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Aug 01, 2015
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The Scoop

The Scoop: St. Louis sommelier Brandon Kerne to depart Bar Italia for Texas

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015



Editor’s note: This post was updated at 5 p.m. July 30 to include comments from Bar Italia co-owner Mengesha Yohannes. 


When Brandon Kerne first took a job as a server after a brief stint at Monsanto, he was young and a little rudderless. Now, the industry greenhorn who blossomed into one of the most recognizable sommeliers in St. Louis is taking his talents to Houston’s Pappas Bros. Steakhouse.

Kerne announced Monday, July 27, that he is leaving his post as beverage director at Bar Italia for his new position as a sommelier on Sept. 1. “I have had the opportunity to work with some of the deepest, most exciting lists in town, and I have worked side by side with the best of the best in this city. I am very grateful,” he said via email.

Kerne began talks with Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in May, and the pieces soon fell into place. “Everything just made sense,” he said. “I am really pumped about tackling a 200-page wine list and returning to a list that covers the entirety of the wine world.”

Kerne, who has also worked with the wine programs at Olio, Elaia and 33 Wine Bar, developed an unorthodox system for Bar Italia’s wines that prioritized tasting notes and characteristics over the name and vintage of the wine itself. He is also among the handful of St. Louis sommeliers studying for the notoriously punishing master sommelier exam. Kerne said Pappas Bros. has graduated several master sommeliers, and he said the move to Houston was partly to continue preparation for the exam.

“I am actually moving directly into an apartment with two other advanced sommeliers (the certification tier immediately below master) in Houston,” he said.

Kerne acknowledged that leaving St. Louis behind will be bittersweet. “The Yohannes brothers are some of the most interesting, charismatic people I have worked for,” he said. “I’m still incredibly enthused about what we are accomplishing with my team at Bar Italia, and I look forward to watching them continue their growth from afar.”

Bar Italia co-owner Mengesha Yohannes said he was proud of his beverage director. “It’s not a loss, it’s a progression,” he said. “What (Brandon) does and what his cohorts do … is remarkably intense and dedicated. They are all ferocious. As soon as he got his advanced sommelier pin, it was clear this young man was headed places.”

Yohannes said he has a few replacements for Kerne in mind, but declined to name any specifically. For the moment, he’s hoping to continue Bar Italia’s run as a nucleus for top wine talent in St. Louis, even considering collaborative direction for the restaurant’s wine program.

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

The Scoop: Mission Taco Joint adds a food truck to its ranks

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015


Adam Tilford knows how to take a hint. Enough people asked the co-owner of Mission Taco Joint how to rent the restaurant’s food truck – and were surprised when he told them there wasn’t one – that he figured it was time to hit the road. The new Mission Taco Joint food truck debuted yesterday, July 28, at the restaurant’s Soulard location.

The Tilford Restaurant Group opened Cater Al Fresco commissary kitchen last summer, and the availability of the new food-preparation space also prompted the food truck’s launch. Tilford said he anticipates that much of the truck’s business will come from complementing the company’s catering services at events, while street vending will be secondary.

There’s no set menu, Tilford said, but expect to see favorites from Mission Taco Joint, including three or four tacos, plus possibly a torta or burrito option and carne asada fries.

The truck may also serve as a test kitchen. “Jason and the team can try out new tacos and ideas,” Tilford said, referring to his brother and co-owner, Jason Tilford. “You’ll see some surprises we might run in a month (in the restaurant).”

Follow the truck’s whereabouts on Twitter at @mtj_mobile and on Facebook.

The Scoop: Zippy Burger to open in the Loop

Monday, July 27th, 2015



A quick bite in the Loop is about to get even faster, with the limited-service Zippy Burger slated to open in early September. The burger restaurant is moving into Seoul Taco’s former location at 571 Melville.

To live up to its name, seating will be limited and the 900 square-foot restaurant will serve only three menu items: old-school griddle burgers, French fries and a chili mac – in this case, spaghetti with chili sauce.

“At the end of the day, it’s about making a few products really well,” co-owner Josh Shulman said. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, just make burgers as good as we can.”

Owners Shulman and Billy Evans have worked at different levels in the food industry, but this is their first restaurant. “We’ve been friends since we were kids,” Shulman said. “We wanted to open a restaurant together.”


The Scoop: Lona’s LiL Eats closes Soulard Farmers Market location

Friday, July 24th, 2015



Lona’s LiL Eats has officially closed their Soulard Farmers Market location, tweeting last Thursday that they wouldn’t open as usual on Saturday, July 18. After opening their brick-and-mortar location in Fox Park last year, keeping up the food stand at the market became increasingly tiring.

“The Parks Department electricians said that the placement of the electrical box and the sink were against code. The sink had to come out and be moved far away from its spot which would have been super expensive,” said co-owner Pierce Powers.

The decision to close was a tough one to make.

“I had been flirting with the idea for a little while because it’s been so exhausting and then once that happened it was like a day of internal back and forth.” Powers said.

Lona’s California Ave. location keeps St. Louis well-supplied with their dumplings, Thai spring rolls and other Asian-inspired eats. It’s open for both lunch and dinner on Saturday, so former market-goers will still be able to get their weekly fix.

The Scoop: Yo! Salsa food truck to open a brick-and-mortar in Wentzville

Friday, July 24th, 2015



Yo! Salsa food truck announced plans to open a brick-and-mortar location at 2 West Pierce Blvd., Wentzville in mid-September. The restaurant will offer an expanded menu of small-plate options and shareable entrees, along with food truck-favorites like tacos and nachos. Chef-owner John Lutgen also hopes to provide family-sized portions available to carry out and heat up at home.

