At Restaurant Echo, the culinary team strives to “offer a sophisticated dining experience to customers without having to travel downtown.”
The culinary forces behind Restaurant Echo are executive chef and owner Brian Hammond and chef de cuisine Chris O’Brien. Both have Pittsburgh roots and worked together years ago at the Hyeholde Restaurant in Coraopolis, Pa. O’Brien was there as executive chef in 2009 when he won the Pennsyvlania Governor's Award for Excellence in the Culinary Arts for his commitment to using locally sourced foods, educating the public about local foods and creating expressive culinary works.
This chef duo wants to “offer a sophisticated dining experience to customers without having to travel downtown.”
Golden Trout from the Laurel Hill Trout Farm served alongside grilled vegetables, orzo and fennel cream sauce.
Photo by Laura Petrilla
Formerly a brewery and steakhouse, Restaurant Echo’s interior was completely transformed by independent designer John McCann, of Philadelphia, into a modernist space featuring stark white walls, dark wooden floors, leather chairs and large pieces of abstract art. Centrally located is a large wine cellar encased in glass as well as a floor-to-ceiling white-stone fireplace. The fireplace warms the large bar area, and the space includes a cozy lounge and a music area featuring performances by local musicians including pianists, guitar players, cabaret singers and jazz trios on Saturday nights. Two large dining rooms are to the left and right of the bar.
The staff at Restaurant Echo is extremely friendly and accomodating. Upon making reservations, the hosts ask about special occasions and dietary needs. When I dined there with a friend who has a severe nut allergy, the staff meticulously checked each food item to ensure it was safe to consume.
The lunch and dinner menus are fairly extensive and are divided into small plates (soups, salads and appetizers) and large plates (flatbreads and entrées). One standout appetizer is the French onion soup ($7): a rich veal broth with abundant caramelized onions, a toasted housemade crouton and a generous portion of melted Gruyere cheese. Another satisfying choice is the hearts of romaine salad ($10), featuring whole leaves of romaine, roasted tomatoes, croutons and roccolo—all tossed in a homemade creamy chive and herb dressing.
For the more adventurous diner, try the marrow bones ($11): a chopped and seared beef marrow seasoned with piquant capers, salt and lemon, served with an excess of toasted baguette, a heap of Italian parsley and garnished with a bone. Restaurant Echo is serious about making foods in-house, butchering its own pigs to make head cheese, smoked pork belly, chorizo, country ham, cured prosciutto and braised pork shoulder—products that are included in the highly recommended charcuterie plate ($11) and various entrées, such as the (not-as-good) shredded-pork shoulder sandwich ($10) offered at lunchtime.
I did not enjoy the flatbreads ($12); although homemade, the crust was a bit dry and chewy and the toppings were too large.
Of the entrées I sampled, my favorite was the traditional roasted chicken ($20) from nearby Eichner’s Farm in Wexford, Pa., a perfectly roasted tender half chicken seasoned with thyme and sage, served with a thick chestnut country gravy featuring roasted Brussels sprouts and creamy mashed potatoes.
Another recommended dish is the golden trout ($22) from Laurel Hill Trout Farm in Rockwood, Pa., a simple pan-roasted dish that spotlights the fish and is accompanied by orzo, grilled vegetables and a fennel cream sauce.
The pappardelle with lamb ($18) is a mixed bag: The house-made pappardelle pasta has an unpleasant grainy texture but is paired with beautifully braised tender chunks of lamb shoulder (from Elysian Fields, of Ruff Creek, Pa., or Pucker Brush Farm, of Shelocta, Pa.). Similarly, the salmon ($19) is an excellent piece of fish from Clarion River Organics in Sligo, Pa., prepared simply and served on wilted spinach, with farro grains but served over a winter squash puree that has a displeasing texture.
Bar manager Sean Byrne, formerly the general manager of The Wine Loft in the SouthSide Works, worked closely with the culinary staff to develop a comprehensive beverage program. In addition to creating mixed drinks with fresh juices and herbs, the restaurant features more than 50 bottled beers (some local), beers on tap and an extensive wine selection offered by the glass and bottle.
Desserts, which are created by pastry chefs Erin Ribo and Heather Deraway, are a highlight. My two favorites are the chocolate-hazelnut bombe ($8), a semisphere of rich and creamy frozen mousse wrapped in a chocolate shell, and the New York-style cheesecake ($8), a nicely portioned round cheesecake with a creamy body and a traditional graham-cracker crust. Offered separately or as an accompaniment to the desserts are high-quality house-made sorbets and ice creams. The coffee, which is from La Prima Espresso Co. in the Strip District, is a cut above the rest.
Going forward, Hammond and O’Brien have several goals: to grow herbs and some vegetables on a plot of land on the restaurant’s property, to deepen their relationships with local farms and purveyors and to complete a banquet dining area slated to accommodate up to 180 people. At this rate, Restaurant Echo is a force to be reckoned with in the North Hills and is definitely a nice change of pace from the usual chain eatery.
1740 Route 28, Cranberry Township, PA (16066); 724/779-3246, restaurantecho.com. Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Tues.-Sat., 5-10 p.m.; Late Night Fare: Tues.-Sat., 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Small Plates: $7-$12; Large Plates - Lunch: $9-$14, Dinner: $18-$26; Dessert: $7-$12. Alcohol, major credit cards accepted, reservations recommended, vegetarian options, wheelchair-accessible, no smoking, restaurant parking lot, gluten friendly, seat past 10:30 p.m. (in bar only), outdoor seating to come.