When you enter Home Wine Kitchen, you are struck by what chef and co-owner Cassandra "Cassy" Vires refers to as "rustic elegance."
While tables are covered in beautiful linens and tableware, in the far back corner by the kitchen there is a wall-length chalkboard with bright, hand-written lettering describing the restaurant's cheese and charcuterie offerings.
It's that ambiance that Vires and husband/co-owner Josh Renbarger, general manager of the front of the house, wish to maintain. The restaurant opened at 7322 Manchester Road—the space that was formerly occupied by Nosh— on Wednesday.
"A big goal we strive for is great food, great wine, no stress and no pretense. If it's intimidating or scary, you're doing it wrong," Renbarger said.
Vires has received a lot of buzz for her work in St. Louis, both as Executive Chef at Ernesto's Wine Bar in Benton Park and for her writing and video cooking demonstrations for Feast magazine. She received a 2011 James Beard Foundation Award nomination for her Feast work, and there is a considerable amount of hype surrounding the opening of Home Wine Kitchen.
Renbarger brings with him 10 years of experience in the wine industry, having previously worked for a wine wholesaler and distributor, where he gained invaluable experience learning about wine and how to create a good wine list.
About looking for spaces to open the restaurant and choosing Maplewood, Vires said, "We love Maplewood. It was always at the top of our list in terms of neighborhoods."
Vires said she wanted to open the restaurant in Maplewood because she loves the community. She has other ties to the city too; once a month, she teaches a cooking class at .
Renbarger was impressed by the restaurant scene in downtown Maplewood.
"There's a real sense of cooperation amongst the restaurants here that I was shocked by," he said. "Everyone is interested in patronizing each other's restaurants and helping out."
And while two restaurants have tried and failed in the Home Wine Kitchen's location, Vires and Renbarger are confident in their restaurant's future.
"There are places in St. Louis that I joke are cursed, but I don't think this is one of them," Vires said. "I think there were just some unfortunate circumstances that have happened here, but I think the space is fine."
The drinks: Renbarger is highly knowledgeable about all things wine, beer and spirits. The way he has structured the restaurant's wine list makes all wine the same price, and maintains a certain flexibility to accommodate Vires' weekly changing dinner menu.
"It takes the guesswork out of ordering wine," he said.
The menu: Vires said she gets bored easily and loves to change up the menu, so don't expect to see the same old thing even a week from when you were there last. As a patron, I dined on refreshing pea consomme, paired with a Domaine St. Vincent sparkling wine from New Mexico. For the entree, I chose seared diver scallop atop cauliflower puree with a micro herb salad, white truffle oil and vanilla vinaigrette. I drank an oaky Chardonnay from California that stood up to the scallops while not overwhelming them, and, as Renbarger noted, beautifully complimented the vanilla.
For dessert, I tasted a pannacotta with citrus-rhubarb compote with the last of my sparkling wine.
"My mood changes a lot, so I just cook by what looks great. I want to push myself and try new things with the menu," Vires said.
Was it delicious? Yes. Do I mind if I go back and it's not on the menu? No. I'd rather Vires kept me on my toes and excited about eating something new.
The environment: Comfortable and casual, yet elegant. You can look forward to seeing photographs of what Vires calls "edible animals" in handcrafted frames made from repurposed barn wood. The couple is also looking forward to renovating the upstairs space for special events, like wine tastings and a supper club, which originally started out of their home.
The supper club will have different themed, family-style meals that reinforce Maplewood's sense of community by bringing people together.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and 9 a a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Walk-ins and reservations are accepted. Home Wine Kitchen is located at 7322 Manchester Rd.