Q • I love the gumbo at Copia on Washington Avenue. — Marcia Quigless, Central West End
A • Amer Hawatmeh is proud of his place among St. Louis restaurateurs. His family emigrated from Jordan 45 years ago and owned Garavelli’s and Nantucket Cove. Hawatmeh opened Copia Restaurant & Wine Garden in 2005 in a historic building that once housed a shoe factory, a firehouse, even an upstairs bordello. “I care about downtown,” Hawatmeh says.
He describes Copia’s menu as “American cuisine with a Southern twist.” Fresh fish is flown in from Hawaii, and he calls the French-cut pork chop “the very best.”
Hawatmeh curates Copia’s “living” wine list of 11,000 bottles priced to sell. During warm weather, the open-air wine garden is a popular hangout. “Who needs a dome?” Hawatmeh says with a laugh. “We already have a retractable roof.” Inside, Hawatmeh calls Copia “elegant yet comfortable” and “upscale but casual.”
Still, Hawatmeh says that Copia, named for the Roman goddess of abundance, is not about place or food or even wine. “We want people to love Copia’s European-style experience.”
Executive chef Zack Fiordimondo has made gumbo for 30 years. Twice a week, he makes a huge pot for Copia but still can’t always keep up. “Customers go through it faster than I can make it.” He’s happy when someone orders a bowl, not a cup, because Copia’s gumbo is “as good as anywhere in the South.”
Even when so packed with seafood that it’s almost a seafood stew, great gumbo starts with great roux, Fiordimondo says. He babies roux in one pot while cooking the gumbo in another. Watch the roux closely, he advises.
“When it turns color, it can turn on you, fast. Don’t leave the stove, if you have to, turn the heat off.”
Copia Restaurant & Wine Garden
1122 Washington Avenue