Joe Smugala, the owner of the Hill restaurants Carnivore and Pit Stop, will open two new ventures this fall in nearby Southwest Garden: the Mexican restaurant El Milagro Azteca and the barbecue restaurant GastroPit.
The restaurants will occupy the building at Southwest Avenue just west of Kingshighway that previously housed Taco Circus and, prior to that, Three Flags Tavern.
Customers will enter El Milagro Azteca from the side of the building that Taco Circus and Three Flags Tavern used. (Those restaurants used 4940 Southwest as their address.) GastroPit will be next-door to the west. The two restaurants will share a kitchen.
“We opened up the whole back of the building…from one end to other to where it’s set up for success,” Smugala said.
GastroPit marks a return to the city for Smugala’s barbecue restaurant. The original J. Smug’s GastroPit opened in 2017 at 2130 Macklind Avenue on the Hill and later moved a short distance to 4916 Shaw Avenue. (The Macklind space has since become Smugala’s Pit Stop, while the Shaw address is now occupied by Rock Star Tacos.)
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Last year, Smugala brought the barbecue restaurant, now simply called GastroPit, to 15622 Manchester Road in Ellisville. He sold that location this July to employees, though it will share its branding with the new Southwest Garden restaurant.
Smugala said he had planned to return GastroPit to the Hill area, but “we just had to wait for the right time. I’ve been looking at that space for some time and finally made it happen.”
The barbecue menu will be familiar to fans of the original GastroPit. (This restaurant critic was a big fan of the pork ribs, especially.) The new location will feature dine-in service at a few tables, but there will also be a significant carryout and catering component.
Meanwhile, Pit Stop chef and partner Carlos Hernandez will also take on both roles at El Milagro Azteca. Smugala said El Milagro Azteca will not be upscale or modern Mexican nor Tex-Mex. Instead, Hernandez will bring his “flair” to Mexican cuisine.
The idea is to be “welcoming,” Smugala said, “you know, bring all kinds of people, not just people that are truly into Mexican food.”
The patio outside El Milagro Azteca is being rebuilt with concrete and will feature a fireplace.
Smugala said he is aiming to open the restaurants in November.