Stanley and Arlene Browne welcome all wine drinkers -- novices and connoisseurs -- to the new Robust wine bar and cafe in Edwardsville.
The menu makes it easy to sample and learn about wine. It offers half glasses, tasting flights and suggestions on how to pair wine with food.
"Hopefully, we can encourage people to experiment and explore, have some fun and not be intimidated," said Stanley, 50, of University City, Mo.
Robust serves 40 wines by the glass ($8 to $14 for full, six-ounce pours), in addition to bottles.
Wines are divided into eight body styles: Bubbly, crisp, mellow, luscious, soft-hearted, generous, robust or sweet.
Each style is numbered for pairings with cheese and charcuterie plates, appetizers, soups, salads, flatbreads, seafood, beef and chicken.
"All of our food is inspired by wine so it goes well with wine," Arlene said.
The Brownes opened the first Robust in 2007 in Webster Groves, Mo., and the second last year on Washington Avenue in St. Louis.
They expanded Aug. 22 into an historic storefront on Edwardsville's Main Street. It formerly housed Erato wine bar, which closed in June.
"It's a great place," said customer Todd Timmelson, 29, of Edwardsville, who already has become a regular.
"My wife and I love it. We like the ambience, the (wine and beer) selection. And the food is amazing."
Todd and his wife, Ashley, met at Erato about six years ago.
The space still has high ceilings, wood floors and exposed brick, but high-tops have been replaced by standard tables and booths to better accommodate diners.
Vintage-like crystal chandeliers hang along one wall, contrasting with modern pendulum lighting over the bar. A Victorian-style sofa and chairs serve as a waiting area.
"I think the lower tables make it much more comfortable," Todd said. "When my mother came here before, it was hard for her to get up on the high chairs."
Executive chef Joseph Hemp V oversees menus at all three Robust locations. They change seasonally.
Customer favorites range from Sea Scallops to Bacon and Eggs Flatbread, Hanger Steak to Spinach and Artichoke Dip.
"We've had rave reviews for the Robust Chowder ($5.50)," Stanley said. "It's a mixture of seafood and andouille sausage, potatoes, onions and peppers. We're also known for our Crab Cakes ($13), which actually have crab in them."
Stanley was born in St. Louis and grew up in England. He studied restaurant and hotel management in Ireland and cooked for a year in Switzerland before returning to the United States.
Hotel jobs led him to become a certified sommelier and wine distributor.
Stanley and Arlene, a marketing and public-relations specialist, have been married nine years. They combined their talents to launch Robust.
"I wanted to make wine more approachable and friendly," Stanley said.
All three locations also serve beer and cocktails.
In Edwardsville, the two dining rooms are separated by a small shop with tasting counters, allowing people to take home what they like.
"All the wines that we serve in the restaurant can be purchased in the shop," Arlene said. "We also do gift baskets."
At a glance
What: Robust wine bar, cafe and shop
Where: 126 N. Main St. in Edwardsville
Hours: Lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and limited menu from 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays (drinks served two hours later
Tastings: Tuesday evenings
Seating: About 85
Information: 618-307-3203, robustwinebar.com, facebook.com/robustedwardsville or twitter.com/robusteville
On the menu
Bacon and Eggs Flatbread -- Burgers' Smokehouse bacon, basil pesto, peas and Fontina, topped with a farm-fresh egg, $14
Chef's Charcuterie Sampler -- Sweet coppa, Genova salami, pate, prosciutto, whole-grain mustard and cornichons, served with French ficelle bread, $16
Spinach and Artichoke Dip -- Spinach, roasted red peppers and artichokes with mozzarella, Parmesan and cream cheese on toasted crostini bread, $8.50
Sea Scallops -- Jumbo sea scallops over cauliflower-potato puree with roasted Brussels sprouts and citron buerre blanc, $14
Hanger Steak -- Seared hanger steak, au gratin potatoes and frisee salad with rosemary-tomato demi-glace, $15