Three's the Charm
Wild Rosemary is a small but promising new bistro in the South Hills opened by a trio of friends.
Photo by Laura Petrilla
Once upon a few months ago, three friends—Gloria Fortunato, Cathleen Enders and Lynne Bielewicz—were driving down Bower Hill Road when they unexpectedly crashed headlong into their life’s dream. As the story goes, Cathleen screeched on her breaks, turned her car around and scribbled down the “For Rent” number. That evening, she called the landlord, only to find the dream had stalled. The space had just been rented. But not for long: Happily for the trio, within 48 hours the “other party” declined the lease.
Cathleen, chief artist and designer, assumed all decorating and management of the house. Taking the role of chef was Gloria, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute who has a dossier that includes a 15-year stint at Café Allegro (nix that rumor that the bistro is Allegro’s offspring—it is NOT). Lynne is the baker. The business flows in her veins; she’s the granddaughter of the owners of Ziegler’s Café, formerly located across from an incline on Mount Washington.
It was June. By Sept. 30, Wild Rosemary (a moniker Cathleen and Gloria had once used as caterers) was open. Recast as a quaint little Euro-bistro, as darling as it is cozy, it’s a place where I see lots of long conversations and people falling in love.
Sunken into the hillside as if someone had used a giant shoehorn on the winding portion of Bower Hill Road that connects Bridgeville to Upper St. Clair, the tiny, flat-topped structure has had incarnations that include a pizza shop and a Dairy Queen. Today, mismatched silver, a faded-blue hutch and gas fireplace are surrounded by bright red tile. “I don’t think we ever thought of it as hard work until we laid the tile floor,” laughs Lynne. “Nearly 125 cases of slate. If we could install that, I guessed there was nothing we couldn’t do.”
With only eight tables and in spite of the foul economic weather, the place has become so busy that the team of friends currently has stopped serving lunch in an effort to take back their lives; however, they are extending dinner hours from 8 to 10 p.m., giving tables a chance to turn over. “We’re not moving up, out or wide; this is the concept we can handle,“ says Fortunato.
Fede ricotta gnocchi in brown butter-sage
To keep such a tiny spot on its feet, there are some simple house rules. For example, don’t ask for bread. Instead, Gloria makes these neat crackers, her mom’s recipe for “old-school flatbread” using semolina. The crackers are served with what constitutes an appetizer, all complimentary. This effort breaks the ice, providing time to look around and feel comfortable, as the chef sees it. And who can complain about a goat-cheese soufflé surrounded by assorted marinated olives? Or bruschetta with roasted grape tomatoes, so plump and juicy you can hardly believe there is snow on the ground.
Fortunato presides over the kitchen, responding to every request as though she were on a demanding lecture circuit. She likes clear flavors (even fresh herbs are kept at a minimum) and cares that what’s on the plate “eats well together.“ Her instincts are unaffectedly refined, changing with the seasons and what’s fresh at the market.
The New York strip was excellent, sophisticated in a stout-beer sauce laid on with a light touch, including a delicious potato gratin and glistening arugula in delightful apposition to the steak.
I have quickly become addicted to the arugula that Linda Scanlon from Paragon Monteverde brings in just for Wild Rosemary. Dark and almost fleshy, with a bite that is disguised, it reminds me that people have forgotten how to use bitter things. It’s tossed with seeded tomatoes, red onion, salt and cracked black pepper.
I recommend grilled veal medallions with sun-dried tomato butter, roman artichokes and brie. Or try any version of scallops being offered—I had them grilled with spicy saffron broth, julienned vegetables and parmesan-reggiano. Another time they were served with roasted sweet pepper and asparagus, a shallot cream sauce and spaghetti.
A French-cut pork chop is outstanding, moist and served with pommes frites, or as Gloria would say, “Vinegar on fries—hello!—what’s better?” Credit for the Fede ricotta gnocchi goes to artist and chef Steve Salvi of Fede Corp., a custom-pasta company for area restaurateurs, but Gloria makes them glisten under a brown butter-sage sauce and side of arugula.
The menu changes every other week. As the days grow longer, l look forward to grilled whole fish, spring lamb, Jerusalem artichokes, fingerling potatoes, peas, beans…. With Bedner’s Farm down the street, imagine the tomatoes.
Desserts—usually a cake, something with fruit, something with chocolate—will blow your mind. “I think you should start with dessert and only have salad if there’s room left over,” says Lynne. I was taken with a spice cake in the form of a snowball, and heard about a Black Forest cheesecake with chocolate crust lined with dried cherries; I loved the German-chocolate cake with tons of coconut.
There is something esoteric about Wild Rosemary, something intangible that I felt even before my first bite. I love the personal coffee press, the sweet service, the sense of stolen time. And how nice to return home, watch the news and a little late-night TV or an old movie, as is our custom, and not toss from an overly full belly. There might even be a slim chance of a midnight snack.
1469 Bower Hill Road, Upper St. Clair; 412/221-1232, wildrosemary.com. Tues.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.; Evening dishes: $22-$42; Dessert: $7. BYOB, major credit cards, wheelchair access, free parking, reservations strongly suggested, nonsmoking.