Mainlander, an American supper club, will open in the Central West End in April
A new twist on a classic concept is coming to the Central West End. Mainlander supper club will make its debut in April at 8 S. Euclid Ave., formerly home to Poke Doke, as reported by St. Louis Magazine.
An old-fashioned concept, though still popular in northern states, supper clubs could be found across the U.S. in the mid-20th century. Supper clubs of the time would typically feature a curated menu and a night of entertainment for those who were members. However, Mainlander will be different, according to co-owner Blake Askew. He wants Mainlander to reflect back to a nostalgic era of American fine dining, but with a contemporary spin. “There are supper clubs that are really old-school that require a membership that are kind of more of like a country club mentality,” said Askew. “That's not what we're going for. What we're going for is more of a feeling, a kind of a familial feeling, a relaxed, casual atmosphere, but also something that is a little more upscale.”
Even the name Mainlander has its roots in the past. The Mainlander was a popular tiki bar in Clayton, operating from 1962 to 1977. “It was kind of the place to be and be seen back in the day in St. Louis. And it just kind of harkens back to that feeling that we're going for,” said Askew. “Everything old is new again. And I think people are really looking for that. People are looking to kind of remove themselves from the everyday.”
While Mainlander will feel aesthetically nostalgic, there will be distinctive updates in how the restaurant is operated. “I've been working in restaurants for the better part of two decades now,” said Askew. “And the way that restaurants are run, I think is becoming less and less tolerable for the people working in restaurants.” To make Mainlander more supportive of its workers, they are taking tipping out of the equation. Askew said its roots in post-Civil War era South have negative repercussions on food service workers today. “It kind of opens people up to a lot of the really bad things that are out there and bad tendencies that people might have,” said Askew.
Askew wants Mainlander to care for its employees, keeping them in mind with the supper club’s business practices. “So often in restaurants, the people who are actually doing the work every day really get overlooked. And that's just not a sustainable thing for the restaurant business,” said Askew. “I think in the past few years now, since the pandemic, we've really been seeing the cracks in the system get bigger. I think even people that don't work in restaurants, even if you can't put your finger on it … you feel it.” While Mainlander is a relatively small business, Askew wants to leave a positive mark on the world. “This is a tiny little endeavor, but we're going to try to, with all of our might, to do it right here.”
In keeping with the midcentury-made-modern concept, the seasonal menu will feature old-school classics with a twist. “So, you go back to things like beef Wellington, lobster thermidor, baked Alaska, rumaki, floating islands – these retro dishes that you don't really see on menus anymore – revisiting those ideas and putting a modern spin on it,” said Askew. The menu will also feature local ingredients in their food and drinks. “Instead of flying in rum from Barbados and other parts of the Caribbean and the South Pacific and making these exotic potions … we'll start here in Missouri.” Mainlander will be revisiting time-honored cocktails (including mai tais, painkillers, pink squirrels and brandy alexanders) by crafting them with Missouri-grown produce. The alcohol-free drinks will be given the same treatment. A curated list of American wines will be offered to guests as a pairing option with their meal. Coffee, tea, sparkling water and a rotating selection of house beers will be included with the base dinner price.
Mainlander will work with nearby farms like Grand Army Farm, Buttonwood Farms, and a small community in northern Missouri called Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Ingredients can also be foraged from the area on occasion as well. “Missouri has stuff like that tucked away all over the place, if you just look for it,” said Askew. Ingredients like the Missouri-native pawpaw will find their way onto the menu, when in season. One thing that will stay on the menu frequently will be the baked Alaska. Flavor profiles for the dessert will change depending on what is available. “Finding those kind of signature items that we can stick with, but even then constantly keeping it interesting - it's a good way to cook and it's a good way to be responsible.”
The 1,200-square-foot property will seat about 20 people at a time – with two dinner services a night. “It's going to be very intimate,” said Askew. “This is the type of place where the person who's cooking your food and putting it on a plate is also the one that picks the plate up and comes out to the table and talks to you.” Askew said he wants the atmosphere to feel like you are in someone’s home for dinner. Mainlander will also offer an extended reservation window. “We're going to allow people a full two hours for their reservations," he said. "They can really take their time and relax.”
Askew and his partner, Gordon Chen (co-owner and maître d’ of Mainlander), both lived in San Francisco before moving to St. Louis in 2021. Askew said that to open a concept like Mainlander in San Francisco would be harder and much more expensive. “The whole process would be completely different,” said Askew. “St. Louis is really, really making its mark right now on the American culinary scene. And I think it's only going to grow, and it's really exciting to be in this market because I think it's at once up and coming, but also not saturated yet. So, there's a lot of opportunity here.”
Askew and Chen have done much to get Mainlander off of the ground, juggling not only the supper club, but the previous pop-ups, and Chen’s own business as a chiropractor. “He and I worked on this together a lot over time and mapped out how this should go,” said Askew. “He's going to be here a lot, going to help guide the team.” The team also includes chef Max Bredenkoetter, who has worked with Askew since the concept started as a pop-up, and Johnny Willis will work the bar and has helped select much of the vintage furniture for Mainlander.
Askew said Mainlander supper club should be open by April. Updates to come on their website and Instagram. Reservations will be open in spring.
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