Fans of chef John Perkins' ephemeral eateries will be pleased to know that his newest venture, Juniper: A Southern Table & Bar (360 North Boyle Avenue; 314-520-6750), is built to last. That's right, the nomadic mastermind behind pop-up restaurants like the Agrarian and A Good Man Is Hard to Find is settling down.
"It really was becoming obvious that it would be advantageous for us just to open up a consistent restaurant," Perkins tells Gut Check. "As fun as that was, it was kind of hard. In the mind of the public -- I think they were a little confused as to what was going on -- and we lost a lot of momentum going from one to the next. We're gonna have to take a real stab at a consist restaurant and go all in."
Perkins says his latest pop-up, the Agrarian, didn't work out as well as he had hoped, a fact he attributes to its (mostly) vegetarian food.
"The vegetarian thing is touchy in general, and it is in St. Louis, too, so, lesson learned on that one," he says. "It never took off the way we wanted it to, even though the food was great. I'm glad we did it, but I'm ready to move on and do something different."
Juniper will feature more classic Southern cuisine, specifically from areas like the Southern low country, places like South Carolina, Georgia and the Mississippi Delta, all the way up to Memphis, and then he's getting Appalachia in there with a bit of Kentucky- and Tennessee-style food. Perkins says these regions and styles were very popular with people at the A Good Man Is Hard to Find pop-up.
"It's a lot of fun to make and it's a little underrepresented here in St. Louis, which I find curious," Perkins says. "I don't know how many St. Louisans think of themselves as Southerners, but we're connected."
Another first for Juniper will be naming a chef other than Perkins. He's bringing on Ryan McDonald as head chef and Matt Obermark will be helping with the bar and front of house.
"Ryan's been working with me for a while, he's a really talented, smart, gifted guy. He's excited about the opportunity, and we're at a point now where I need someone like that in the kitchen," says Perkins.
Still, he says, he'll remain very involved with the day-to-day operations and the food, but the decision to step back a bit was made for the sake of his young family. This way, he says, he'll get to spend a few nights a week with them, but make no mistake: "This is my baby, and I'm not handing it over to anyone else just yet."
Juniper opens October 16, and Perkins anticipates he and his team will be working down to the last minute. He'd like to do a soft opening on October 14, but has doubts the place will be ready. You can check out the almost-final menu here which includes chicken and waffles, an upscale take on pork and beans, shrimp and grits, and other Southern classics. You can also make reservations, though Perkins stresses that they are absolutely not required.
"It's food that people want to come and eat. That might sound overly obvious, but after a summer of trying to do vegetarian cuisine, I'm ready to do food that a lot of people love."
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