3 of a Kind: Fine-Dining Chefs Gone Casual

Chefs who have honed their craft in white-tablecloth restaurants are increasingly taking their skills and applying them to casual cuisine. Across the country, quick-service, low-key spots are popping up from perfectly pedigreed kitchen teams.

Freshly Made Lobster Rolls on split-top bread with chips from Peacemaker Restaurant in St. Louis MO. by Chef/Owner Kevin Nashan

Photo by: Microsoft Windows Photo Viewer 6.1.7600.16385 ©2014 Greg Rannells

Microsoft Windows Photo Viewer 6.1.7600.16385, 2014 Greg Rannells

3 of a Kind checks out three places across the country to try something cool, new and delicious.

There is something special about fine dining — the perfectly plated dishes, superb service and inventive cuisine. But chefs who have honed their craft in white-tablecloth restaurants are increasingly taking their skills and applying them to casual cuisine. Across the country, quick-service, low-key spots are popping up from perfectly pedigreed kitchen teams.

The Peacemaker , St. Louis

Chef Kevin Nashan is no rookie to the fine-dining scene, having worked in some of the best kitchens, including Daniel in New York and Martín Berasategui in San Sebastian, Spain. A 2014 James Beard Foundation Award finalist for Best Chef: Midwest, Nashan has made himself a staple in the St. Louis dining scene, where his Sidney Street Cafe has served elegant plated dishes like Rabbit Porchetta and lobster-stuffed Filet Bearnaise for over a decade. His latest venture pivots away from his classical training and toward the food he loves, coastal cuisine from the Northeast and Louisiana. The Peacemaker serves up lobster rolls and steamed blue crabs, sandwiches and cobb salads. “This is the food I want to eat at the end of the day — lobster rolls and po’ boys,” says Nashan. “I wanted to have fun in a relaxed and laid-back setting, so it was a no-brainer for me.”

Soda & Swine , San Diego

Before making his way back to the West Coast, British Columbia-born chef Jason McLeod did a fine-dining stint in Chicago, earning two Michelin stars at RIA. He later landed in San Diego, first opening Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar, and then Soda & Swine, his comfort-food-focused quick-casual spot. “With Soda & Swine, we just wanted to have fun with it,” says McLeod. "For me, the concept brings about memories of my childhood — the ice cream floats, apple pies and simple no-nonsense dishes like a meatballs and spaghettini. It’s fun, more lighthearted, playful and easygoing.”

Photo by: ctuttle


Chef Ryan Nelson left his mark on the Indianapolis fine dining scene with his focus on 500-mile food at Late Harvest Kitchen. His most-recent venture swaps rib eye and caviar for baby back ribs and johnnycakes as he takes on classic American barbecue with the same local, naturally raised pork and beef sourced for his upscale original restaurant. “I traveled extensively across the country eating at outstanding barbecue restaurants so I could fine-tune the barbecue I wanted to serve at North End,” says Nelson. “It always was my favorite type of food. Growing up, when it was my turn to select where our family would eat out, I always selected a barbecue restaurant.”

Photos courtesy of Greg Rannells, Ashley Line and Medium Raw Arts

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