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Mar 24, 2017
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Posts Tagged ‘Porano’

Trendwatch: 7 trends on the plate, in the glass and atop our wish list now

Friday, January 13th, 2017

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1. Smash and Grab
St. Louisans don’t have to wait until Shake Shack opens later this year to get their griddle burger fix of thin patties smashed on a flattop. Get a taste at Reeds American Table, where two patties are smothered with Swiss cheese and tallow aioli, or head to Olive & Oak in Webster Groves, where the kitchen keeps it classic with American cheese and dill pickles. The smashed Farmhouse Burger has been a fixture at Retreat Gastropub since it opened in October 2015, and The Dam in Tower Grove South does smashed patties – though the burgers are stacked so high with fixins, it’s hard to tell. Find griddled burgers at Brasserie, Local Chef Kitchen and Baileys’ Range, too.

2. Drinking like a Vegan
Aquafaba, aka the cloudy liquid in a can of chickpeas that usually goes down the drain, has seen new life as a vegan egg replacer in baked goods. Now it’s found its way behind the bar and into Pisco Sours at Los Angeles establishments like Birch and Gracias Madre. Small Batch pulled a similar move in its Cicer Sour with aquafaba, smoked almond Pisco and dry curacao. Bengelina Hospitality bar manager Drew Lucido shakes it with Old Tom Gin, Becherovka and lemon juice in The Walden at Olio, while the team across the street at Nixta uses a cream whipper to add a foamy, egg-free head to the No. 3.

3. Kung Pao That
The Chinese staple is popping up outside the takeout box these days at restaurants like Mission Chinese in San Francisco, which has a kung pao pastrami we hope someone in town will replicate. Chefs at Cleveland-Heath were inspired by a celery dish at Mission’s NYC location to create a shaved raw beef and celery kung pao special for St. Louisans to enjoy last summer. The Preston swaps in calamari for a sophisticated take on the dish, and the pop-up and future restaurant Good Fortune is crazy about kung pao. It incorporated the flavors into a bratwurst made for a collaboration with Brasserie, and made a kung pao pizza for an event with Delicious Pizza in Los Angeles.

 

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4. Rise and Shine
The Egg McMuffin will always hold a special greasy place in our hearts, but area restaurants are taking breakfast more seriously these days. Whole concepts, like Egg on Gravois Avenue and Yolklore in Crestwood, are devoted to breakfast beyond the standard flapjacks, eggs and bacon. Quick counter-service options at newly opened eateries like Sardella and The Garden on Grand mean we’re setting our weekday alarms a few minutes earlier. Even pop-up eateries are getting in on the action: Revel Kitchen chef-owner Simon Lusky and chef Adam Altnether recently hosted the breakfast-themed Waffle Nut Pop-up, serving sweet and savory waffle combos and cereal milk coffee beverages.

5. Lightning in a Mug
Loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and a large dose of caffeine, yerba mate is a light, herbaceous tea that’s creeping its way into local spots like SweetArt, where it’s served hot, and Comet Coffee, where it’s found in two forms: as hot tea and as a mocha-nut mate made with toasted mate leaves, chocolate, hazelnut and marigold flowers for a sweet treat. Pick up some of the loose-leaf tea to brew at home from international grocers like Global Foods Market or United Provisions.

6. Meat Lollipops
Some St. Louis chefs are frenching chicken drumettes, trimming classic wings into little meat lollipops. The trend has a confusing extra-work-for-less-meat quality, but we’ve bought jeans with holes in the knees, so we’re not here to judge. Try the lollies at Mona’s, where they’re smoked and served with a creamy giardiniera sauce and salsa verde, or at Copper Pig with a Vietnamese fish sauce caramel or a sweet chile basil sauce. Scapegoat offers a more traditional Buffalo version.

7. Taste the Magic
Magic Shell is making appearances outside grandma’s sundae bar these days. We noticed it with caramelized honey and honeycomb candy on soft serve at The Honey Paw in Portland, Maine, and over caramel corn and vanilla malted milk balls at Girl & the Goat in Chicago. But Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. has offered the topping on soft serve since it opened in 2014, and our favorite matcha-chocolate cookie gelato pop from Porano this summer was dipped in Magic Shell. Taste’s new brownie dessert with candy cap ice cream and toffee sauce lives in a Magic Shell house, too.

