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Jan 24, 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘Brasserie by Niche’

Readers’ Choice 2016: Favorite Restaurateurs

Thursday, July 7th, 2016



{Clockwise from bottom, Gerard Craft, Dave Bailey, Kevin Nashan, Nick Luedde}

The menus have been printed, revised, reprinted, revised … and reprinted again. The staff has been trained forward and backward. The silverware has been polished until it’s too shiny to behold. Friends and family have flown in for the soft opening with compliments fit for the pope/Shakespeare/Beyoncé of restaurant owners. But when the restaurant finally opens to the public, what’s going through a restaurateur’s mind?


Winner: Gerard Craft
Owner, Niche Food Group (Brasserie by Niche, Pastaria, Porano Pasta, Sardella, Taste)

“I think my opening of Niche was way different from any opening you will see today. In 2005, social media wasn’t really a thing. People finding out about new things were not overnight happenings. Now you open a restaurant and a million people line up out your door — definitely not with Niche. No one knew who we were. It was me, one other cook and my pastry chef who I basically kidnapped. We opened to 12 customers, and I think six of those were from the bar across the street, who I think I convinced to come over if I would feed them for free. …

“I was 25. My wife was pregnant. I was doing something a little bit different, which certainly didn’t make it easier. I would work from 8 a.m. until 2:30 a.m. every day. It was intense – a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress. … It was this dream, but also so much reality. And I physically remember when we finally got reviewed — (former St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic) Joe Bonwich just gave us this love letter. After, I looked up and … there were so many people, we didn’t know what to do. I almost threw up. I was like, ‘Oh shit, I have to cook for all these people!’”


2nd: Nick Luedde
Co-owner, The Libertine

“We had been in the press and had such a highly anticipated opening. … Ten minutes prior to opening — the staff looks great, and we had 200 people on the books — but I’m looking at my wife (Audra Luedde), afraid no one was going to show up. We had so much money invested. This was everything. … It all comes down to whom you’ve hired. If those people are people you actually want to have a drink with, the rest takes care of itself.”


3rd: Kevin Nashan
Chef-owner, Peacemaker Lobster & Crab and Sidney Street Cafe

“Obviously you want to throw up in your mouth. It’s such a big rollercoaster. You just hope people come and are so grateful when they do. It takes a village — everyone contributes to your success. … There are so many variables on opening day. The system you have sometimes completely changes during service, after service.”


Honorable mention: Dave Bailey
Owner, Baileys’ Restaurants (Baileys’ Chocolate Bar; Baileys’ Range; Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar; Rooster; Shift, Test Kitchen & Takeout; Small Batch; The Fifth Wheel)

“My seven stages of opening a restaurant for the first time:

Electric shock: Woke up early that sunny morning with no alarm clock with a surge through my body and the immediate thought, ‘I am opening a restaurant today! You’ve been working on this day and night, sleeping two hours at a time on top of the bar. It’s actually real now. Go go go!’

A burning sensation in the back of the head and neck: Is there enough time to get everything done? … What did I forget? Will anyone come? Will too many people come? Why am I doing this on a Friday? Why didn’t I do a soft opening?

Accelerated breathing and hypersensitivity to sound and touch: Almost there; we’re looking pretty good; it’s all about to happen; this is going to be amazing!

Calmness and solidarity of purpose: Ready. Everything looks right; everything feels right; everyone is in position.

Panic and self doubt: Why wasn’t there a line at the door? Is anyone going to come? Was this a terrible idea in the first place? I can’t afford for this not to work.

Total absorption in work and an extremely narrowed focus: Wow, it’s really busy. Everyone seems happy. We are almost keeping up; we need to go faster; we need to go much faster. Touch more tables … make them happy no matter what.

Complete relief and a feeling of having learned and grown more in hours than in the past several years: It worked. We built it, and they came. We are going to do an even better job tomorrow.”

