Central Kitchen is just about over its two-week remodel, during which time it made overdue physical changes to the restaurant, like upgrade the bathrooms, redo the entryway, paint the walls, get new tables, and remodel the kitchen. Chef/owner Thomas McNaughton called the changes necessary to evolving Central Kitchen into its best self, so not only did the physical appearance alter, but the menu and concept for the food did, too.
Whereas the food before was pretty limited with just a few snacks, starters, pastas, and entrees, now it’s a much larger menu with distinct sections for raw, fermented, and cured food, vegetables, pasta, hearth items, and large-format dishes (for the change-averse out there, some dishes are from the old menu or have appeared on the old menu, so not everything is completely different). You can see it in full below.
McNaughton was able to expand the menu because of the kitchen redesigns. "So much about it is strategy and how to be able to execute and execute and execute. For instance, the old menu had two pastas, and it was such a struggle to do even those because we didn’t have a pasta cooker installed," McNaughton explained. "Now, we have five on the menu and with a pasta cooker and the ranges we built around it, those five pastas will be easier to execute than the two we had one before."
"The way I approached the new menu was us sitting down and saying, 'What do we want to eat?'"
The biggest change is the move away from the traditional appetizer and entree. Now, all items are priced lower with slightly smaller portions meant to be shared — a common SF practice these days. "The old menu was so constrictive. The way I approached the new menu was us sitting down and saying, ‘What do we want to eat?’" McNaughton told Eater. "That selfish standpoint also speaks to the populus of not only our employees but also the neighborhood and the community of San Francisco."
With that in mind, McNaughton designed the menu so that everything could be mixed and matched, or stand on their own should that be the route you want to go. Dishes will also change on a weekly or even daily basis, with things like a whole fried rock cod subbing in for a large-format plate.
Finally, the last change is that 30 to 40 percent of tables will now be held for walk-ins, whereas the restaurant was nearly all reservation-only before. Central Kitchen 2.0 (re)opens Thursday, July 21, with slightly more limited seating at first while the restaurant gets back on its feet.