Catching up on a couple of weeks' worth of news after taking a break for this year's Best of St. Louis....
Gerard Craft of Niche and Taste by Niche has purchased the venerable Central West End French restaurant Chez Leon (4580 Laclede Avenue) and will reopen the space — rather quickly — as Brasserie by Niche.
"We're hoping [to open] at the latest by November 1," says Craft. "All we're going to do right off the bat is a minor cosmetic makeover, repainting the [Chez Leon] sign and some logo work."
The menu will be completely new — though, as the name might suggest, it will remain French. In charge of the kitchen will be Perry Hendrix, whom Craft describes as "a really, really cool guy." In fact, prior to moving to St. Louis to open Niche, Craft worked for Hendrix in Salt Lake City, and it was through this association that Craft met his pastry chef, Mathew Rice.
Brasserie by Niche will be open every day but Monday. It will serve only dinner at first. Craft foresees opening for lunch and, on the weekend, brunch, in January.
This is the latest event in what has been a very busy year for Craft. In March he was one of five finalists for "Best Chef — Midwest" in the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards. In July he opened Taste adjacent to Niche, featuring cocktails from mixologist Ted Kilgore and a menu of modestly priced dishes ranging from house-made charcuterie to rabbit and octopus.
In the September 3 Gut Check column ("Dorm Room Dinnertime!"), I detailed the work of 34-year-old chef Marc Baltes at the Dorm Room dinner hosted by 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar. A few weeks later, Pi owner Chris Sommers let me know that the popular, President Obama-approved pizza restaurant is bringing Baltes aboard.
Sommers tells me that Baltes will help out at all three locations of Pi — the original at 6144 Delmar Boulevard and the soon-to-open branches at 10935 Manchester Road in Kirkwood and 4753 McPherson Avenue in the Central West End — but will be based primarily at the Central West End restaurant.
Sommers says Baltes, whose past experience includes a stint at the acclaimed Oakland pizza restaurant Pizzaiolo, will work to round out Pi's selection of appetizers, desserts and other non-pizza fare and, in general, to further "raise the bar" in Pi's kitchens.