A lot of cities have their restaurant families, and St. Louis is no different. The Del Pietro clan has been a mainstay of our culinary scene since the 1970s, and their latest offering, Webster Groves’ The Block, promises to be another neighborhood cornerstone. Co-chef/co-owner Brian Doherty (who runs The Block and Luciano’s Trattoria along with his brother-in-law Marc Del Pietro) has opened what may be the only non-deli restaurant in the area where you can buy a raw cut of any meat on their menu. Doherty talked with us about the new dining spot and working two kitchens.
What got you into the restaurant business?
I’ve always been interested in cooking. I went to St. Louis University out of high school and was taking business courses, but decided I wasn’t into it. I knew someone who went to the CIA [Culinary Institute of America] in New York, so I went up there to visit and really liked it. I did my training there and got hooked up with Marc by doing my externship with him [when the Del Pietro’s owned] Portabella. I worked at a couple of other places for a while and then I was the chef at another restaurant of theirs, and that’s how I met his sister.
You and Lea are married, right?
Yeah. Now I’m really tied into the deal! But, yeah, we’ve developed a real partnership.
You run The Block and Luciano’s with your wife Lea, her brother Marc and his wife Amy. How do the four of you divide duties between the two restaurants?
Marc and I try to stay in the back in the kitchen, and my wife and Amy deal with the front of the house! Lea and Marc grew up in restaurants, obviously, and Amy is really good with getting out, talking to people and socializing. She does a lot of the social marketing and that type of stuff. When something comes up we all get together and talk.
What’s it like being connected to one of our premier restaurant families?
It’s cool. It’s kind of different now, because everyone’s gone and done their different things, but it’s nice that there’s that connection [in the community] and everyone knows the name.
It must be nice to have a wife who really gets the kind of commitment an endeavor like this takes.
Yeah, definitely! I remember when I first got into the business and I’d meet people and say “Well, I work these hours...,” and most people don’t understand it. It’s just a different lifestyle. But, it’s worked out. We have three kids and Marc has two. You run a lot with them, and they get it and like it. Well, I guess they don’t know any other way, so they don’t have a choice but to like it! [The kids] come up and play restaurant and my daughter wants to have a tea party here for her birthday. It’s fun. It keeps us busy.
You’ve been open since early June. How’d you come up with the butcher shop/restaurant concept?
At Luciano’s we started looking into getting whole animals a few years back when the recession hit. A pig farmer suggested we get whole or half [pigs] instead of just getting chops. It was definitely cheaper, but when we tasted the chops they were a better product than what we were getting from the bigger companies.
We realized we could get [a pig] in for the chops and then take the shoulders and make sausage, or the hocks and smoke them and the belly could be used for bacon. It started with pork, but then we added beef, too. We hadn’t done any [butchering] since school, but that’s how the idea started. With Luciano’s being big, we wanted to do a place that was smaller, family friendly and laid-back.
Why did you choose Webster for the location?
We looked at different spots. Lea and I live in Webster and we like it. We knew there weren’t a lot of restaurants here and wanted to bring in a different option for people. We found this space, which was an office building, and thought we could do a quick build-out but it took nine or ten months to get it going. It took a lot to get the guts of the restaurant working.
Having gone to school in New York, one of the foodie meccas of the world, what do you think of the food scene in St. Louis now?
The food’s gone to a different level. In the last few years a lot more of the quality chefs are staying in St Louis and dealing with local farmers. Part of the reason it’s gotten the way it has is that the diners want it. A lot of people want to go out and eat good food, but don’t necessarily want to put on a coat and tie or a nice dress.
Back when I first got into this business the chefs were more competitive. But, now, there’s a lot more camaraderie amongst the chefs around town. You can call one of them up and say, “Hey, I’m looking for a local lamb,” and they’ll say, “I use this guy, give him a call.” It’s more for the city as opposed to, how can I get mine, you know?
What do you love about your job?
I really love being in the kitchen and cooking and working with other people. I like teaching people things and showing them stuff [they might not know] and learning from other people. I also enjoy the challenge of making [customers] excited to come into my restaurant.
See how Doherty makes their pork chop with potato bacon hash, apple slaw, sweet mustard and pork sauce.