Edera Italian Eatery to Replace Scape in the CWE

By George Mahe – St. Louis Magazine – February 24, 2020

The address 48 Maryland Plaza—in the Central West End, the former home of Scape American Bistro—is one of the best parcels of restaurant real estate in the city. Add in the semi-private European courtyard tucked behind the building, and it might be the best.

In 2007, following a revitalization of Maryland Plaza, the Koplar family partnered with former St. Louisan and industry mogul Larry Levy of Levy Restaurants to open ~scape. The restaurant became the CWE’s fine-dining bistro, a door left ajar by the passing of legendary Balaban’s. After a succession of chefs (most notably Eric Kelly) and a name change to the more straightforward Scape American Bistro, it eventually shuttered in April 2019.

“Scape had gone through so many iterations and leaders that it lost its north star,” reflects Sam Koplar, one of the past and present principals. “The post-mortem was not to reincarnate it, but start with a clean slate. There are so many great restaurants in the neighborhood in all shapes and sizes. We just wanted to be back among them.”

A new restaurant, called Edera (Italian for “ivy,” which makes sense to anyone who’s visited Scape’s ivy-walled back patio), was conceived last fall and is slated to open in May.  “It was a unique name—which is hard enough to come up with on its own—and one that fits,” says Sam Koplar. The tag “Eatery was added because of its casual, approachable, softening connotation.

Mike Randolph, creator of some of the most renowned restaurants in the city (the former Publico, Privado, Randolfi’s Italian Kitchen) and owner of Half & Half (with locations in Clayton and Webster Groves) and Original J’s Tex-Mex & Barbecue in University City, is the culinary consultant. Mick Fumo is the executive chef.

Sam thought that Randolfi’s was one of the the best Italian restaurants among many great local Italian restaurants, and he and Randolph struck up a friendship. “My brother Bob [Koplar], Mike, and I began discussions on what would be the best fit for the Scape space. Mike liked where the project was headed and decided to become a part of it.”

For his part, Randolph (who would like to do more consulting), says he’s fully committed. “I’m in it until they don’t want me anymore,” he jokes.

Randolph is directing menu design and development, hiring of key personnel, and offering expertise to the Koplars based on past experience, “regarding where the market was, where it is this year, and where it may be heading in the future.” But he’s quick to point out that Edera “is not Randolfi’s 2.0, it’s not 1,800 square feet, and it’s not the Loop.” The only similarities will be the versatility and the execution of the food.

Edera began with the Koplars talking to “countless friends and especially neighbors” to see what they wanted to see happen in the Scape space. The collective conclusion was a casual, modern Italian restaurant “but with some sophistication to it.” Scape was too much of a “yesterday restaurant” and not an everyday place, says Sam Koplar.

Other observers of the local dining scene agreed that replacing Scape with another fine-dining restaurant would miss the mark, that something more casual and affordable would better serve today’s market. Sam Koplar observed that “Scape became a ‘trade down’ restaurant, where you might have considered a steak or chop but traded down to a burger. We see Edera as a ‘trade up’ place, where you can order a pizza and salad but may opt for a fresh pasta or a simple, more substantial entrée,” he says. “Physically, Edera will bridge the gap between, say, the casualness of Randolfi’s and the sophistication of a place like Maialino [a Danny Meyer restaurant] in New York City.”

The Koplars hired an all-star team to conceive and execute the project. Besides Randolph and Fumo, Sasha Malinich of R|5 Design Agency will lead the design team (Malinich designed the interiors at Peacemaker, Sardella, Porano, Vicia, Cinder House, and Winslow’s Table). TOKY’s Katy Fischer will handle the branding.

Physically, a lighter color palette will be introduced throughout. The semi-circular, fan-backed booths will be reupholstered. A wood and ceramic tile floor will replace the existing carpet and travertine. “The dark Vitrolite on the building’s exterior tends to mask what’s inside, so the interior needs to be light and vibrant,” says Sam Koplar, who adds that his best current approximation is “a Tuscan trattoria with a contemporary spin.”

At Edera, Randolph is applying what he calls “refined simplicity” to traditional Italian cuisine. The menu will consist of recognizable items.

“Early on, we decided we did not want to educate or confuse the guest,” says Randolph. “We want people to look at the menu and not have to ask a lot of questions and an hour and a half later, they’ll hopefully say, ‘That was a damn good pizza or pasta.’ It might have been just tomato sauce and basil, but realize that we’re buying the best semolina, using farm egg yolks, making the noodles onsite, and only San Marzano tomatoes are used in the sauce. You can’t improve on something like Reggiano, but you can control the foundational elements on up, and that’s what we’ll be doing every day—baking all our own bread, extruding our own pasta, allowing adequate time for pizza dough to do its thing.”

Randolph says, “If you hang your hat on simplicity, you have no choice but to control everything you can control. If you run a respectable breakfast place, you damn well better be making your own biscuits.” To wit, Randolph has recruited pastry chef Ashley Howe (formerly of Reed’s American Table), who’s also an accomplished bread baker (having worked at Union Loafers). 

Randolph has known Fumo, a Kirkwood native and alum of The Ritz and Four Seasons, for years. “We’re both NECI [New England Culinary Institute] graduates,” says Randolph. “We got to know each other working on the same street in South Carolina; he’s an Irish-Italian like me, and my mom even calls me Mick. We did some tastings together and weren’t at all surprised that we were on the same page.” Fumo enlisted two of his former sous chefs—Bradley Beissenger (Cielo, Three-Sixty) and Erin Ortiz (Reeds, Three-Sixty)—to solidify the kitchen. 

