In June, St. Louis restaurateur Gerard Craft made a huge announcement: his flagship restaurant, Niche, would be closing after 10 years to make way for a new concept, Sardella. Craft, who won the Best Chef: Midwest James Beard award in 2015 for his work at Niche, says the food at Sardella “will be uniquely ours, with a wink to Italy.”
The restaurant’s name is a reference to an ancient Italian version of fish sauce. “You rarely see it even in Italy [today],” Craft says. “We’re digging back into the history [of Italian cuisine] to find things we can revitalize and make fun again. Despite the name, I don’t see this as only an Italian restaurant.”
Sardella marks Craft’s third turn with Italian-influenced fare: In 2012, he opened Pastaria, a family-friendly restaurant next door to Niche, and in early 2016, he debuted Porano Pasta, a fast-casual concept. Later this year, Craft will open his first restaurant outside of the St. Louis area with a second location of Pastaria in Nashville, Tennessee. (He also owns cocktail bar Taste and French-inspired Brasserie in St. Louis, pictured above)
Over the past few years, Craft and his team at Niche had narrowed the restaurant’s focus to what they referred to as “extreme regionalism” – limiting themselves solely to ingredients sourced within a 300-mile radius of St. Louis. Housemade miso and vinegars will remain, but Craft says Sardella’s menu might also feature dishes made with local chocolate, beer, coffee and other items previously off-limits under Niche’s regionalism focus.
When Sardella opens this month, diners can expect a range of menu items priced between $12 to $20 for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast and lunch, options will include a mix of grain bowls, salads, sandwiches, fresh juices and rotating specials developed by executive chef Nick Blue, as well as pastries developed by executive pastry chef Sarah Osborn. The restaurant will also serve an extensive coffee program from Sump in St. Louis. Craft says dinner entrées will include hand-stuffed pasta dishes and roasted meats, as well as seafood. The dinner menu will also feature a selection of small plates meant for sharing.
In the decade since Craft moved to St. Louis, the local dining scene has seen enormous growth, something many credit in part to his continuing investment in the metro area. With five restaurants and plenty of potential to further expand Pastaria and Porano regionally and nationally, Feast readers are inclined to agree: Craft is killing it. (Photo by Jennifer Silverberg)
★ Gerard Craft says Sardella will feature a much larger bar than Niche; around eight additional dining room seats should be gained in the remodel, as well. Sasha Malinich of St. Louis-based S. Aleksandr Malinich Design is overseeing the remodel, and local creative agency Atomicdust, which frequently collaborates with Craft – most recently on Porano Pasta – designed Sardella’s logo and branding.
Niche Food Group, nichestlgroup.com
RUNNER UP: Kevin Nashan, Sidney Street Cafe (sidneystreetcafestl.com) and Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. (peacemakerstl.com)