Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Restaurant Review: Superior Motors

Kevin Sousa’s long-anticipated project fires on all cylinders as a restaurant. But, will it fulfill its larger mission?




photos by laura petrilla

 

The three-year saga surrounding the opening of Superior Motors played out like a serial.

In the beginning, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman invited Kevin Sousa, who grew up in McKees Rocks, another town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh decimated by the collapse of heavy industry, to the borough for a walk. Sousa eventually moved to Braddock and the two later settled on the restaurant’s location, with the promise of free rent and institutional support to rehabilitate a long abandoned automobile dealership.

Everything looked promising. There was buzz. And more buzz. A hyped-up, record-shattering Kickstarter campaign.

Then came a years-long pause in construction due to cost overruns and an unwillingness from banks to offer Sousa loans due to the perceived risk of opening a restaurant in Braddock and his shaky credit history surrounding his prior ventures: Salt of the Earth, Union Pig and Chicken, and Station Street.

The 2,000-plus Kickstarter backers waited to cash in on their rewards. “Will he ever open?” stories ran in local and national publications while at the same time, even though nothing had happened, “Kevin Sousa’s soon-to-open Superior Motors” became part of the oft-repeated, overwrought hymn praising Pittsburgh’s “booming foodie scene.”

It took an angel investor to step in as the lead of a small group of private financiers to get things going.

In July, Superior Motors opened.



In an early online look at the restaurant, I drew a comparison between Superior Motors and Salt of the Earth, Sousa’s 2010 Garfield restaurant that, alongside Dinette, Cure, Bar Marco and a few others, spurred Pittsburgh into its modern dining era. “If Salt was Sousa’s ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ this is his ‘Pride and Prejudice,’” I wrote. “It’s written in the same voice, but the characters are more compelling.” This still rings true.

As a restaurant, Superior Motors is pretty much exactly where it should be at this point in its development. The menu isn’t rooted in any particular cuisine, per se, so let’s call it “New American with hints of farm-to-table and an occasional detour to Japan.”



Just about everything is tasty. There are a handful of clunkers, such a chewy, over-fried skate wing, but, more often than not, the often-changing menu is enjoyable. As an example, I was thrilled with the textures, balanced flavors and bright plating of fresh-as-the-sea hamachi dressed with avocado, black garlic and pineapple.

That’s not to say that many dishes couldn’t use a little editing; Sousa’s style is more cerebral than soulful, which is fine because even though I’d sometimes like to see him cook more from the gut, he’s very good at what he does. Occasionally, though, that leads to overcomplicated offerings. For example, trout roe added color but no character to “Pork,” a dish that a friend loved (because he enjoys assembling a perfect bite every time) but other dining companions felt was too composed for its own good. “Tuna” was a stunning set piece of color, yet the cover was better than the story — a sea of bitter olive tapenade overwhelmed the meaty fish.



 

The main dining room is a grey study in poured concrete, with various levels creating a sense of movement. Snag one of the standard-height tables in the center of the room — make sure you get a seat that faces the dramatic flares coming from the Edgar Thomson Steel Works — and you’re set for a comfortable, lively evening. But the high-top tables on the far wall are long rectangles that jut away from diners — which can lead to awkward seating for groups of four — and it’s near-impossible to get cozy at the low lounge tables near the windows (the view from those seats is stunning, however). There also is a chill second dining room brightened with art by Pittsburgh-based Mia Tarducci (her work is on display throughout the restaurant) — depending on your mood you’ll either enjoy the quiet or feel isolated from the main action, as if you were banished to the kids’ table instead of being invited to the party.

The restaurant’s general manager, Chris Clark, acts as Sousa’s anchor and chief consigliare. Clark once was maitre d’ of WD-50 in New York and, prior to taking his current position, served as general manager of Mezzo Downtown. He is a confident leader, and he’s shepherding an exemplary front-of-house program. Some of the younger members of his diverse crew don’t have much or any restaurant experience, but missteps are small and quickly corrected.

Clark is responsible for setting the vibe, too. He and Sousa curate the tone of each evening with a selection of philosophically connected records (release year, influence of form, genre) played at pitch-perfect volume from start to finish. Clark says he’s also quick to change the plan if the energy in the room isn’t the anticipated reaction to the tunes.



Beverage director Jeremy Bustamante, who was always a reliable craftsman at Salt of the Earth and his other Pittsburgh gigs, struts his stirrer and his shaker stronger than ever at Superior Motors. Every cocktail, save for an undrinkable tomato concoction (hey, it had a nice aroma), was balanced, cleverly constructed to hit a specific flavor profile. Considering the drive back home, it’s a good thing “Vermouth,” a tart and slightly sour low-alcohol cocktail, was my favorite of the bunch.

