First Look: Elaia and Olio

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EVAN C. JONES
  • Evan C. Jones

The unassuming old (circa 1937) Standard Oil gas station at the corner of McRee and Tower Grove Avenues in the city's Botanical Heights neighborhood has received a new lease on life, thanks to chef Ben Poremba, one of the masterminds behind the acclaimed salumeria Salume Beddu.

Poremba has renovated the station and the house directly behind it into the restaurant Elaia (the house) and the wine bar Olio (the station).

"I definitely think Elaia is going to be more of a destination. It's a little more refined, upscale, reservation-only place," Poremba explains.

"I think Olio also will draw a lot of people. There's a really good vibe here. My intentions are to attract the people that are close by me first. I want it to be a neighborhood joint. It's a vibrant community, the Shaw neighborhood and Botanical Heights."

Elaia's dining room seats 28 and offers both an à la carte and a tasting menu. Poremba says the Mediterranean-inspired menu will change daily -- indeed, he had three different menus for each of three soft-opening meals.

EVAN C. JONES
  • Evan C. Jones

Poremba is also excited about what possibilities the tasting menus will provide for diners.

"There's a little bit of theater involved in a tasting menu," he says. "It's very challenging for cooks to create a tasting menu that's solid throughout the meal. It's a three-and-a-half, four-hour meal, and the idea of the tasting menu is that each course is better than the other.

"The whole project was a challenge so it keeps on challenging us and pushing the limits and trying to do something. Our tasting menu isnt going to be avant garde. It's not gonna be weird. We're just trying to make good food. Less cerebral stuff, more stuff to enjoy and to eat. That's where we're going."

Olio, meanwhile, is a wine lover's paradise, with four people dedicated solely to the beverage program, including two sommeliers. The wine list includes over 150 selections, all available as by-the-glass pours. There is also a full-fledged cocktail program.

As far as food to enjoy with your wine at Olio, Poremba says the menu will go beyond the wine bar standards of meats (from Salume Beddu, of course) and cheese. Also available will be a variety of dips and spreads, antipasti vegetables and a rotisserie with daily selections.

Beginning November 13, Olio will be open for lunch with sandwiches and salads. The restaurant will also serve food until midnight every day except Monday, with a "Sunday Supper Club".

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