Farm to Table: Hamilton Hospitality
Though Eleven Eleven Mississippi Bar and Bistro is located in St. Louis’s oldest neighborhood, owners Paul and Wendy Hamilton have cooked up some new ideas when it comes to providing fresh food to their customers. Jeff Walters gives us a tour of the unique restaurants under the Hamilton Hospitality umbrella.
After many months of construction and meticulous attention to detail, Eleven Eleven Mississippi Ave. Bar and Bistro opened its doors to a highly anticipatory clientele in December of 2003.
Located in downtown St. Louis, in an area known as Lafayette Square, Paul and Wendy Hamilton’s new restaurant was housed in what used to be an abandoned shoe factory in the city’s oldest neighborhood. Things went well. Very well.
Since then, Paul and Wendy renovated a section of the Old Centennial Malt Brewery and formed Hamilton Hospitality, which encompasses a total of six different shops and restaurants that include Vin de Set, a gourmet French seafood restaurant; Moulin Events, a catering and reception area for gatherings and events; Grand Petite Market, a small gift shop that sells wines, snacks, and treats; The Malthouse Cellar, a unique underground event center; PW Pizza, voted as being the best pizza in the area; and 21st Street Brewers Bar, featuring more than 100 tapped brews, wine, and food.
Burdened with having to pay the ever-increasing cost of store-bought produce, Paul and Wendy, along with their staff, sought ways to provide fresher, healthier food while reducing costs. Taking advantage of the sunny exposure, they decided to use an aeroponic system to grow produce on Eleven Eleven’s rooftop. Diners enjoyed their cuisine amongst the growing towers, and the idea quickly became a hit. Feeding off that success, the Hamiltons, with the assistance of employees, then started an urban garden nearby that also utilized aeroponic towers and built a large, fully enclosed greenhouse that could provide produce in all seasons.
"Burdened with having to pay the ever-increasing cost of store-bought produce, Paul and Wendy, along with their staff, sought ways to provide fresher, healthier food while reducing costs."
This use of aeroponics for growing was first introduced to Paul and Wendy by a distributor of aeroponic towers. Aeroponics is similar to hydroponics, with the exception that the towers make the most of the space available and the roots are not soaked in a nutrient solution—they are simply misted with water, either directly or into a soilless medium such as rock wool or clay pebbles.
Five years and 28 towers later, they have another greenhouse currently under construction: a quarter-acre soil-based garden, an offsite orchard, and bee hives in full operation. Much of the produce required for the Hamilton’s businesses is now readily available. Top that off with an extensive wine and draft beer menu and you have one of the best selection of restaurants in the area all located in one building.
At Hamilton Hospitality, it is normal for the chefs to pick their own produce while working in the garden, as well as make suggestions on changes to the menu. Paul does a lot of the maintenance in the gardens himself, and employees jump in and get things done, from planting newly sprouted seeds to harvesting the produce for the day’s menus.
"It is normal for the chefs to pick their own produce while working in the garden, as well as make suggestions on changes to the menu."
The soil-based gardens are meticulously cared for on a daily basis, and you can see the difference in the quality and taste of the meals. Organic pest control measures, composting, shade cloth coverings, and greenhouse environments all add up to success with Hamilton Hospitality. Apples, peaches and other fruits trees are found in their offsite orchard. Various strains of lettuce, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, radishes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, various tomatoes, and much more are grown for use in the restaurants. Small hoop-style greenhouses are in use all winter long and provide an early start for most of the produce come springtime. As a result, they have fresh produce sometimes months earlier than any other local source that is also not trucked in from distant locales.
Hamilton Hospitality has not only set the example of how the farm to table experience should be enjoyed, they have set the bar for others to follow. Truly a unique dining experience, and with the possible introduction of tables being served inside the newer greenhouse, there seems to be no end to the Hamilton’s fresh ideas.
Written by Jeff Walters