by Nancy Stiles
Lona's Lil Eats (Soulard Farmers' Market Stall 148; 314-223-7330) usually serves up Asian-inspired food every Saturday at the Soulard Farmers' Market -- but only then. Husband-and-wife team Pierce Powers and Lona Luo have developed quite a following from their once-a-week "restaurant," and after two years, Lona's is finally getting a storefront.
Powers moved to the far southwestern region of China in the winter of 1999. There he met Luo, and they married and started a family. They returned to St. Louis in 2006 and began selling at Soulard Market, peddling bags and silk they brought back from China. At the time, Luo also worked in a few restaurants because she had so much experience cooking Japanese food in her village.
When a food stall opened up at Soulard, Powers and Luo began Lona's Lil Eats as a side gig. Eventually it gained a following and expanded into catering. They found their Fox Park storefront at 2199 California Avenue two years ago when they were looking for a house. The Powers live upstairs, but a bogus contractor put the restaurant back almost two years.
Luo does most of the cooking -- Powers says he grew up in the kitchen, but he calls his wife the "master cook."
"It's Asian-inspired hill-tribe-style cooking, which anyone who's been there knows it's just delicious," Powers says. "The hill tribes make really nice stuff -- a lot of pickling, a lot of curing of meats, corn liquor. Everything made from scratch."
Powers and his eleven-year-old daughter worked on the interior together, including building the bar and tables. He describes it as modern, but with elements of Chinese design.
Luo's should be getting its occupancy permit this week, so he hopes to open a few weeks from now. Powers says it's difficult because most people aren't familiar with the hill tribes, and they want an association: Is it Japanese? Thai?
"We say it's Asian soul food: comfort food but at the same time, light," he says. "Our emphasis is balancing sweet and spice, and sour and salt with the smokiness."
Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. E-mail the author at Nancy.Stiles@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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