One of Cherokee Street’s tiniest storefronts has a new tenant. Teatopia opened on Mon., Jan. 30, filling the narrow 300-square-foot space previously occupied by the Little Dipper (which is now located down the street inside the Fortune Teller Bar). The shop features 40 different varieties of loose-leaf tea alongside smoothies, wraps, salads and more. The concept comes from first-time business owner Reginald Quarles.
“The tagline I go by here is ‘Brewing better lives one leaf at a time,’” Quarles says. “No matter what it is, I want to improve somebody’s daily life in a small way every day through one of my cups of tea. Everyone is welcome to come and have a seat here.”
While the petite space only has room for three tables and seven seats, there’s plenty of room in the kitchen to roll out big flavors. Wooden shelves and white walls come stacked high with glass jars full of organic and fair-trade blends and leaves.
“It’s not your average tea shop. That’s for sure. It’s not the old-English setup or anything of that sort,” he says. “We have great quality teas for reasonable prices. My goal is to expose everyone to tea and educate people on the health benefits.”
According to Quarles, his tea is sourced from Africa, Sri Lanka, India and other parts of Asia. The hot drinks – each brewed with carefully tempered water and set steeping times – are served in 20-ounce pots with 10-ounce cups in house. Sixteen-ounce to-go cups are also available.
The elaborate menu features options organized into the following categories, further broken down by region and complete with tasting notes: green, white, oolong, black, tisanes (herbal), matcha and decaf. One of Quarles’ personal favorites is the Jasmine Pearls, a rich and smooth everyday green tea from China that is rolled into little pearls by hand and infused with jasmine flowers. Additional highlights include cherry hibiscus, cranberry orange and darjeeling.
To make the most of the bountiful supply, everything from Teatopia’s cream-cheese spreads to its smoothies feature fragrant infusions from the hand-selected teas. Tea-infused vinaigrettes, for instance, include cran-apple and balsamic black-tea options served with salads including chopped spinach, chicken Caesar and kale-based plates. Wraps are also available, including a vegetarian option with romaine, spinach, tomato, onion, cucumber, kale, carrot and Parmesan flakes in a honey-wheat wrap.
Almond-milk based smoothies include options such as Strawberry Colada with strawberries and Coconut Creme tea as well as the Green Dream with mango, pineapple, spinach and green tea. Quarles’ next step is to expand by offering tea products online. Stay tuned for a Teatopia website.
Teatopia is currently open Monday through Saturday from 8am to 4pm.
Teatopia, 2619 1/2 Cherokee St., St. Louis, Missouri, facebook.com/teatopiallc
One of St. Louis’ most anticipated restaurants of the year now has a new home.
Good Fortune, the so-called “Chinese-Americanese restaurant” from Bob Brazell, Corey Smale, Hana Chung and Ryan McDonald, will open at 1654 Tower Grove Ave. this July, as first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Botanical Heights space was formerly home to a daycare, and lies just down the street from Elaia, Olio, La Patisserie Chouquette, Union Loafers and Nixta. Renovations are set to begin soon with the help of Gabe McKee and V Three Studios.
Good Fortune first announced plans to open a takeout-style restaurant near the Tech Artista coworking center in the Central West End last spring. The team ran into some snags with the location, but was able to conduct menu R&D at pop-up dinners and events over the past 10 months. The delay proved useful, though as the team has tweaked the concept to include dine-in service and a more traditionally Chinese menu.
Smale attributes the changes to the team’s interactions with diners over the past few months, adding that they want to continue to build on those relationships in a restaurant setting.
“I can’t help but feel like this is the right direction for us,” Smale says. “Botanical Heights is becoming a super cool food destination, and we are ready to step in and get started too. We have so much to explore with this cuisine. The huge emphasis will be on eating and feeling good with fresh, light and healthy items.”
The Good Fortune menu is tightly under wraps by McDonald, who will head up the kitchen, but Smale was able to reveal a few preliminary details. He notes that the restaurant will serve a small menu with several permanent items, along with an aggressively rotating line of specials.
“We have gotten really close to our customers,” Smale says. “Our biggest challenge moving forward will be nailing that still and translating that feeling and relationship to a restaurant form.”
