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First Look: DiAnoia's Eatery

The new Strip District restaurant is poised to fill a gap in Pittsburgh's restaurant landscape.

photos by hAl b. klein

DiAnioa’s Eatery is a geographical and a metaphorical bridge between the Strip District to Lawrenceville. The casual Penn Avenue restaurant and coffee/booze bar is run by Dave Anoia, formerly the chef de cuisine at Spoon in East Liberty, and Aimee DiAndrea, director of marketing and communications at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

"I've always wanted for us to have our own place and do something like this. Where it really came together for us was during our first time together in Italy, dining at casual places and not feeling rushed but having really nice food. Same with going to the delis in Long Island. And then it's here, in the Strip and seeing what's around,” says Anoia.

Anoia says he and DiAndrea spent time processing how they wanted to approach opening their new space. “How can we incorporate what I've learned in different aspects in cooking in restaurants, her family's history and what we learned together in Italy and in Philadelphia and put something together that will make a lot of people happy?”

There’s a lot to like about Anoia and DiAndrea’s vision for their eatery, which opened at the beginning of November.

I’ve been on the hunt for a proper egg sandwich since arriving in Pittsburgh. Getting it right is deceptively simple task because all a good egg sandwich needs is a runny fried egg, American cheese, a toasted Kaiser bun and some (gasp!) ketchup or hot sauce (add a slice of bacon and in-season tomato if you really want to). DiAnioa’s egg sandwich exceeded my expectations; the housemade Kaiser (all bread is made in-house), with its crisp outside and airy interior, is particularly good. Pair the sandwich with a strong shot of espresso. DiAnoia’s has an excellent coffee program, which features specialty drinks such as the Calabrian Mocha (double-espresso, Brunton Dairy chocolate milk infused with Calbrian chili) as well as righteously prepared tea.

If you’re in the mood for something more bracing than an espresso, guests at DiAnoia’s can begin boozing as early as 7 a.m. Cocktails — divided into morning, noon and night selections — are designed by Heather Perkins, a service-industry veteran who’s overseen bar programs at restaurants such as Spoon and Grit & Grace and is active in the Pittsburgh chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild. "Everything is offered at all times, but we want to give guests a sense of direction,” Perkins says.

Garibaldi (orange juice with a splash of Campari), is a festive morning starter; the murkily named Merda (iced espresso, Cedrata soda, ADDA limoncello) has a potent, get-your-day-moving kick. Some guests might find the briny, balanced Martini Perfecto a bit too bracing for their lunch tastes; it's served in a reasonable 1.5 oz portion, so perhaps there’s hope for the rest of the afternoon if you can restrain yourself to one of them. Concord Punch (Boyd & Blair vodka, Meletti anisette & amaro, hibiscus tea, Concord grape, lemon, ginger beer and nutmeg) is a refreshing lunchtime cocktail.

DiAnoia’s quite likely will becoming a reoccurring stop on my lunch rotation. There’s a selection of sandwiches that ranges from a “let’s crush this” Philadelphia-style porchetta (roast pork, rapini, provolone, cherry pepper relish) to a lighter Caprese, though I do hope he’ll replace that sandwich with some something more seasonal now that tomato season is over. Anoia proudly nods to his central PA roots with Lebanon sweet bologna (fried egg, tomatoes and Calabrian chili mayo).

Building a lunch from the cold and hot deli cases is a good idea. I suggest ordering small portions (there are small and large options for deli items) of the pork neck toast, a meaty ragu served over bread, crisp and creamy cast-iron skillet potatoes and a house salad for a nice lunch. At least for now, I’d pass on the polenta, which I found underseasoned and a tad grainy.

Next up for me is exploring the dinner menu, which features steak Florentine, whole-roasted branzino, roasted chicken and a selection of pasta. I’m looking forward to trying as many of them as I can.

"We want to keep it very casual and comfortable here,” Anoia says.

There’s still some work to do, particularly in balancing the ratio and structure of the sandwich fillings, and several trusted friends have told me that some of the pasta dishes — particularly the cacio e pepe — still need refinement.

There already is a bustling crowd for breakfast, lunch and dinner that draws from a broad range of the city: the service industry has turned out strong to support one of their colleagues, there are “just-opened” restaurant enthusiasts, old-school Strip District locals and Pittsburgh technology workers who occupy the new, nearby offices.

I can see how it could be easy to become a regular.

[2549 Penn Avenue, Strip District; 412/918-1875, dianoiaseatery.com]

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