It’s been a long year for the many St. Louisans anticipating what will likely be one of the most talked-about restaurants in recent memory. And it’s been even longer for Ben Grupe, who had hoped to open Tempus, his flagship restaurant in The Grove, as far back as late 2019, when construction issues and a pandemic got in the way.
Almost exactly a year ago, Tempus opened its doors—or rather a pickup window on the side of the building—where the acclaimed chef doled out some of the tastiest (and most Insta-worthy) takeout food in the city. Tempus was featured on the cover of SLM’s February 2021 food feature, “A Guide to Top-notch Takeout,” and claimed the No. 6 spot on the 2021 USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice awards.
At long last, the dining room at Tempus is slated to open November 3.
The decision came after months of thoughtful consideration from Grupe and Drew Lucido, general manager/ace mixologist/beverage expert (and the head bar honcho at the former Taste in the Central West End), who’s been on board since Tempus’ planning stages. In a casual conversation this summer, Grupe told SLM that he couldn’t just open with any staff; it had to be “the right staff, a proper staff, a knowledgeable staff”—a tall order given the current restaurant climate.
Lucido echoes Tempus’ ‘just’ mantra. “There’s no ‘just’ here,” he says. “We don’t just do anything. We do things right and to the best of our ability.”
From the outside, Tempus looks understated and chill. Dark gray plantation blinds along Manchester Road give way to a mural of black, white, and gray with subtle images, created by Grace E. McCammond, who’s created art throughout The Grove.
“There was plenty of color present in The Grove’s other murals,” she told SLM previously. “We wanted this one to stand out by being more subtle.”
Inside the space, guests’ eyes are immediately drawn to another black-and-white mural on a far wall, an abstract expressionistic piece from local artist Jacob Berkowitz. The charcoal gray back bar is subtle and utilitarian, with box shelves sharing space with wall cutouts that double as shelves, allowing just a wee bit of the bar’s action to seep into the dining room. A set of glass doors provides a hard separation between the two; it’s closed during service and when guests enter and exit. To further mitigate noise, strategically placed sound boards encourage table conversation.
And the clock will initiate a lot of it. The mesmerizing installation was created by a company called Humans Since 1982, owned by two Swedish artists. “I felt it was a perfect fit for Tempus,” Grupe says of its kinetic features. “Since the time is always moving the same way, we are constantly moving forward. And I, too, have been a human since 1982.”
The clock gives way to a gray upholstered banquette flanking one wall. Higher on the wall, shallow black-ladder shelving mimics the treatment on the opposite wall. Cushioned seats are cut from the same cloth as those in the bar. Berkowitz’s mural cleverly spans both rooms. Constellation-evoking lights hug the ceiling. Local artist Myles Keogh painted the bathrooms. (No visual spoilers here.) All in all, it’s a symbiotic, harmonious—and, dare we say, timeless—space.
Notable service touches include a bespoke walnut silverware box somewhat reminiscent of the velvet-lined iteration that keeps tabs on grandma’s sterling silver. One item here not in Grandma’s arsenal: heavy brass silverware rests, made by local artist/furniture maker/contractor Ian Jones (@stickblt on Instagram).
Last year, Grupe summed up his goals for Tempus. “The formality is absent. There are no white tablecloths. The ambience is relaxed and urban. It’s familiar, fun, and exciting—not your average fine-dining restaurant.
“Inclusivity is a core value with us,” he added. “It applies to ingredients and techniques in the kitchen as well as any person we come into contact with.”
Grupe’s chef credentials are impressive, to say the least. Having apprenticed under the renowned Peter Timmins at the equally renowned Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Grupe returned to St. Louis in 2010 and was nominated to the U.S. Culinary Olympic Team the same year. He later served as team captain and brought home three gold medals and a world championship in 2016 (the same year that SLM named him to its A-List). Concurrent with his captainship, he joined forces with Ben Poremba at Elaia and Olio, where he served as executive chef.
In 2017, Grupe competed in the American Mentor BKB selection for the Bocuse d’Or (considered to be the most prestigious culinary competition in the world) and finished second. (Grupe tells that story and others in this Q&A.) All told, he’s won more than 30 national and international medals. In 2018, Grupe was nominated as a James Beard Award Semifinalist for Best Chef: Midwest, his first Beard nomination.
Assisting Grupe in the former sous chef at Bulrush and Squatter’s Café, Justin Bell, on which Grupe bestows high praise for his patience and work ethic. “His dedication to our craft is unmatched,” Grupe says. “His passion for preservation and fermentation is woven into the fabric of Tempus. His influence on our menu is extremely motivating to our entire team and I am honored to work side by side with him every day.”
Tempus’ kitchen, located in the property’s former garage, features equipment and amenities not seen in small, independent restaurant kitchens. Even casual diners will appreciation the sophistication. A custom-made Hestan range features sealed burners that offer more flexibility and stages of heat, eliminating constant knob-fiddling.
“With this arrangement, we can be working any number of pots and skillets, instead of the limited number on a traditional six-burner stove,” Grupe says.
There are two combination ovens and a blast chiller. “We can take an item from boiling to rock-frozen in less than an hour,” Grupe says, “and it doubles as a humidity-stable warming cabinet, so we can make yogurt or koji for our ferments and misos.”
