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Photographs by Kevin A. Roberts
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Sam Kacar thinks he knows what local diners want...and it’s not high-priced entrees served on white tablecloths alongside overpriced wines.
The former owner of Trattoria Branica in Frontenac and Branica of Kirkwood has moved into the former Mihalis Chophouse in Richmond Heights, a deceivingly large restaurant that's been vacant for over two years.
The new restaurant will be called Pan D’Olive after the olive bread that will be made in house daily.
The space is 7000 SF but feels like half that: there are dining areas on two levels plus a covered patio whose elevation and off-to-the-side location make it feel more gracious than most other patios in town.
Dramatic touches include a white onyx bartop illuminated from below (above) and soft seating in a mezzanine area above the bar (below). The building can accommodate almost 300 diners yet no one area feels crowded or overwhelming.
Kacar describes the menu as “a celebration of Mediterranean cuisine with a California twist,” but what stands out even more is its composition: a large selection of mezes and bruschettas are $4 each (or 3 for $10), salads are $5-6, flatbreads $10-13, pasta averages $13 per order, with meat and seafood entrees priced in the teens as well (see complete lunch and dinner menus below).
Kacar thought it wise to blend three elements: basic, trendy, and practical. Witness Hummus with Feta, Turkey Kofte Sliders, Bacon Wrapped Figs, and Grilled Caesar Salad. A Melon Risotto shares menu space with one made with wild mushrooms. And in the most obvious nod to pragmatism and profitability, "Land and Sea" here translates to Chicken Provencal with Roasted Salmon rather than some unaffordable pairing of beef and lobster.
Wines are priced to move as well: the introductory list is small–10 whites and 15 reds of California and Mediterranean provenance —with by the glass offerings priced $6- 8, and bottles $23-35.
Kacar teased us with promises of nightly specials in the bar from 4 to 11 p.m.
If more restaurants would adopt this gutsy type of pricing structure, I daresay more restaurants would experience more customers. The dining public clamors for "somewhere that's nice, but inexpensive." In fact, that's the question I get asked most frequently. A place There aren't many places where a couple can grab a light dinner and a few glasses of wine and escape for $40.
Kacar is an affable and competent independent operator. His restaurant is centrally located and has abundant parking. If he can keep the lid on prices, if he can consistently execute what's offered, and if he can book an occasional party in that cozy wine room downstairs (below), there's no reason this place won't succeed and get added to St. Louis' list (and it's a short one) of "nice...but affordable" restaurants.
Look for Pan D'Olive to open in about a week.
Pan D'Olive 1603 McCausland 314-799-5588 Lunch and dinner daily pandolive.com (under construction)