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Jan 18, 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘Niche Food Group’

Ones to Watch 2018: Evy Swoboda

Monday, January 1st, 2018

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Chef de cuisine, Pastaria
Age: 26
Why Watch Her: She’s the next big thing in the Niche Food Group empire.

Fresh-faced, 17-year-old Evy Swoboda arrived at The Lodge of Four Seasons at Lake of the Ozarks to accept a garde manger position on the word of a friend. There was just one problem: The chef had hired her, but human resources hadn’t.

Swoboda was undeterred. Armed with a resume boasting a two-year stint as Subway sandwich artist, she talked her way into the job and a career crash course.

“I didn’t even know how to cut a pineapple,” she said. “I just faked it until I made it, basically. Read a lot, pretended I knew a bit more than I did until I knew what I was doing.”

Confidence, dedication and a whole lot of practice eventually led her to the grill station at 44 Stone Public House in Columbia, Missouri, and then to Pastaria shortly after it opened in 2013. The eager line cook rocketed up the chain of command, landing at chef de cuisine under executive chef Ashley Shelton.

“She can read my mind,” Shelton said. “I can give her a look and she understands, ‘You need me on pizza.’ She understands, ‘That burned.’”

There’s no doubt Swoboda can cook. She creates daily pizza specials and recently took over the entire menu of the popular Clayton restaurant. However, it’s Swoboda’s deft leadership on the line that sets her apart.

“I can be a little more hammer, and she’s a little more honey,” Shelton said. “She has a way with the line cooks that is very friendly. … She can get her point across without having to yell or be stern.”

It’s a quality Niche Food Group owner Gerard Craft has noticed, and the reason he wanted Swoboda to help open Pastaria’s Nashville location. “That’s one thing a lot of people overlook,” Craft said. “They might be really good cooks, but they might be terrible, terrible managers. I think she handles herself really well. She’s really well organized. She’s a really good teacher.”

Swoboda’s rapid ascent at Niche Food Group won’t stop if she has anything to say about it. “I want to continue helping open other Pastarias and hopefully get my own one day,” she said. “I definitely want one of the restaurants.”

Photo by Carmen Troesser

Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine. 

 

Rockwell Beer Co. partners with Niche Food Group for future food service

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

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It’s taken some time, but Rockwell Beer Co. has announced its final plan for its new location at 1320 S. Vandeventer Ave., on the eastern edge of The Grove.

Owner-brewer Andy Hille said the facility, which will include a 15-barrel brewery, tasting room and retail space, should open for business sometime in the second quarter of 2018. Hille first announced the project in early 2016.

Hille said Niche Food Group will handle the culinary program at the tasting room. Specifics of the concept, such as the name and type of cuisine, haven’t been revealed, but Hille said it would be a separate entity from the brewery, and the food “will be approachable, and fit into the beer culture.” Niche Food Group declined to comment on the upcoming concept.

Hille said Niche Food Group will serve bratwurst at a Rockwell open house event at Core at South Newstead at 4400 Vista Ave., later today, Dec. 21. He said the tasting room will seat 50 to 60, with double that number on the patio.

The brewery has partnered with Green Street St. Louis, the company behind Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.’s Grove Brewery and Bierhall, to redevelop the building, and architectural firm JEMA Studio is slated to design the space.

Photo by Greg Rannells

Matt Sorrell is staff writer at Sauce Magazine. 

Related Content

• Rockwell Beer Co. announces location in The Grove

• Brewer Andy Hille to leave Perennial Artisan Ales, open new brewery

• Sauce Magazine Guide to Beer 2016: Bold New Brewers

 

Budget Crunch: 7 delicious deals to devour now

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Got $10 and a friend? Then contributor Kevin Korinek has seven tasty deals to try now.

 

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1. Guerrilla Street Food is making friends this month, offering weekly collaborations with a few St. Louis favorites, including farmers market favorite, The Tamale Man. This week, $4 gets you the Tamale Man’s take on a bubuto – the Filipino tamale – that includes roast chicken, coconut milk, annatto seed, rice flour, masa, dried shrimp and a hard-cooked egg wrapped in a banana leaf and corn husk.

2. The Royale launched a new light lunch menu this month that’s big on taste and Budget Crunch friendly. For $8, pick two items – a main dish and a side – or pick three for $10 and add an extra side. Choose from mains like a taco, single cheeseburger or a vegetarian hopping John cake, then select sides like a green salad, chips, cup of soup, mac and cheese or a health-conscious Brussels sprout salad.

