The art of dining
Two local restaurants are blending food and art to creative an appetizing atmosphere for the senses.
"I just love the arts," says chef Augie Mrozowski, owner of Augie's Front Burner. Evidence of his appreciation for art can be seen throughout his downtown restaurant -- from the life-size portraits of nude woman by the front door, to the metal sculptures, use of etched glass and colorful paintings which fill the walls.
"From a personal view, I think it gives some interest. It gives you something to look at as you come in. It's appealing to the eye," he says. His restaurant, which showcases his flair for creative culinary dishes, also advertises the work of several local artists -- nudes painted by Tanya Brodsky, colorful, bold paintings of Springfield sites by Mike Manning, and unique metal sculptures by Brian Luparell. Dark, vibrant murals by Michael Mayosky, who painted the logo and sign that hangs above the restaurant, lavishly cover dining room walls.
But for Mrozowski, the décor is just an extension of the dining experience. "We extend it to your plates," he says, who makes his culinary creations works of art in their own right, through the use of swirls of sauces and stacks of carefully stacked bits of food which take on shapes of birds and other creatures under his direction.
"I just love the arts. It wows people," he says. "People walk through all the time." Most of the artwork in the restaurant is for sale.
And his use of art isn't just for the eyes only. He has also produced a CD, with original music written and performed by former Springfield resident Phil Minardi, who once performed at the restaurant. The CD contains recipes and song titles reflect the menu options, like Black Bean Cake.
When Kate Hawkes opened her downtown coffee shop four years ago, she was trying to decide what to do with her space.
"I had this 30-foot wall," she says, "and lots of friends who are artists." So it seemed like a natural solution to create a rotating art exhibit on the long, expansive wall of her coffee shop. Her first exhibit featured pen and ink artist Bill Crook Jr., and since then, the wall has featured a variety of works by many local artists, including Jeff Williams, Syd La Bonte and Kevin Veara.
Sometimes the artwork creates a little controversy, such as the case in Brodsky's nudes. "A few women didn't like it, but none of the men complained," says Hawkes, laughing. Most customers are very vocal about what art they like. Mixed-media masks created by Pat Gardner, using beads, feathers and an array of materials, were showcased in October.
Besides stopping in for a cup of coffee, slice of quiche or sandwich, many people just stop by to look at the art. "People look in the windows and then come in to see what's new," she says. "The regular customers really enjoy it. I'm happy to have the art here. I think there's a huge, huge wealth of art in this town. People under-appreciate it."
Besides the rotating art, the yellow walls of the café are covered with other local creations. A whimsical mural of a trout sitting at a small café table, surrounded by smiling trees, fills one wall by the front door. Julie Hulvey, a local art teacher and friend of Hawkes's, painted the trout mural. She's also responsible for the tropical rainforest painting above the kitchen area. Another local artist, Alison Coffey, painted two smaller scenes of a coffee bean conga line and dancing vegetables. Cut-out wooden monkeys swing from a grapevine on the mural -- the work of Robert LaBonte, a local woodworker.
"The coffee brings people in there. This gives them something interesting to do," Hawkes says. In addition to the wall of art, local musicians play nearly every day and the Prairie Poets and Writers group meets there every Saturday. Books and poetry by local authors are also on hand for customers to read.
Her only criteria for choosing art to display is that it "covers the wall and it's interesting. And not computer-generated," she says.
"I'm happy to provide the opportunity for the artists. I hear all the time, people saying there's nothing to do in Springfield. They just have to look," she says. "I love bring people together. It's a neat thing."
Trout Lily Cafe is located at 218 S. Sixth St., 217-391-0101. Augie's Front Burner is located at 2 West Old State Capitol Plaza, 217-544-6979. For information on art, call or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The current exhibit at Trout Lily Café features black and white images by photographer and adventure traveler Howard E. Kelley. He and his wife recently moved to Springfield from Boston.
His latest collection of photographs features the people of the Siem Reap region of Cambodia. "This exhibit has been a big hit," says Kate Hawkes, Trout Lily Café owner. It's only the second time in the restaurant's four-year history that a photographer has been showcased.
The exhibit will be on display until Jan. 4.