Bill Cardwell grew up in Vermont, where his
parents owned a ski lodge and inn.
I was exposed to
cooking, people and hospitality from my birth. At 7 or 8, I
started cooking with my mother in the kitchen.
Cardwell worked at a Howard Johnson’s
restaurant throughout high school and then attended the Culinary
Institute of America, graduating with honors in 1971.
When I was in
culinary school in New Haven, I worked for Albert Stockli.
Albert owned The Stonehenge Inn in Ridgefield, Connecticut. He
was the founding chef of The Four Seasons in New York. He would
have been one of my key mentors. His style of cooking, work
ethic; he shaped my vision of how I would cook — seasonal
cooking with international flavors.
with Stonehenge Inn in background
After culinary school, Cardwell spent time in
Switzerland in a work study program. Following that, he bounced around
the country, working a bit in Pennsylvania, then Florida and then in
Maine for five years, before moving to
California. Eventually, he landed a job through a professional
search company with Gilbert/Robinson, the Kansas City based
* * *
Steve Gorczyca spent 49 years with the Apted-Hulling
Corporation. His son Rich joined the company in 1971, spending five
years in management with Cheshire Inn, Miss Hulling's Cafeteria,
Open Hearth and Castle Oak.
In 1976, Rich Gorczyca began work with
Gilbert/Robinson, starting in St. Louis as general manager for
Houlihan's. He then managed Houlihan's restaurants in Cleveland and
Indianapolis, before returning to St. Louis in 1978 as
Gilbert/Robinson's area director.
* * *
St. Louis Union Station was reborn in 1985. The
train shed and waiting room gave birth to new shops and restaurants,
among them two Gilbert/Robinson offerings. Houlihan's, the second in
the St. Louis area, opened on December 5 and the Fedora Cafe & Bar
had a gala opening night on January 12, 1986. In her January 22,
1986 St. Louis Post-Dispatch review, Carolyn Olson wrote:
The original Fedora
Cafe & Bar in Kansas City's Country Club Plaza opened in 1983. A
second Fedora's opened in November in Washington, D.C.; the
Fedora's in Union Station opened Jan. 13.
Esquire magazine listed the original
Fedora's as "one of the best new restaurant in America" in 1984.
Metropolitan Home magazine listed it as "one of America's 10
best new bistros" last year. And USA Today named it as "one of
USA's best new restaurants" in 1985.
Rich Gorczyca, area director for
Gilbert/Robinson, explains, "All that recognition puts us under
a lot of pressure to perform. But we think our restaurant in
Union Station is very good."
Gorczyca spearheaded Fedora's opening for
Gilbert/Robinson. He was aided by Gilbert/Robinson's corporate executive chef,
* * *
David Wilhelm was nicknamed the Donald Trump of
St. Louis by his peers. As president of the Forsythe Group,
he had developed an impressive array of buildings in Clayton and
downtown St. Louis.
In March of 1985 it was announced that the
Forsythe Group was developing an office building at the southwest
corner of Maryland and Brentwood, in Clayton. The project included
plans for a restaurant on the ground floor. "Restaurants enhance the office buildings we
develop," said Wilhelm.
Architect's Rendering, Maryland Place
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb 26, 1986
While Wilhelm planned restaurants for the
buildings he developed, he didn't open or run them. So he put out
feelers in the community, and those feelers reached Bill Cardwell.
I met with the architect that did all of the
work for Gilbert/Robinson and he asked me if I knew of anyone in St.
Louis that wanted to open a restaurant. I said no,
but I was thinking about going out on my own.