3. Happy hour is even better at Sardella. Gerard Craft’s restaurant recently updated its menu with some budget-friendly drinks and snacks to enjoy from 4 to 6 p.m. Try a variety of drinks from house red wine to a cold pint of Perennial White Impala, all $5 or less. While you’re there, nosh on $5 toasted ravioli or an assorted array of $6 bruschetta bites.

 

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4. La Patisserie Chouquette goes all out when it come to Turkey Day with its signature Turducken croissants. These warm, buttery pastries are filled with mouthwatering, crispy duck skin, chicken and turkey, surrounded by cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce and fried onions. With gravy available on the side, it’s a complete handheld Thanksgiving meal. These $7 treats are only available on Saturdays in November, and it’s first come, first serve – so get there early.

5. Get a jump on the Christmas shopping this year and get something in return. On Tuesday, Nov. 14, DiGregorio’s Italian Market on the Hill hosts a free fall wine tasting just in time for the holiday season. Sample more than 25 wines and try delicious hors d’oeuvres and signature entrees while perusing a variety of holiday gift baskets.

 

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6. Coming in at $8, The Goat is a must-have favorite from hip Cherokee Street coffee shop The Mud House. This delicious little veggie sandwich is sure to have you asking for more. Cold slices of cucumber are stacked atop greens and a creamy goat cheese spread and topped with beet chutney on toasted wheat. It’s a light, refreshing bite for your lunch break.

7. ’Tis the season of giving, and Niche Food Group is looking to reward your generosity during the month of November with its Cookies for Cans drive to benefit Operation Food Search. Dine-in guests can bring a canned good or nonperishable food item to any of Craft’s five restaurants and receive a free banana-butterscotch-oatmeal cookie from Sardella pastry chef Sarah Osborn.

 

Kevin Korinek is a freelance writer and photographer with a passion for making homemade pie.

Related Content
• Budget Crunch: 8 delicious deals to try now

• Budget Crunch: 8 delicious deals to try now in STL

• Short List: St. Louis’ top 3 house pretzels

The Scoop: Nick Blue leaves post at Sardella

Monday, April 17th, 2017

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Nick Blue has left his executive chef position at Sardella.

“We wish Nick all the best of luck in the future and thank him for his time with our Niche Food Group family from Brasserie to Sardella,” said Niche Food Group owner Gerard Craft in a statement. He will announce a new executive chef in the coming weeks.

Blue helped open Sardella, the Italian-inspired restaurant that replaced Niche, in late 2016. He has worked at Niche Food Group eateries starting in 2009 with stints at Taste, Niche and Brasserie.

Blue said the two chefs saw the kitchen headed in different directions.

“I don’t really have a next step yet. I’m just going to enjoy this first week and take it easy and get physically and mentally rested, and we’ll go from there,” he said, adding that he intends to stay in the St. Louis area.

 

Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 1 p.m. April 17 to include comments from Nick Blue. 

Photo by Ashley Gieseking

Related Content
What I Do: Nick Blue of Sardella

Best New Restaurant 2017: Sardella

Sneak Peek: Sardella in Clayton 

 

Extra Sauce: Top 10 Scoops of 2016

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

From big chef changes at Niche Food Group to new taco restaurants in Kirkwood and steakhouses in Sunset Hills, here’s the dining news you were most excited about this year.

Don’t miss out! Follow Sauce Magazine on Facebook and Twitter to get The Scoop on the latest St. Louis-area restaurant news.

 

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1. The Scoop: Kirkwood to see new taco restaurant

2. The Scoop: Owners of Sugarfire Smoke House to open burger joint this fall

3. The Scoop: Catrinas opens in Edwardsville

 

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4. The Scoop: Jimmy’s on the Park closes after more than two decades

5. The Scoop: Joey B’s fourth location to open in April

6. The Scoop: Twisted Tree to open in Sunset Hills

 

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7. The Scoop: Nate Hereford to exit Niche, Brasserie’s Nick Blue to take the helm

8. The Scoop: Old Standard Fried Chicken to close

9. The Scoop: Two Plumbers Brewery & Arcade to open in St. Charles

 

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10. The Scoop: Firecracker Pizza and Beer to open in The Grove

 

Related Content
10 Best New Restaurants of 2016

Extra Sauce: Top 5 Dishes of 2016

Extra Sauce: Top 10 Sneak Peeks of 2016

Best New Restaurants: No. 6 – Porano Pasta

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

To be the best, everything matters – atmosphere, service and food. Here, the places that dazzled us from the moment they opened:St. Louis’ 10 Best New Restaurants of 2016.