The restaurant plans to source locally as much as possible, with produce from Lee Farms in Truxton, Missouri and a proposed partnership with Friendship Brewing Co., slated to open in Wentzville this October. “From the very beginning, we’ve focused on being fresh and innovative and don’t use processed food in anything we do,” Lutgen said.

Offering 85 seats (55 indoor and 30 on the patio), the 1600-square-foot space won’t accommodate a full bar. However, Yo! Salsa will have table service for a rotating selection of local beers, wines and a couple margarita options for now.

With 25 years of corporate experience under his belt, Lutgen hopes to eventually expand Yo! Salsa into a brand with multiple trucks and brick-and-mortar locations. “I am excited for the opportunities owning a storefront will offer,” Lutgen said.

The Scoop: St. James Winery wins Missouri Governor’s Cup

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015



Cheers to St. James Winery and its newest prize, the 2015 Missouri Governor’s Cup. The winery’s 2014 vignoles beat out 269 other entries including 29 others of the same variety. This year’s top prize is the Phelps County winery’s third Governor’s Cup since 1997.

“We are ecstatic for our vineyard and winery team,” said St. James Winery’s executive winemaker Andrew Meggitt. “This honor is the result of great teamwork.”

Held in Columbia, Missouri on July 14 and 15, the 2015 Missouri Wine Competition awards medals to state-produced wines and is judged by industry experts from across the nation. Gold medal winners competed for best of class and best varietal honors; best of class wines vied for the Governor’s Cup.

It’s been a good year for this 45-year-old family operation. Along with the state’s ultimate prize, St. James Winery’s 2014 vignoles also won best white wine at the Riverside International Wine Competition and best of class/gold at the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition, both held in California this spring. It’s the Governor’s Cup, however, that is especially meaningful to CEO and second-generation owner, Peter Hofherr.

“This award is very humbling,” said Hofherr. “When my mom and dad founded the winery in 1970, their goal was to make wine that reflects the region. The Governor’s Cup recognizes the hard work, research and development we have invested since the ’70s to show the quality of the grape varieties that grow here.”

Other area wineries took home best in class medals including Stone Hill, Adam Puchta and Montelle. The C.V. Riley Award, which recognizes the best wine using Norton varietals, the Missouri state grape, went to Chandler Hill Vineyards for its 2013 Savage Norton.

The Scoop: De.lish Cheesecake to close in August

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015




De.lish Cheesecake Bakery and Cafe is closing doors for good at its Florissant shop on Aug. 29. The closure was announced via social media on Tuesday, July 21. De.lish opened doors in Old Town Florissant in 2011. Owner Jeff Mullersman was not available for comment.


The Scoop: Templar Brewing to move to larger facility in Alton

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015




Templar Brewery is moving to the Milton Schoolhouse building at 1320 Milton Road in Alton, pending a city hearing. Owners Rick Blevens and his two sons, Richard and Nick Blevens, said the new space will give the brewery room to grow, and building features like a garage door will make operations more efficient. “Our brewery’s been growing at a pretty good rate since we started two years ago … we’re looking for a place that can support our business,” Richard Blevens said.

Templar currently sells its three brews – Crusader Golden Ale, Urban Brown Ale and Singulus IPA – wholesale in Illinois, but the Blevens hope to open a tap room in the new space later this year and add a wheat beer and Imperial stout. The first priority, he said, is settling into the new space by September 2015. “You’ve to do this like a game of chess. It’s one move at a time,” Blevens said.

The new location, owned by Joel and Meredith Elliot, already houses a dog grooming service and cafe, among other businesses. The Blevens plan to keep focused on serving the local area for the foreseeable future.


The Scoop: Tikka Tikka Taco owner to sell company

Thursday, July 16th, 2015




After nearly clinching victory on Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race in 2013, owner Michael Swaleh has put Tikka Tikka Taco up for sale, as reported by Feast. Swaleh said it became too difficult to balance a full-time job and get Tikka Tikka Taco off the ground.

“I was looking for an acting partner, and I vetted a few people and it didn’t work out,” Swaleh said. “I think it’s an incredible opportunity. Someone just needs to make it happen.”

He is still open to a partnership, but Swaleh said he will sell Tikka Tikka Taco outright, too. Although there is no physical truck, Swaleh is selling the rights to the name, the company’s signature spice mix, the recipes, the logo, the truck’s design and business plan. He hopes the national name recognition will set a buyer up for success.

Swaleh said he his ultimate vision remains: to be serve fast-casual Indian fare with multiple trucks, brick-and-mortars and a national reach.



The Scoop: Meshuggah Café owner sells coffee shop after almost 20 years

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015



After nearly two decades, Meshuggah Café owner Patrick Liberto is selling his Loop cafe to a longtime regular, Jen Kaslow. Kaslow will take over July 18.

When Kaslow heard Liberto was looking to sell the University City cafe, located at 6269 Delmar Blvd., she said she impulsively made an offer, worried another owner might not continue Meshuggah’s menu of espresso-based coffee drinks and house-made eats. “The decision was more about: If Patrick left, what was going to happen with Meshuggah?” Kaslow said.

Although Kaslow does not have any formal culinary experience, Liberto said he is confident the former teacher is up to the job. Kaslow has trained alongside the current owner since mid-June. “She has a kind of energy,” he said. “There’s a certain freshness about her that reinvigorates the place … I didn’t want someone coming in and turning this into a cookie-cutter operation. I still wanted it to have this independent feel.”

Kaslow has a few aesthetic changes in mind, but the new owner assures customers that Meshuggah’s menu won’t change anytime soon. Around Aug. 3, the cafe will temporarily close due to construction outside the shop, and Kaslow said she will use this time to renovate the interior. In addition to incorporating artwork from local artists, she plans to add a large window seat and remove wood paneling to expose brick. Kaslow said she hopes to reopen in mid-August.

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