 

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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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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

Readers’ Choice 2016: Favorite Restaurateurs

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

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{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

Hit List: 4 new must-try restaurants in February

Monday, February 1st, 2016

 

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1. Porano Pasta: 634 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314.833.6414, poranopasta.com

After nearly a year of anticipation, James Beard Award-winning chef Gerard Craft opened doors at Porano Pasta, his first fast-casual venture and fifth restaurant. Step up to the counter in the bright, two-story space and mix and match from a plethora of bases like organic farro or house-made semolina pasta, 11 sauces from sugo to pumpkin seed and lime pesto, proteins including tender beef meatballs and slow-roasted pork or vegetables and toppings like crispy garlic and Pecorino Romano cheese. In additional to bowls, pick up an order of custom Companion foccacia bread with rotating toppings or a deep-fried Panzo – dough stuffed with anything from marinara and gooey mozzarella to meatballs and harissa, depending on the day’s special. And be sure to save room for a salted caramel gelato pop or a boozy frozen Negroni for dessert.

 

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2. Nami Ramen: 46 N. Central Ave., Clayton, 314.833.6264, namiramen.com

Ramen has made its way to Clayton with stylish, fast-casual Nami Ramen. Co-owner Jason Jan was a passionate ramen home cook before spending two months researching in Yokohama, Japan. Now Nami offers 10 styles of ramen in a cool, 50-seat space. Grab a seat at the bar overlooking the kitchen and snack on pan-fried gyoza filled with ground pork and vegetables or a tender pork belly steamed bun with house-made sweet soy glaze. Nami’s savory, satisfying signature tonkotsu ramen features tender char sui pork, wood-ear mushrooms and a marinated egg with a creamy yolk. Don’t fear the spice warning on the jigoku ramen either. Miso broth topped with ground pork and corn is amped up with a paste of tomatoes, chiles and shallots. This bowl is more flavorful than fiery, and it makes a tasty introduction to the classic Japanese comfort food.

 

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3. Moya Grill: 567A Melville Ave., University City, 314.833.6621, moyastl.com

The owners of South Grand’s Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant are adding to the fast-casual trend with their new concept, Moya Grill in University City. The small, contemporary space in The Loop offers a variety of wot (stew) and tibs (grilled) dishes with chicken, beef and a good number of vegetarian options. Start with the crispy sambusas – both the lentil and beef versions are worth a try. Meat lovers should order the beef tibs and appreciate the deep heat of the house berbere spice blend. For a veg-friendly option, the mixed vegetable wot features a satisfying, boldly spiced mix of cabbage, potato and carrot. Opt for the traditional, tangy injera instead of rice and enjoy the chance to eat with your hands, tearing off pieces of the spongy flatbread and wrapping each bite of tibs and wot.

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 4. Midtown Sushi & Ramen: 3647 Forest Park Ave., St. Louis, 314.328.2452, midtown-sushi.com 

Sushi rises again in Midtown. After the short-lived Flying Rolls shuttered last year, Midtown Sushi & Ramen took its place, offering everything from sushi rolls to ramen bowls. Start your meal with an appetizer of spicy kare-age, bite-sized pieces of fried chicken doused in a sweet-spicy house sauce and sprinkled with sesame. Share a sushi roll or two, like the well-composed Dragon Roll, featuring crab salad, cucumber and avocado topped with eel, eel sauce and threads of fried sweet potato, a light departure from the usual tempura crumbs. Complete your meal with a bowl of hakata ramen, featuring a custardy egg and smoked pork belly (thanks to neighbor Dixon’s Smokehouse) all swimming in a rich pork broth with all the ramen fixings.

-Porano photo by Greg Rannells, all others by Michelle Volansky 

Sneak Peek: Porano Pasta on Washington Avenue

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

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After nearly a year of anticipation, chef-owner Gerard Craft will open Porano Pasta, his new fast-casual concept, Tuesday, Jan. 26. As The Scoop reported last February, this is the James Beard Award winner’s fifth restaurant, and it is located in a massive two-story space at 634 Washington Ave., downtown in the Mercantile Exchange. Executive chef Michael Petres, former executive chef at Pastaria, will oversee day-to-day operations.

