Hungry For Something Good Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating In February

We're visiting a Mediterranean market, dining in a stunning new museum restaurant in Oakland and eating soup dumplings in Squirrel Hill. Plus, we talk with Dennis Marron of the forthcoming restaurants Merchant Oyster Company and or, The Whale.

photo by erin kelly

Mediterranean Marketplace: Salonika Imports
Home cooks seeking products imported from the Mediterranean (particularly Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria) should visit Salonika Imports in Lawrenceville. Owner Chris T. Balouris took over the business in 2006 from the previous owner, Takis Kontoulis, who founded Salonika in 1977. Salonika’s shelves are stocked with Greek olive oil (including its own private-label brand), olives, cheese and a selection of tough-to-find dry goods. There are Friday lunch specials such as gyros and pastitsio, and ownership now also hosts regionally specific, multi-course Greek dinners.
3509 Smallman St., Lawrenceville; 800/794-2256,

photo by evan custer

The Café Carnegie
The connected lobby of the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has a new companion: The Café Carnegie. Executive Chef Sonja Finn (Dinette) and Chef de Cuisine Becca Hegarty (Bread & Salt Bakery) created a menu of feel-good salads, sandwiches and entrées that quickly has become one of my favorite new restaurant openings of the past few months. It’s the perfect pit stop for museum visitors ready for a break and for anyone in Oakland looking for a quick and delicious breakfast, lunch or weekend brunch. 
4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/622-3225,

Bánh Mì and Ti

This snug Lawrenceville eatery, which opened in November, is a swell spot to grab a quick lunch with a friend or with a good book. Co-owners Kellie and Tuyen Truong run this Vietnamese sandwich shop with warm, effusive hospitality. The Viet Special bánh mì — filled with pork roll, cured pork, head cheese and patè, as well as the standard pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro and mayo — is a good choice to start your menu exploration.
4502 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/251-5030,

photos by hal b. klein

El Burro Comedor
The space that previously housed Root 174 now has a new tenant. San Diego native Derek Burnell (who also owns Round Corner Cantina in Lawrenceville) waited four years to open a second location of El Burro Comedor, his casual Cal-Mex eatery. The Regent Square menu is the same as the North Side original, but this space has more seating. Diners can expect a solid selection of burritos, tacos, refried beans and more. 
1113 S. Braddock Ave.; 412/242-3451,

Noodle Uchi
It’s nice to have a quick-service noodle shop in Oakland. Noodle Uchi — partner restaurant to the fast-serve Sushi Fuku — delivers solid bowls of noodle soups, salads and rice bowls. The tonkotsu broth is the creamiest I’ve had thus far in Pittsburgh, and I enjoy how the ramen toppings are customizable. 
415 S. Craig St., Oakland; 412/251-0541,

photo by erin kelly

Soup It Up: Everyday Noodles
Why bother with a bowl when you can have your soup in a dumpling? The best soup dumplings in Pittsburgh are served at Everyday Noodles, the Taiwanese dumpling and noodle house that restaurateur Mike Chen opened in 2013 in Squirrel Hill. The Thwack! Pop! Boom! rhythm of handmade noodles continues to be a top draw for diners in search of dishes such as braised beef noodle soup and Taiwanese-style sesame cold noodles.
5875 Forbes Ave, Squirrel Hill; 412/421-6668,


Dennis Marron
Merchant Oyster Company/or, The Whale | Co-Owner/Chef

Dennis Marron moved to Pittsburgh in 2014 as the opening executive chef of The Commoner in the Hotel Monaco, Downtown. Prior to that he ran the kitchens of Kimpton hotels in Washington D.C. and northern Virginia. Marron is expected to open restaurants in Lawrenceville and Downtown in 2017. Both restaurants will be focused on sustainably caught seafood. 

What’s the drive to open two seafood-focused places? 
I grew up on the Jersey shore. When we went out to dinner it would be to a big seafood place like Bahrs Landing or Hook Line & Sinker. That’s what we had there. If you didn’t get that, you’d get steaks. But I want to push people more toward seafood for sustainability reasons, too. We’re going to use only sustainably caught fish. Plus, with shellfish like oysters you’re eating something that’s also helping to make the water that they’re grown in better.

Do you anticipate any challenges to getting high-quality seafood in Pittsburgh? 
That idea [that it’s impossible to get good seafood because Pittsburgh isn’t near an ocean] is really a thing of the past. Samuels and Son just built a warehouse by the airport, and Euclid [Fish Company] from Ohio does a great job, and they’re here all the time. They’re even bringing in oysters just for my restaurants. You can get pretty much whatever you want now.

What are the challenges of opening up a large project Downtown [or, The Whale at the forthcoming The Distrikt Hotel]? 
Finding people for all of the specialty roles that I need: A food & beverage director, sommelier, lead bartender or even two lead bartenders for both bars, a butcher because I’m going to have a whole butcher department, a chef de cuisine and a sous chef. It’s a lot of moving parts. We have a second space that will be used for a different food project, but we’re not going to do anything with that for at least a year because we want to get this right first.

What about for opening a boutique space such as Merchant [Oyster Company, anticipated to open in Lawrenceville later this month]? 
It’s the permitting [process] and logistical challenges. It’s taken a lot longer to open than I’d expected. Staffing won’t be a problem here.

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