 

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{ ‘nduja pizza }

Porano Pasta is the fast-casual restaurant we have been waiting for. It took Gerard Craft, the chef mind behind Niche Food Group, to combine affordability and speed with such quality ingredients and consistently well-executed food.

Walk in and notice the restaurant’s towering ceilings and wall-sized illustrations of Italian and St. Louis landmarks. Sunshine pours in through floor-to-ceiling windows and upbeat pop music fills the air (Ace of Base, anyone?).

Queue up to build your bowl from a variety of starches, sauces, proteins and toppings. The possibilities are endless, but we’re loyal to a combination we call the Suzie Bowl (That’s Suzie Craft, marketing director of Niche Food Group.): a half-kale, half-farro base, anchovy dressing, spicy tofu, green olives, crispy garlic, herbs and a drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey. Spicy and sweet with briny bites, fresh crunch and pops of intense garlic and herbs – it’s been hard to order anything else since she suggested it on opening day.

While such healthy options are available, comfort combinations should also be indulged in, like a strozzapreti pasta bowl with Alfredo sauce, grilled chicken, herbs and toasted almonds. It’s a version of fettuccine Alfredo also known as our Achilles’ heel. Or go for executive chef Michael Petres’ new Detroit-style pizza: square focaccia-like dough with edge-to-edge cheese that bubbles at the brink into a salty, crackling border. Pair that with a Negroni slushie, and you’re in for a good night.

Niche Food Group took a national, fast-casual business model and made it work. Will it ever be a franchise? The possibilities, like their bowls, seem endless.

 

Related Content

Lunch Rush: Porano Pasta

• Hit List: 4 new must-try restaurants in February

• Sneak Peek: Porano Pasta on Washington Avenue

The Scoop: Gerard Craft to open fifth restaurant downtown 

Photo by Carmen Troesser

Best New Restaurants: No. 1 – Sardella

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

To be the best, everything matters – atmosphere, service and food. Here, the places that dazzled us from the moment they opened:St. Louis’ 10 Best New Restaurants of 2016.

 

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{ from left, executive chef Nick Blue, chef-owner Gerard Craft and general manager Chris Kelling } 

 

You don’t close the restaurant that just won you a James Beard Award – unless you’re Gerard Craft. He closed Niche one year after winning Best Chef: Midwest. St. Louis expects new concepts from Craft, but it was another thing entirely to eliminate his first restaurant and the namesake of Niche Food Group to try something new. Sardella had a lot to live up to.

So what kind of place is Sardella? “That’s the toughest question,” Craft said. “I think it’s our restaurant … [We’re] getting to have fun, getting to cook the food we want to cook.” It’s a place of freedom – even improvisation – for a team nationally famous for precision and adherence to Niche’s restrictive Missouri-only sourcing.

Sardella’s concept is more suggestion than mandate: food shaped by Italy, rather than Italian food. That may seem like semantics, but the freedom is in the phrasing. “It’s a slight direction,” Craft said. “Sardella is influenced by Italy, but it’s not straight Italian. Honestly, it would confuse many Italians. My greatest example is the green bean dish. It’s green beans on garam and roasted garlic custard with crispy garlic and Calabrian chile vinaigrette. It’s a dish that’s so Italian ingredient-wise, and so un-Italian any other way. When you eat it, it feels Southeast Asian.”

Italian, Southeast Asian, Missourian – one bite of this shockingly rich and savory vegetable small plate and you won’t care how it got here. Green beans (or the charred squash version now on the menu) never tasted so good. Same goes for the thinly sliced bavette steak: We don’t care why it’s topped with miso butter, we’re just glad that it is. Or the marinated sunchoke with a tender, acidic base joined by rich prosciutto and a kick of jalapeno – don’t ask questions, just eat. In this dance of Italian plates moving to various Asian, African or Mexican beats, diners have as much fun as the kitchen.

 

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{ miso-ricotta ravioli with orange, pepitas, brown butter and tarragon }

 

“At Niche, we were the special occasion restaurant, the nicest restaurant in town,” said general manager Chris Kelling. “But here, we just want to be the most fun.”

Even on a Monday night, the energy is high. The music is louder, the drinks better, the clientele hipper. It’s too lively to feel formal. It feels cool.