Customers will step up to the counter and build their own bowls from a selection of bases, sauces, proteins or vegetables and toppings. They can start with house-made organic semolina pasta, organic farro, romaine and kale lettuce or Italian rice, then add one of 11 house-made sauces including everything from a classic pomodoro to pumpkin seed and lime pesto.

Porano features hormone- and antibiotic-free meat such as slow-roasted pork, beef meatballs and grilled chicken. Veg-friendly offerings like spicy tofu or seasonable vegetables (currently butternut squash or Brussels sprouts) are also available. In additional to bowls, Craft and Petres have created a daily focaccia dish using Companion bread and Panzos, fried dough pockets stuffed with rotating fillings.

The large beverage menu includes a frozen Negroni and a nonalcoholic strawberry-lime slush inspired by Italian granitas. White and red house Scarpetta wines on tap are available, as well as bottled and canned brews, a house draft beer brewed by The Civil Life and several Excel sodas.

In addition to quick, custom meals, Craft said he wants to focus on how he can source locally and responsibly as a fast-casual concept. “We want to rework the way the fast-food industry thinks about the supply chain,” Craft said. To that end, Porano recently purchased whole hogs to break down in-house and use for its porchetta, Sunday sugo sauce and specials. Craft aims to source from many of his current vendors that supply other Niche Food Group restaurants, including Todd Geisert Farms, Newman Farms, Double Star Farm and Berger Bluff farms.

Porano will be open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., though it will operate on limited hours to start. Here’s a sneak peek at what to expect when doors open Tuesday at Porano Pasta:

 

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-photos by Michelle Volansky 

Readers’ Choice 2015: Chef of the Year – Gerard Craft

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

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You know a meal is special when you can recall it in vivid detail years, even decades, later. Epicures have traveled from far and near to visit Gerard Craft’s flagship restaurant, Niche, and have departed with memories of exquisitely plated, creative dishes. Craft’s own dining experiences likewise have left an indelible mark on his culinary mind. Here, this year’s Readers’ Choice Chef of the Year – and winner of the 2015 James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Midwest – shares the top meals of his life.  

1. The French Laundry, Yountville, California, 2002
“That meal was mind-blowing on every level, especially because I had experienced a lot at that point but nothing unique. I’d been sleeping with The French Laundry Cookbook pretty much at that point. It was a big deal to see it all. The wine service was Bobby Stuckey (now co-owner of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado) as a youngster. My dad still talks about the wine service to this day and how amazingly inspired it was. (We started) with five different soups, each one the essence of whatever that ingredient was. (I had) dishes that are now iconic, like the salmon cornet – the ice cream cone, the oysters and pearls … just mind-blowing and fun. Grant Achatz was a sous chef. It was kind of like a dream team in that restaurant.”

2. Le Bamboche, Paris, France, 2000
“It was during the mad cow crisis. Lots of vegetables because nobody was cooking meat at that point. La Bamboche was a tiny little spot, maybe 20 seats. The chef was Claude Colliot. It was him in the kitchen with one other guy and his wife ran the front of the house. It was the first time I saw traditional rules broken. There was a dish of glazed Loire Valley vegetables with fromage blanc ice cream, a savory ice cream. I was blown away. Now, everyone sees ice cream on dishes. Back then, no one had ice cream on dishes. On the dessert side, he had a Napoleon with pastry cream on one layer, a kind of candied confit tomato on another layer and then basil simple syrup. Again, this notion of the rules had been broken: savory food being used in dessert. That meal alone shaped my career and the way I would look at food from then on.”

3. L’Arpège, Paris, France, 2000
“This place was – and still is – a three-star Michelin restaurant. My parents took me there and said, ‘Pay attention. This is your Harvard education.’ It was a spectacular meal, tons of vegetables. I don’t know if I was necessarily blown out of the water. It was just vegetables and light flavors and very good. What I did notice later on as I was cooking was: This green bean is not cooked right; this turnip’s texture could be much better. Every vegetable in that place was so perfectly cooked. When it comes to vegetables, that completely changed my life. I am so picky with our cooks about how they cook vegetables. That stems from this restaurant.”