Grupe commissioned a friend to fabricate simple but distinctive, rimmed stoneware plates. A Vero water filtration system (unique in the city, Lucido says) dispenses chilled still and sparkling water, as well as ambient still water. The Vero system filters water five times (down to 10,000 microns), stripping it of all impurities and minerals, resulting in a completely neutral pH, what people in the water business refer to as “dead flat.”
The wine and cocktail options are “based in the classics,” says Lucido. The latter includes imports and domestics, such as the Ravines Chardonnay from the Finger Lakes region that’s made using the passito method, where partially raisinated grapes lead to a richer mouth feel. The opening list includes 70 bottles, including four reds by the glass, four whites, a sparkling, a rose, and an orange, all selected to pair with Grupe’s first menu. As the food menu changes, the glass list will change as well. Tempus’ corkage fee is $15 per bottle (with a two-bottle limit), which gets waived if the guest buys a bottle from the list.
Currently on tap are two beers, Civil Life’s The Angel and The Sword and Four Hands’ Single Speed, as well as two cocktails, one punch style (made with Hendrick’s Gin infused with Earl Grey crema, which gets milk-washed and blended with a punch sherbet) and a scotch cocktail (made with a blended scotch, Sfumato rhubarb amaro, Olorosso sherry, celery bitters, and a saline solution). Tempus’ batch cocktails are $13; the hand-made cousins, whose presence is indicated by a caddy of stoppered tinctures and bitters on the bar top, are $15.
Lucido designed the eight-item cocktail menu to complement the current food offerings. Take for example the whiskey cocktail (made with lapsong-lemongrass syrup, lemon juice, and house-made ginger beer, garnished with lemongrass oil and candied ginger), which was created to pair with Grupe’s coconut panna cotta (made with passion fruit, yuzu yogurt sorbet, and lemongrass).
Another cocktail features Amazake, Pommeau, lemon juice, a Vadouvan syrup, and a little bit of gin, served over crushed ice in a collins glass garnished with apple powder. “Think of it as a savory, wintery, tiki cocktail,” Lucido says.
“Our cocktail list uses a lot of culinary techniques and proportions,” Lucido explains. “Just like chef Grupe’s background is classical French cooking, mine is in classical cocktails. The two go well together.”
Tempus, a Latin term meaning “time,” is what drives the overarching philosophy at Tempus.
“Time is a constant evolution,” Grupe says, “just like the food and beverage program at the restaurant.”
At a menu preview, the chef began by describing one of the entrées—noted on the menu simply as ‘chicken with butternut squash, wheat berries, and brussels sprouts’—as Poulet Rouge chicken, a heritage breed from South Carolina. The breast is brined, the dark meat is made into sausage. Both are cooked sous vide, then topped with a crust containing several components, all dehydrated and blended together in house: house-made sauerkraut, rendered chicken skin, whole grain mustard, and fresh horseradish—intensely flavored to say the least, and insanely delicious. The Brussels sprouts are roasted in the schmaltz (chicken fat), and the mustard green garnish is dressed with Banyuls vinegar. The underlying sauce on the plate is heritage chicken jus.
And that’s just the description of Tempus’ chicken dish. “It’s a good example of what we’re doing here,” Grupe explains. “At the end of the day, it’s just a really good roast chicken.”
The menu focuses on familiar yet elevated, simplistic yet sophisticated flavors. The style is a distillation of Grupe’s years in the business. “Everything about Tempus is designed to bring a sense of what is craveable and comforting,” Grupe says. He hopes that “food without labels,” as he calls it, will create a place where locals become regulars and so called ABC diners (anniversaries, birthdays, celebrations) feel equally at home.
The inaugural menu features a prix-fixe three-course meal for $75 per person, plus tax and gratuity, with wine/cocktail/nonalcoholic pairings available for an extra fee. (Although a departure from Tempus’ original launch plans, the team felt such a Phase 1 plan was the wisest and safest way to achieve its lofty goals for food, service, and hospitality while navigating the ongoing effects of the pandemic. “We dealt with the pandemic; now we have to deal with the fallout,” says Lucido.)
During the first phase, Tempus will seat 32 guests indoors, plus eight at the bar (for drinks only, not dinner to start). All guests (and staff) over 12 years old must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours. “We promised a safe space to our staff and guests, so we will be hard and fast on this policy,” Lucido says. (Carryout and limited delivery service is currently on pause but will continue once indoor service gets established, offering an identical menu on an a la carte basis.)
Pre-paid reservations are required and can be made up to 14 days in advance, at which point the respective menu options for that date also come online. Reservations are “transferrable but not refundable,” a relatively new phenomenon that arose partially to prevent guests from making reservations at different restaurants on the same night, often resulting in costly no-shows.
One interesting sidelight is the playlist at Tempus: hip-hop and rock. “The dining experience is meant to be a little more fast-paced than the traditional, and the music reflects that,” Lucido says. “We want to keep the guests—and the employees—engaged and entertained.”
Grupe adds, “As soon as those doors open, we’re hitting the gas…full throttle.”
The doors open November 3. Tempus will begin accepting dining room reservations November 1.