Having done a “done a deep dive into the food,” Randolph and Fumo penned a 35-plus item menu consisting of antipasti (from a white bean dip and shrimp scampi to a cacio e pepe calamari), charcuterie, a handful of salads (including a Caesar with sieved eggs and house made sourdough bread crumbs), pizza, flat and extruded pasta, seafood (salmon, halibut, scallops, mussels), chops, and steaks (wet-aged filet, bone-in ribeye).

“There’s nothing cutting-edge here except the methods,” says Randolph. “Maybe something like a seared piece of fish finished with smoked tomato butter with tarragon, or butter-braise a fish and serve it with champagne vinegar and braised cabbage.” Edera’s menu items will be served a la carte with contorni (supplemental side dishes) offered separately.

There will be a version of the famous (and enormous) meatball served at at Randolfi’s, but no specific signature dish. “I had no idea that the chicken liver Bolognese would become a signature there,” Randolph says. “You grow into those things.”

Scape seated 140; Edera will seat 120. The difference arises from the installation of a pizza station on an elevated platform in the southeast corner of the dining room. “Pizza is an important component of the menu, and that interaction and energy is an important part of Edera,” says Randolph. “I’d be hard pressed to come up with a recent popular restaurant in St. Louis that didn’t activate some part of their dining room. Different pieces of kitchen equipment have migrated out into the bar and dining room. It’s an extension of the open kitchen. Our pizza station allows staff interaction with the guests.” A high-top, quartzite dining table is being installed near the pizza station specifically for that purpose.

Due to the building’s existing layout and its historic nature, a gas fired deck-oven will be used rather than a wood-burner. Randolph (who introduced many St. Louisans to Neapolitan-style pizza at The Good Pie in 2008) explains that Edera’s pizza will be Roman-style, which he says will use a dough similar to the one at The Good Pie and Randolfi’s. To be specific, “mid-60s hydration, long fermentation period, a mix of soft and high-gluten bread flour but rolled out a bit thinner, dressed a little more uniformly, and cooked for five to six minutes at 700 degrees, rather than 60 to 90 seconds at 900 [degrees].”

This iteration of Roman-style pizza will be recognizable to St. Louisans, he says, crispier than Neapolitan, yet still thin. “[Union] Loafers’ pizza doesn’t fit any one particular style, either,” he notes. “Theirs has been voted the best in town, and it’s cooked in a deck oven.”

“It’s not St. Louis–style and it’s not Neapolitan,” Randolph continues. “We took the best of both those worlds and married them together, dressing the pies a little closer to the perimeter and using the best mozzarella we can get our hands on.” When told that one publication listed 29 different styles of pizza, Randolph shot back, ‘We’re going to make it 30.’”

“Look, pizza at Edera is not an afterthought,” he says, noting that the experimentation began back in October. “The dough we decided on is different and, in our opinion, more approachable than and better than a Neapolitan pie.” Edera’s 14-inch pizzas will be priced from “$14 to 18ish.”

“Pizza is a very emotional subject,” says Sam Koplar. “With Mike’s input, we know ours will be different, and it will be our own.”

The beverage selection will be “wine-focused plus classic cocktails,” and it will follow the same metrics as the restaurant: Guests can splurge on a certain wine but are not obligated to do so. And like the menu, expect to see recognizable regions and varietals (from Italy and California) rather than obtuse and unfamiliar labels. The same holds true for beers, where the city’s craft brew standards—such as Civil Life Brown Ale, City Wide Pils, and Urban Chestnut Zwickel—will dominate that list.

The goal of Edera is to be “the kitchen and bar of the Central West End,” an everyday, neighborhood hangout. “Dining habits have changed,” notes Bob Koplar. Edera is being concepted as a “dress-up, dress-down, splurge, or just drop in for a pizza kind of place,” says Bob Koplar.

Initially, the eatery will be open for dinner five nights per week (Tuesday through Saturday), plus Sunday brunch. A May opening is anticipated. 

One of the advantages of Scape was its flexibility. On the lower level, a glass-walled wine room sat 40 (60 for cocktails), and an adjacent chef’s table sat 10. Both will be utilized at Edera.

“Family-style meal service with wine pairings has become popular for tables like that,” says Fumo. “We can price tier that to whatever the guest wants to experience. We could carve a standing rib. We could bone out whole fish on a cart. Big bowls of salad. Big bowls of pasta…”

Upstairs, Scape’s 150-seat Fountain Room boasted floor-to-ceiling windows, a demonstration kitchen, and a Chihuly-esque fiber-optic chandelier. The space will eventually be used for Edera’s larger parties and events as well.

In the rear, the courtyard patio will open as soon as weather permits. “And, fortunately, the edera, the vines covering the long wall, grow in quickly,” says Bob Koplar.

Discussing the neighborhood in general, Sam Koplar notes that though a few area restaurants recently closed, “the neighborhood has never been stronger. You can’t help but stare at One Hundred, the world-class building from acclaimed architect Jeanne Gang. New apartments are everywhere, there’s a Whole Foods, the AC hotel is under construction…”

“Survival means reinventing yourself and being relevant to today’s audience,” adds Bob Koplar. “That’s what we’re doing with Edera.”

Randolph has a similar take: “Scape was the restaurant hub of Maryland Plaza. The Koplars had offers to convert the place into retail but decided to double down instead and do another restaurant.” 

“And we don’t want to be super hip,” he adds. “We don’t want to be esoteric, on trend, and gone in two years. Our mission is to stay around a while by delivering simple, refined food, because that’s what a lot of St. Louis diners are looking for.”

First posted in Uncategorized | Monday, February 3, 2020