Editor’s note: La Cantina opens on February 16, 2022.
Yesou may know the Crown Restaurant Group from its flagship restaurant, the Crown Republic Gastropub, where the spotlight is on a variety of pasta dishes. Maybe you’re a fan of Losanti, his Italian steakhouse. Or you might prefer to return drinks and pizza to the band’s Rosie’s Cocktails & Pies. If so, you might be wondering why this mostly Italian culinary team plans to serve upscale Mexican cuisine in the former Cheapside Cafe space on Eighth Street.
“It’s something new for our group of restaurants that we needed, something fresh,” says chef Anthony Sitek. “A lot of the flavors that we’ve based our restaurants on so far have been very Italian – your pastas, your breads. Now we’re branching out and doing something that fits the concept perfectly, but also gives us another food avenue.
It is true that the cuisine comes from a new region in the Italian portfolio of the group, but the history of La Cantina aligns directly with the main ideal of CRG: the family. Chef Johnny Curiel (former executive chef of Nada) will lead the kitchen at La Cantina. Before that, however, his wife, Leah, worked as a general manager at Crown Republic. Sitek says he and Curiel have become friends over the past year, and it’s from that relationship more than anything else that La Cantina was born.
“Whoever works for us, our philosophy is, you work for us, you feel like family,” he explains. “We treat you like family. Everyone is family to us. It’s our big thing. »
And the entire company is focused on maintaining work/life balance, from five-day work weeks to a focus on quality of life. (He adds that some staff members are real family: his sister-in-law is the director of operations, while his mother-in-law takes care of the interior design of all spaces.)
Bringing Curiel on board, first as a business leader for the band but with eventual plans for La Cantina in the mix, just made sense. The concept began as a weekly pop-up at Crown Republic, aiming to give Cincinnatians something new to experience this summer when travel was still restricted.
“Each week there was a completely different menu and a completely different cocktail list,” says Sitek. “Every week there was something new, and people really got into it and loved it.”
The success of the Cantina pop-ups quickly led to physical space being rented, and now the team is working full steam ahead to open La Cantina this winter. The modern Mexican concept will focus on the seven regions of Mexico.
“Cincinnati has some great Mexican restaurants, but it’s a type of Mexican that’s not offered here,” Sitek notes. “A 36-hour black mole? You won’t see this on any other menu here. We will have a green mole, a red mole, a black mole – each region of Mexico has a different mole.
True to its approach in other CRG restaurants, everything in the restaurant will be entirely prepared in-house. And he’s especially excited about the handmade tortillas, made from Ohio-grown corn, that Curiel’s staff will nixtamalise on the spot.
La Cantina’s cocktail program is led by CRG’s longtime beverage director Alex Stevens, who will design the experience at the 13-seat bar with a laser focus on tequila mezcal offerings. “We’re going to try to tie this whole gluten-free theme to the bar as much as possible,” says Sitek. “It’s really interesting, Corona and Pacifico beers are actually considered gluten-free beers. It’s something we learned.
At this time, Siteks and Curiel are awaiting clearances and other last-step processes before setting an opening date. But good things come to those who wait. And it’s never too early to get excited for a 36 hour black mole.
The cafeteria326 E. Eighth St., downtown, (513) 345-6783, [email protected].com