Each day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., the market serves hot grilled panini sandwiches, soups, salads and four bistro items (including the French cassoulet and the Greek lemon chicken from the restaurant's dinner menu) that patrons can haul back to the office for a quick lunch or lug home to zap in the microwave for a stylish fast-food meal.
On the Missouri side, a new cafe and market called Decadenza (323 E. 55th Street), offers light breakfasts and lunches and plastic boxes of sophisticated take-home dishes prepared by caterer Lon Lane. The creation of hairstylist Dennis Howell (whose salon is next door), Decadenza takes up two areas in the Crestwood Shops formerly occupied by a window store and a tiny, uncomfortable coffee shop. The new, Tuscan-inspired room is complete with an ancient-looking pine plank floor, built-in shelves and Italian tiles that Howell installed himself (with a little help from his friends). His original idea was for a part-retail, part-gourmet food shop that just happened to serve specialty coffees and Lane's take-home food.
But after six weeks, Howell has changed the concept.
"I'm going to phase out the cookware and the gift items," he says. "It's evolved into something I hadn't planned." He thought he'd have ladies coming in to buy copper cookware and gourmet foods. Instead, he says, "We're getting a lot of young, professional midtown residents coming in to pick up their dinners, and people from all walks of life coming in. They want to sit down and eat!"
So Howell has cleared the tables of gift items and set them with cloth napkins for the customers who come in for coffee, a slab of chocolate cake and lingering conversations. Six days a week, Decadenza opens at 7 a.m. for coffee and croissants, scones and cake; throughout much of the afternoon, lunch includes two kinds of panini sandwiches (one meat, one vegetarian) and soups.
The take-home food isn't inexpensive: A container of beef bourguignonne that might make a meal for two is $22. A quart of soup, such as Sicilian mushroom or curried carrot with ginger and orange, ranges from $12 to $14.
It's a big change for Howell, who was looking for a new challenge. He says he named his shop after the Italian word for "decadence" because "it suggests a place that's over the top, too much, sinful."
"I've been in the beauty business for 25 years, and I've rehabbed ten houses," he says. "I got to the point where I needed a new creative outlet. And yes, it's much harder work than I ever expected."
But he's pleased with Decadenza's success, especially since he rushed to have the place completed before the holidays: "It took three and a half weeks from the conception of the idea until the day we opened the doors."