fun to see is that growth around town as well. –T.H.
Who are St. Louis chefs/bartenders you admire at the moment? I think what Michael [Gallina]’s doing at Vicia is awesome, and obviously you have to have high respect for Gerard [Craft]. I think Dave Greteman at Taste and [who] was at Sardella is totally underrated. He’s not the most outgoing guy; he’s not going to talk your ear off about what he can do and does do. But his flavors are incredibly unique and balanced and very, very consistent. –T.W.
What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in St. Louis? I hope to see rum and agave, more than anything, expanded in St. Louis. The fried chicken and whiskey trend was booming over the past few years and I really hope to see exploration of the lesser-utilized spirits showcased in a proper way – not just a kitschy, shitty Tiki bar, but actually [someplace] using rum and agave in other ways. There are a few places like Público that have awesome agave and rum, but I think that’s something that definitely needs to happen and hopefully will happen soon. –T.W.
What do you like to cook at home or on your day off? My house just has a permanent scent of bacon in it. I am definitely a breakfast person, so no matter what time my first meal of the day is I’m going to start with breakfast, and bacon is definitely on the menu. I don’t find myself cooking at home as much as I used to, but I’m probably going to pick up a really nice cut of meat and grill and put together something light on the side. –T.H.
We make a lot of tikka masala – well, my wife does and I watch her. Tikka masala is something we’re absolutely obsessed with; it’s this long, kind of miserable process of making, but then it’s so rewarding and lasts for a week in the fridge. I’d say that’s probably our favorite thing to make. –T.W.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Bacon, definitely, and fried chicken as well. I don’t necessarily go to a restaurant, sit down and order fried chicken, but I can pick up fried chicken on the go. There’s a gas station over on Kingshighway and Manchester that Tim and I talk about all the time. You can get fried chicken in kind of obscure places and be totally happy about it. –T.H.
Gas station fried chicken and QuikTrip pizza are definitely the comfort foods of my life. That and any taco, anywhere, is pure comfort. –T.W.
If you could tell home cooks one thing, what would it be? I think drinkwise, fresh juices is one thing Tim always talks about. Not using store-bought juices or bottled juices, but using fresh juices makes such a difference in any sort of cocktail or beverage. That’s the first thing we always talk about. –T.H.
I would also say to read a book. There are books that can give the home bartender so much knowledge. A lot of times people are like, “I want to make a Manhattan at my house and I don’t know how.” And I tell them there’s a $7 book that can show you how and change your life. The Curious Bartender has books on almost every spirit and cocktail, and I stand behind all of those books. I think that that guy’s brilliant. We always talk about Death & Company being the comprehensive spirit and cocktail book; it's kind of the bible or what we consider the standard. They’re one of the OG bars in New York that was the forerunner of craft cocktails, and their book is comprehensive on the spirits, technique and tools you need to know. I think anyone who reads that front to cover is going to have more knowledge than 80 percent of the bartenders in St. Louis, to be honest with you.
What is your first food or drink memory? When I first started working at Baileys’ Range with Travis, that was my first introduction to high-quality, grass-fed product that was locally grown. I remember having one of the burgers there and noticing how it tasted different and better than anything I’ve had. It was an awakening to "Oh, there’s food you can get that's local and better." I don’t think I’d ever had something that was completely sourced from a farm within an hour. I remember that being kind of an “aha” moment for me. I also remember Kyle Mathis made me a Last Word at Taste around 2012 or 2013 and I had never had anything like it. I remember that just blowing my mind of what a cocktail could be and obsessing over the taste. To this day, that’s still one of my favorite cocktails and that was definitely a ground-breaking moment for me. –T.W.
I had a similar experience at Range beer-wise. I started around 2011, 2012 – right as a lot of the now-big names in the St. Louis beer scene like 4 Hands, Perennial and Urban Chestnut had just opened up. Range had 30 taps that were only local beers, and I remember Eugene Bailey specifically tasting me on beers and educating me not just on the beers themselves but on the breweries and where they were. That was definitely eye-opening to me on the beverage side as well – that you could have all these different beers that were so interesting and so different than what I was used to serving people or drinking at my friends’ houses. –T.H
What’s the most intriguing cocktail you’ve made recently, and why? The Golden State is a cocktail we’ve had on for a year now. It’s a coconut curry soup-inspired cocktail that has local Sunshine Dust tea from Big Heart Tea Co. infused into a coconut syrup with curry powder and a local gin from Kansas City. It was kind of a new page for us that we turned in introducing culinary-inspired cocktails that have savoriness but are still recognizable and palatable to people who aren’t super adventurous. –T.W.
How do you approach R&D at your restaurant, and what inspires that process? A lot of times it comes from one or two flavor combinations that I find intriguing or interesting in a food dish or a classic cocktail, whether it’s ginger and grapefruit or chocolate and coconut. One school of thought is you take a spirit, taste it and try to enhance those nuances with other supporting flavors. More recently, the way our menu has been created is taking specific flavor pairings and then trying to expand them and figure out what spirit could complement it. It's kind of a backwards approach. We like to try things that are weird or sound strange. I might not have had a cocktail that has kale and pineapple, but I’ve had a kale-pineapple smoothie, so I know that will work. How do we make that work? What techniques and processes can we use to make cocktails [in] beautiful colors and still taste good but not take 10 hours of prep? It's the whole mentality of: How do we do something completely new and yet completely relatable? It’s fun, but it’s challenging because you don’t want to put 12 things in one cocktail and scare people, but you also don’t want people to say, "I’ve seen this before." We have a Tiki cocktail on the menu right now, Swim Good, with horseradish, sherry, coconut and pineapple. It’s difficult to incorporate horseradish in a palatable, delicious way because it's kind of a polarizing flavor. But I know horseradish pairs with pineapple and coconut and sherry because I’ve had it in ceviche-style dishes, so how do we take a Piña Colada, which everyone knows, and then try to combine them? –T.W.
We talk a lot about how we don’t want to scare people; we don’t want words on the menu that people don’t understand. It’s really that balance of how do we do something that’s really exciting, fun and new, but at the same time what do we incorporate that keeps this really approachable? Kale and pineapple might sound weird in a cocktail, but you’ve had those flavors before, and you’re really familiar with how they work together. It’s not something you’ve never heard of before. –T.H
Retreat Gastropub, 2 N. Sarah St., Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.261.4497, retreatgastropub.com