Although the Botanical Heights location won’t be up and running for a few months, diners can soon get a taste of what to expect at Good Fortune. On Fri., Feb. 24 and Sat., Feb. 25, Good Fortune will team up with Mike Randolph (Randolfi’s, Público and Half & Half) for a 12-plus-course, Escoffier-inspired pop-up dinner.
Moving forward, Smale and the rest of the Good Fortune team are excited and ready to get to work.
“This delay gave us time and distance to help us see the bigger picture in what we want,” Smale says. “I really think it is a blessing.”
Tickets for the Good Fortune Diversion Dinner are on sale now. Dinner starts at 7pm both Friday and Saturday at Half & Half, 8135 Maryland Ave., Clayton, Missouri, 63015, Diversion.tocktix.com
Good Fortune, 1654 Tower Grove Ave., Botanical Heights, St. Louis, Missouri, facebook.com/goodfortunestl
If you’ve had a taste of pho, tagine or doner kebab in the Midwest, you can thank an immigrant. American food culture has long been enriched and broadened in delicious ways by immigrants who have made this country their home. In this series, A Taste of Home, you’ll meet the chefs and entrepreneurs who are bringing a taste of their cultures and backgrounds to our communities – and making them all the better for it.
If you visit Café Natasha this week, you’ll see more than a few beautiful bouquets of flowers proudly displayed in the center of the South Grand restaurant. One vase is brimming with delicate white lilies, a flower that’s long represented friendship, devotion and sympathy.
On Dec. 13, Behshid Bahrami, the co-founder of Café Natasha and beloved husband of Hamishe Bahrami and father of Natasha Bahrami, passed away. Together, Hamishe and Behshid had owned and operated restaurants in St. Louis for 34 years, and his loss was hugely felt in the community.
“After my husband passed away, so many people came in and they all had different stories to tell about him,” Hamishe says. “That was very amazing and overwhelming for me. It was really moving. I wish… if there is such a thing as a soul, that his was here to see how much people cared for him. He worked really hard for this and he deserved that.”
St. Louis Public Radio’s Durrie Bouscaren featured Hamishe in a segment last week about the recent temporary immigration ban. When one of Hamishe’s childhood friends in Iran learned of Behshid’s passing, she made plans to visit the family in St. Louis. Early in the morning on Jan. 30, Hamishe learned that her friend, whom she hadn’t seen in 46 years, was denied entry into the U.S. Since the story aired, Hamishe says people from across the metro area have reached out to show their support for the Bahramis and Café Natasha.
“I cried so many times – people I didn’t even know brought flowers, cards; they cried with me, they hugged me,” Hamishe says, gesturing toward the vase of lilies. “A lady walked in, I didn’t even know who she was, she hugged me and cried with me, and she said ‘I heard [your story] on the radio on my way home from work.’ She said she cried listening to it; she couldn’t believe [that happened.] She went and bought flowers and came in and said she’d be back, that she loves our food here.”
The Bahramis opened their first restaurant, The Little Kitchen, in the Paul Brown Building in Downtown St. Louis in 1983. They entered the restaurant industry more out of necessity than anything – Behshid, a geologist, was laid off from his position with Shannon & Wilson Inc. Hamishe says he offered to do the same work for half of the salary, as she was nine months pregnant with their daughter, Natasha, and following the Iranian hostage crisis, he knew it would be difficult to find other employment.
“He looked for a job for a year and a half,” Hamishe says. “I had to go back to work a week after I had Natasha because we needed the money – unemployment doesn’t give you much, and we had bills to pay. We couldn’t live like that and I didn’t want to be on welfare, so we decided to open our own business. He loved to cook; that’s why we got into restaurants.”
The Little Kitchen got off to a slow start, as St. Louisans weren’t familiar with the authentic Persian fare that the Bahramis served. They quickly changed the menu to mostly reflect more familiar American lunchtime fare, including turkey and roast beef sandwiches and fresh tuna and chicken salad, all made from scratch. The restaurant proved a success, serving the business lunch crowd in Downtown St. Louis for 12 years. By that time the Bahramis were operating a second restaurant, Café Natasha, which opened in the Delmar Loop in 1993. Eventually the family closed the Delmar location to concentrate on the current incarnation at 3200 South Grand Boulevard.