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

The Scoop: Niche Food Group taps Chicago sommelier Aaron Sherman to head its beverage programs

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014



Gerard Craft, owner of Niche Food Group and five-time James Beard award nominee, has enlisted new talent to direct the bar and wine programs at his four St. Louis restaurants. The Niche Food Group announced that Chicago sommelier Aaron Sherman has joined its team as beverage director for Niche, Taste by Niche, Pastaria and Brasserie by Niche. Sherman previously held positions as the sommelier at Stephanie Izard’s acclaimed Girl & The Goat, and wine steward at the former Avenues at The Peninsula Chicago, where he served as right hand to wine director Michael Muser.

“He’s just a super sharp guy,” Craft said. “That’s the first and foremost is that he’s an amazing human being. Very smart, very well spoken, definitely understands hospitality.” Craft said he met Sherman by happenstance at Pastaria earlier this year, where the sommelier and his wife were dining. After discovering they had mutual industry connections, Craft quickly created a position for the Sherman. “If somebody great crosses our path, we’re going to try and make room,” he said.

Coincidentally, Sherman was already in process of relocating to St. Louis. His wife Jelena Dirks, a classical musician, had recently accepted a position with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

The serendipitous timing was a boon to Matt McGuire, director of service for Niche Food Group, who has been juggling the management of all four restaurants’ beverage programs. “We’re really excited,” he said. “The timing of him coming to St. Louis and our need … I feel very fortunate to have him.”

Sherman took the helm of the Niche Food Group’s wine lists last week, and he aims to begin new scheduling for its varied beverage programs. The wine, beer and cocktail lists will be tailored to further reflect and complement the restaurants’ food menus, though Sherman was quick to stress that established programs, such as the cocktail menu at Taste, won’t be changed significantly.

“My goal is to make sure the whole package is at the right level of consistency,” Sherman said. “I don’t need to be cowboy: walk in, guns blazing and change the world. There’s nothing broken with the programs as they are. But when you start looking at the fine details you ask: What is good? What can be made better?”

Such improvements will largely be made to the wine lists, Sherman said, adding that he’s made an effort to acclimate himself before making any substantial modifications. “I have to flirt with the city a bit,” he said. “I have to get to know the people who are here. I don’t ever want them to walk in and have them say, ‘Oh, this is a Chicago list, just in St. Louis.’ ”

Though Sherman also began his career as a classical musician, he quickly pivoted to the food service industry and enjoyed a meteoric rise to sommelier positions in Chicago’s top restaurants.

“I had some incredible mentors, people who really helped me gain a great foundation,” he said. “Part of what I think I bring is a history of leading and guiding and education. I came to the restaurant industry sideways. (But) I understand how to communicate and talk about wine in a language people understand. When I’m on the floor, I don’t usually talk about the soil structure. I talk about cars and movies.”

Sherman also boasts a strong technical background in wine lore. He holds a diploma from the International Sommelier Guild and is a certified sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers. “My philosophy is that there’s amazing wine to be had at $30 or $3,000,” he said. “My goal with any wine program is to find wines that showcase a great value, beautiful craftsmanship and wines that people, frankly, like to drink.”


-photo by Alison Green

Meatless Mondays: Call off the diet, we’re eating mac and cheese

Monday, August 20th, 2012

No one ever orders the side of mac and cheese with the intention of having it for their whole meal. Scratch that: No one ever admits to veering so far from the recommended daily intake of carbs and dairy. But as I pulled up a seat at Brasserie, the French-style eatery in the Central West End, last Monday, that’s exactly what I did. And while I’ll admit to harboring a smidge of guilt as I heard the words leave my mouth, after a few bites, I didn’t care who had keyed into my sinful ways. I was hooked – and sharing was completely off the table.

When the piping hot skillet gets pulled from the oven to be placed in front of you, it’s worth the risk of burning your tongue to get a bite of those soft, creamy noodles swimming in a pool of bubbling cheese. The pasta still has a slight crunch from those fiery broiler flames but is tender enough to soak up that luscious sauce. The sharp flavor of Gruyère dominates, but it’s balanced beautifully by a Mornay sauce that’s thick, rich and – you got it – cheesy.

Hoping to feel a little better about your over indulgence? Balance out your food pyramid – er, plate – with one of Brasserie’s seasonal salads. Like the Tomato and Green Bean – touting peppery fennel, onion and hard-boiled eggs – or the Mixed Lettuce, studded with hazelnuts, topped with fresh goat cheese and tossed in a sweetly acidic roasted shallot vinaigrette.

