Posted On: 02/09/2004
Shoes haunt our town. “First in booze, first in shoes, last in the American League,” the saying went. For decades, St. Louis has played cobbler for much of the country, from the mop-top of Buster Brown in the early 20th century to Nelly’s “Air Force Ones” in the early 21st century.
In 2004, the tradition continues, but somewhat differently. While today, the over-sized pump outside Brown Shoe welcomes visitors to its international headquarters on Maryland Avenue, most of the old shoe factories and warehouses, rather than helping cover our feet, now move our feet to entertainment. The City Museum – a former shoe warehouse. The Lemp Brewery – first a brewery and then a shoe warehouse. The M Lofts (and accompanying Eleven Eleven Mississippi) – a former shoe factory. Not such a bad trade.
The look …
Two blocks north of Lafayette Park, The M Lofts and Eleven Eleven Mississippi are the latest in a long line of warehouse rehabs. Originally home to the Schnaider Brewery and Beer Gardens, the complex was refurbished into a Star Shoe Co. factory in the early 1900s. Just refurbished again, the mammoth red-bricked five stories of the larger structure with 36 lofts envelops the smaller, 4,500-square-foot building that houses the restaurant. The entire complex, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, seems to be superbly rehabbed.
Inside, Eleven Eleven Mississippi owners Paul and Wendy Hamilton have made great use of both the space and his budget, accumulating many of the restaurant’s furnishings themselves. Like their neighbor SqWires, the Hamiltons used architects Johannes/Cohen Collaborative to give their restaurant a unique look. While SqWires comes industrial, with metals and brick, Eleven Eleven Mississippi comes organic, with woods and brick.
The space – dominated by browns, tans and dark reds – is divided into sections. The dark mahogany and leather bar and its 15 stools lead the north side of the restaurant. Personally crafted by Paul Hamilton, parquet teakwood tables organize the more casual wine-cellar section. The enclosed wine cellar offers one large table and a private room. White-clothed tables occupy a mezzanined, more formal, level. In a great use of space, Hamilton placed a small loft above the wine cellar. Here, enjoy the warm fire on a leather lounger or couch, looking down on the patrons below. From the rear, an oak-fired brick oven peers from the open kitchen.
In the day, the numerous windows and a clearstory skylight illuminate the space, while at night, one sees by dim track lighting and candles.
The scene …
Since its December opening, business has been brisk for the Eleven Eleven Mississippi. The Lafayette Square locals, wanting another dining/drinking option, seem to be flocking to not only the restaurant but the bar. Paul Hamilton said that since day one, patrons have come in, sat at the bar and ordered food. During all my visits, the bar space was packed with people boozing and eating, while behind in the restaurant, the more seasoned dined. Dinner crowds peak from 8 to 10 p.m., while bar-goers straggle until later into the evening.
Most patrons are flush 30- to 60-year-old couples or large contingents of loaded (rich, not drunk) ladies-who-lunch. It’s not likely you’ll get a date here, but you will take one. Think Feb. 14, Lothario. The loft provides perfect intimacy and romance for your clumsy passes.
Sometimes classic jazz plays over the speakers; sometimes I can’t hear it over the din of the bar, the only place I’ve sat. Soon, Hamilton may introduce live music. It’d be a great touch. Most dress up (few ties, though) and nearly three quarters make reservations, so I recommended you do the same.
The products …
Executive chef Ivy Magruder and wine director Scott Gaghan collaborated with the Hamiltons on a wine country bistro featuring Northern California cuisine with Tuscan influences. The Cal-Ital influence shows in the braised rabbit with creamy polenta and rosemary porcini mushroom broth entrée and coriander-rubbed yellow fin tuna roll appetizer. (Most interesting item: wild boar ravioli.) Entrées run less than $20, while the bistro fare allows diners to grab a quick sandwich or oven-baked flat bread for less than $10. I suggest the low-priced three- to five-course option dinners as a way to sample the entire menu.
The 160-selection wine list highlights six Cal-Ital categories based on grape varieties: Barbera, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco. Prices are moderate, generally running $18 to $45 for a bottle and $4.50 to $9.50 per glass. Like the coursed dinners, Old and New World wine pairings present a way to sample the wine list.
Beer selection and price is on par with most restaurants. With no drafts, grab a Duvel, Bitburger or Moretti Doppio Malto. Cocktail selection and price is likewise on par. Monday Martini Madness, 4 p.m. to close, allows patrons to order any of the more than 20 candy martinis on the menu, with other bar specials and half-priced flatbreads.
The straight 411 …
For a great meal in the warm, rustic-urban atmosphere of a buzz-worthy new restaurant, move your shoes to Eleven Eleven Mississippi.
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