Black Pearl, Steve Whited's popular contemporary American restaurant on South Pearl Street, opened in 2005, and while several of the dining dens on that stretch of asphalt have shuttered or suffered from an identity crisis, the unpretentious Platt Park gem has remained largely consistent, despite a raft of chefs that have sailed through the galley.
The talented Kate Horton, who presided over the kitchen for two years (she's now in the kitchen of Z Cuisine), departed in 2011, and when she moved on, 25-year-old Mitch Mayers, a Cornell and CIA graduate who cooked at Houston's and Cherry Creek Grill, jumped on board, and for the past year and a half, he and Whited have continued to energize Black Pearl while simultaneously embarking on a new concept.
In February of next year, Whited and Mayers will open Agio, an Italian restaurant in Baker, at 234-236 Broadway, a dual space that was formerly occupied by two toner shops. "This has been in the works since Steve and I started working together," says Mayers, adding that the name -- Agio -- "describes a place of comfort and hominess."
The space, which is owned by Sue Smith, the same landlord who oversees Black Pearl, is 3,000 square feet, and will include a restaurant, lounge and bar that seats eighty; a private dining room will be large enough to accommodate parties of ten, and the goal, reveals Mayers, is "to make this a restaurant that feels like your second home -- a place to eat, drink, hang out and converse," and the menu, he adds, is "contemporary and cutting edge but affordable" -- and everything, he notes, will be small plates.
"Our menu will reflect the way that we like to eat. We like to graze, and that's what we want people to do at Agio," he says, divulging that his focused board will trumpet housemade charcuterie (prosciutto, lonza, porchetta and soppressata), cheeses, including buffalo mozzarella and roasted garlic ricotta, along with hand-crafted pastas, small plates, which could include sweetbreads and grilled octopus, and flatbread pizza. And ideally, notes Mayers "I'd love to work with whole pigs and really embrace the head-to-tail philosophy. Headcheese is definitely something I'd love to do."
The bar, says Mayers, will feature beers, most of them local, along with wines by the glass, bottle and flight, and the focal point of the dinning room, an open kitchen, will have its own chef's counter that extends from the bar. "Those will be the prime seats," he hints.
"I'm super-pumped about this project," adds Mayers. "One of the reasons why I really wanted to work with Steve was because he wants to expand and build his business, and with the addition of Agio, this is the next step." And the duo liked the neighborhood, too. "Baker is young and hip, and the foot traffic and surrounding neighborhoods make it a great location that's really booming."
When it opens, Agio will serve dinner nightly until midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends, and a full 180 minutes of happy hour will run from 3 to 6 p.m. daily, with half-priced specialty cocktails, wine by the glass and beer.
We definitely want to be open by February and in time for restaurant week," says Mayers. "We want to start off with a bang, get our asses kicked and go full-throttle ahead."
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