Gardens at Malmaison sit deep in the countryside in St. Albans, Mo., in Franklin County just over the St. Louis County line. The restaurant’s fine food and beautiful setting long ago won the hearts of St. Louis diners, but its distance from the city kept many fans from becoming regulars.
Datra Herzog, who bought the restaurant 10 years ago, has turned that liability into an asset, trading the grind of operating what she calls an a la carte restaurant into a special-event venue that caters to a steady stream of brides. “Ninety percent of my business anymore is weddings,” she says. “We started treating it as a passion rather than a job. Brides are the perfect niche for this.”
The restaurant is open to the public on Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day and other special occasions. “I kind of call this the modern-day version of ‘Holiday Inn,’” Herzog says, referring to the classic 1942 movie. “If it’s a holiday, it’s open to the public.”
Malmaison is housed in a building that dates to 1843. Its history is evident in the horizontal planks that line the walls of the Tavern Room, originally a barn, while other touches, such as the pressed copper squares over the fireplace in the dining room, are modern materials with a period feel. In 2006, Herzog bought the nearby Studio Inn at St. Albans, an events venue and bed-and-breakfast housed in a historic mansion overlooking the Missouri River. She’s currently building guest cottages on a hillside overlooking the restaurant.
The food at Malmaison also offers a sense of place. Herzog buys from local farmers whenever possible. “Everything we do is as close to home as possible,” she says. She hosts a farmers market on the restaurant’s grounds on Sundays from May through October.
Herzog and Chef Theodore Watt frequently offer cooking classes, including boot camps for brides and holiday cookies for children.
A taste of the cooking school Menu
• Ravioli stuffed with lump crabmeat and Boursin cheese, drizzled with Champagne butter sauce and served with spaghetti squash and frizzled leeks
• A salad of pan-fried eggplant, fresh mozzarella, baby greens, a balsamic reduction and tomato vinaigrette
• Pecan-crusted pork tenderloin topped with Calvados cream sauce and served with sweet potato purée, braised red cabbage, glace carrots and haricot verts