A Tasteful Fusion of Art, Food, and Adventure – Confluence Kombucha
St. Louis, MO: (STLRestaurant.News) – The newest restaurant in the Grove will be new to St. Louis diners in more ways than one. Confluence Kombucha at 4507 Manchester Road opened its gastroLAB café in September. The gastroLAB is the playful, food side of the business. So far, the innovative small plates and snacks are a big hit with customers.
The gastroLAB’s menu is both elegant and simple. Chef William Pauley’s creations are expertly prepared vegetarian luxe, at a very affordable price. The food is fresh, with a sophisticated Asian influence, and downright delicious. Vegetarians, vegans and omnivores will find something to love on the menu, which changes regularly. In the playful style of the cafe, gastroLAB’s menu is divided into four categories: drinks, curiosities, compositions, and sweets. The first and last are self-explanatory.
The name “Curiosities” winks at the adventurous style that underscores the entire business. It includes interesting choices like coconut yogurt with sesame; beautifully marbled tea eggs; variations on kimchee—including tomatillo & corn, or Korean melon & patty pan squash, and a half-dozen others. There’s a nice variety of nukazuke (vegetables and fruit fermented in rice bran or nuka). This week you’ll find cucumber, apple, turnip, and radish with jackfruit seed butter and rhubarb jam. There are also pickles (brined veg & fruit). This week’s selection includes beet, blueberry, green papaya, bitter melon, mushroom, pineapple core, sunchoke, cactus, cauliflower, and watermelon rind. A curious variety, yes?
“Compositions,” as one might have guessed, are composed dishes (entrees) that stick to the inventive vegetarian theme. Again, the menu rotates weekly, generally including dishes based on seasonal ingredients. Among the choices this week you’ll find Jackfruit prepared with lime, herbs, crispy shallots, and tomatoes; Tempeh with pickled beets, honey, tahini, and fermented greens; and Kimbap Tacos, made with slices of fresh kimbap (sushi’s cousin), roasted seaweed, brown rice, kimchee, and seasoned vegetable. Hey, they had me at tacos.
And just because it’s vegetarian, doesn’t mean you should skip dessert! Why would you with choices like Pear with chestnut, coconut, apple cider, currants, dates, and pistachios? There’s a certain promise of decadence with a dish called Nut Butter Cup. The gastroLAB’s is a delicious, healthy tryst with raw cacao, almond, peanut, coconut sugar, and turmeric. Even their Raw Cacao dessert is made with mushroom, maple syrup, coconut oil and ashwagandha (a super immune-boosting, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, sleep-inducing, and antibacterial herb). So who doesn’t love dessert, especially when it’s delicious and good for you?
Just because you can count on everything on the gastroLAB drinks menu being potable, that doesn’t mean you’ll find a mundane selection of offerings. The simplest drink on the menu this week is fresh coconut water. There’s also wild harvested chaga tea (mild mushroom tea with a hint of nuttiness and vanilla); pineapple aluá (a lightly fermented Brazilian drink made of pineapple, brown sugar and clove); wildflower honey jun (fermented with green tea and raw honey); and a variety of hot teas.
The kombucha brewing operation is still in the works. That’s because the folks at Confluence Kombucha are brewing it using traditional methods, so it contains a small amount of naturally occurring alcohol, which means they need special permits to make and sell it. On October 7th Confluence Kombucha received federal approval to brew and sell kombucha. The City of St. Louis just approved their brewer’s license. Co-owner Julienne Villarini says they expect to get state approval in the next week or so. Villarini says once that happens, they’ll start selling their kombucha creations right away—something that could happen as soon as the first week in December.
For the uninitiated, kombucha is sweet tea fermented with yeast cultures and beneficial bacteria, to create a fizzy drink that’s lighter and a little less effervescent than soda. It’s become popular for its tart applesque flavor, and its purported health benefits (claims range from detoxification benefits, to help with digestion, sleep, and weight loss).
Confluence will offer six varieties on tap including some newbie-friendly choices like pineapple-turmeric, plum blossom-elderberry, and rose-honeysuckle-vanilla (a good first choice, since it hits the vanilla notes rather strongly, making it kind of like a tart cream soda). For something more exotic, try the hibiscus-jasmine flower-juniper berry or one of the seasonal flavors which will rotate regularly.
The gastroLAB at Confluence Kombucha serves lunch (11 to 3) and dinner (5 to 9) Weds – Sat, and lunch on Sunday. When the weather is nice, the patio they share with Urban Chestnut’s Research Brewery is a comfortable place to sample the gastroLAB’s elegantly prepared dishes. It’s a popular spot for lunch, and there’s no doubt it will soon make an excellent spot to sit and sample kombucha.