Olio used to be a 1930’s-style gas station. Then Chef Ben Poremba got hold of it and turned the place into a trendy, small plate restaurant with a whimsical, outdoor patio on one side.
Come COVID, Ben made the front and side parking lots into more patio seating with well-spaced tables tucked away amongst plants, trees, bushes, and herbs. If the foliage was any thicker, you’d need a machete to get to the front door. There are even greenhouses to keep the plants through the winter months.
A Rare Treat for St. Louis
As food lovers know, Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli-born British chef and cookbook writer is arguably the most influential chef in recent times. I drool over his cookbooks and my grandson, Austin, often cooks his recipes.
Fortunately, St. Louis has its own variation of Ottolenghi in the person of Chef Ben Poremba. With a degree in philosophy from UMSL, you’d think he’d be teaching or, at least, arguing some fine point of the Socratic method.
Instead, he’s become a culinary wizard. His small plate offerings are a medley of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods guaranteed to tantalize the taste buds and bring you back for more. Each dish has Ben’s signature hint of frivolity, what you might call the “Poremba Touch.”
“I Love the Theater of Cooking and Eating.” ~Chef Ben Poremba
Recently when I was at Olio along with six others, we ate in a private room in the basement of the refurbished gas station. It was charming! Or as Ben puts it: “The place is the cheapest ticket to Tel Aviv.” The space had the feel of an Old World wine-cellar: low ceiling, bare light bulbs, rustic table (but comfy chairs), painted rock walls, and a couple of small windows. The fanciful chef has shown he can turn any place into a dining realm, if given some vegetables, a stove top, and a few spices.