In the early days, Behshid was the chef and Hamishe managed the front of house, welcoming in diners with her outgoing and warm personality. Over the years she took on a larger role in the kitchen, collaborating with Behshid on menu items that blended flavors and dishes popular in their respective hometowns. Although Behshid retired about two years ago, Hamishe and Natasha say he still wanted to taste dishes at the restaurant to ensure the food was up to his standards.
“And if it wasn’t right, he would say so,” Hamishe says with a warm smile. “It was good – we didn’t like it, but it was good. He cared… he really cared about the food, what he gave people. Now Natasha is the same way. She’ll come in and try something and say the food is not the same. Now she’s my taster.”
What first brought you to St. Louis? To marry [Natasha’s father]. I originally came to the U.S. in 1976 to study English. I was a nurse in my country and I wanted to come visit America; I had a friend over here, and I liked it. I decided to go to school in New York to learn English. Life was just so different there. I was always a different kind of person even when I was in my country. I was thinking differently; I was open-minded to other cultures. I always wanted to fly away. And I loved American culture – the cowboy style of life. I thought that if I came to America, that I would be part of that life. I would go ride a horse – when you’re young, stuff goes to your head. When I came here, my friend lived in New Jersey, and I stayed with her for a while and then got my own place. Just getting on the bus to school… People would say good morning to you and it was like everybody respected everyone. It was completely different; a society unlike anything I’d ever seen. At night, everybody, after they finished school or work, would go to little taverns, eat, listen to music and dance, and have a drink. People living their lives the way they wanted to… nobody would say “oh, you’re a woman, why are you outside at night, and drinking?” You couldn’t do that in my country. It was freedom to live how you wanted to live and nobody would judge you. That attracted me so much – I could be myself.
What was the process of coming to this country like for you? Back then it was easy. [Behshid] came to the U.S. in 1972 to get his master’s degree – he got his undergrad in Iran – and a master’s in New York. He drove a cab while he was in school to support himself. Then after graduation he got a job; he worked in California for a while, and the company sent him to Iran, and then when [the Iranian hostage crisis began], he came back with his company to St. Louis. This was all before we met.
After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, I couldn’t go back to my country; most of my family were involved in politics and I couldn’t go back. Right now [what’s happening in America] was not as bad as that time. It was my second year of college, and the dean of the school knew me. He told me he didn’t trust people here and that if they found me, they might hurt me. I got help from a lawyer to get a visa to stay in this country and get a green card. He also gave me a job, so I was working in the morning and going to school at night. And then I met my husband through his brother-in-law; his brother-in-law was a classmate of my roommate. She was talking about me all the time, and he was looking for an Iranian girl to marry. After three months we got married and I moved to St. Louis, which is where he was living for work.
What does it mean to you to live here? We’ve been [operating restaurants in St. Louis] for 34 years. We have customers who have been coming to our restaurants since they were kids, who now bring in their kids. I had this young man one day, he had a reservation, and he came in we were so busy. He got up, came and grabbed me and gave me the biggest hug ever. I looked at him and said, “Do I know you?” And he said, “Yeah, when I was a little boy you would hold me all the time because my parents would dine at your place.” And then I went to his table, and I remembered – I knew his father first, because he would bring a date, and then they fell in love and got married and had their first baby. They would all three come in and I would hold the baby while the parents were eating so they could enjoy their dinner. And I love babies. So a story like that… I have so many of them. Lots of beautiful stories that have kept me going. If it wasn’t for stories like that I wouldn’t have lasted this long, to know that people appreciate us being here. This is like home for them, it’s not just another restaurant. If we acted like just another restaurant, we wouldn’t be here.
Tell us about the food you serve at your restaurant. Today [the South Grand location] serves Persian and some Middle Eastern food, but I put my own flavor into it, so it’s a bit different than what you’d get at other places. I love the lamb stew and the chicken with the walnut-pomegranate sauce, those are both Persian dishes. The all-beef shish kebab is not Persian, but the marinade and seasoning, my husband and I made it together. The sauce and seasoning is different from what you’ll find in other restaurants. Some of the dishes his mother made… we all know how to cook; Persian people, everyone knows how to cook. You cook all the time; we love food. And then we have several regions… It’s the same in America, where you have Texas barbecue or St. Louis barbecue, people make different food. We do the same thing. I’m from the north, and our food is completely different – different seasoning – and he was from Tehran, and their food is different. We would make food, taste the flavors and combine them.
