Local chef Eric Brenner has made his triumphant return to the St. Louis food scene with the new restaurant Alumni (200 North 13th Street; 314-241-5888), which opened Monday.
Alumni is a joint effort between Brenner and the Lawrence Group, a local planning and design firm. Together, they have created a restaurant whose mission is to celebrate and honor the St. Louis of the past while looking toward the future. The restaurant features classic St. Louis dishes fit for a true foodie.
Gut Check spoke with Chef Brenner about the new restaurant and the concept behind the menu and the décor.
"The idea is that we want to celebrate the people, places and food that make St. Louis great," Brenner says. "We're taking all the food that St. Louis is known for and elevating it."
Indeed, the menu features items like toasted ravioli, "The Hill" house side salad, gooey butter cake and, of course, Provel.
"Oh yeah, we definitely use Provel whenever we can," Brenner says.
To each his own.
What "elevates" these classic dishes is not only the new and improved recipes, but also the availability of gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan options -- something that's close to Brenner's own heart.
Brenner recently returned to St. Louis after living in New York where he was working on the launch of a new company, BOLD Organics pizzas.
"I want to help people who have a lifestyle choice where they don't always feel like they can walk into a restaurant and order," Brenner says. "Because everything is made in house, we're able to cater to people's needs."
This all-inclusive attitude is something that seems to set Alumni apart from other local businesses. Brenner acknowledges that media attention on St. Louis isn't always flattering, but Alumni is committed to celebrating everything that this city is made of.
"I always come back here," Brenner says. "I was in New York, and I came back 'cause it really is the people here who bring me back."
Brenner also hopes the name "Alumni" will add to the welcoming notion behind the restaurant. It's a reference to both the consummate "Where'd you go to high school?" question, as well as the idea that everyone from here is an alumnus of St. Louis.
The décor is what Brenner describes as "retro-nostalgic" -- a nod to the sleek sophistication of the 1950s and the mid-century optimism about the future. The restaurant's interior and logo reference the aesthetic of St. Louis designer Charles Eames and his wife, Ray, who were considered champions of modern design in the 1940s and 50s.
The 1950s is also reflected in the cocktail menu, which features nostalgic drinks like Manhattans and gin fizzes. Because the place is so St. Louis-centered, the bar has an array of local beers on tap as well.
Perhaps the best visual ode to the restaurant's alma mater a wall of famous St. Louis faces and landmarks, which Brenner says has already spawned its own who's who guessing game.
"People look at the old photographs, and they start talking," Brenner says. "They'll say, 'Remember when St. Louis was the third-largest city in the country?' I just think it's wonderful is it that we can get people talking about how cool St. Louis is."