Lou Chiodini was the architect who had
contacted Cardwell. His firm had
designed Gilbert/Robinson's Leather Bottle and Houlihan's, and he
would be tabbed by Wilhelm to design the new Maryland Place
Wilhelm met with Cardwell – and also Rich Gorczyca. Gorczyca
had been wooed by Wilhelm associate Norbert Siegfried. The three
agreed to joint venture Wilhelm's proposed restaurant.
and Bill Cardwell
St. Louis Magazine, March 1988
The trio's new restaurant was announced on August 23,
1987 in the real estate section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The ground floor at
Maryland Place will be the site of Cardwell's, a new 218-seat
restaurant that will combine an informal dining area and "hunt
room" style bistro opening onto the building's plaza with an
elegantly appointed dining area at the rear featuring several
private dining rooms.
Rich Gorczyca explained why "Cardwell's" was
chosen as the name of the
restaurant: "It was easier to spell and pronounce than Wilhelm or Gorczyca."
Maryland Place, Maryland & Brentwood
Cardwell's, 8100 Maryland
Cardwell's opened in September of 1987 to
standing-room-only crowds. On weekend evenings, it was difficult to
reserve one of the 40 tables without calling days in advance. The
separate bar, which accommodated 10 tables, was equally jammed as
soon as Clayton offices let out for the day.
Cardwell's ambience was as chic and urban in
feeling as a restaurant in Clayton could be. French doors opened
from the noisy front dining room, with opaline light fixtures and a
busy grid of black, gray and burgundy floor tiles, onto an
expansive patio, presided over by Ernest Trova's stainless-steel
"Falling Man" sculpture. The back dining room, with its dark
mahogany dividers and trim, was more relaxed.
Cardwell's front dining room
Cardwell's back dining room
Gorczyca managed the front of the house. He was
assisted by Guatemalan born Pedro Beltranena, another Fedora
I was fresh out of
Mizzou when I started with Fedora. Rich Gorczyca liked me and
invited me to a meeting with Bill and himself to talk to me
about possibly joining their new venture in Clayton. I agreed
because I knew how talented they were. I became Rich’s right
hand person and he molded me and taught me so much. Same holds
true for Bill. He taught me so much about business in the back
of the house.
Cardwell managed the kitchen. He was assisted
by Susan Gunnett and Lou Rook. Rook would go on to become the longtime
executive chef at Annie Gunn's.
(left) & trainer Brian Tennison
Opening Night, September 1987
(click image to enlarge)
Cardwell's truly took the city by storm. Thomas
Hunter's review in the March 1988 issue of St. Louis Magazine
gives a sense of just how groundbreaking the restaurant was at the
Don’t waste any time
reading past this first paragraph! Pick up your phone
immediately and call Cardwell’s to make a reservation. After
dinner, sit back with the rest of this review and see if you
agree that you’ve just experienced one of the best meals of your
that you’re back, was I right? Sure, you can take a number of
potshots: The room is too noisy, the tables (especially a common
bench on the south wall) too small and too closely spaced, the
service occasionally a tad affected, the adherence to
reservation times less than prompt.
But oh, the food! Clayton
aches for restaurants like this, which may explain why the place
is packed starting just after 6 p.m.
Cardwell’s serves "inventive" cuisine
at its finest: creative combinations and impeccable preparations
and presentations, but most important, ample quantities. These
don’t come cheap, with entrees ranging from $12.95 to $21.95,
but the critical criterion – value – reflects the premium.
The menu changes with season, so many
of the items described here may have been unavailable when you
visited. (What? You’ve read this far and haven’t made the call
yet? Laggard! Stop immediately and pick up the telephone!)
Excuse that digression, which was
aimed at those silly people who still need to be convinced.
Those poor unfortunates, unlike you, haven’t experienced the
sheer sensual delight of merely reading the menu. No entrees
like "spinach and endive salad" are found here. Rather, one
selects "spinach and Belgian endive salad with orange and
grapefruit segments, spiced pecans, black currant vinaigrette
and warm brie . . . $4.25." And one is duly impressed as the
waiter delivers exactly what was promised.
