Opening next month, The Benevolent King is the exciting latest culinary venture from St. Louis dining pioneer Chef Ben Poremba, owner of Bengelina Hospitality Group. Set to elevate the dynamic St. Louis culinary scene, the new cocktail bar and eatery is a pivotal source of style and cultural inspiration for Poremba, inspired by the flavors of Morocco. An intimate 28 seat restaurant, The Benevolent King is located within the rapidly emerging community of Maplewood, just minutes outside of downtown St. Louis. With a menu changing nightly and a colossal, stellar list of cocktails, the new concept delivers yet another unique Bengelina brainchild sure to be a hit.
Not only is The Benevolent King allowing Poremba to pay homage to his own heritage (his mother is from Morocco), but it also provides the opportunity for the restaurateur to get back in the kitchen on a nightly basis, after having stepped out for almost two years. Poremba is eager to return to his roots cooking, embracing this opening with the same sense of excitement as his very first restaurant opening. With The Benevolent King’s tiny space also comes the opportunity for Poremba to really have some fun in the kitchen, and diners will find more casual food than what’s been seen from his cooking in the past.
“The most incredible element of The Benevolent King is the opportunity it provides for us to have fun, embracing our more playful and kitschy side as a hospitality group,” says Poremba. “We want our guests to come in and uncover a sexy yet quirky space while also adding a dynamic cocktail bar and eatery to the emerging mecca of Maplewood, and its cutting-edge new dining scene.”
An ode to the reigning eccentric King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, the restaurant’s name hints to the ever-changing culinary program, where menu items will alter daily. Helmed by Poremba, the menu focuses on nontraditional Moroccan, with dishes influenced and inspired heavily by the flavors of Moroccan food. The small menu offers 7-9 small plates or “snacks” to complement the ambitious cocktail list. The second part of the menu offers a frequently-changing display of 5-6 creative larger plates Poremba calls “dinner.” The Moroccan influence is a nod to Chef’s mother, who he considers a massive inspiration, and her own unique culinary and cultural background. In addition to serving as inspiration for the cuisine, Poremba’s mother will also be consulting on the menu.
“The intention is to serve the kind of food I serve to guests in my own home,” says Poremba. “To evoke the flavors and undeniable smells and colors of (Jewish) Morocco, but not serve straight up traditional preparations. Highlights from the opening menu include “Shaved Veal Tongue” (golden raisins, capers, sumac), “Shakshuka Wanna Be” (stewed baby okra, chicken merguez, poached egg), “Ris de Veau” (confit of sweetbreads, black garlic harissa, parsnip, and gem lettuce”, “Shrimp Mogador” (urfa pepper, chermoula), and “Rose Water Custard” (figs, pistachio, coconut).”
Intended to be as much a cocktail bar as a restaurant, inventive craft cocktails are a major attraction of The Benevolent King. Managing the lounge’s bar program is St. Louis cocktail master Tony Saputo. Formerly of Layla and Atomic Cowboy, Saputo brings a unique perspective on cocktail making, curating a completely original menu that is “never pretentions, but always knowledgeable and never pushy, but always evolving.” The bar program consists of an expansive cocktail list comprising 18 signature cocktails, a symbolic number chosen by Poremba due to his superstitious disposition.
Upon entering The Benevolent King, guests uncover a chic and intimate space, complete with all black walls donned with colorful artwork – an intoxicating juxtaposition. With an original design by Poremba, the space also features eclectic and eccentric furnishings, such as gold and black Chiavari chairs, black and white French bistro chairs, and traditional Moroccan poufs and side tables. Adding to the playful design, Poremba and his partner Alexis Cossé personally curate all the artwork in the space, including an assortment of locally sourced portraits with animals dressed in formal attire, among others. Additionally, the space features a projector screen creating a veil over the restaurant’s open kitchen, set to showcase a variety of images and films pairing with the aesthetic of the restaurant. An assortment of two and four-seat high and low top tables and plush lounge chairs complete the comfortable yet upscale vibe of the space.