By now, if you live in St. Louis, you’ve heard of Olive + Oak. You might have even tried getting a reservation, surprised that the next opening for a table for two on a Saturday at 6:00pm is eight weeks away. You might have driven down Lockwood on any night of the week and thought of how you’ve been meaning to pop in and get a seat at the bar, but it looked too crowded, so you kept on going. You might have even been to Olive + Oak, snagged a reservation long ago, or got there early to grab a seat at the bar, feasting upon some of the finest dishes the city has to offer. But you still might not know the story behind Olive + Oak.
We approached one of the owners, Mark Hinkle, about writing a blog post not only to highlight their ever-changing delicious menu and new summer cocktails, but also to tell their story.
Long before Olive + Oak came the restaurant’s namesakes: Ollie Hinkle and Oakes Ortyl. Both sweet boys were born with congenital heart defects and passed away at an early age. Ollie’s parents, Jennifer and Mark Hinkle and Oakes’ parents Greg and Becky Ortyl met through the shared tragedy of losing their sons. Both families started foundations to raise awareness and support continuing research in honor of their sons: The Ollie Hinkle Heart Foundation and The Mighty Oakes Heart Foundation. And in the darkest time, a new partnership was coming forth.
Hinkle (most recently on the managerial staff at Annie Gunn’s) and Ortyl teamed up to venture into starting a restaurant in Webster Groves, where both of their families are from. Olive + Oak is appropriately located in the heart of Webster Groves, and brings with it more than just good food.
There is no huge sign for Olive + Oak outside. Its humble storefront and patio seating blends in as a natural part of the Webster community. This makes sense, of course, since the Hinkles, Ortyls, and Chef Jesse Mendica are all from Webster. They understand the importance of the small town, community feel that Webster is known for, and it seamlessly translates into the decor at Olive + Oak.
At some point during your visit, you will probably meet Mark. He walks around the restaurant graciously welcoming everyone (even folks like us from the neighboring rival town Kirkwood) with a warm smile as they dine, and making sure they’re enjoying their experience, embodying his dedication to excellent service and hospitality.
Donned in her apron with the red felt heart proudly displayed, bartender Chelsea Little chatted with us about her new cocktail menu. Little hails from Wisconsin, and is a rising star in the St. Louis bar scene. Little makes you feel at home at the bar of Olive + Oak, and takes the time to really make sure the guests are cared for. The detail she crafts in each of her cocktails doesn’t go unnoticed. She hand picks her barware, experiments with new flavors, and tells you to, “here, try THIS,” because she just knows you’ll like it.
Little released a new summer cocktail menu last week with a Gilligan’s Island theme, something she says she’s always wanted to do. One of our favorites on the list is The Skipper: ancho chili-coconut-campari, bonal + rye. It is the perfect amount of heat and sweet. Pictured here are the Ginger: tequila, big o, lemon bitters + cantaloupe-carrot ice pop and The Professor: plum rum, lemon, absinthe + amaretto.
Chef Jesse Mendica also came from Annie Gunn’s, and champions an impressive ever-changing menu. If you’re looking at the menu online, don’t get too attached, because when you come in for dinner it might have changed based on what’s fresh that day. For example, we heard someone brought in a bunch of peaches as a gift, and sure enough the next day there was a peach dessert on the menu with those exact peaches. We’ve had a lot of the appetizers and haven’t had one we didn’t like, so we’ll touch on a few of our favorites. The blue crab gratin is outstanding. The warm, gooey, cheesy, dip with delicate crab served alongside toasted pretzel bread makes it really hard to NOT order this each time we visit.
But then, dessert. The butterscotch pot de crème is our go-to, and it seems to be everyone elses go-to as well, because it hasn’t left the menu since they opened. Served with salted caramel and oatmeal crumb, the creamy sweet goodness of this dessert makes it hard to order one of the other rotating dishes.