If you’re looking for something a little more “adult,” you could order one of the other vegetarian options on Brasserie’s menu. There’s the goat cheese tart and the herb gnocchi, and I’m sure they’re just great. But until the kitchen tries its hand at a vegetarian cassoulet, the mac and cheese will be my meal of choice. And, no, my no sharing rule has no exceptions.

Gerard Craft talks to Eater about his restaurants and “Midwest’s thriving restaurant scene”

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Today national culinary website Eater published an interview with our very own Gerard Craft. Craft is, of course, chef-owner of the Niche family of restaurants – including Niche, Brasserie, Taste and Pastaria, set to open later this summer.

In the interview, Craft discussed how he chose to move to St. Louis as a young “completely tattooed chef,” why he’s moving his flagship Niche from its original Benton Park home to Clayton, what his future goals are for both Niche and Pastaria, the evolution of the St. Louis dining scene, and a bit more. Craft even gave a nod to several of his fellow chef pals, including Sidney Street’s Kevin Nashan (whom he credits as one of the reasons he chose to open Niche in St. Louis in the first place); Mike Randolph, whose lineage at Moto led him to open up The Good Pie and, later, Half & Half and Medianoche; barbecue bigwig Mike Emerson of Pappy’s; and Josh Galliano, who is in the process of opening his own restaurant.

To check out the full interview, click here.

Cheap Date: Twilight Tuesdays

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Bad news for all the job seekers out there: Now that universities have loosed another crop of little overachievers onto the unemployment line, your resume has an even worse chance of inching its way up the already jammed inboxes of the human resource managers whose eyes you’ve so desperately been trying to catch. While underemployment breeds despair, it’s important to take solace in the fact that St. Louis is one of the most accommodating cities to loiter in – especially in terms of free amusements for the broke and weary. With the warm season upon us, now is the time to plan a date and take advantage of the plethora of admission-free outdoor concerts and shows. Case in point: Every Tuesday, for three more weeks, the History Museum plays host to Twilight Tuesdays, a stellar concert series held under the stars. Music kicks off at 6 p.m., but it’s best to grab a spot on the lawn at least 30 minutes prior. Grab a few lawn chairs and stock the following thrifty meal:


Insanely cheap, but still respectable, bottles of wine are held in surplus at The Wine and Cheese Place at 7435 Forsyth Blvd., just a stone’s throw from the History Museum. Try the 2011 Frontera Cabernet Merlot blend, a dark, unpretentious, medium-bodied red that tastes like it should cost $15 a bottle but retails for just $4. Now that the booze is covered, head northeast to the Gyro House at 6152 Delmar Blvd., where $16 will secure you a takeout order of two gorgeous gyros stuffed with thick, tender slices of lamb – these are easily the best in town. (Be sure to have management include plastic knives and forks as well as extra napkins for these monster-sized portions.)

{Floating Island at Brasserie by Niche}

As the music winds down, grab your date and head east up Lindell Boulevard to the sleepy side streets of the Central West End, where you’ll find Brasserie by Niche – a romantic, nineteenth century-style French hideaway. Cap off your evening by sharing one of Brasserie’s stellar desserts – i.e. profiteroles, chocolate mousse with hazelnut shortbread, floating island, cherry clafouti with brandy ice cream, for $8 each.

— Brasserie photo by Ashley Gieseking

The Scoop: Chez Leon shutters

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Chez Leon, the upscale French restaurant located in downtown Clayton at 7927 Forsyth Blvd., has closed. “I would like to thank my clientele for a dozen years of patronage. À bientôt and au revoir,” owner Leon Bierbaum said on the restaurant’s recorded voice message. St. Louis Magazine’s George Mahe broke the news yesterday.

Chez Leon spent its first decade in the Central West End, in the space on Laclede Avenue now occupied by Brasserie by Niche. In January 2010, the restaurant relocated to Clayton, with executive chef Colby Erhart at the helm. In August of the same year, Marcel Keraval, chef-owner of the defunct Café de France, took over in the kitchen. (Sauce spoke with Keraval about his move in 2010.)

