It’s one thing to go downtown and eat.
However, ask me to drive to Independence and it’s a whole different story. Unless, that is, it’s for an exceptional outing.
I’d heard from my fellow foodies that Vivilore, couched in Independence’s Englewood district, was a find. Once my nagging curiosity got the better of me, I planned a mid-day adventure late last summer before winter winds blew in.
LOST AND FOUND
After turning right instead of left on Winner Road, Tastebud and I finally arrived and parked right in front of the former Sermon-Anderson interior design/antique business now transformed into Vivilore.
The ivy-laced brick building is unassuming — until you step inside. It’s been completely renovated by Whit Ross and his sister, Cindy Foster, two Independence natives who warmly greeted us.
Antiques, art gallery, restaurant — it took a moment to focus.
Surrounded by grand, vintage pickings, the intimate décor is lavishly executed. Even the oversized murals by John Singer Sargent gracing the walls look appropriate.
“This collection of antiques took awhile to amass,” I contemplated as Tastebud and I noodled, not knowing whether to shop or eat first.
As pros at both, we decided to eat (of course).
“I kind of feel like we’re in Downton Abbey,” said Tastebud, beginning to act like Lady Grantham.
“Would you like to sit outside?” asked our server Linda. “It’s a tropical paradise and today is so pretty, you should at least go take a peek.”
She was spot-on. Next thing we knew, we were ensconced in the courtyard gardens, expertly maintained by Ross and Foster.
Almost obscured by the profusion of greenery and flowers, gazing balls, statuary and stonework, our attention was squarely on the plantings and not the menu. That was until a bread basket, piping with whole grains and three little spreads appeared and brought us back to the issue — the Specials of the Day.
Tastebud, sampling the mango-pineapple butter, decided on the lobster roll.
“And I’ll try the shrimp and pappardelle pasta. We’ll split the caprese salad,” I said.
As we relaxed, I can see why I was urged to go. In all likelihood, this makes chef Hope Dillon, who manages to cook in the basement’s tiny kitchen, very happy.
Currently, Dillon’s offerings include a variety of sandwiches, lobster rolls and Mediterranean chicken salad. Entrees range from New Mexican Pork Chop (with creamy polenta cake), Pasta Vera Cruz (grilled chicken breast with corn pudding and feta salsa verde) to ribeye and herb crusted beef tenderloin. Appetizers subject to change: wild mushroom cheesecake, seafood and avocado tostadas, barbecue oysters with blue cheese sauce and pickled onions.
That means you get two visuals: beautiful gardens and beautiful food.
Linda brought two white dishes dressed with a stylized caprese salad.
“Whit does the gardening and plating of the dishes,” she said.
The salad was not just heirloom tomatoes and downy mozzarella. No, Ross took it a step further and embellished it with strawberries, blackberries, red onion, sage and vivid sweet pea blossoms. ($10)
I took a picture just in case I needed a reminder when I entertain in the next millennium.
“You don’t get fresh lobster very often in Independence,” said Tastebud.
“Or anywhere within at least a 1,000-mile radius,” I reminded, leaning in for a bite.
Soon both owners appeared.
“So, I’ve got a background in cooking,” said Ross. “And my sister was a pilot. We both wanted to do something different and since we’re from the neighborhood, Vivilore is the result.”
“What does Vivilore mean, anyway?” I asked.
“It’s actually the title of l904 book we found when we were renovating.
“It means the accumulated knowledge of life and how to live it,” Cindy says, noting the book is on the foyer table to peruse.
If this is the way Foster and Ross see the world, then navigating guests into sensory delight is obviously uppermost.
“I’ll take you on a tour as soon as you finish,” said Ross, clearly proud of his stewardship.
“We may never,” said Tastebud, sinking in as if she was lady of the manor.
Vivilore is one of those places that transports and yes, after scrutiny, is well worth the drive.
Now that warmer weather is inching closer, therein lies the perfect excuse to head to Independence to dine.
Be sure to stick around for the live music on the weekend evenings, and if you’re in the market for a vintage novelty or piece of art – this is the place.
10815 E. Winner Road
photos: Brooke Vandever