By Kevin Collison
If there’s such a thing as a healthy diner, that’s Anton Kotar’s plan to reinvent the soon-to-close Cascone’s Grill in the River Market.
Kotar intends to serve plenty of his trademark grass-fed beef at what he’s calling “Estelle’s Diner,” named after his six-year-old daughter.
He raises the cattle on a spread near Jackson on the east edge of central Missouri, serving it at his Anton’s Taproom restaurant in the Crossroads as well as wholesale around the country.
“We’re going to do comfort food like an old-fashioned American diner,” he said. “I want to try to keep it as clean as I can, although I don’t know if it will be completely organic.”
That’s a far cry from the old-school heavy dishes such as pork hocks and beans, and liver and onions served by the current ownership.
The Cascone family has been running a cafe in the River Market area since 1933, moving to the current site at 15 E. Fifth St. about 15 years ago. That legacy ends this Thursday.
Kotar plans to open Estelle’s the next day.
“We’ll start changing out the menu items slowly and it will evolve until May 1,” he said.
Kotar said he’s had a good relationship with George and Frank Cascone and the entire family, even dating one of their nieces years ago.
Over the past 10 years, he watched Cascone’s Grill decline as its clientele grew older and they failed to adapt the menu to changing tastes.
“In my opinion, they didn’t keep up with the times,” Kotar said. “A few years ago, I begged them to let me help out and change the menu.”
Kotar said the transition began about a month ago when George Cascone called him to say his lease was up at the end of February and the landlord was raising the rent.
“I urged him to pay it, but he said ‘no, I don’t want to, but I need a job for another five years and then I’ll retire,'” Kotar said.
As part of his plan to freshen the menu, Kotar will offer “The Wrap,” seared, seasoned steak with hot fries or veggies, pickled onions or jalapenos, and seasoned with rosemary and cilantro all wrapped in butcher paper.
“The longer it’s wrapped up, the better the flavor,” he said.
He also plans to cater meals to the many apartment residents who call the River Market home with dishes such as lasagna for four- to six people including salad and bread. There also will be to-go sandwiches and beer.
While Estell’s will have beer, wine and a limited drink menu, Kotar doesn’t plan to run a full bar.
And of course, there’ll will be breakfast staples featuring eggs hatched by free-range chickens.
The hours will be from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
As for the new restaurant’s namesake, Kotar said he had a little fun with her.
“I just told her the other day that Cascone’s was closing,” he said. “She was distraught, saying ‘I want to go for pancakes.’
“I said, it’s OK, we’re going to open it and call it Estelle’s. That gave her a big smile.”
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