4. Trattoria del Conte, Orvieto, Italy, 2006
“Our very good friends, Margaret and Carlo Pfeiffer, took me to this place. It was their favorite local restaurant to eat dinner. It’s pretty much a father and his daughters who run this place. They make really casual pastas, all fresh, hand-made. One of my favorite dishes that I still love to make is a ricotta tortelloni with artichokes, lemon and olive oil – an incredibly simple dish, but perfect. The whole thing, the ragus they do, everything made me fall in love with Italian food. That wasn’t my first trip to Italy, but it was a transformative trip for me.”

-illustrations by Vidhya Nagarajan

The Scoop: The Kitchen Sink jumps on board the Washington Avenue restaurant bandwagon with second location

Friday, April 24th, 2015

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Central West End nook The Kitchen Sink will set up a second location at 555 Washington Ave., downtown later this summer, according to chef-owner Anthony Ellerson Jr.

Ellerson said he is broadening his Cajun/Creole-inflected menu and hopes to draw crowds visiting the nearby National Blues Museum, which will open next year. The chef, who opened the first Kitchen Sink on DeBaliviere Avenue before moving to its current location at 255 Union Blvd., in 2013, confirmed the expansion has quietly “been going on for several months,” and he is aiming for an August opening.

Kitchen Sink devotees shouldn’t expect too many departures from the new menu, though Ellerson said the emphasis will be less on breakfast, which won’t be available all day (as it is at the Central West End location) and more on entrees and ambience.

“It’ll be more steaks, more seafood,” he said. “There will be a live band every night. I’m going to have a little dance floor. I want to have it be something a little more crazy and different.”

Though details on menu and décor are still rough, Ellerson said his plans to offer multiple varieties of steak and crab legs were absolute. He also confirmed several new additions to The Kitchen Sink’s eclectic burger selection, including a build-your-own option – with added incentive. The house will select one inspired diner’s creation to be featured on the menu as burger of the month. “We’ll offer a smorgasbord of things and still stay true to my roots,” he said.

Ellerson’s new venture will be among the ballooning cadre of restaurants set to orbit the new museum and growing Washington Avenue neighborhood, including a fourth location of Sugarfire Smoke House; Gerard Craft’s newest fast-casual venture, Porano Pasta + Gelato; and soon-to-open Tazé Mediterranean Street Food.

 

 

 

The Scoop: Adam Altnether parts ways with Niche Food Group

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

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{Adam Altnether}

 

Adam Altnether has left the Niche family of restaurants. According to majority owner chef Gerard Craft, Altnether is no longer a shareholder in the restaurant group, which includes Niche, Taste, Brasserie, Pastaria and soon-to-open Porano. He sold his minority shares in the restaurants back to Craft at the end of March, positing Craft as the majority owner of the company.

“Adam has been a part of the team for over seven years, and we are proud of the work that we were able to accomplish together within that time,” Craft said. “We’re excited to see what’s next for him.”

Altnether’s departure brings to an end nearly decade-long tenure with Craft. Altnether began working at Niche in 2007. This member of the Sauce Ones to Watch class of 2009 quickly rose through the ranks at Niche and became Craft’s business partner in late 2010.

Altnether said after nearly eight years working with Craft, the two saw the elements of the restaurant group going in different directions. “I’m super lucky to have done what I did with Gerard, and I’m very grateful for everything we were able to accomplish … but sometimes it’s time to break out and start something new,” he said.

Though he’s not yet certain what that something is, Altnether said he plans to stay active in the St. Louis food scene and that his time in Craft’s kitchens and as his business partner has prepared him for almost anything. “We’ve almost seen it all,” he said. “You get to see a lot of interesting things, and it makes a lot of fun and unforgettable memories.”

Craft said Pastaria executive chef Michael Petres will take on the role of corporate executive chef, focusing on kitchen operations at Pastaria and Porano, his fast-casual pasta concept slated to open downtown this summer. Pastaria chef de cuisine Ashley Shelton will transition into the exec chef role at that restaurant.

 

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{Gerard Craft}

The top toques at Craft’s other restaurants remain the same: Nate Hereford helming Niche, Nick Blue heading the brigade at Brasserie and Heather Stone commanding at Taste. Stone assumed that position in January upon the departure of Matt Daughaday, whose first venture into chef-ownership will begin in a matter of months when his Reeds American Kitchen opens.

