I step outside in the late morning to move the water on my lawn and get a breath of fresh air after staring at my computer all morning, and I'm greeted with the wonderful, light scent of baking bread. Memories race through my mind of my mother wearing her apron with just a little flour showing evidence of her bread-baking for the day.
In the afternoon, my visit outside rewards me with the luscious aroma of grilling onions. Later that evening, when I go outside, I smell steaks sizzling. Each time I come back inside I'm hungry and I go into the kitchen and stare at the contents of my refrigerator.
My first visit to a restaurant on the Hill was with friends, of course. I was visiting from out of state; they wanted to show me what St. Louis cuisine is all about and the Hill offers such wonderful food and hospitality. I was a little nervous parking in front of someone's house and walking down their sidewalk to get to the restaurant.
I grew up on a cul-de-sac and the sight of strangers walking down the street was indeed most odd. My mother will not even attend yard sales for fear of imposing and crossing that line where one becomes a voyeur.
Needless to say, the restaurant was fabulous and I loved the experience. I never thought I would end up living down the street from one of these neighborhood gems and become the lady doing yard work while people dressed for the evening got out of their car in front of my house.
This restaurant draws people from all over, especially the county. Most come dressed nicely and they drive nice cars. My husband and I get to play a little game of "what's parked in front of the house tonight?" Sometimes I will hear a delighted "Cool!" as he rushes outside to inspect the Mercedes or the new Audi convertible sitting outside.
Many of the nicest cars try to park right across from the restaurant and tales have filtered back to us of patrons wanting to know if it is safe to walk back to their vehicle after dark. The staff reminds the patrons there are City officials all over the neighborhood and several police officers who live within walking distance.
Don't these people look at the neighborhood? Do they see any signs of a stereotypical "scary" neighborhood? Every neat little lawn is manicured. There is no peeling paint or roving bands of "young people." We all have clean, fairly new cars. Isn't that what society tells us is acceptable? So why are we scary to the county folk?
One of my neighbors still practices the tradition of sitting on his front porch. I know, not many people do that any more. He enjoys the evenings with a beer in hand and watches as people come and go. He also has rather large pine trees in front of his house. These are the topic of many family and neighborhood discussions as he tries to convince his mother that they have now become a nuisance rather than an asset to the house, and shouldn't they be replaced by some nice dogwoods.
These trees often hide him from the casual eye as one walks down the street or works in one's front yard. In this porch cocoon, he observes and listens. It is amazing what people say out loud! He has heard them talking both favorably and demeaningly about us, the residents.
Most of the time, people walk down the street and say something on the order of, "Aren't these little houses just so cute! I wonder what kind of people live here?" To which he answers, scaring the bejeezus out of them, "I do!"
We're not in a fish bowl or under the magnifying glass. If they want to know who we are, they should just ask. On the occasions I actually speak to the patrons, they seem shocked that I am capable of speech at all. If they are interested, I would be happy to tell them about the neighborhood and about the restaurant if this is their first time visiting.
As a block captain, I have talked with both residents and management to help ease some of the frustrations on both sides. You see, many of the residents lived here before there was a popular restaurant down the street and tensions have arisen over the parking issue. Whereas my husband and I don't always have a car parked in front of our home, people closer to the establishment do.
Forget about getting groceries in the evening! If they leave for even ten minutes, when they return they'll be stuck parking half a block away and walking back home.
Some of the residents don't care. Some of them are ready to start a war.
We have been able to arrange some more parking from one local company with a parking lot. Now we are working on getting some more.
Part of the problem is that perception thing. We can't get parking too far away, or the patrons think they will get mugged walking back to their car. Yet the distance is much less than they would walk in the mall parking lot!
We don't really care about cars parked in front of our house, as long as people are respectful. We are building a new garage so we can park off street. But we have always wanted to garage our cars, restaurant or no restaurant. Some of the other residents are looking at this option, too.
What we don't appreciate are discourteous people who run into our cars when they park, or take up two spaces with one car, or park so close no one can get out.
One of our amusements on the block is watching people trying to parallel park. It's obvious that maneuver hasn't been attempted by many people since they took their driving test at 16!
We like the restaurant. The food is great. The people are nice. It's great having them as a landmark to direct people to our house!
I like knowing that people are coming to the City that might not have otherwise. I like knowing that these people who grew up just blocks away chose our street to establish a wonderful restaurant and it is thriving and making a great name for St. Louis.
It's actually kind of fun having them as a neighbor. We have celebrated anniversaries and birthdays there.
So I raise my coffee cup and toast the restaurant as I once again sit at my computer. May they keep the hungry masses coming for many years to come! And may they keep the wonderful scents wafting down the street!
Jill Hampton lives and works writing and marketing Web sites from her home in Southwest City with her husband and her children a twelve-year-old tabby and a nine-year-old mini Schnauzer. Food is a passion for she and her husband, who both love to try new restaurants.