Or one allows for a surprise in
choosing "a sampler of Duck Trap River Farms smoked seafood;
with avocado, daikon and sweet onion salad, aquavit and dill
sauce . . . $6.95." The surprise – an extremely pleasant one –
comes in finding out what the sampler consists of: salmon,
mussels, trout and tuna, all perfectly smoked, with absolutely
no trace of the oily bitterness that can strongly detract from
So now you’re only as far as the
appetizers, and you’re wondering if they can possibly keep up
the pace, or even improve. And here comes the "grilled whole
boned squab with pinot noir sauce, fried oysters and crisp
cabbage sauté . . . $21.95."
You’re not disappointed. The pinot
noir sauce, a sweet-tart gooey glaze, is perfect against the
gamey meat. The two fried oysters are strange bedfellows for the
bird, but provide a delicious means of adding a starch. The
cabbage is spectacular, and you received a bonus of succulent
herbed carrots. Perhaps your minor complaint is that "boned" is
not entirely accurate.
If you were exceptionally lucky on
the evening that you visited (and you have visited by now,
haven’t you?), you were able to taste Cardwell’s remarkable
deep-fried, shredded sweet potatoes, which have equal appeal to
lovers of haute cuisine and lovers of junk food.
There are, of course, about a dozen
more poetic entries ("grilled fresh pompano fillet, lime
cilantro butter and minted jelly . . . $15.95," and even some
fairly straight steak choices) from which to choose, but you
know that already, seeing as how you’ve taken my first paragraph
advice. You also know that there are some 75 wines available in
the Captain’s Book.
I sincerely hope, however, that you
took the opportunity to order the very first item on the menu –
which ironically, is a dessert. Soufflés are uncommon to begin
with, and the masterful versions served at Cardwell’s are
you’ve read down this far and still haven’t called for
reservations, it’s your own fault if you can’t book a table
before Labor Day.
Remarkably, items offered on Bill Cardwell's menu
the first year were still on his menu thirty years later. The
Chinese barbecue chicken salad, with its
spicy peanut dressing, was one of those staples. In an October 4,
1997 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Rich Gorczyca explained
what happened when they tried to remove it from the menu.
About four years ago,
we took the Chinese barbecue chicken salad off the menu. That
lasted a whopping 24 hours, and it went right back on. Some of
our diners said, "That's what I come in here for."
Cardwell's Chinese Barbecue Chicken Salad
A number of Cardwell's appetizers also remained on
the menu year after year. The pecan-wood smoked shrimp was served three to an order, with a
mustard glaze, a
multi-grain pilaf and a cheddar-pecan wafer. The
flash-fried calamari was another customer favorite, with its
Cardwell's Pecan-Wood Smoked Shrimp
Cardwell's Flash-Fried Calamari
On April 10, 1994, the following appeared in
Jerry Berger's column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Bill Cardwell, Pedro Beltranena and David Owens have signed a
lease for a spinoff of Cardwell's at Plaza Frontenac on the
ground level, next door to Nieman-Marcus. Cardwell's at the
Plaza will open for lunch and dinner and will sell food-to-go
Cardwell's at the Plaza opened in September of
1994. Rich Gorczyca remained behind to run the Clayton
restaurant; Bill Cardwell moved west to run the Frontenac restaurant
– from the kitchen; Pedro Beltranena moved from general manager in
Clayton to general manager in Frontenac; and Dave Owens moved from
sous chef in Clayton to executive chef in Frontenac.
The new restaurant faced the east
side of the Plaza Frontenac parking lot. French doors opened onto a
large manicured patio, which was packed with diners at lunch and dinner when the
Cardwell's at the Plaza
Once inside the French doors, there were two dining areas.
The smaller Cognac Room was to the right, with a long communal table
towards the back and three private dining alcoves for small parties.
The Garden Room was to the left; it was the
restaurant's main dining room and looked out onto the patio through
floor-to-ceiling windows. Two smaller dining rooms opened off the
Garden Room. One could be truly private, with a set of French doors,
and the other was primarily for overflow dining.
