2011 Delicious Design: Salt of the Earth

What became one of the most highly anticipated openings the Pittsburgh region has seen in years, Salt of the Earth—which looks and feels as if it were plopped onto Penn Avenue straight from a NYC side street—turned out to be well worth the wait.
salt of the earth

Casual-upscale Salt of the Earth is a transparent
space without hidden prep rooms or blocking walls
so that guests can see the chefs and staff at all

Photo by Laura Petrilla   

In the months leading up to the Salt of the Earth’s opening, chef and co-owner Kevin Sousa’s dedicated following became encompassed by his blog (saltpgh.com/blog) and Twitter feed (@saltpgh) of constant updates as he memorably revealed first glimpses of the restaurant’s hand-crafted wooden furnishings, stainless-steel kitchen appliances and Ikea dishware.

When entering the space today, it’s not difficult to imagine the Penn Avenue location as the city’s first Harley Davidson dealership during the 1920s. The building’s original integrity is present in its sweeping window arches and brick texture that are present throughout the restaurant—and that Harley vibe is somewhat present in the ink-covered arms of the staff.

Most recently, the space was a home interiors store before Doug and Liza Cruze, of Cruze Architects in the East End and now also the restaurant’s co-owners, purchased it in 2007.

“I met Doug and Liza Cruze at an event, and they approached me and said, ‘We want to do a restaurant … something cool … and we want to be involved in the build-out,” Sousa says. “They said [to me], ‘Tell us your vision.’”

The trio designed and built casual-upscale Salt of the Earth as a transparent space without hidden prep rooms or blocking walls so that guests can see the chefs and staff at all times. Sousa’s wish list—which eventually was granted—consisted of three basic items: communal tables, an open kitchen and a chalkboard menu.

The downstairs dining area features six rows of communal wooden tables—sectioned together by the pair—that are flanked by stools that easily combine to form benches. The sleek, minimalistic designs were created and crafted by Jim Ladner, of Pittsburgh, and are lit by modern, hanging spotlights. Other lively seating options include a laid-back, six-seater bar and an eight-seater bar overlooking the open kitchen.

The interior furnishings blend a range of earthy elements, hues and textures: wood, granite, glass, aluminum and chalk. One of the most functional design elements is the floor-to-ceiling wall chalkboard that displays the day’s starters, mains and desserts, as well as the wine and beer selection.

Upstairs, mezzanine seating wraps one-half of the perimeter of the main dining area and provides quieter, more intimate seating that overlooks the action on the floor below. But perhaps the most stunning features are the restaurant’s massive front-facing windows that make the space feel as if it spills onto bustling Penn Avenue.

“[The Cruzes] channeled everything I had in mind and created the most beautiful restaurant I could ever imagine,” Sousa says.

Salt of the Earth, chef/owner Kevin Sousa; architects/owners Doug and Liza Cruze; 5523 Penn Ave., Garfield. Info: 412/441-7258, saltpgh.com.

Categories: Eat + Drink Features