Review: Root 174
Cultivated comfort food finds a home in Regent Square’s happening food scene.
Photos by Laura Petrilla
Imagine a restaurant where you might fight over the last Brussels sprout (this happened to me) or where the vegan zucchini cake trumps the crème brûlée. A restaurant whose team organized a two-hour group bike ride that concluded with dinner at their place. Welcome to Root 174, a promising new restaurant in Regent Square that offers delicious, nourishing “cultivated comfort food.”
Chef/owner Keith Fuller spent six years “loving” his job as executive chef at Six Penn Kitchen but eventually decided to strike out on his own. His approach to cooking is very simple—“to make good food and have fun.” And Fuller’s restaurant is truly an expression of his desires: He wants the staff to feel like family, the customers to relax and the vibe to be rustic. Anyone can see his dedication to Root 174—just check out the restaurant logo he had tattooed on his neck!
For his new venture, fuller brought together a great team that includes business partner Patrick Bollinger, aka Pat Thetic, drummer for locally based band Anti-Flag; general manager Will Groves, formerly of the Greenbrier Resort and big Burrito Restaurant Group; and sous chef John “Butters” Heidelmeier, formerly of big Burrito and Legume. Groves is just one of the friendly staff members who will add to your dining experience; he will greet you at the door with a smile and check on you while you eat.
The restaurant’s name was born after Fuller took the square root of the sum of Regent Square’s two zip codes. Root 174 fills the space of much-loved Legume, which relocated to Oakland, so I was happy to see that the interior was transformed to offer a different experience. Independent designer Lauri Mancuso made the space chic yet earthy in a beautiful palette of ochre, copper and burgundy—complete with lovely wood finishes and sophisticated lighting.
The superb offerings range from vegan vegetable cakes to hanger steak, with interesting flavor combinations and sauces—all of which remain in line with the restaurant's comfort-food focus. Unlike traditional comfort food, the presentation at Root 174 is simple yet neat, with appropriately sized portions. True to comfort food, though, there are quite a few indulgent options available.
Great “Beginnings” include the large, beautifully seared day-boat sea scallops ($12) that are served with grilled sweet peaches, scallion hash and bacon-black-pepper jam. Another great choice is the mussel dish with spicy sausage in a tomato broth ($12), smartly portioned and providing a perfect balance of spicy and sweet. The root salad is a light, top-notch starter, comprising frisée, root vegetables, tender roasted-beet slices, fennel, pea tendrils, candied walnuts and chèvre ($7).
Of the entrées I sampled, my favorite (so good that my friend and I both ordered one to take home to our spouses) was the tender chicken breast topped with a roasted-corn salsa, sitting on creamy popcorn grits atop a pool of divine mole sauce comprised of peanuts, raisins, ancho chilies and bourbon ($22). Now that is comfort food elevated to the next level.
Ahi tuna spring roll, nori, kimchi, sushi rice, sweet and sour glaze, and wasabi caviar.
Another superb entrée is the house-made ricotta gnocchi ($19) with peas, Parmesan cheese and wild mushrooms garnished with egg and cherry tomatoes. The gnocchi dish boasts rich flavors and a nice contrast of textures and colors. The grilled hanger steak ($24) is a quality piece of meat that’s presented with blue-cheese croquettes and fingerling fries in a port-wine demi-glace sauce.
To my disappointment, the wahoo fish ($26) was overcooked—just like the meal given to another diner, who sent it back and received a much-less-cooked replacement. I chalk this up to opening missteps and am hopeful that this problem will be corrected in time. The fish is served with a tasty carbonara made of “zucchini linguini” (resembling pasta but made entirely of zucchini) with bacon, peas and Parmesan.
The vegetarian falafel ($15) is a nice surprise. Rather than the usual dried-out falafel puck, these are made of a creamy blend of chickpeas, cilantro, parsley, roasted garlic and spices, served with a pickled-cucumber salad and (not enough) black-cardamom yogurt.
A must-try is the Brussels sprouts side ($6). Tossed with house-cured bacon and black-pepper jam, the sprouts truly are “to die for,” delivering a marvelous flavor combination with great mouthfeel.
For dessert, two standouts are the rich, sweet vegan zucchini bread ($7) and the cheese platter ($9) that changes daily but always features two or three cheeses, fruit, candied nuts, artisanal bread and an orange gastrique. Homemade desserts are served with above-average French-press coffee from La Prima Espresso Co. in the Strip District. For every pound of coffee that Root 174 purchases from La Prima Espresso, $1 is donated to Grow Pittsburgh, an organization that advocates "responsible urban-food production."
Although Root 174 is BYOB, house-made sodas and several nonalcoholic beverages are available. I enjoyed the sweet, refreshing lemon-limeade ($3) flavored with basil, jalapeno and mint.
The restaurant has been so well-received that the team is thinking about adding lunch and brunch sometime next year. They also look forward to adding “root-themed” art as well as featuring special events; one of the team's ideas was to host movie nights where diners eat food featured in the film that’s being screened. This restaurant is off to an auspicious start, and I look forward to revisiting after they’ve fully settled in.
» 1113 S. Braddock Ave., Pittsburgh (15218); 412/243-4348, root174.com
» Tues.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m.
» Beginnings: $6-$12; Main: $15-$26; Desserts: $5-$7.
» BYOB ($5 corkage fee); major credit cards accepted; reservations recommended; vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options; wheelchair-accessible; no smoking; on-street parking; outdoor seating.