madrina in webster groves photo by michelle volansky

First Look: Madrina in Webster Groves

Madrina, the Italian-American eatery from the ownership team of Stanley Browne and Arlene Maminta Browne, owners of Robust Bistro & Wine Bar, and Frank Romano and Laura Burns, owners of The Parkmoor Drive-In, is set to officially open its doors on Friday, Nov. 24, at 101 W. Lockwood Ave. in Webster Groves. 

The name Madrina, which means “godmother” in Italian, is an homage to Romano’s own madrina, Sister Helen Negri, who served for 35 years as chief executive officer of Marygrove children’s home. She helped Romano get his first restaurant job at Kemoll’s, which in turn inspired his dream of one day opening his own Italian restaurant. Since Romano and his partners announced plans earlier this summer to open Madrina in the former home of C.J. Mugg’s Bar and Grill, there has been more than a little curiosity about just how the sprawling, rough-hewn neighborhood pub was going to be transformed into an "upscale casual" dining destination. The end result puts any questions to rest. 

In total, Madrina seats 180 but feels like a much more intimate space. Designed by Helen Lee of Tao + Lee Associates, the interior evokes a sense of mid-century luxury. Center stage is the white marble bar, a horseshoe affair that seats 20 and serves as a focal point of the front of the restaurant. Deep burgundy booths and banquettes courtesy of One Source Retail & Hospitality stand out amid dark wood floors and accents. Subtle lighting creates an elegant, dare we say romantic, vibe. 

“To see people in here at night, backlit by the lights, after [the space] being a dust bowl for months, is really something,” Romano said. 

The dining room’s mid-century sensibility carries over to the Madrina menu. Executive chef Max Crask, a longtime veteran of numerous high-quality kitchens around town, has put together a bill of fare heavy on classics like linguine con vongole with fresh clams, spaghetti chitarra carbonara made with authentic guanciale, and bistecca Fiorentina, a hefty Tuscan dry-aged porterhouse dish, plus seafood like shrimp scampi and scallops, wood-fired pizzas and a delectable selection of sauces for pairing. There’s even a Mayfair salad that uses the original recipe from St. Louis’ Mayfair Hotel, passed down to Romano from his madrina

Both Romano and Stanley Browne said that Madrina’s menu offers up the best of ingredients, the way things were done in the mid-twentieth century before the advent of food service companies and canned red sauce (“It was all farm-to-table back then,” Browne noted). That traditional approach is paired with modern techniques and equipment that Romano said “let us make what was good even better." 

On the beverage front, Browne, himself a certified sommelier, and advanced sommelier Alisha Blackwell-Calvert, who serves as Madrina’s beverage director, have curated an exceptional wine list populated with a wide-ranging selection of domestic and Italian vinos. There's also a menu of libations from bar manager Brian Clark, with specialties like the limoncello spritz and a classic black Manhattan among other cocktails. 

Madrina will be open seven days a week, with dinner service running Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Apertivo Hour is Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Reservations can be made via Open Table.