Olive+Oak – Possibly St. Louis’ Best New Restaurant of 2016
Webster Groves, MO/December 27, 2016 (STLRestaurant.News) (Olive+Oak) – New restaurants come and go. The good ones catch on and quickly become local favorites. The great ones feed generations and become legends. As it approaches its one-year anniversary, Olive+Oak’s star is still rising. But then the whole approach to this new restaurant in old Webster has been thoughtful, reflective, and inventive. When Mark Hinkle and Greg Ortyl opened their place last January, the goal was to create a restaurant that’s fun, friendly and delicious. Starting with a great location, simply elegant interior design, and ingredient-driven food was the way to do it. Olive+Oak’s popularity is the result of a series of solid decisions well implemented. The passion the owners and staff have for nourishing their customers is obvious, and those customers are eating it up. O+O is full of heart. And that’s by design.
It was the tragic losses of both men’s sons to congenital heart disease that brought Hinkle and Ortyl together. The men and their wives have each formed organizations (the Ollie Hinkle Heart Foundation and the Mighty Oakes Heart Foundation) aimed at raising awareness of the condition and helping families affected by it. Their restaurant is filled with subtle remembrances. A tree of life sculpture near the entrance adds to the modern decor at Olive+Oak. A large wooden heart adorns one wall near the front. Another heart in neon sits on a shelf above the bar. Then there’s the wall of pictures near the kitchen: families with children who suffer from congenital heart defects. Mark Hinkle and his son Oliver are there. So are Greg Ortyl and his son Oakes. It’s for them the restaurant is named: Olive+Oak.
Before O+O, Hinkle had spent 18 years working in the restaurant industry. Although he’s always loved working with food, his restaurant career really began after college, at Hugo’s Frog Bar and Fish House in Chicago, and eventually included a management post at Annie Gunn’s in Chesterfield. Olive+Oak Executive Chef Jesse Mendica had been Executive Sous Chef at Annie Gunn’s before following Hinkle to his new spot in Old Webster. In 2007 Mendica had been part of the Annie Gunn’s team invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House. In 2012, she was the only woman to compete in the St. Louis Sous Chef Iron Chef Competition. She’s developed a culinary style that is focused on using the best possible ingredients to create food that is approachable and delicious.
Mendia has developed a contemporary American menu that changes often, keeping up with the seasons. It begins with classic starters like oyster—on the half shell, roasted or Rockefeller. Or try the Blue Crab Gratin made with calabrian chile peppers and served with celery and pretzel bread. There’s also Yellowfin Tuna Meatballs, chicken wings with a maple-red curry glaze, or gnocchi with a lamb ragu and herbed goat cheese. And that’s just for starters.
Prime, wet-aged steaks and expertly prepared seafood make up the “meat” of the menu. Although the ingredients are generally familiar ones, they’re put together in creative and delicious ways. Take the Prime Strip for example. It’s prepared with blue cheese fonduta (Italian style fondue with Fontina cheese), ale braised onions and arugula, then served with grilled potato bread. Their entrees include some playful options too, like Biscuit + Gravy, but of course, with an interesting twist. They cover fresh buttermilk drop biscuits with rabbit and tasso ham stew. Their Cape Scallops are perfectly cooked and served over cheddar grits with andouille sausage, tomato, roasted peppers and collard greens. To add to the fun, you can add grilled lobster tail to any entrée.
No matter what you order for dinner, it will be delicious and they will have the perfect libation to accompany it. Another well thought out ingredient in Olive+Oak’s success is their bar. It starts with an expert mix-master and carries all the way through to their expansive and well curated wine list. But then bartender Chelsea Little is a culinary school graduate who went on to learn mixology behind the bars at The Libertine and at Brasserie by Niche. She’s the creative flavor behind Olive+Oak’s expertly mixed cocktails along with their fine selection of draft and bottled craft beer. The bar staff at O+O can mix pretty much anything you like, but Little’s signature cocktails (listed by number on the daily menu) are both entertaining and refreshing—sort of like the restaurant itself.
Even after eleven months in business, this is still one of the hottest dining destinations in St. Louis’ bright culinary scene. It can literally take months to get a reserved table at O+O. Walk-ins are allowed, but reservations are strongly recommended. On a Friday or Saturday night, they’re a must have. But plan ahead. As of this writing the wait for a 7:00 p.m. table for two on a Friday night at Olive+Oak is more than two months (late March), although there are some openings in late January for dinner before 6:00 p.m. or after 9:00 p.m. You’ll only need to plan a couple of weeks ahead for a prime-time table on a weeknight. Reservation phone lines open at 2:00 p.m. each day, or you can make them online through O+O’s website. Seating at the bar and spots at the rail are first-come first-serve, but you should expect to have to wait awhile. That’s because everyone wants to try the hottest new restaurant of 2016. And those who’ve already tried it just keep coming back for more.
Header picture courtesy of Pinnacle Contracting, Inc. – picture in body of article courtesy of Olive+Oak
Copyright 2016 St. Louis Media, LLC d.b.a. STLRestaurant.News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.