Redefining Flavor: The Gallinas’ Influence on Culinary Culture in St. Louis
By Aubrey Byron
The start of this restaurant story is a love story. He, a chef and she working front of house, both at Blue Hill at Stone Bars in Tarrytown, New York. After falling in love over their shared passion for food, Michael and Tara Gallina decided it was time to open their own restaurant. Yet instead of staying in the crowded NYC restaurant scene, they packed up and returned to St. Louis to share their talents with Michael’s hometown.
After hosting a series of pop-up dinners to test the waters, the Gallinas found the ideal location to implement their creative approach to food. In 2017, they opened their first restaurant, Vicia, in the Cortex Innovation District – an area of the city dedicated to the development of new ideas in technology, business and design – an appropriate place to flaunt their innovative skillset.
But St. Louis had more than just hometown nostalgia and a growing community to offer the restaurateur couple. With its proximity to dozens of inspired farmers around the region, St. Louis was the perfect spot for the Gallinas to open a concept with a focus on plated vegetables. The farm-to-table movement had been gaining traction with many local restaurants over the years, but Vicia takes that idea one step further – what is growing seasonally and locally dictates the menu, rather than the other way around.
Tara and Michael describe their signature style as “vegetable-forward” – a movement dedicated to giving the vegetable as much or more of the thoughtful treatment that is usually reserved for proteins. It’s safe to say their innovative approach – such as using thinly sliced kohlrabi for taco shells or grilling beets in beef fat – has helped to advance that idea in the Midwest.
At dinner, Vicia’s expansive wine program handpicked by staff sommeliers and creative cocktails make each element of the dining experience special. Many of the cocktails on their menu feature produce, including often-discarded ingredients like the mandarin leaf or basil flowers which give substance to their winter seasonal favorite, Mandarin.
On the heels of major national recognitions, including the restaurant’s nomination for the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant award in 2018 and Michael’s own nomination for Best Chef: Midwest in 2019 (and now again in 2020), the Gallinas have expanded their approach to a new location in University City. Instead of a brand-new concept, they transformed a beloved staple into a modern neighborhood destination.
Winslow’s Table, previously operating as Winslow’s Home under its former owners, gives the Gallinas a more casual and accessible platform to share their culinary style. The laid-back style and larger dining room gives them more room to serve up creative plates to the community. The restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch and, more recently, dinner, includes a bakery and some holdovers of its former identity as a corner store, including select artisan goods for sale. The most popular ordering style at Winslow’s Table continues to be their half & half options, where guests can pick any two items such as their carrot tartine or beet salad.
With the addition of the Gallinas’ restaurants, the food scene in St. Louis continues to gain momentum. “I can hardly keep up anymore,” says Tara of the culinary boom in the region. “There are so many chefs that have gone away and come back (similar to my husband) that are bringing new ideas and new flavors, which I think is really exciting.”