Ribs, Mosaics and Ben

What started with a breakfast croissant at La Patisserie Chouquette became a full tour of St. Louis thanks to Ben Poremba, the inspiring local chef behind Olio + Elaia, Nixta, Benevolent King, Parigi and more. We drove through rain, which highlighted the city’s grittiness and mystical quality. On the way to Olive Ovation, the local destination for quality EVOO, we took a quick detour to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. From outside it reminded me of Notre Dame (I swear!), but its ultimate beauty lay within: the Byzantine-inspired mosaics glimmered in gold, and the multitude of domes transported us to another world where the sky is both far away and within hand’s reach.

At Olive Ovation we met with Marianne Prey, with whom we talked about the olive oil industry. She shared her thoughts on the retail side, and tasted Libellula EVOO. The store itself held a specially curated selection of quality olive oils and wines. A true gem in the heart of St. Louis.

And here comes one of the day’s highlights: St. Louis buttery ribs with voodoo sauce, pickles and egg salad from Bogart’s Smokehouse. Here we took a quick turn towards heaven.

Driving back to Elaia + Olio, Ben’s first restaurant, I saw the most extraordinary, goose-bump inducing, palatial homes. Every home was unique, unlike anything I have seen in the most wealthy neighborhoods around the USA: colorful facades, old floor-to-ceiling windows, dreamy gardens, exquisite wood trim. We learned St. Louis was the center of east-west trade, before train tracks were re-routed northward towards Chicago.

An incredible day ended just how it started, with good food, great company and inspiring conversation with Ben. We hosted a Libellula EVOO tasting at Israeli-inspired Elaia + Olio, and had hummus, pita, and nostalgia-inducing aperol spritz.

Alla prossima St. Louis!

Dinner x 3

Today was warm in all the senses. We left Nashville with the intent of coming back, but not before a stop at Jill Melton’s office to drop off some liquid gold. Jill is the editor of Edible Nashville, a local chapter of Edible magazine with a focus on local and sustainable foods. We sat down in her kitchen, I shared our story, she shared hers, and the southern warmth abounded. I left the house with peach cobbler and having left a little extra EVOO for her and her foodie friends to enjoy.

We arrived in St. Louis tired but eager to start our restaurant olive oil tasting. Ben Poremba, founder of Bengelina, a restaurant group based in St. Louis that encapsulates a few of the best spots in town, offered us the most exquisite moroccan food. After our tasting at Benevolent King he drove us through the city to his first restaurant, Olio. My innate passion for architecture and design flourished as he gave us a narrated tour of the gas station-turned mediterranean eatery. Together we walked to his Mexican restaurant Nixta, had mescal with flan layered with fresh peach, laden with so much insight on Ben’s part.

Tomorrow night we’ll be at Olio for olive oil tasting number two. Fitting given the olive tree in their patio!

Golden Spot

I’m in love with the neighborhood vibe of Nashville. The coolest spots in town are far from downtown and in places you would never imagine to wander: behind train tracks, next to a suburban house, tucked away from a highway. These hubs become attractions in their own right. Yes, you need a car to access them, but the spaciousness of the city paired with its ease of travel make the journey peaceful, and the destination exciting.

We started with an olive oil tasting at WeWork One Nashville Place, and met wonderfully warm people that confirmed our analysis of friendliness in TN. That was followed by some restaurant hopping, when we shared Libellula EVOO and our story. Most of the places we drove to were new or recently opened, which shows that Nashville is evolving and changing right now. Did I mention how much I loved the industrial and modern architecture paired with old brick and box-like walls? The light is golden at dusk, and the air is just humid enough. The houses are modest, small and colorful but non-discrepit.

Another night, another delicious pizza. Perhaps we need some barbecue tomorrow. However we did get a good share of good ol’ Honky Tonk at American Legion! Watching great souls dance on the dance floor to country tunes was just what I needed to leave Nashville with the intent of coming back.

Athens of the South

Waking up at 5:00am for a five hour car ride wasn’t bad knowing we were on our way to Nashville. Singing in our FIAT 500X and listening to podcasts on NPR helped too. We arrived just in time for the lunchtime EVOO tasting at WeWork 901 Woodland, their office location just outside downtown. By the looks of the building, I already knew I loved Nashville: old warehouse-turned modern office space with garage doors-now-windows and an outside deck? I’ll take that with a couple southern biscuits.

That evening we ate at City House, a restaurant that somehow seamlessly combines southern and Italian cuisine. The building itself was in an old modest abode, set back from the road and covered by weeping willows. The pizza margherita was delicious, as were the bruschetta layered with pork and corn, and the sliver of grilled cheese infused with zucchini and mint.

Home to Table

Today was a day of reprieve and crickets. Asheville is filled with my favorite peaceful sound, crickets at night, which remind me of the countryside in Bologna.

Morning consisted of some good matcha, oat milk, and baked goods. We had a biscuit in the name and shape of a croissant, and it was delicious. Crispy, bready, savory, oh my!

Driving around the North Carolina mountains in the rain is quite special. We tried to access the gates to the exclusive Biltmore villa, to gift a bottle of olive oil, but ended up driving back with a no, and an intent to drive around the mountains aimlessly to look for a look-out point.

The day ended with some door-to-door EVOO pitches, but most of all with Rhubarb, a fresh farm to table restaurant with simple, lean and homey meals. We opted for Sunday Supper, a $36 full-course meal that included rice-stuffed peppers with mustard, goat cheese and apricot jam crostini, snapper with watermelon and a mouth-watering shortcake with apricot, plum, and berry compote. Their values are perfectly aligned with Libellula’s. And I honestly think their meals could have been that more augmented with a drizzle of golden extra virgin olive oil.

Next stop: Nashville!