The Cognac Room
The Garden Room
Private dining rooms off
Cardwell's at the Plaza also had an entrance
off the mall for shoppers, moviegoers and diners parking in the
underground garage. Originally, the restaurant extended out into the
mall and included a Market which sold prepared entrees, specialty
salads, breads and pastries. An electric metal gate closed off the
entrance after hours. Later, after the Market had been discontinued, the
restaurant was separated from the mall by a newly constructed wall
and French doors.
Cardwell's at the Plaza Mall Entrance
Inside the mall entrance
was the hostess desk and a small waiting area. Beyond that was
the restaurant's horseshoe-shaped bar, set with white linens at
lunch. There were additional dining tables adjacent to the bar.
Diners entering the restaurant from the patio entrance had to walk
through the dining room and past the bar to secure a table at
the hostess desk.
Desk and Waiting
Bill Cardwell brought many of the items on his
Clayton menu to Plaza Frontenac, although over time, the Clayton and
Frontenac menus diverged. While Cardwell was a constant in his
kitchen, the Clayton kitchen was manned by a parade of chefs.
In his January 9, 1995 St. Louis
Post-Dispatch review, restaurant critic Joe Pollack found the new
restaurant on par with the old.
Like the first
Cardwell's, in Clayton, the dishes are imaginative, beautifully
presented and of elegant flavor. Lunch is on the expensive side,
but portions are large and the overall effect is stunning, just
right for impressing a business associate, a valentine or anyone
The Cardwell's menu changes
seasonally, and the talented kitchen crew puts lovely touches on
dishes that show overtones of Vietnam, Italy, China, Brazil,
France, Mexico, Greece and many other countries.
The kitchen's imagination knows no
bounds, and the staff has the talent to bring dishes to life.
The blend of exotic and the down-home is of great satisfaction
to both taste and eye.
1998 Cardwell's at the
(click image to enlarge)
One addition to the Cardwell's at the Plaza
menu was a burger, available at both lunch and dinner. Bill Cardwell
had created it for a recipe book.
burger has been on the menu since 1994. A good friend wrote The
Burger Meisters cookbook with recipes from chefs. We did that
book to raise money for the Culinary Institute. Since that book
was published, it was natural to put that burger on the menu. It
had a homemade bun originally and it was stuffed inside with the
blue cheese and then topped with the melting Cheddar and the
bacon, and relish on the outside. The relish is an adaptation of
my mother’s tomato chutney recipe. The problem was we’d get:
"blue cheese on the side," "no blue cheese." To accommodate
everybody’s request, we changed the format. That was a
compromise. You have to make compromises every day.
Burger Meister Burger
By 1997, Bill Cardwell was spending all of his
time in Frontenac and Rich Gorczyca was spending all of his in
Clayton. The two Gilbert/Robinson alums decided to go their separate
ways. In an amicable transaction, Cardwell bought Gorczyca's shares
in the Frontenac restaurant and Gorczyca bought Cardwell's shares in
Cardwell and Rich Gorczyca
St. Louis Magazine, March 1988
In 1998, Gorczyca lured Pedro Beltranena back
to Clayton. Beltranena would leave Cardwell's for New York City in
2003 and return to St. Louis to help Lester Miller open Busch’s
Grove in 2005.
Toni Collins became the new general manager in
Frontenac after Beltranena's departure. Beloved by customers and
staff alike, Collins would be Bill Cardwell's right-hand woman
until she retired in 2016.
Collins (left) and Meredith Sutch
Both Cardwell's in Clayton and Cardwell's at
the Plaza continued on – separately in ownership and lockstep in
Cardwell's the Posh,
Cardwell's the Elegant, carries on. Cardwell's once was
innovative, too, but a boom in the restaurant business in
Clayton has brought a great deal of competition in the realm of
That's OK, except for trying too hard sometimes, Cardwell's
remains one of the top restaurants in the region in food and
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct 14, 1999
Bill Cardwell’s success in Plaza
Frontenac – not really renowned for fine dining before his
arrival – eventually produced an ironic outcome, with his
landlords recruiting two chain-restaurant competitors, Brio and
Fleming’s, to new outbuildings on the plaza’s parking lot.
