Salt of the Earth
This new restaurant in Garfield challenges our traditional ideas about food and fine dining.
Slow-cooked short ribs served in a mole poblano sauce alongside sweet-potato puree, brussels sprouts, and wlld and cultivated mushrooms.
Photo by Laura Petrilla
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Tired of the tried-and-true? Eager to explore some unfamiliar territory and leave the usual notions of restaurants behind? Then follow the culinary compass to Salt of the Earth, which features dishes that are limited in number but are complex and fascinating, making this Garfield location a magnet for foodies.
Salt of the Earth, which opened in September, is named in honor of the hard-working people of Pittsburgh and uses NaCl, the scientific symbol for table salt, as its logo. The restaurant is the creation of chef Kevin Sousa and architects Doug and Liza Cruze, of The Cruze Architects in the East End, whose concept is to provide an exceptional dining experience, featuring “progressive American food” (although the food, in fact, reveals many influences) in an unpretentious setting.
Sousa is well-known to Pittsburghers. With the exception of cooking for two years in Arizona, Sousa honed his skills here, beginning with his education at the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts (now Le Cordon Bleu) and cooking at the Duquesne Club, Soba, Kaya and Red Room.
Two of Sousa’s standout performances were his unique offering of alchemy food (dining fare manipulated and even chemically altered in the kitchen to create unusual temperature, flavor and texture combinations) while executive chef at the Bigelow Grille and his more recent work as a consultant to Yo Rita on the South Side, where he elevated the taco offerings to the sublime.
Salt of the Earth was founded on two guiding principles:
First, the restaurant offers a limited number of items (fewer than 10 entrées and a few desserts) in order to execute each at the highest level possible. That means Sousa and his staff put a tremendous amount of thought and planning into each dish, thinking about flavor, texture, aroma, color and overall balance.
Second, Sousa and the Cruzes wanted their restaurant to be totally transparent. That means you can see the food being prepared in a stainless-steel, open kitchen. There are no back rooms or prep kitchens, so servers, hosts, cooks and diners share the same space—a sleek combination of green-tea-colored walls, black steel beams, hanging spotlights and light wood furniture.
Moreover, most of the seating is communal. The main dining area (for which reservations are not available) has three long, wooden tables that can seat about 12 people at each, a small bar that seats six and a kitchen bar that fits eight, together creating a convivial—albeit noisy—environment. Upstairs is a balcony, which is quieter, darker and available for reservation.
Following his belief in working communally, Sousa is quick to credit members of the staff at Salt of the Earth, including general manager Robert Sayre, sous chef Kevin Rubis and lead line cook Jonah Frazier.
Staff and customer harmony succeed, thanks to the food at Salt of the Earth. It’s compelling to observe diners having long conversations with one another and their servers when each dish is delivered and tasted.
The menu, written on a large chalkboard wall, is divided into three sections: Starters, Mains and End. It changes often, so if you want current information, check the restaurant’s website for the daily menu.
Sousa likes to experiment with unusual flavor combinations. For example, the simply named apples selection in Starters ($8) comprises a novel mix of flavors, textures and colors: tart honeycrisp apple chunks, spicy horseradish-cranberry sauce, creamy feta, mild sorrel and crunchy cocoa nibs. The scallops ($13) are an equally delicious Starters option, served with a quinoa salad that’s made of kohlrabi and diced inari and placed on a plate dressed with lemongrass sauce and fresh watercress. Beets ($8) are another superb choice. Look for diced yellow and red beets next to a generous mound of young frisee—all tossed in a divine truffle mustard sauce—and served with a poached egg.