Elsah's Cultured Table Bistro: The menu changes every week

News-DemocratJune 29, 2014 

The Cultured Table Bistro in Elsah is the polar opposite of fast food.

Owner Heather Strathern and her son, Gabe Chatterton, bake their own bread and change the menu every week, depending on the availability of seasonal produce and other fresh ingredients.

"That's how I grew up," said Heather, 58, who lived in Southeast Asia as a child. Her father worked for the U.S. Department of State.

"We would go to the market every single day to get fresh food," she said. "So we don't order in bulk (for the restaurant). We don't rely on anyone else to make our choices."

The menu includes omelets, quiches, paninis, salads and homemade soups, desserts and baked goods.

Saturday specials are sometimes ethnic dishes, such as Chicken Tikka Masala (Indian) or Greek Patitsio.

"We always have vegetarian options on the menu," Heather said. "We're finding more and more people are eating vegetarian."

The Cultured Table occupies a 19th century limestone building with original hardwood floors and massive woodwork.

It seats about 25 people at an eclectic combination of tables and chairs, with a vase of fresh flowers and herbs on each table.

Other decorations range from lace curtains to Asian artifacts, including Heather's parents' collection of ginger jars. The walls are lined with mixed-media prints by local artist Sun Smith-Foret.

"I haven't tried the whole menu, but I'm working on it," said customer Doug Thompson, 57, of Alton, who was taking a break from his gardening business.

"The food's good. It's the only place in town, but I would come here even if it wasn't."

Doug had just finished an omelet with ham, spinach, onion, tomato, bell pepper and feta.

"This is a sweet potato muffin, and it is just to die for," he said. "Everything is good here, but the bread is the big deal for me."

Heather attended Principia College in Elsah and lived in Tampa, Fla., and Boise, Idaho. She is divorced with three children.

Heather has taken culinary classes, run a catering business, served as head cook at a ranch and worked as a personal chef.

"I did not come (to Elsah) to open a restaurant," she said, noting her daughter and other family members live in the area.

"I worked at the college for a year as a resident counselor, and I helped out in the college kitchen. Then I started catering again and selling food at the Alton farmer's market."

Heather opened The Cultured Table in October of 2012. Her son joined her about a year ago.

Gabe, 28, is a graphic artist and cooking enthusiast who worked at a restaurant in Boise.

"I got my love of cooking from my mom, even though I went out and learned some things on my own," he said. "I can make a pretty mean pizza from scratch, the crust and everything, but we don't serve it much here."

Sometimes Gabe whips up Chicken Tikka Masala for the Saturday special. He creates his own spice mixture for the traditional Indian dish.

Gabe also makes all the quiche and bakes all the bread at The Cultured Table.

"I'm not French or Italian, so I can't call it French or Italain bread," he said. "But it's reminiscent of French or Italian bread.

"It's artisan bread, which has become a trendy term lately. It really just means that it's made with your hands. It doesn't have any preservatives or any odd chemicals that you get in things you buy from the store."

The Cultured Table doesn't accept checks or credit cards, only cash. It has no bathroom, but a public restroom is located nearby.

At a glance

What: The Cultured Table Bistro

Where: 20 Lasalle St. in Elsah

Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays

Seating: About 25

Information: Call 618-616-9804 or visit culturedtablebistro.com

On the menu (changes weekly)

Quiche -- Spinach and feta or asparagus and bacon, $5.45

Paninis -- Turkey and ham, Swiss and Cheddar or three cheese (Swiss, Cheddar and blue), $6.50

Salad -- Strawberry and feta on locally grown mixed greens, $5.40

Soups -- Romanian spinach, fresh garden pea, pasta fagioli or tomato bisque, $4.25 cup or $5.75 bowl

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