Talk to any Niche veteran on Sardella’s team, and you can see that relief, like loosening one’s tie at the end of a long day (literally – servers now wear black jeans and chambray shirts). The whole space has undergone a parallel stylish, casual makeover. The long wood bar is flanked by bookshelves. Servers weave between closer, smaller tables. The once cavernous ceiling was lowered over a wall-length butter-soft leather banquette. There are hanging plants, sardine tins and a general sense of lightness: blond wood, white walls, smiling faces.

With Craft, executive chef Nick Blue and executive pastry chef Sarah Osborn in the kitchen we expected the food to impress, but it’s the atmosphere, the posture of Sardella that’s most striking. This is a restaurant full of people doing what they love in the way they want to do it.

“It sounds cliche, but I get to throw a party seven nights a week,” Kelling said. “I enjoy doing it. I feel that energy transfers to the team, to the guest, and it’s all reciprocal.”

We feel it, too. The intimidation of fine-dining service (that sense of attempting a dance to which many don’t know the steps) is gone from Sardella, with no great loss. But anyone who’s ever hosted knows how hard it is to make a party look this effortless.

“We don’t have rules for rules’ sake, because then it stops being a service,” Kelling said. “Everything is about the flow for the guest. It’s got to be smooth and have precision. … If we just create a platform for the guest to enjoy themselves, then we do a good job.”

This is what Sardella is about: a good time. Craft has been around long enough to know that when the kitchen isn’t having fun, no one is. “That’s Gerard’s strength: He cares. He listens to feedback,” Kelling said. “If you don’t care – if you’re not listening – then the emperor has no clothes.”

We’re happy to report Craft is resplendently dressed at Sardella. We went to Niche when we wanted to feel fancy. We go to Sardella when we want to have fun – as often as we can.

 

More about Sardella

• Sneak Peek: Sardella in Clayton

• What I Do: Nick Blue of Sardella

• The Scoop: Gerard Craft to close Niche, Sardella to open

Readers Choice 2015: Chef of the Year – Gerard Craft

The Scoop: Gerard Craft wins James Beard award

Photo by Greg Rannells

The Scoop: Matt McGuire to open Louie in former Jimmy’s on the Park space

Monday, November 28th, 2016

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{Matt McGuire}

Niche Food Group alum and owner of the former King Louie’s Matt McGuire will open Louie (without the King) in part of the former Jimmy’s on the Park space, as reported by St. Louis Magazine. Jimmy’s closed after more than two decades in the DeMun neighborhood. 

McGuire was drawn to the approximately 2,800-square-foot space because of its size, but more importantly because it’s located in the DeMun neighborhood. 

“That stretch of DeMun has always been a community that feels really good, it has a neighborhood feel. The same people go to the same coffee stores, the same wine bars — it’s been that way for a very long time,” said McGuire. “There’s a number of things that sort of just came together at the right time. My kids are a little older now, [so it] makes it easier for me. … There are just a lot of pieces, both personal and business, that felt like the timing was right.”

McGuire is still in the early planning stages and is currently working on shaping both the design of the space, as well as his specific vision for the restaurant. He wants it to be a true neighborhood spot rather than a destination restaurant. With plans still in the relatively early stages, he’s waiting for work on the space to progress before setting a timeline for an opening. 

Related Content
• The Scoop: Jimmy’s on the Park closes after more than two decades
 A Chat with Matt McGuire

Photo by Ashley Gieseking 

Sneak Peek: Sardella in Clayton

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

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Get ready, St. Louis. After five months of anticipation, Sardella will open doors for its first dinner service tomorrow, Nov. 2, pending final inspections today. Niche Food Group chef-owner Gerard Craft said Sardella will start with dinner tomorrow and then breakfast service, which will debut Thursday, Nov. 3.

Sardella moves into the former home of Niche, Craft’s flagship restaurant, which he closed in June after 11 years. The announcement came as a surprise to many; Craft had just won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Midwest in 2015 for his work at the fine dining restaurant.

Niche was lauded for its focus on highly regional, Missouri-sourced cuisine. At Sardella, Craft casts off the hyper-local limitations in favor of Italian-inspired dishes. While local purveyors are still widely used, Sardella’s dishes feature previously prohibited ingredients like seafood, lemons and chocolate. “I just want people to have fun again,” Craft said. “I want a noisy restaurant with people having fun.”

