Since 2012, the crowds of gather at OLIO, — the best-kept secret in St. Louis
More than 20 million people traveled the Two Lane back roads of America to St. Louis for the World’s Fair in 1904. It’s where they saw new inventions, experienced different cultures, tasted new foods, and celebrated our accomplishments as a human race.
These days, those same state routes continue to lead adventure seekers to the city and its monuments like The Gateway Arch, the steps of the capital, and Busch Stadium for a Cardinals game. But right now, we want to talk about what’s cookin’ in the kitchen at one of the best-kept secrets in town.
In the Historical Botanical Heights neighborhood of South St. Louis sits a 1930’s Standard Oil Filling Station. Inside, Chef Ben Poremba is pulverizing garbanzo beans into a thick paste and flash frying octopus tentacles. You read that correctly — fried octopus in a filling station.
A dish like that should be served and enjoyed in a space just as unique and individual as it is. Step inside OLIO.
In 2012, as part of an urban renewal endeavor, Ben repurposed the gas station and its many charming features for his Israeli themed-restaurant, OLIO. You can see how Ben kept with Standard Oil’s traditional red, white, and blue color palette on the exterior. The garage, once used for performing oil changes and routine maintenance, now seats guests, a full-service bar, an herb garden, and an extended patio.
Inside the decor is simple with subtle nods to the buildings shop history. Notice the utility lamps hung by extension chords over the bar, the mix of the rusty workshop and marble tables, and the large garage door which is open when the weather allows. Don’t forget to catch the desk lamp chandelier in the garage too!
The fresh bouquets of herbs and candles throughout contrast yet complement the original brick and polished concrete floors. The fusion of mechanic and Mediterranean doesn’t sound like it would work, but these pictures don’t lie.
FUN FACT: Ben also purchased the 1890’s house next to OLIO for his sister restaurant, ELAIA. It’s the former home of Mr. Kinsworthy — the original owner/operator of the filling station!
By rescuing these two side by side, well-constructed buildings, two new businesses have found a home in the new St. Louis.
When you visit OLIO (or ELAIA) and feel like walking off your braised lamb shoulder dinner, you’re only a few blocks away from the Missouri Botanical Gardens and Tower Grove Park!
It’s fitting that inside this space where cans of motor oil were kept on the shelves, now have been replaced with bottles of olive oil. The bread served at OLIO is shaped and baked by hand using freshly-milled Missouri-grown wheat and a custom-made hearth oven.
Bread isn’t the only way this restaurant pays homage to the past — they use a 500-year-old Sicilian recipe for a sweet and sour sauce called agrodolce which is served with their eggplant caponata. While this type of cuisine may seem overwhelming to those who prefer their basic burgers and fries, we promise there’s no reason to be intimidated by slow-roasted meats, pickled veggies, and unfamiliar sauces. Isn’t the point of traveling to vacate your life and try new things? Start with their charcuterie board then ease into the hummus, smoked trout, and bacon wrapped dates.
After the meal, kick back with an aperitif or a bottle of St. Louis’ best brew outside in the herb garden/patio. We highly recommended it!
Urban renewal is a trend we enjoy most on our travels. It’s a healthy sign to see a community with an appreciation of their past and intentionally making room for it in their future. It’s a type of storytelling that we can all benefit from — both with our minds and stomachs.
Share a restaurant you’ve enjoyed on Two Lanes that was located in a uniquely renovated space so we can all learn a little more about places like OLIO!
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Learn more about OLIO HERE