The news of Altnether’s leaving comes with the announcement that Niche is seeing changes at the front of the house. Christopher Kelling was hired as general manager. Kelling, former GM at Niche, will begin walking the floor at the Clayton fine dining restaurant, while current GM Matt McGuire has been named director of service for Niche Food Group. Kelling left Niche for his most recent position as dining room manager at The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley, California.

 

Editor’s note: This post was updated March 31 at 11:30 a.m. to include comments from Adam Altnether. Also, the original post stated that Gerard Craft is the sole owner of Niche Food Group.

Catherine Klene contributed to this report.

The Scoop: Sugarfire Smoke House to open downtown next to upcoming blues museum

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

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Few things make a better match than barbecue and the blues, and downtown St. Louis is about to get both. Sugarfire Smoke House inked a deal with Spinnaker St. Louis yesterday, March 10, for a new location in the rapidly expanding Mercantile Exchange building downtown.

“Barbecue and blues sort of go together. They both have Southern roots,” said Amos Harris, principal at Spinnaker and developer of the National Blues Museum, which is set to open next spring. The museum will celebrate, in all its forms, the influential African-American musical genre, which informed rock ’n’ roll and other styles of modern music.

The new Sugarfire location will open in September, according to Harris, and will be located adjacent to the museum at 605 Washington Ave. Dual entrances will allow access from both the street and museum during business hours. The new location will be the fourth for Sugarfire which is co-owned by Mike Johnson, David Molina and Charlie Downs. Other locations include spots in Olivette, St. Charles and O’Fallon, Missouri. Johnson did not return requests for comment.

Sugarfire’s new digs are the latest among several other highly anticipated dining establishments in the MX space, including Gerard Craft’s Porano Pasta + Gelato, set to open this summer, and Tazé Mediterranean Street Food, which will open doors in April. Existing MX tenants include Robust and Pi Pizzeria. Harris said the brisk expansion was part of his ambition to put downtown St. Louis back on the map.

“We want the MX to be the ‘They’re there,’” Harris said. “It means when you come to St. Louis, the memory you take with you is that stretch of Washington Ave.”

-photo by Jonathan Gayman

 

 

The Scoop: Gerard Craft to open fifth restaurant downtown

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

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One of St. Louis’ preeminent chefs is adding another restaurant to his empire. Porano Pasta + Gelato will be Gerard Craft’s first fast-casual establishment located downtown in the Mercantile Exchange at 634 Washington Ave. Doors are set to open mid- to late summer.

Craft, who also owns Niche, Brasserie, Pastaria and Taste, is a five-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef: Midwest. Though the concept is Italian, Craft said he didn’t want to open a second Pastaria. Instead, he wanted to focus on fast, affordable, real food. “For us as a family, we end up going to places like Chipotle a lot because they are really convenient, quick, they stand behind their product as far as ingredients go, and it’s really inexpensive to feed a family of four,” he said. “Increasingly, that becomes more important to me.”

At Porano, customers will build their own pasta bowls or other entrees by choosing from bases such as organic pasta, farro, focaccia or lettuce. They can then add proteins like braised beef, meatballs, tofu and more before topping their creations with an assortment of sauces and other accoutrements to suit their tastes. Pastaria fans will find their favorite gelatos available in cups and as cookie sandwiches at the new downtown location.

Craft said Pastaria executive chef Michael Petres will oversee the kitchen at Porano, while sous chef Ashley Simon will step up to chef de cuisine to direct daily operations at Pastaria.

Porano is named after a small town in Umbria, Italy, where Craft said he encountered a warm, welcoming community. He hopes to bring that hospitality to his new concept, which takes up residence in the former Takaya New Asian spot. “I’m a big, big supporter of downtown. I think its one of our most important spots,” Craft said. “(People) want to see a thriving vibrant downtown … This is the first time that we’ve had the location that we want available. It just made perfect sense.”

Craft said he looked forward to joining the ranks of Robust and Pi Pizzeria, which have also opened successful locations in the downtown MX area. “We’re building on what they’ve already started,” he said.

 -photo by Carmen Troesser

 

 

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