The recent result? Full houses at
Cardwell’s at the Plaza on each of our visits; a kitchen that
still runs like clockwork despite the departure of one of its
stationmasters; and a combination of well-thought-out food and
energetic atmosphere that maintains Cardwell’s at the Plaza as
one of the most consistent choices for an excellent meal in the
St. Louis area.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug 18, 2005
The structure of the Cardwell’s at the Plaza
menu was part of the restaurant's appeal. The center section changed daily, with a dozen or so entree
choices, always including at least one fairly elaborate vegetarian
selection. Side dishes were all individually chosen to match the
entree. The left section consisted of salads, starters, sandwiches
and sides – all fixtures on the menu and customer favorites.
Southern-Fried Chicken Wings
2016 Cardwell's at the
(click image to enlarge)
In October of 2016, Rich Gorczyca turned 67. He
had owned and run Cardwell's in Clayton for over 29 years and kept
it a topflight restaurant, despite the departure of Bill Cardwell
from his kitchen in 1997.
In October of 2016, Gorczyca closed Cardwell's
in Clayton; Aaron Teitelbaum moved Herbie’s Vintage '72 into the
It’s really a nice
arrangement. The one thing that helped in my decision is that
Aaron, God bless him, is going to offer my staff positions.
The restaurant business is a young
man’s game, and he’s a young man. He reminds me . . . I was
about his age when I opened Cardwell’s.
In October of 2018, Bill Cardwell announced
that he was closing Cardwell's at the Plaza at the end of December.
It was really a
business decision because my lease was up. Plaza Frontenac has
gone through a series of ownership changes, and the personal
relationships that I had with the other owners don’t exist
anymore. That, coupled with a 25-year-old aging restaurant that
needed a lot of love. They wanted us to sign a 10-year lease and
it just didn’t add up for us. There has also been a shrinking
labor pool for a restaurant of our size. We were open seven days
a week and we required a lot of people.
the Plaza's last formal dinner service was on Saturday evening,
December 22, 2018. A single page menu offered a selection of Bill
Cardwell's classic starters and entrees.
Room Manager Laura Burnett
December 22, 2018
Menu, Dec 22, 2018
(click image to enlarge)
last dinner where their great-grandfather had dined, Dec 22, 2018
On Sunday, December 23, 2018, Bill Cardwell
held an "Eat and Drink 'Till It's Gone" celebration at his
restaurant. Limited to 200 guests, proceeds went to the St. Louis
of all of my employees stayed with me to the last day. They were
reliable and honest and hardworking. There’s no success without
a team of people. If you don’t have the right people, you just
can’t do it. I was very fortunate for many, many years. I had
employees with me over 20 years. They spent their whole lives,
from the time they were young until – I had employees that
retired from being with me. That made a big difference.
line up for one final dinner, Dec 23, 2018
smorgasbord of Bill Cardwell's classic dishes, Dec 23,
Cardwell congratulated by guests, Dec 23, 2018
After the celebrating ended, Bill Cardwell was
eager to start a new chapter in his life – to play more, laugh more,
travel more and get back to teaching and mentoring young people who
were interested in the business.
I grew up and went to
culinary school in the ’60s; in the ’70s I went to Switzerland
and worked. I was treated like a dog if I didn’t do something
right. And that translates to how you treat people eventually. I
had to mellow. I mean, people will tell you – I was probably a
real asshole to work for at one point. But you have to learn to
adapt. And there’s something about getting older that always
I was in a restaurant I’ve been to a
number of times, Blanchards in Anguilla. They were really,
really busy, and the thing that was so evident was that
everybody was working together. There wasn’t an employee that
walked by your table that either didn’t check if you needed
something or brought you something. It’s gotta be teamwork. That
sets good places apart from average places.
Cardwell (left) and Harley Hammerman, Dec 27, 2018
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