Make your way away around St. Louis’s Central West End, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a resident or cocktail lover who doesn’t know Kevin Brennan. As owner of Brennan’s, the popular retail and restaurant compound at the corner of Euclid and Maryland, he is the CWE OG. At a private event in Kevin’s BHIVEspace, he met classically trained chef Frank McGinty, who is Kaldi’s director of marketing. Over a few crafted cocktails, an eight-course meal, and the magic that makes an incredible dining experience, THIS IS NOT A RESTAURANT was born.
I believe I witnessed the collision of your two culinary worlds. How did the conversation about working together begin?
Frank: Yes! The introduction came about via you, Nicole. We connected at the Kit & Ace dinner—hosted in The BHIVE—that I cooked for a couple years ago. Honestly, before that, I’d only been in Brennan’s to imbibe and had never met Kevin. After the dinner he and I agreed to connect the following week to discuss what the space could be in the evenings — events, dinners, pop-ups… After several meetings, we collaborated on the concept of a pop-up restaurant—not one with a single chef and multiple locations, but a single, badass location and a hand-selected list of chefs, cooks, sous chefs, and industry friends who would take over the space for a one & done experience.
Kevin: I had the opportunity to see Frank’s menu, taste his food, and see how he interacted with the guests at the Kit & Ace dinner series. We spoke after the dinner, and a lot of our ideas just clicked. I think the main thing we agreed on was to allow chefs to do whatever they wanted to do. We felt like people would respond to that.
Tell us more about the concept of THIS IS NOT A RESTAURANT and why it was important for you to create it.
Kevin: We run our restaurant and cigar lounge next door at Brennan’s, but we host the THIS IS NOT A RESTAURANT dinners in our shared workspace, the BHIVE. We wanted people to come through at night and see the space. Having an eclectic dinner series was the perfect fit.
Frank: It’s a platform for chefs to come in and do whatever they want for a night or two. We encourage them to either highlight the food and menus they already create or want to test, or go an entirely different route and make the experience completely unique to the event and do a menu completely unrelated to the food they’re known for. We also hope that the space and proximity of the dining room to the kitchen allows the guests to not only feel connected to one another, but also have a close connection to the chef and their team.
For you personally, what has been the most memorable TINAR event so far?
Frank: For me, it was the one with Catherine Neville from Feast Magazine. Not only is she a close friend, but she was the first and only non-chef to take over the space, and she absolutely killed it! I do feel she was given an inside glimpse of the work, details and execution that goes into an event like this — it’s so much more than just the food that night. It’s the procurement of ingredients, menu development, tablescape, prep, music, guest list, the team and all the other hundreds of details that go into one of these. It turned out to be an incredible night!
Kevin: I think my memorable event was the dinner Katie Collier put on. Seven beautiful courses of pasta — or a reinterpretation of pasta. We knew she would bring a mix of interesting food and people into the space. But the most rewarding thing was that at the end of the night she thanked us for allowing her to do the dinner. Katie said there are a lot of limitations to what she can do in her restaurant, but that night allowed her to do whatever she wanted. It was an art installation on each plate that went out. We didn’t realize it was happening at the time, but this was our original goal.
Beyond the incredible talent we have here in town, who would be your dinner dream team?
Frank: Shelly Sweet in Atlanta runs a few incredible spots — General Muir, Yalla, West Egg Café — all with amazing food and equally great service and ambience. The Strategic Hospitality guys in Nashville are top of the list too. Their spots — Pinewood Social, Patterson House, Bastion, Merchants, The Catbird Seat — are some of the best experiences I’ve had anywhere. And of course, Danny Meyer with USHG — arguably one of the best restaurateurs in the country.
Kevin: My wife is Brazilian, so I’ve got some interest in South American food. It’s a three-way combination of Francis Mallman, Alex Atala, and Gaston Acurio.
What are the challenges and advantages with an ever-changing rotation of chefs versus running a consistent restaurant?
Kevin: The challenge is to explain everything that happens and get incoming chefs to create four or five courses that might be a little out of their norm but still able to be effectively plated for 30 people all at once. A big advantage is that our social media and our email list allow us to sell these out pretty quickly. It’s more about marketing someone new coming in than trying to maintain relevance of our other bar and restaurant.
If you had to pinpoint the elements that make for an incredible dining experience, what would they be?
Frank: I really feel it’s a combination: the engagement of the guests at the table with one another, and their connection with the kitchen and team. Some of my most memorable meals have been more about who I was with — whether one person or 20 — and the vibe of the restaurant. Of course there are a few top food experiences, most recently at Staplehouse in Atlanta — holy shit!
Kevin: The right amount of service, an original space, interesting and conceptualized food, the correct lighting, and good conversation.
What’s your favorite meal to cook at home?
Kevin: A simple but delicious Brazilian fish stew called moqueca.
Frank: Typically, if I cook at home, it’s for me and my two kids. I recently got them to love risotto, so I’ve been having fun with that. I want them to be well-rounded, sophisticated, worldly little people, and I truly feel that understanding and appreciating good food is a big part of that.
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