Craft also traded in Niche’s white tablecloths and subdued fine-dining demeanor for warm white walls, light wood, intricate blue-and-white tile work and cheery golden-yellow banquette seating. And the bar now seats eight and runs half the length of the restaurant, allowing for a much larger beverage program than Niche’s. One thing that hasn’t changed is the open kitchen visible through the pass, where customers can watch the busy crew under the direction of executive chef Nick Blue and executive pastry chef Sarah Osborn.

 

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{Sardella executive chef Nick Blue, executive pastry chef Sarah Osborn and Niche Food Group chef-owner Gerard Craft}

Sardella will offer breakfast and dinner service, with lunch to follow a few weeks later. Craft said he wanted to bridge the gap between heavy American breakfast (think pancakes and eggs or biscuits and gravy) and unhealthy fast-food options. Sardella will offer a European-style breakfast service with pastries and a coffee program (Sardella’s baristas trained under Sump Coffee owner Scott Carey.). Customers can snack on a cinnamon roll and espresso at the bar, grab a vegan yogurt parfait to go or snag a seat for a smoked salmon English muffin or avocado toast.

Dinner service will feature more than a dozen shareable small plates, a handful of pastas and four heartier meat entrees. “The way (my wife Suzie Craft and I) like to eat these days is having a few small plates,” he said, citing favorite menu items like arugula salad, gnocco fritto and warm dinner rolls (“like crack”).

Sardella’s bar program will be far more expansive than Niche’s offerings. Under the guidance of general manager and beverage director Chris Kelling, the bar will offer six draft beers and a handful of large-format bottled options. Niche Food Group veterans like David Greteman and Kyle Mathis have designed the house cocktail list, and Kelling himself oversaw the wine selection, which Craft described as fun, approachable and “not so fussy.”

Sardella will be open for breakfast Monday to Friday from 7 to 11 a.m., and coffee and pastries will be available until 3 p.m. Dinner service will be offered daily at 5 p.m. Here’s a sneak peek of what to expect when one of the most anticipated restaurants of 2016 opens doors:

 

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More on Gerard Craft and Sardella

• The Scoop: Gerard Craft to close Niche, Sardella to open
• The Scoop: Gerard Craft to open second Pastaria in Nashville
• The Scoop: Nate Hereford to exit Niche, Brasserie’s Nick Blue to take the helm
• The Scoop: Gerard Craft wins James Beard award
• What I Do: Nick Blue of Sardella

-photos by Michelle Volansky

What I Do: Nick Blue of Sardella

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

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Gerard Craft’s text message asked for a vegetarian dish, done Niche-style. Unbeknownst to Nick Blue, he was in the preliminary stages of a job interview for executive chef of Sardella, the concept that will replace Niche, Craft’s first restaurant and the one that earned him St. Louis’ first James Beard Foundation Award. Blue certainly has the resume to head up Sardella when it opens later this month. He began working with Craft in 2009, bouncing around between Brasserie, Niche and Taste before working his way up to executive chef of Brasserie. Here, Blue shares what he’s learned so far in the Niche Food Group.
 

First week on 
the job
“I was walking through the (old Niche) dining room carrying two cases of eggs by the handles and … one bottom fell out and the whole case just breaks in the middle of the dining room. … I was like, ‘Oh God, this is my first true professional kitchen.’”

From-scratch kitchen
“(Brasserie) was a well-oiled machine already. … To start over from scratch – it’s been a little nerve-wracking, to say the least. I’ve never done this before. I don’t know what to do every single time, but I try to make that call and ask for forgiveness later.”

Attitude adjustment
“The whole kitchen culture (at Sardella) is changing. … We can go back to having fun and start cooking the food that’s why we started cooking. It’s going to be a little more casual (than Niche).”

Most important meal of the day
“I’m a breakfast fan, but not at breakfast hours. Recently the Sardella kitchen management team has been hooked on Original Pancake House in Ladue. We get the breakfast sandwiches to go. It’s on sourdough with egg, ham and I add American cheese.”

His sweeter half
“When (my wife, Sardella pastry chef Sarah Osborn and I) cook (at home), we both do it. I’ll do something savory, and she’ll do something pastry. … I have a huge sweet tooth. The two things I usually ask for are tres leches cake or a strawberry-rhubarb pie.”

Retirement plans
“My dream retirement job is to have a taco stand on the beach – somewhere in Key West probably. … I came up with that big plan after a few drinks at Big Star (in Chicago). I was eating their fish tacos and I was like, You know what? I’m going to live on a beach one day and retire and make fish tacos. And Sarah wants to do adult popsicles.”

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

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