Executive chef Samantha Mitchell has debuted her first original menu at The Libertine.
Mitchell, who also runs the food truck Farmtruk, joined The Libertine in April. She’s since brought on an almost totally new kitchen team and executed a completely new menu.
“I want [my cooks] to be excited,” she says. “I like that they’re green. I like that they want to learn. It feels good.”
Mitchell describes her food as rustic with simple, clean flavors; she’s also sourcing 80 to 90 percent of her ingredients from within 150 miles, featuring farms such as Todd Geisert, Double Star, Such & Such and Buttonwood. ”I want people to get to know me through my food – even on the truck – this is that same type of approachable, simple, rustic fare,” she says.
Her favorite dish at the moment is country fried pork cheek: braised pork cheeks that are breaded and fried in the style of country fried steak, served on top of Illinois blue corn grits and topped with ancho-barbecue sauce and pork cracklins – “because why not [put] more pork on top of a pork dish?” Mitchell says with a laugh.
Starters include an Instagram-ready venison carpaccio with fresh horseradish crème fraîche, salt-cured egg, garlic chips, summer black truffle and a mustard vinaigrette, and grilled black kale with homemade ricotta, grilled nectarines, toasted pine nuts and a Meyer lemon vinaigrette. “I like the idea of not forgetting that vegetables are important,” Mitchell says. “That’s the salad that I want to eat.”
Another standout appetizer is the pork belly – a ubiquitous menu item upon which Mitchell puts her own fresh spin. Such & Such pork belly is cured for 10 days, smoked in local cherry wood in-house, confited in rendered fat, and served atop a kohlrabi-fennel slaw with grilled peaches, homemade burnt chile oil, scallions and a drizzle of honey.
“It’s kind of traditional, but it’s fun and zippy with the slaw, and the smoke to bite through that with the sweetness of the peaches,” Mitchell says. “Basically, the way that I chose to use all these ingredients are off my list from the farmers, and then I fill in the gaps with other things. Like the ricotta – we could buy it, but the kids are learning back there. I’m trying to build a [kitchen] culture of not cheating and making really tasty, good food.”
Mitchell’s famous Sam Burger makes an appearance as well, but she promises it won’t put you in a coma. A Missouri grass-fed beef patty is topped with Todd Geisert bacon jam that the kitchen stews down almost to the point of candying it, plus a sunny-side-up egg, pickled red onions, spring mix and Baetje Farms goat cheese on a brioche bun served with hand-cut fries.
Even the classic pork steak gets an unpretentious upgrade: It’s thinly sliced and lacquered with mulberry-lemongrass glaze and served with homemade kimchi-fried rice and a relish of roasted okra and shishito peppers.
Beverage director Ben Bauer has also debuted a summer cocktail menu, which takes inspiration from molecular gastronomy, but in an approachable fashion. You’ll find ingredients like nitro-muddled tarragon, peanut butter-washed vodka, herbes de Provence-infused gin, nitro grapefruit fingers and even an edible cocktail.
“The focus of the [cocktail] menu is definitely molecular gastronomy; you’ll see it in pretty much every cocktail in one way or another,” Bauer says. “I’ve always had some smaller molecular gastronomy techniques, but never gone all out.”
Whether interested in grabbing some rustic grub or a molecular cocktail, make sure to do so before catching In the Heights from R-S Theatrics.
Mitchell has been nonstop at both Farmtruk and The Libertine, but now that she’s getting her new team trained, she sees a few days off in her future. She counts herself lucky for the support of her husband, and sometimes her daughter can be spotted watching her work while sitting on a milk crate in the kitchen.
“I just want people to see my food. You don’t have to be a tweezer chef; I really like the idea of simple food done correctly and making it exciting,” Mitchell says. “I want people to come in and feel like family. I don’t want to put out pretentious food. It’s kind of weird for me, because this is my first real executive chef role.”
Co-owner Nick Luedde says he hasn’t been more excited about a menu since The Libertine first opened in 2013.
“I’m in love with it,” he says. “It’s a departure from what we’ve traditionally done. She’s a young, hungry chef. She’s kicking the proverbial ass, as it were, and this is a completely different direction [for The Libertine].”
The Libertine, 7927 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314-862-2999, libertinestl.com