When fine dining is your pleasure - A glass of wine and candlelight lend ambience to a fine dining experience
I wrote this story for the Dec. 27, 2014 edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post. As always, I look for the historic significance when choosing stories to write. Today, I'm adding a photo of the original owner of the house, which I found in Peter Stone's scrapbook, accessed through Steve Chou's amazing data collection. - Mary Lou Montgomery
Hannibal Courier-Post (MO) - Saturday, December 27, 2014
Author: Mary Lou Montgomery, Marylou.firstname.lastname@example.org
Inconspicuously aligned along Hannibal's historic Millionaires Row which once housed Hannibal primaries such as the Dubachs and the Pettibones, exists an eatery that has quietly gained a Midwestern reputation as the place to dine if fine dining is your pleasure.
Labinnah Bistro is located at 207 North Fifth Street, in the historic dwelling of William H.
Munger, Hannibal's mayor in 1870.
Mr. Munger's portrait hangs on a wall of honor in the intimate dining room, where guests can sip wine and converse while enjoying a dining experience under the direct supervision of business partners Arif Dagin, a native of Turkey, and Chris Bobek.
Bob Yapp calls the cuisine the best around. And he should know.
He's not only a neighbor and frequent diner, but also a reveler of the historical integrity of the former dwelling.
The business has been under the ownership of Dagin and Bobek for seven years, all during that time attracting rave reviews and repeat business.
Dagin immigrated to the United States in 2005, as a Culver-Stockton College exchange student. His host family was headed by Christopher Bobek, and the two have had an ongoing friendship and business relationship since that time.
Dagin obtained a degree in education at C-SC, and taught briefly in Quincy, Ill., before venturing into the restaurant business.
Bobek, originally from Chicago, has a background as a chef.
In 2008, when the building and business at 207 N. Fifth Street were offered for sale following a bankruptcy by the previous owners, Dagin, with Bobek's support, took a leap of faith and purchased the property.
"We started small," Dagin said, at first attracting a clientele that was about 50/50, tourists and locals.
That percentage has changed over the years, with more and more locals gaining an appreciation for the fine dining experience.
The intimate atmosphere of the former house results in diners sitting in close proximity to each other. That encourages candlelight conversations over choice wine.
"People take the time to enjoy the evening," Dagin said. "They make an event out of the meal."
Dagin describes the bistro as "a special events restaurant, to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.
With candles and a bottle of wine, and background music ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Edith Piaf, customers end up chatting with people at the next table."
During the summer, "People come later in the evening. I've been here until 11 p.m. for sure," he said. "Tourists are not looking for an industrialization, they are looking for uniqueness. You just have to experience it to see what it's all about."
The menu is reflective of his Turkish/Mediterranean heritage.
For example, dolmas: Stuffed grape leaves, ground vegetables, rice and Mediterranean herbs, served with yogurt dill dip.
"My mother was here a few years ago, and made Turkish baklava," Dagin said. "She made a big tray and gave it away. She cooks with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and a palm full of that.
My grandmother was like that, too. She measures with her eye."
While she was in Hannibal, the restaurant staged a five-course dinner, complete with a belly dancer for entertainment. On another occasion, they hosted an Evening in Paris, featuring a French chef from St. Louis. "People loved that one," Dagin said.
Each evening, Bobek cooks up 6 to 10 chef creations from scratch, plus menu selections.
Bobek makes everything from scratch, Dagin said. "There's no way you can bake a chicken breast in five minutes. He slow cooks everything, and everything comes out moist."
They also buy fresh ingredients, utilizing farmer's markets in season.
Citizenship While building his business in Hannibal, Dagin also accomplished another goal. He became a United States citizen in June, the culmination of an eight-or nine-year process.
The night before the Flag Day ceremony, unbeknownst to Dagin, Senior U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber of St. Louis and the citizenship team in town for the ceremony, dined at Labinnah .