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New kitchens readying to feed Auburn diners

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal staff writer
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Auburnites will soon find a couple more options on the menu for local dining. While specific dates have yet to be set, owners of the OakFire Grill (2515 Grass Valley Highway) and the Confluence Kitchen & Market (13471 Bowman Road) hope to open in the next few weeks. OakFire Grill owners Frank and Teresa Welch could be found Tuesday training staff and overseeing various projects at their restaurant, housed in the old Pasquale T’s building. Frank Welch has made a career of building restaurants for others, and figured it was time to have one of his own. “I’m a contractor and all I’ve done all my life is build restaurants,” he said. “I’ve had access to many, many kitchens with excellent chefs.” The OakFire Grill’s menu, currently under revision, will be a balance of healthier options like salads — this, Welch said, is his wife’s type of dining — and heartier, fresh-from-the-smoker dishes like tri-tip and pulled pork sandwiches. “Everything is true Southern style,” Welch said. Specialty pizzas, sandwiches and burgers round out the menu. Welch hopes to create a family-friendly environment at OakFire Grill, one that caters especially to children. “The kids, in my opinion — in my family, we have three — they are the determining factor for where you eat,” he said. Children dining at OakFire Grill receives a free dessert, an incentive to be on best behavior, Welch said. OakFire Grill features a main dining room, indoor/outdoor patio seating and a projection room for sports fans. Beverages and side dishes will be self-serve, and customers opting for sloppier dishes will be happy to find hand-washing stations in the dining room, not just in the restrooms. An on-site brewery is in the works, as is a to-go counter and catering. Cruising down Interstate 80 instead of Highway 49? Pretty soon, fans of the farmers’ market fixture Confluence Kitchen will be able to pick up their beef empanadas, Thai chicken curry and other favorites seven days a week with a quick trip off I-80 to Bowman Road. Steve Riccardelli and his wife Amy Eldridge are excited to open the Confluence Kitchen & Market, enabling the couple to offer the frozen, take-home dishes they sell at Auburn’s Farmers’ Market in addition to local meats and produce in a space that’s part grocery, part restaurant. “The main difference from what we’ve been doing is that you’ll be able to get food that’s hot and ready to eat,” Riccardelli said. Work began on the space previously occupied by Tribal Weaver earlier this year, and Riccardelli said kitchen equipment is scheduled to arrive this week. Confluence Kitchen’s food philosophy is to offer nourishing, local, tasty and easy. “That’s what we’re trying to pull together here, and have it all in one spot,” Riccardelli said. Confluence Kitchen creations, to this point, have been prepared in a shared-use commercial kitchen in Colfax. “It gives us an opportunity to be available seven days a week, because a lot of people have a hard time coming down to the market,” Riccardelli said. “We’ll be able to have items for people with special diets, who stay away from certain ingredients, and that’s kind of hard when you’re hauling all these items around and trying to keep them cold at the market.” While not a new restaurant — it’ s been open more than two years — Strings Italian Café is getting closer to signing off on some major work to the Bell Road eatery. By the time they cut the grand re-opening ribbon at noon Sept. 25, Strings will have new patio dining, a new menu and a whole new exterior look. Monica Cathers said work has been consistent the last couple months, and that everyone is excited to have work completed, just in time to welcome customers visiting the Rock Creek Plaza’s newest additions, Best Buy and BevMo. “The foot traffic and what’s coming in and out is picking up,” she said.