In St. Louis, residents and visitors to downtown can enjoy the new two-story Porano Pasta at the Mercantile Exchange. Founded by Gerard Craft, a 2015 James Beard Award winner, this quick dining venue offers what the chef calls “honest food.” The owner of multiple restaurants under the Niche Food Group name, Craft has experienced great success with Niche, Brasserie by Niche, Taste by Niche, Pastaria and now Porano, all in St. Louis.
Porano is inspired by Craft’s favorite village of the same name in Italy’s Umbria region.
Guests of Porano enjoy Chipotle-style “build your own” dining with pricing of less than $10 per bowl. Starting with a base of hearty organic semolina pasta, gluten-free pasta, organic farro, Italian rice or romaine with kale mix, diners then add a protein. Those choices consist of slow-roasted pork, marinated grilled chicken, spicy tofu or beef meatballs. Seasonal vegetables including favorites such as Brussels sprouts and squash top these two primary selections.
Sauces are house-made and include traditional pomodoro or Smoky Sunday Sugo. Toppings are then selected from crispy garlic, peppadews, grana padano cheese and fresh herbs, among others.
Craft says, “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.”
With meal in hand, diners take a seat beneath two grand murals developed by St. Louis design firm Atomic Dust. One mural is a Porano, Italy architectural map, hearkening back to Craft’s favorite village. A second mural depicts the local skyline. Interior designer Sasha Malinich created the restaurant’s interior.
Craft says of his concept’s design, “Although I’ve been fortunate to travel to Italy several times, my perspective of true Italian hospitality changed forever after [Porano]. 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. I’d never experienced that kind of warmth outside my own home—a place where everyone feels equal around a table.”
The fast dining restaurant is industrial chic with natural touches. Its 3200 square feet of space combines concrete flooring with elegant white tile walls, reclaimed wood accents and hand-cut Missouri oak communal tables. The tables were designed and constructed by a local artisan.
Photos by Greg Rannells | Story curation from Restaurant Hospitality’s Gina LaVecchia Ragone