Chef/owner Gerard Craft of Niche Food Group announces the opening date for his fifth restaurant and first fast-food concept of Porano Pasta on Tuesday, January 26 at 11 a.m. with limited hours. The 2015 James Beard Award–winning Best Chef in the Midwest showcases honest food at Porano Pasta with a build-your-own menu of Italian offerings, inspired by the culture of the small town in Umbria, Italy, that shares the restaurant’s name. The first location for the concept is located at 634 Washington Avenue in the downtown St. Louis Mercantile Exchange.
The customizable guest experience starts with choosing a base from organic semolina pasta, gluten-free pasta, organic farro, Italian rice or romaine and kale lettuce mix. Protein options include: Slow-Roasted Pork, Beef Meatballs, Marinated Grilled Chicken, Seasonal Vegetables, and Spicy Tofu. Dishes are complete with sauce offerings like Smoky Sunday Sugo, traditional Pomodoro, Pumpkin Seed and Lime Pesto, and more. Guests finish the experience by adding a variety of toppings such as crispy garlic, fresh herbs, Peppadew peppers, Grana Padano cheese, and more. Pastry Chef Anne Croy will also bring her acclaimed gelato from the group’s casual Italian restaurant Pastaria to Porano with gelato pops available in a variety of flavors.
The inspiration for Porano Pasta traces back to Chef Craft’s trips to Italy combined with his busy schedule as a chef and father.
“Porano is a tiny town in Umbria. Although I’d been fortunate to travel to Italy several times, my perspective of true Italian hospitality changed forever after this trip,” Craft says. “The second that you sit down for a meal; you are part of the community. Just like that, you’re laughing and joking with complete strangers. My daughter was only 2 years old at the time, and by the end of every meal, the chefs would have her in the kitchen. I’d never experienced that kind of warmth outside my own home—a place where everyone feels equal around a table.”
Chef Craft’s sentiment for the town of Porano became the cornerstone for his popular Italian restaurant, Pastaria, which opened in the fall of 2012. With Porano Pasta, he welcomes the challenge to extend that warmth of hospitality to the fast-food environment.
“We knew that if we were going to do fast food, we were going to do it right. I know the struggles to find balance for family and friends, and for me, those times should be cherished over a meal. When we say honest food, we mean dishes that still focus on ingredients and the quality of the dining experience, even in a fast-paced environment. We feel good about calling Porano ‘fast food’ because we hope that it continues to change the perceptions and standards of the industry,” Craft says.
Local St. Louis firm, Atomic Dust, developed the branding of Porano Pasta with interior design by Sasha for S. Aleksandr Malinich. Art meets design with elements such as the large mural of an architectural map of Porano, Italy, atop the St. Louis skyline. Natural meets industrial with the juxtaposition of downtown space’s concrete floors and elegant white tile walls to the reclaimed wood accents and large hand-cut Missouri oak communal tables from St. Louis-based David Stine Woodworking.
Porano Pasta will open on Tuesday, January 26 with limited service hours.