A modern Indian bistro recently debuted in South City. Baba Xavi opened on March 22 as a pop-up concept poised to earn a more permanent place in the neighborhood. The unique gastropub features creative takes on classic Indian dishes as well as offerings presented with an Anglo-Indian twist.
The concept comes from chef Colleen Clawson of Milque Toast Bar, which opened in 2015. During special dinner series events at Milque Toast, Clawson found that patrons especially enjoyed her Indian-themed menus – a cuisine she loves cooking for her 10-year-old son, Xavier (Xavi) Pereira.
According to Clawson, Baba Xavi is an homage to Xavi, his cultural heritage and his patience as a restaurant industry child. It fills the space previously occupied by Champs On Jefferson, occupying the last three months of Champs’ lease via Lassaad Jeliti of Spare No Rib and Egg.
“Lassaad gave me an incredible opportunity to step in and try out a temporary restaurant,” Clawson says. “I do really love it here and I’m very happy making this food. In a perfect world, everything goes great and we keep things going.”
Clawson works with back-of-house manager Chris Scheets and front-of-house manager Jenny Wilson – both formerly of Red Fox Baking – as well as a team that includes beverage director Amanda Gaines, Ashli England, Kylin Hariston, Antoine Ghaly and Dante Burks.
“We put this together in just a few weeks. It was an incredible effort, and the beautiful outcome is just a testament to everyone’s amazing hard work,” Clawson says.
The restaurant’s dining area got a new life with fresh decor, including textiles and cushions from Hammer and Hand Imports, plants from Alice Blue Collective, design details such as tabletop centerpieces by Emily Hemeyer, and a carrom (sport-based tabletop game) table. Inside, 32 seats are available, with another 16 on a front patio. A back patio will feature bar service in the summertime.
From the menu, choose from highlights such as Xavi’s favorite: chicken tikka masala with marinated boneless chicken thighs in a spiced curry sauce with a hint of cream, served with basmati rice. Xavi also recommends the Indian-spiced fish and chips, with battered and fried cod, housemade fries and curry mayo, served with kachumber raita, or cucumber with red onion, tomato, yogurt and jeera (cumin).
Additional popular picks include a lamb curry burger with grilled lamb, spinach, tomato cucumber and raita as well as a lamb mince shepherd’s pie with lamb, seasonal vegetables and batata bhaji, or potatoes with black mustard seed, curry leaves and turmeric. Clawson recommends cucumber sandwiches as a family-style dish with green chutney, cucumber and housemade butter bread. Naan is also made in house.
For dessert, the kitchen offers a dairy-free, gluten-free kheer, a thickened rice pudding with coconut, cardamom and toppings such as mango puree, drunken raisins, toasted almonds, black cardamom sugar and fresh mint. Wine, spirits and beer are also to pair with your meal.
“We wanted to have a small bar program with drinks that could stand up to highly spiced and flavorful food,” Clawson says. “We also wanted to have fun, so we have things like wine by the glass in cans and gin bowls.”
Additional cocktail options include rhum punch; the Aloe ha Paloma with Elvelo tequila, Chareau Aloe liqueur, fresh grapefruit juice and bubbles; and Coco’s Manhattan with J. Rieger & Co. whiskey, Mancino Chinato vermouth and Jerry Thomas bitters.
Baba Xavi is open Friday through Monday 4 to 10pm.
Baba Xavi, 3701 S. Jefferson Ave., St. Louis, Missouri, 314.354.8444, babaxavistl.com