By Gayle Wilson
This DeBaliviere neighborhood wine bar and café is much more unassuming than its name suggests. Its’ co-owning cousins Mathew Daniels and Aaron Johnson have been welcoming patrons since 2011 with reasonably priced food, drink and top-notch, culturally-enriching music by local and national artists (and with no cover charge). The venue’s distinct lack of pretension makes it even more endearing. It’s the kind of small, intimate place that one might envision having launched careers of iconic artists such as Miles Davis or Janis Joplin, though the focus tends to be Chamber music.
Cousins Daniels and Johnson grew-up together cooking, brewing, eating, drinking, and playing music and their menu reflects their shared experience. They change it periodically along with the art displays to introduce new items and keep the menu fresh and seasonal. The talented chef Colin Van Hare, who they teamed with in late 2014, ensures nearly all the food is made from scratch. The quality and skill are evident in every bite.
On our first Tavern visit, we enjoyed cocktails and live music performed by Cortango Orquesta, a tango ensemble with a symphonic twist that features several highly-talented members of the St. Louis Symphony and a mix of instruments including the English horn/oboe, violin, double bass, and piano. It was simply fantastic. (Many eagerly await their debut album release on June 16.)
A few weeks later, we returned for a New Year's Eve 3-course fixed-price menu and wine-pairing with live jazz and opera by the Red Blend Duo featuring Rebecca Drury and Jessica Knopf plus guest appearances by a few friends. Outstanding again. Most diners enjoyed a meal centered around prime rib, but as vegetarians, Chef Van Hare happily accommodated us with a delectably flavorful butternut squash risotto. We started the meal with a crisp, fresh arugula, goat cheese and pear salad, ending with a perfect cherry pie that was stunningly good. The wine pairings were a nice accompaniment as well. On a night when most restaurants gouge diners, it was a treat to enjoy a fabulous meal, great service and quality entertainment for just $50 per person.
Our third and most recent January visit was to hear flamenco guitar player Lliam Christy who captivated us with skillful and passionate playing including both well-known covers and inventive, original compositions. For our meal, we indulged in the Salade d'hived ($4.75 for the larger portion) -- a tasty mix of diced and roasted winter vegetables, apples, white cheese and a light dressing. Our Flatbread of Fig Tapenade with goat cheese was a bit disappointing ($6). Its white bread base was barely warm and left us as flat as its name suggests. Our friendly and attentive server recommended the Bengali Dal soup and we were thrilled at the first bite. This traditional Indian mix of lentils, spinach and fantastic spices such as cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon is served warm with house-made naan ($5.50 for a bowl). This offering alone will compel us to return again and again.
The DeBaliviere neighborhood wins the lottery with this venue; fortunately, for the rest of us St. Louisans, they share their winnings with all who appreciate art, music and tasty, fresh food. If the owners were to change anything, it should be the venue name: “Tavern of Very Fine Arts and Scrumptious Food.”
[Photos below venue details]
Location: DeBaliviere neighborhood of the Central West End. (Two blocks east of the Forest Park Metrolink Station.)
Address (click it for map): 313 Belt Ave., St. Louis, MO 63112
URL (Website/blog): http://tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com
Email:firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
M-Th: 5 pm- 11 pm
Fri: 5 pm- 12:30 am
Sat: 11 am – 12:30 am
Transport/Parking: Parking is free in a lot across from the Tavern plus street parking. Easy access from Forest Park Metrolink (two blocks east). The Metrobus 1 Gold stops at Pershing Ave and Belt Ave.