Chef Gerard Craft of Niche and its affiliated restaurants will open a fast-casual concept called Porano Pasta & Gelato at the Mercantile Exchange downtown. Porano will draw on the food served at Craft’s Clayton restaurant Pastaria and follow what he calls the “Chipotle format.”
“Although I’m a chef, I’m a really, really busy chef,” Craft says. “We don’t get to cook at home as much as we want. We end up going to Chipotle.
“People are two things: really busy and really strapped for cash. Affordable options are really hard to come by, (options) that you feel good about. We wanted something we could really feel good about.”
Porano will be open for lunch and dinner. Diners will build their meals by choosing a base (organic semolina pasta, gluten-free pasta, farro, focaccia or lettuce), a protein (slow-roasted beef brisket, pork shoulder, pork meatballs, grilled free-range chicken, Calabrian-spiced tofu or roasted seasonal vegetables) and a sauce (pomodoro, pomodoro with smoked pork or roasted red pepper) or salad dressing.
Diners can further customize their meal with such toppings as cheese, anchovies and pickled chiles. Pastaria gelato will be available in single-serve cups (complete with wooden spoons).
Porano will take over the space at 634 Washington Avenue previously occupied by Takaya New Asian. Craft projects a summer opening date.
Craft says he’d been hoping to become involved in the Mercantile Exchange. When the Takaya space became available in January, he thought it would be a good fit for the fast-casual concept that he’d already been plotting.
Porano shares its name with an Italian town about 75 miles north of Rome. (It was also the original name of the concept that would become Pastaria.) It was during a visit there, Craft explains, that he understood what Italian culture and food were truly about.
“The biggest thing was this notion that family was the table,” he says. “Whether you were a stranger, rich or poor, the second you all sat at the table, you were instantly bonded.”
With Pastaria and now Porano, he says, “I’m trying to translate this idea that food and wine are for everyone. It shouldn’t be an experience that’s solely reserved for the rich and famous, that it’s really more a living experience.
“(That’s) what we’re trying to bring to fast food,” he adds, “which is notoriously a forgotten, crappy food.”