What are some of your favorite dishes to make? When we were downtown, on Fridays, we made soup, called osh; it’s thick soup. We only served it on Fridays. We had beef or chicken broth in it and so vegetarians couldn’t eat it. So we started making it with butter and spices instead. And then vegan people asked why there was butter in it, so now I just make it seasoned with only spices, no flavor from butter or stock. It’s as good, if not better, because you know you’re eating healthy food. It’s thick, made with lentils and barley, and smells good and tastes good. Great for wintertime, but I love eating it all year round.
What have been some meaningful moments and experiences you’ve shared with diners and people in the community? When 9/11 happened, it affected us. We had no customers for about a month; nobody would come in. Then a customer did come in and asked us why no one was in the restaurant. We said, “Well, since 9/11, we haven’t had many customers.” She texted all her friends and called people and said, “We need to support Café Natasha,” and [many people] came in within two weeks. We didn’t know she did it, and all of the sudden the place was packed with people and all the people seemed to know each other.
After NPR talked to me [last week], people just… they’re so amazing. St. Louisians are amazing people. They came in, they’re crying and hugging me, and saying they’re sorry. They act like they are the ones in charge of stopping it; they were so supportive. The same way with 9/11; people were so supportive.
When my husband passed away, we don’t have any [family] here, and it was amazing how many people came in. There was ice outside and the weather was horrible, but this place was packed with people. I really didn’t miss my family because so many people came in and supported us. They didn’t have to do that, but they did, to make me feel that I’m home. That I’m not just another so-called immigrant, you know?
Have you experienced challenges along the way? When we opened downtown, people would come in and ask us where we were from, and I would say Persia. One lady came in and asked “Persian… why don’t you say Iranian? Tell us who you are.” And I told her that I was Persian; I told her that I’m not the one who took the hostages [in Iran]; we’re just here trying to survive – that’s why we’re here and not there, because of that. We want to survive in America – I want to work hard and make a living and make my baby happy and give her a life. I’m not hiding myself. I am who I am, and I’m not the one who [is responsible for conflict in Iran]. This is politics; it’s not us. After a while people got to know us and they were very supportive.
This is a country made of immigrants. Everybody was an immigrant. Maybe you came in before us or after. When they look at us as immigrants… they would never look at us as Americans, because they think that because they were born here, that they are American and we are not. But we are American, too. I am just as supportive of America as anybody else. I’m a very good citizen; I work hard to make a living and be an example for other people who come to this country. I think I’m a better citizen than some of the people born here. When people do something wrong – break the law – I get so mad. If you’re in this country, whoever, you need to follow the rule of law. To me, rule of law is very important. We’re here, and we try so hard to give people good, delicious food.
What do you love most about living in St. Louis? I’ve lived here since 1982, 35 years. I love St. Louis. If I could choose to live anywhere in the world I would still choose to live in St. Louis. This is my home. It’s a great city with great people. I am honestly so overwhelmed with support from our neighbors. What I love most about St. Louis is the people. People are very open-minded, intelligent, very supportive, very loving and caring; it’s like a family. Everybody has a great heart, and that’s what’s kept me in St. Louis. If it wasn’t for the people, I wouldn’t be in business. I’m so proud to be a St. Louisian and to be a part of St. Louis. I want people to know that their loving us, and taking us in as a family, is very important to us. That’s why we’re trying so hard to continue staying here [at Café Natasha], to give them the joy of eating the food.
“I’ve recently moved back to Springfield after spending some time in New York City,” Eleanor Taylor, owner of Prairie Pie says. “I had a few different bakery jobs there, which was great – that’s where I honed in on my pie skills.”
Top-notch pie skills are in great supply with Eleanor. Her Prairie Pie treats are now being served daily at Druff’s, and as of this week, Cherry Picker Package x Fare.