While The Scoop has been unable to discuss the closure with Bierbaum, Mahe – as well as Ian Froeb of the Riverfront Times –  report that the restaurateur cited a lackluster economy and unsuccessful Groupon-type discount campaigns as factors in the restaurant’s declining business.

The Scoop: James Beard Foundation Award escapes Gerard Craft yet again

Monday, May 7th, 2012

As the James Beard Foundation Awards were announced from New York’s Lincoln Center this evening, our local food community kept its fingers crossed in hopes that Gerard Craft, chef-owner of the Niche family of restaurants, would finally walk away with one of the culinary community’s highest honors. Unfortunately, Craft, a three-time finalist and four-time semifinalist in the foundation’s Best Chef: Midwest category, did not take home the medal. The title went to Tory Miller of L’Etoile in Madison, Wis.

Other chefs vying for the Best Chef: Midwest title were: Colby Garrelts of Bluestem in Kansas City, Mo., Justin Aprahamian of Sanford in Milwaukee, Wis., and Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul., Minn.

— Photo by Greg Rannells

Gerard Craft named finalist for 2012 James Beard Foundation Award

Monday, March 19th, 2012

The finalists for the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards were announced via Twitter this afternoon and Gerard Craft, chef-owner of the Niche family of restaurants, is on the short list in the Best Chef: Midwest category. This is Craft’s third time being named a finalist in this category.

The three other St. Louis chefs who had been named semifinalists in the Best Chef: Midwest category were: Josh Galliano, chef at the recently shuttered Monarch; Kevin Willmann, chef-owner of Farmhaus; and Kevin Nashan, chef-owner of Sidney Street Cafe. In addition, Salt, the Central West End restaurant that chef-owner Wes Johnson opened last year, was in the running for Best New Restaurant.

Winners of the chef and restaurant awards will be announced at a gala ceremony held in New York City on Monday, May 7. Good luck, chef!

A pdf containing the full list of nominees is available here.

— Photo by Greg Rannells

One restaurant and four local chefs named semifinalists for 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

One local restaurant and four local chefs were named semifinalists for the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards today. Wes Johnson’s Salt was honored in the Best New Restaurant category. When we broke the news to Johnson this morning, he couldn’t believe it. “You’re kidding,” he gushed. “I’m kind of shocked. Wow. Wow.”

Over in the Best Chef: Midwest category, four local chefs were deemed semifinalists, including Gerard Craft, chef-owner of the Niche family of restaurants; Josh Galliano, chef at Monarch; Kevin Willmann, chef-owner of Farmhaus; and Kevin Nashan, chef-owner of Sidney Street Cafe.

“Go St. Louis. I am pumped for everybody,” Nashan told Sauce this morning. When asked how many times he had been honored by the Beard Foundation in this way, he answered modestly. “I don’t know; I’m just glad to be on the bus.” Willmann was also excited for his fellow semifinalists. “This is a special thing we have in St. Louis,” he said. “I’m honored to be a very small part of what will only get bigger and better. Congratulations, everybody! As my buddy Nashan always reminds me, ‘It takes a village’ – and we have one hell of a village here for sure.”

Galliano expressed his elation to The Scoop this morning as he hurried to get a pig roast done before service time. “It’s very exciting, awesome,” he noted.

Finalists for the 2012 awards will be announced on March 19, with the winners announced at a gala ceremony in New York on May 7. See a full list of who our local cuilnarians are up against here.



Two STL chefs slated to appear on NBC’s Today Show next week

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Two of the area’s top chefs will appear next week on NBC’s Today Show. Gerard Craft, chef-owner of the Niche family of restaurants – Niche, Brasserie and Taste – is slated to make his appearance cooking on national TV on Monday, Feb. 27, likely in the 9 a.m. hour.

In addition, Wes Johnson, chef-owner of Salt, will also be cooking on the national morning show. Johnson, who opened his first restaurant just last year, informed Sauce that his live studio culinary performance is expected to be on Wednesday, Feb. 29. Johnson is awaiting final confirmation on the date and time for his appearance. Check back here for schedule details.

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