The New Casual

St. Louis restauranteurs take the booming fast-casual trend head-on.


FAST-CASUAL FOOD used to be the domain of Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread, but with the genre’s continuing explosion in popularity (550 percent growth in 15 years and especially trending among millennials), local restaurant owners are jumping in too. Even Gerard Craft of Niche, the winner of the 2015 James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in the Midwest award, has an Italian fast-casual concept coming this summer, Porano Pasta & Gelato. While we wait, there’s a few other great fast-casual places in town to taste-test.

This expanding local chain—its third spot just opened in Creve Coeur—ticks several fast-casual checkboxes: high-quality ingredients, made-to-order dishes, sustainability and environmental responsibility. The menu is straightforward, helping streamline the line-to-table service. The stand-out feature: Contemporary flavor combinations mean the traditional pizzas, soups and salads stand out from fast food.

Analysts expect at least six more years of growth from fast-casual, and naturally this food truck has the “fast” part of the concept down pat. Soon, though, these fresh, seasonal, Filipino-inspired dishes will be available for dining in as well, thanks to a spiffed-up space on South Grand Boulevard.

The Downtown newcomer features made-fresh Mediterranean dishes and techniques drawing from Spanish, Moroccan, Greek, Turkish and Israeli kitchens— kitchens the owners got up close and personal with during an eight-country, 13-day trip to research the menu and learn authetic recipes from their hosts.

The fast-casual concept and drive-thrus aren’t mutually exclusive—Panera’s doing it now—and this gourmet fried chicken joint near Cherokee Street is decidedly different from typical cluck-in-a-buckets. Try the Nashville hot chicken with pickles and doughnut holes or the chicken liver banh mi. The emphasis on local, organic birds is unique at its price point—so is the fact that it has an honest-to-goodness bar (dine-in only, of course).


6276_1930.jpgByrd & Barrel


Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg

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