Bar director Leila Miller pours a cocktail at Vicia.

A Plant-Powered, Zero-Waste Approach Defines the Bar Program at Vicia

Monday January 29, 2024

By Rachel Huffman

A beacon of inspiration in the Cortex Innovation District, Vicia boasts an edible landscape that provides everything from fennel to figs and poblanos to rhubarb for its vegetable-forward cuisine. Elusive herbs such as epazote, lemon verbena, lovage and papalo also grow like weeds, adding variety to the crop of goodies, which directly influences the restaurant’s bar program, as well. Ingredients that Vicia doesn’t grow on-site come from Midwest farmers.

“Local produce defines the bar program at Vicia,” bar director Leila Miller says. “Take Root Hospitality is also a zero-waste company, so if the kitchens at Vicia, Bistro La Floraison or Winslow’s Table aren’t using something, they send it my way.”

Miller, whose parents worked in the restaurant industry, learned the art of craft cocktails behind the bar of a Four Diamond hotel in Wichita, Kansas, before returning to St. Louis during the COVID-19 pandemic. She became the bar manager of Salt + Smoke, helping the local chain open its Ballpark Village location; then, she worked at The Lucky Accomplice before joining the team at Vicia.

Here, Miller reveals the roots of her inspiration, unexpected ingredients in her cocktails and the most innovative creation that she’s made in recent months.

Since you became bar director of Vicia, what is the funnest ingredient that you’ve used in a cocktail?

Pawpaws. They’re native to Missouri, but I didn’t even know that they existed until I started working at Vicia. My favorite cocktail featuring pawpaws was actually nonalcoholic; it was a hibiscus-pawpaw agua fresca that I created last summer. Michael and Tara Gallina [co-owners of Take Root Hospitality] have a huge arsenal of farmers who always have cool ingredients like pawpaws for us.

When the on-site garden is in full bloom, what are your favorite ingredients to use from it?

Marigolds are edible, so we often use them as garnishes. I also love lemon verbena and dark opal basil. On days when I need inspiration, the garden is the best place to start.

“I’m just trying to make everyone love rum as much as I do.”

– Leila Miller

Do you have a secret-weapon ingredient or technique that you use to create cocktails at Vicia?

Vicia has some of the best chefs in the region, and I utilize their techniques to perfect our cocktails. In terms of a secret-weapon ingredient, I’d have to say salt. People don’t realize how much salt is in cocktails, but it’s essential to make the flavors pop.

What spirits do you prefer for cocktails?

I’ve always loved rum cocktails. When you mention rum, people’s minds go straight to Captain Morgan, and they think, “Oh, I’m not going to like that,” but rum is so versatile – and so good! I can make rum as spiced as a whiskey or as plain as a vodka. I can infuse it with, say, coffee beans and cinnamon sticks for an Espresso Martini. Really, I’m just trying to make everyone love rum as much as I do.

What’s the most intriguing cocktail that you’ve recently made?

I made a clarified milk punch – it was like a green curry Piña Colada. I infused vodka with orange peel, paired it with a spiced liqueur and added green curry paste, coconut cream, pineapple and lime juice. To make the clarified milk punch, I combined the mixture with whole milk, set it in the refrigerator for 12 hours and then strained it over a cheesecloth. The liquid that comes through the cheesecloth is crystal clear – and delicious. It was the best drink that I’ve made in a long time.