A new local Italian chain, Cini: Italian Chow with Heart, has found its home across from Saint Louis University’s neighboring Starbucks, offering an authentic Italian take on fresh fast food.
“Cini is all about, in one word, fresh,” Cini co-owner Frank Gabriele said.
Located in the base of the Flats at 374 building on Grand, the establishment opened on Jan. 14 and aims to become an important part of the Saint Louis University food community.
The name Cini is short for arancinis, an Italian street food which owner Frank Gabriele likened to hotdog vendors in America. They are essentially rice balls, made from saffron rice mixed with all things Italian, then rolled in breadcrumbs and fried.
Arancinis are the restaurant’s signature dish, and they are hand-made daily and offered in five varieties. The original, primavera and four-cheese fill out the appetizers on the menu, along with their dessert cinis made with vanilla wafers or Oreo cookies.
The original cini is stuffed with sausage, peas, parmigiano and pecorino cheese, the primavera is inspired by the pasta, and the four-cheese blend consists of mascarpone, romano, parmigiano and gorgonzola cheeses.
Arancini’s are just the beginning, however, as the entrees offer an Italian-take on the Chipotle idea of fresh food made to order.
“Chipotle is such a popular concept, so we figured if you could do something Italian with real fresh food… it would be a tremendous success in St. Louis because everyone loves Italian food,” Gabriele said.
Patrons construct their own dish from the ground up, first choosing from a piadina wrap, pasta bowl or salad bowl with a grill item to match and then covering it in all of the sauces and toppings they please. The grill options range from more traditional items such as meatballs or a vegetarian mix, to fast-food rarities like calamari or salmon.
“We’re very reasonably priced – six, seven, eight dollars,” Gabriele said, stating that they were very conscious of college student budgets when planning the restaurant. “We really wanted SLU to be our first location.”
The sauce options are hot and cold, with the hot options comprising pomodoro, diavolo and parmesan alfredo, and the cold choices of red pepper pesto, fresh basil pesto or creamy parmesan. The toppings list is packed, offering up feta cheese, pancetta, peppadew peppers and much more. There are also soups available for those looking to eat lighter.
There is a small wine and beer selection on tap including local favorites Six Row Brewery, O’Fallon Brewery and Budweiser, complimented by the likes of Goose Island’s 312, Shock Top and Michelob Ultra.
A modern atmosphere compliments the modern concept, featuring large, artsy lighting fixtures with silver and glass. From the order line, one can see the fridges stocked with fresh vegetables, as well as the grill where they prepare their hot selections.
Restaurants aren’t new to Gabriele and his brother Cameron, who are the sons and partners of Giovanni Gabriele, founder of Giovanni’s on the Hill. The family also owns the Il Bel Lago restaurant in Creve Coeur.
Cini looks to be a more casual affair than the Gabriele brothers other ventures. Additionally, the brothers have formed a partnership with Missouri Buffalo Wild Wings head honcho David Jones, which has 16 establishments.