Review: Crested Duck Restaurant
Crested Duck is a prime place to enjoy cured meats, pickled plates and European-inspired bistro dishes, such as chicken roulade.
Photos by Laura Petrilla
Crested Duck is one of Pittsburgh’s top places to find charcuterie. An expansion of the successful Crested Duck Market in Beechview, Crested Duck Restaurant is a showcase for small-batch, housemade products — sausages, pâtés, prosciuttos and more — served with high-quality accompaniments.
The restaurant’s food is reminiscent of offerings at old-school Parisian cafés: refreshingly restrained, disciplined, appropriately portioned and highly flavorful. Some dishes are very rich, but they are entirely worthwhile.
Executive Chef/Partner Kevin Costa was 24 when he started Crested Duck Market four years ago. The self-taught chef’s exhibitor booth in the Strip District’s Pittsburgh Public Market offers a dizzying array of products made from beef, pork, duck, chicken, elk, rabbit and venison sold in various preparations: confits (meats preserved in their own fat), terrines, dry-aged meats and others. Among my favorites are the dark-red beef bresaola ($6.25 per 4 ounces) and the venison prosciutto ($9 per 4 ounces). Inside the public market, Crested Duck also stocks regional cheeses and various pantry items such as grains and beans.
The market now may be in the Strip, but all meat products still are produced in Beechview, where the restaurant is located. Its BYOB eatery seats only 20, so you’ll need to make reservations — and bring a bottle of your favorite red wine ($5 corkage per person). This minimally decorated spot features red walls, black tablecloths and a dark slate floor.
Regarding the restaurant, Costa says, “I want to walk the fine line of making the food approachable but elevated enough that you would feel you couldn’t make it at home.” Truthfully, very few could produce Crested Duck’s offerings at home. When was the last time you made a chicken-pistachio terrine?
Among the cold choices, an absolute must-have is the charcuterie plate ($10, half portion; $20, full portion). You might get “Penn Avenue” salami, pork lomo or sliced, smoked duck breast. Another signature choice is the pâté selection ($14), typically providing a pâté, terrine and mousse. To accompany these rich offerings, consider getting the pickle plate ($6), predominantly offering an assortment of such traditional vegetables as cucumber, cauliflower and okra. Another good match is the lightly dressed salad du jour ($9); I had one with thin pear slices, pepitas and goat cheese.
Beyond charcuterie, there are other cold choices, including the provencal tart ($6), abundantly topped with caramelized onions, kalamata onions and anchovies.
I was a little surprised that the crusty baguette loaf from La Gourmandine costs $3. Most cold dishes, particularly the charcuterie options, are best when eaten with bread, so I would prefer that it were complimentary.
Among the hot plates, the chicken roulade ($11) is French-inspired; tender ground chicken is encased in a soufflé-like outer layer of chicken, egg whites, mushrooms, spinach and herbs de Provence. A minor complaint: The Gouda-alfredo sauce, on which the roulade sits, is a bit grainy.
I didn’t much care for the crispy pork belly ($9), but that’s probably because I had assumed it was braised. Instead it is a confit, making the result a little too fatty for my taste. The tender, sliced bistro steak ($16) is great, served with a pungent roasted-red-pepper chimichurri.
The housemade desserts are on par with the quality of food. The grilled almond, orange and polenta cake ($7) has a toothy texture; it’s soaked in orange syrup, making for an earthy, satisfying treat. The chocolate bread pudding with dried cherries ($7) contains the right level of moisture and a rich dark-chocolate flavor.
The service at Crested Duck is on the casual side; typically, one or two servers are scheduled per night. My server was extremely knowledgeable about the products and made thoughtful recommendations.
In addition to visiting the Crested Duck public market booth and Beechview restaurant, you also can sign up for a butchery session or get four months of flavored bacon by joining the bacon club.
Kevin Costa / Executive Chef, Partner / Crested Duck
How did you get started?
I was always the kid who hung around the kitchen. When I was 16, I started working at a pancake house in the North Hills — first as a dishwasher and then as a pantry chef. After I finished college [at The Ohio State University], I did volunteer work in Africa. When I got back to Pittsburgh, I looked around and really felt that there were not enough charcuterie products in town. Most things for sale were either not made in-house or very traditional — at that time, Cure had not yet come on the scene. So, when I was 24, I started at Farmers@Firehouse in the Strip District, selling my earliest products.
How did you master charcuterie?
Honestly, I’m completely self-taught. I started out with a lot of butchering books. After you read many, many recipes, you start to learn the most successful ratios for the primary components, which are meat, fat, seasonings and curing agents. Then I spent a lot of time tweaking recipes. A lot of the challenges were really more about texture than flavor.
You’re using organic, local products. What about the additional expense?
When I was [younger], and everyone else was spending their money on music or clothes, I would spend it on food. I never felt resentful about spending extra money for better product. It just makes sense.
What’s happening with your USDA certification?
It was a very time-consuming process, but our cured products are now USDA-certified . . . Once you get the USDA stamp, you can sell your products to retailers, so soon you will be able to buy Crested Duck products at four Giant Eagle Market District [stores]. We are going to work on getting our smoked and cooked products, like pâté, certified next.
How did all this lead to a restaurant?
When we moved to the Pittsburgh Public Market, our booth was double the space of our previous location [at Farmers@Firehouse]. Then [when the public market relocated,] we completely moved our deli business out of Beechview [and] into the Strip, although we still produce everything in Beechview. So we had the old deli space empty and thought it would be fun to have a small restaurant there. We had already experimented with occasional prix-fixe dinners for about a year. We assumed that our store customers would be our restaurant customers. But now we are having people coming for the restaurant and then learning about the store. That’s been a nice surprise.
1603 Broadway Ave., Beechview; 412/892-9983, crestedduck.com; hours: 5-10pm Thu-Sat; BYOB ($5/person corkage fee); not suitable for vegetarians