A year ago when I moved back to St. Louis, my friend LeAnn told me that I needed to try Confluence Kombucha, a new restaurant in the Grove neighborhood. I met her there on a cold winter afternoon with semi-high expectations. I love kombucha and I really love people who make it locally. I wanted the restaurant to be good.
Luckily, it was. Not only is the kombucha delicious but the food is on point. Executive Chef and Master Brewer William Thomas Pauley runs the kitchen, or as it’s known at Confluence, the “gastroLAB.”
When you walk inside, you see Pauley standing in an open kitchen, cooking and putting together plates in painstaking detail. It almost looks like he’s doing a science experiment or restoring an artifact. He’s very precise.
Still, he does it all with a laid-back attitude and a sunny disposition. He seems to genuinely enjoy what he does and sharing it with people, which in my opinion is the hallmark of a good chef.
Confluence offers a bunch of deals on kombucha including a Mason Jar quart that you can take home with you, but I’d recommend starting with a kombucha tasting flight. Flavors are always rotating and based on what is seasonal. Over the summer, I had flavors infused with blackberry and rhubarb. When I showed up yesterday, I got one with kuchika, or green tea, and persimmon.
Whatever you do, DO NOT skip the food. Even though the kombucha is the main attraction the food is just as good, if not better. Pauley likes to experiment with flavors and textures, which is important when you’re cooking vegetarian and vegan food.
Almost everything on the menu is vegetarian and vegan but some dishes have fish. Everything is sourced locally and tastes fresh. I would venture to say that Confluence has some of the best, if not the best, vegan and vegetarian food in the city.
The second to last time I went to Confluence, I got a crispy mushroom dish with acorn squash. It was the beginning of fall so squash and root vegetables were in season. I finished the meal with a holdout from summer, preserved peaches with roasted corn coconut ice cream and pea shoots. I cried when I tasted the first bite.
The corn was slightly smoky and sweet, the coconut added a depth of flavor, and the pea shoots were soft and flavorful. The preserved peaches were sweet and tender. Every time I took a bite, they flooded my mouth with honey.
When I had lunch at Confluence yesterday, I got a dish I’ve wanted to try for a while: The tempeh with beets and black tahini. I’d seen someone next to me order it after I’d already placed my order.
Not only is this one of the best vegan dishes I’ve ever tried at Confluence, it’s one of the best vegan dishes I’ve tried in my life. The tempeh is warm, perfectly cooked, and lightly dusted with flakes of sea salt. The black tahini is rich and sweet, and the beets are soft and almost collapse under a fork. I tried to put together the perfect bite, or a piece of beet with tahini and tempeh.
The other thing I love about Confluence is the warmth of the staff. I usually go to lunch there during the work week because it’s a few blocks from my office. I use it as an escape.
Whenever I stop by, Pauley is very kind and talkative. Sometimes Julienne Villarini, one of the co-owners, is around and we always have a nice chat. She’s very welcoming.
So yeah. If you’re in The Grove and you’re looking for a healthy, delicious option with freshly-brewed kombucha, I would highly recommend stopping into Confluence. They’re open for lunch and dinner and they just expanded their hours, so they’re open seven days a week.
Here’s a song that reminds me of Confluence. It takes me to my zen place just like the restaurant does.