If you didn’t yet know Taylor’s name, it’s highly likely that you’ve tried some of her creations. Her first job was at Tea Bar and Bites; she started as a baker’s assistant at 16 and spent five years there learning new techniques and experimenting with different flavors.
“Tea Bar was a good learning experience,” Taylor says, “because I would bake in the morning and see how different desserts sold during the day. It was interesting to see the customers’ reactions first-hand. I feel like it prepared me for the social side of business.”
So, what’s on the menu? This season, Taylor’s specialties include a sweet potato pie and a lemonchess pie. “I’m all about trying interesting flavors,” she says.
The texture of the sweet potato pie is fantastic; it’s made with mixed apples and sweet potatoes for the filling, sweetened with homemade caramel sauce. The topping is an oat crumble created with butter, flour and oats.
The lemonchess pie is more smooth, as it’s cream-based. “I like this pie because it’s delicate, so it melts in your mouth,” Taylor says. “And the lemon flavor isn’t overpowering,” she assures.
Recently, Druff’s ordered a honey custard pie, topped with just a dash of sea salt. “If that pie is lying around my house, I have to give it away,” Taylor confesses. “I will eat the whole thing.”
Customers can find an assortment of sweet pies by the slice on rotation at Druff’s and Cherry Picker. Miniature (5-inch) pies are also available at Homegrown Foods.
You can also order your own pie, baked and delivered directly to your door. Taylor asks that customers give 48 hours notice using the contact form on her website.
Prairie Pie, prairiepie.com
This weekend, Blueprint Coffee will be doing more than serving coffee.
The Delmar Loop coffee shop plans to donate 25 percent of its coffee bar sales from Fri., Feb. 3 to Sun., Feb. 5 to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in an effort to stand in opposition to the current executive order set by President Trump that bans refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim countries.
As a nonpartisan, non-profit organization, the ACLU has a mission statement “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” The organization is responsible for organizing and funding lawyers who are currently fighting against the recent executive order.
J. Pollack Photography
Over the weekend, Blueprint Coffee will join 200+ coffee bars nationwide in this fundraiser, organized by international coffee publication Sprudge.com.
“We are a very inclusive company,” co-owner Mike Marquard says. “We incorporate international business with our coffee, and we have partners around the world who have literally welcomed us into their homes. They have offered us so much warmth and trust that we want to always provide that same hospitality here to them.”
Marquard is one of six Blueprint owners. He says the entire staff was quick to jump on board when they learned of the fundraiser this past Saturday.
Not only does the shop have ties with international growers, but it’s also a destination for a diverse group of coffee drinkers. Marquard says one of his favorite things about Blueprint is seeing all the different people who come in and drink their coffee.
“The main takeaway from this fundraiser is that this executive order doesn’t represent us as Americans,” Marquard says. “Here at Blueprint, we are a group of driven professionals trying to make our business, city and country better, and this new action is not something we stand for.”
And as for customers who may be turned off by Blueprint taking a political stance, Marquard says he understands where they’re coming from.
“We respect their point of view,” he says. “And we understand that consumers have a choice to make here, just like how we have made ours clear.”
Anything purchased at Blueprint Coffee’s Delmar Loop location will go toward the weekend fundraiser, but online orders will not be eligible.
Because Blueprint Coffee was one of the first 26 business to join the fundraiser, Sprudge.com will match Blueprint’s donations gathered this weekend up to $500.
Blueprint Coffee, 6225 Delmar Blvd., University City, Missouri, 314.266.6808, blueprintcoffee.com
Stanley and Arlene Browne are opening a new concept in St. Louis – and no, it’s not another wine bar.
The owners of the popular Robust Wine Bar plan to open SNAX Gastrobar in the former J. McArthur’s American Kitchen space, as originally reported by St. Louis Magazine. News first broke in late December that the acclaimed Lindenwood Park restaurant would be closing its doors, with a brand-new concept from the Robust team taking its place.
More details about Robust’s new concept surfaced last week, including an anticipated opening date – the new restaurant is slated to open at 3500 Watson Road the first week of March.
