There's just something about going out on top. After Chef Gerard Craft won the 2015 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest, he shuttered his 11-year-old restaurant, Niche, in St. Louis. In its place now is Sardella, an Italian-influenced American restaurant that catches a bit of the Old World charm.
“I really love the restaurants in Europe that are open all day long,” Craft says. “You can go in there in the morning and get a really, really great espresso, and then maybe some pastries, then in the afternoon a good lunch, and then at night it's an actual restaurant that's serving good dishes. So we just wanted to maybe reimagine what that looked like with our mentality, food, and beverage.”
Mornings at Sardella are full of natural light bouncing off the restaurant's white wood, antiqued mirrors, and blue and white tiles. A camel-hued leather banquette with multiple tables and two cozy booths juxtapose the bar with table seating in between. Walking in off a busy suburban street, guests are greeted by a large seasonal flower display held behind glass and framed like a postcard. After turning the corner, guests proceed to a coffee bar to order drinks and pastries, delivered every morning from the restaurant group's commissary.
The food options are reinforced by a petite seven-item kitchen menu. A fan favorite has been the Griddler: bacon, egg, cheese, and rice griddled on a piadana flatbread served with a green salsa. The house-made English muffin stars in two traditional breakfast items: a fried egg sandwich with bacon, pepper jack cheese, red pepper jelly, and Crystal hot sauce aioli; and a cured salmon with crème fraîche and an herb salad. If you need to catch up on current events, there's a newspaper rack with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times by the pastry case.
“The coolest thing in Italy is [that] morning time at the cafe is a bit like night time in the bar,” Craft says. “Everybody's gathering, they're having a little espresso, maybe a pastry, and they're just kind of talking about their general day, what's going on, politics… to me that's always been something that I've wanted to capture, in trying to kind of bring people together in the morning.”
Steering the ship for the coffee program is lead barista Jordan Howe, a local coffee veteran with recent stints at Reeds American Table and the Living Room, where he was a competition barista in 2015. Sardella's coffee menu features offerings from Sump Coffee, with filter coffee brewed via FETCO while espresso drinks are made on a two-group Faema E61 Jubilé machine with a Mazzer grinder. There are also fresh-squeezed juices and tea options from local company Big Heart Tea Company. Signature drinks impress, like the “Cup of Sunshine” latte, a riff on matcha tea. It's made with a pulverized dose of Big Heart's Cup of Sunshine tea blend (organic turmeric, ginger, tulsi, Malabar peppercorn, and cinnamon), whisked together with water, then topped with steamed milk. Howe also collaborates with Sardella’s executive pastry chef Sarah Osborn and company pastry chef Mathew Rice on different ingredients for Sardella’s coffee program, such as Rice’s Burnt Vanilla Latte.
“We're working with some of the guys in our kitchen to work on new ideas for shrubs and things,” Howe says, adding his goal is to offer a “larger, more exciting spring drink menu than we'd [been] able to in the past.”
While the coffee and short-menu breakfast program operate on weekday mornings, Sardella recently introduced weekend brunch. Craft says the menu will focus on heavier food items, such as Nutella Risotto Balls breaded with Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cacio e Pepe Eggs. Howe will also flex his bartending muscles, rolling out coffee cocktails in addition to the normal coffee menu.
“I'm really excited to let Jordan just kind of go and see what he comes up with,” Craft says. “I’d like to see the coffee program expand and grow. I think it'll happen organically.”
Evan C. Jones is a Sprudge.com contributor based in St. Louis. Read more Evan C. Jones on Sprudge.