SNAX will serve “good food for the soul,” including small and mid-sized plates of what the Brownes like to call upscale “humble foods.” Diners can look forward to a range of light to hearty plates, depending on their appetite. A beer garden, interactive games and board games will also be part of the new concept. In warmer months, SNAX’s patio will host a regular “Yappy Hour” for dog owners.
J. Pollack Photography
“We like to call our dishes ‘elevated comfort food,'” Arlene says. “Although we don’t have a menu set just yet, some dishes may be burgers, meatloaf and shepherd’s pie.”
Not familiar with gastrobars? Arlene explains that the name is a riff on the more popularly used gastropub, which usually center on beer. A gastrobar, meanwhile, also specializes in classic cocktails and wine – something the Robust team certainly has nailed down.
“It wouldn’t be a Robust concept without there being wine,” Arlene says with laugh.
Robust’s executive chef Joseph Hemp V will lead the SNAX kitchen. In a statement, Hemp said he’s excited to be able to cook a mix of fine-dining and casual fare. “It’s the type of food that I would eat every day and proudly prepare for my family’s dinner table,” he said.
“We’ve had this project in mind since last year,” Arlene says. “And we are very excited it has moved so quickly. It is the first of a few concepts to come that are different, yet still stay within the Robust family.”
Look for more details coming soon to the SNAX website (snaxstl.com), which is currently under construction.
SNAX Gastrobar, 3500 Watson Road, Lindenwood Park, St. Louis, Missouri, snaxstl.com
In University City’s pocket of Chinese businesses, a new restaurant features Dongbei-style cuisine. Cate Zone Chinese Cafe opened on Nov. 12 in the space previously occupied by J&W Bakery, offering authentic dishes from Northeast China. The menu features entrees, street-food style skewers, malatang or hotpot-like bowls and more.
The concept comes from co-owners Quincy Lin and Daniel Ma along with chef Yuming Han. Han has nearly 20 years of experience in Chinese cookery, including working in the kitchen at Joy Luck Buffet, where the trio originally met. Together, the team decided to debut their own take on Chinese cooking in St. Louis.
“Right now there are a lot of Chinese buffets and restaurants with Americanized Chinese food. Here, we do real Chinese food,” Ma says. “We want to change the way Americans think of it.”
According to Lin, the menu highlights traditional fare from his native Liaoning Province. With Cate Zone, he hopes to offer the local population of international students a taste of home. The kitchen sources ingredients from area Asian markets to create the menu of scratch-made meals. The largely savory offerings come in big enough portions for sharing, providing a perfect way to try a few different items while dining family-style.
The approximately 800-square-foot space got a complete revamp to bring its capacity to around 38 seats. The dining room features New York-subway themed wallpaper and photographs to evoke a youthful, modern feel for its primarily college-aged patrons. Adventurous diners who wander in, however, will find a trove of tasteful eats to enjoy. Where the menu is lacking in descriptions, a bounty of flavors make up for what’s lost in translation.
Introductory highlights, according to Lin, include a light and bright salad made up of artfully plated shredded cucumbers topped with carrots, cabbage, wood-ear mushroom, clear noodles, cilantro and a special sesame-tinged dressing. In the evenings, guests can choose from a list of grilled skewers seasoned liberally with cumin, hot pepper and sesame seeds – choose from lamb, beef tendon and brisket, chicken gizzards and more.
Another recommendation is northeastern China-style sweet-and-sour pork, which features thin strips of crispy breaded and fried pork coated in a sticky sauce garnished with ginger and green onion. Cumin-calamari fried rice comes studded with peas, carrots and scrambled egg. Additional selections include Szechuan spicy shrimp, twice-cooked pork and homemade wonton soup.
For a personalized experience, opt for malatang, or hot-pot style bowls that are made to order. Choose from 15 different ingredients including vegetables, sliced beef, tofu and fish balls from a fresh-food bar. For something sweet, Lin recommends honey crisp sweet potatoes – a deep-fried dessert topped with a brimming crown of spun sugar.
Cate Zone Chinese Cafe is currently open Monday through Friday from 11am to 3pm and 5 to 9pm as well as Saturday through Sunday from 11am to 9pm.
Cate Zone Chinese Cafe, 8148 Olive Blvd., St. Louis, Missouri, 314.738.9923