Pastry chef Kate Carney’s big-time debut is a big success. Carney previously worked under James Beard semifinalist Casey Renee at Whitfield in East Liberty and also prepared desserts at Gaucho Parrilla Argentina in the Strip (and worked as a pizza-maker prior to that). I’m still thinking about her pavlova with its perfect crunchy crust and nougat interior, bolstered by a yuzu sauce taken to the point of tartness without crossing the line.

There’s no reason to think that Superior Motors won’t continue to get even better as it settles in. As it stands now, it’s an establishment that deserves to be part of Pittsburgh’s restaurant conversation.



But that conversation can’t just be about the food, service and drinks. Sousa’s long-term commitment to Braddock remains to be seen.

Sousa has gone to great lengths to assert that Superior Motors isn’t a fancy restaurant dropped into a low-income neighborhood because the price was right. He bills it as a “community restaurant and farm ecosystem” and often has stressed how important the inclusion of the Braddock community is to the success of the restaurant.

Yet right now it feels like Superior Motors largely is a destination restaurant for establishment diners feeling “brave” enough to go to a neighborhood they normally wouldn’t consider visiting, and for the cool kids who always are part of the scene.

Management worked with community leaders such as Mary Carey at the Braddock Carnegie Library to ensure that residents get a discount card; anyone who lives in the Braddock part of the 15104 ZIP code (Rankin and North Braddock are excluded) can come with a guest 18 times per year and receive a 50 percent discount on their food; a meal with two small plates and two entree-sized portions runs, with the discount, somewhere around $20 per person. I hope they use it, and, if they’re not, I hope the Superior Motors team reaches out to learn what’s keeping them from visiting.

Sousa and Clark are, at the very least, making inroads with whom they are employing. At any given time, according to Clark, 30 to 40 percent of the staff, both front- and back-of-house, are residents of Braddock. Although an early conversation about an apprentice program with the esteemed, community-focused nonprofit Grow Pittsburgh and its Braddock Farms never materialized, Sousa now looks to be in the nascent stage of a promised culinary training curriculum.

The adjacent lot that houses the Braddock Community Oven, a project funded in part by a grant stipulating that the oven is accessible for community use, might be a bellwether. It’s imperative that space, a longstanding meeting spot for neighborhood and nonprofit events that Sousa and his team now are using for a pizza offshoot called Parts & Service, remains open to the community, even if that means fewer pizza nights and private events for the restaurant.

At the end of the day, whether or not Superior Motors integrates its community mission with its mission as a restaurant will determine if this is a true transformative space or simply a very good place to eat.

1211 Braddock Ave., Braddock; 412/271-1022, superiormotors15104.com
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Catching Up With Rivendale Farms Susanna Meyer and Neil Stauffer

The two foundational figures of Pittsburgh's sustainable farming movement blend old-school know-how with forward-thinking practices at the Washington County farm.

MultiStories: Three Times a Bust – The German National Bank

The bank was at the center of a corruption scandal which eventually led to an overhaul of Pittsburgh city government.

Matters of the Heart

In a city of eds and meds, it’s to be expected that some couples are going to meet in the medical field. We found some of the best “meet-cutes” from recent Pittsburgh weddings.

At Scene75, Be a Kid (or Bring Your Kids)

The entertainment center in Edgewood is a great time with or without little ones.

Pitt Attaches Old-School Signature to Narduzzi’s Championship Prediction

Thanks to wide receivers recognized for their blocking ability and an offensive line endearingly referred to as “knuckleheads“ –– the Panthers are one win away from making their head coach's bold pre-season prediction a reality.

Pittsburgh Restaurant News: Reduced Hours and a Chef Change

Two Oakland restaurants now have shorter hours and a chef moves from Downtown to Lawrenceville.

What Unites Us In the Wake of the Tree of Life Tragedy

We asked local faith leaders for their response to the massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill –– and how we can come together and more forward as a community.

Pittsburgh Restaurant Review: Molinaro Ristorante

Ron Molinaro's Downtown restaurant offers high-end Italian dishes made with top-notch ingredients, but is it worth the price premium?

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2018 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine highlights the unsung heroes of the health care field: our Excellence in Nursing honorees, chosen by our panel of distinguished judges in the field.

Nursing Shortage in Pittsburgh Calls for Creative Solutions

RetuRN to Practice entices retired nurses back Into the field.

Fine Art Meets High Fashion at the Carnegie International

With the Carnegie International as the backdrop, we feature work by local fashion designer Elaine Healey, who has been morphing from luxury womenswear to a more “non-binary” style.

The 400-Word Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

While Harry Potter diehards will find more than enough sustenance in the sequel, non-devotees may have a rough time following the action.

Pittsburgh's Tomorrow – What We Need in the Future

As the year comes to a close, we look forward to what Pittsburgh can be –– and what we'd like to see change –– in the coming years.

How to Shop Like a Pro for Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh

Our guide to produce, pastries, libations and more will help your table brim with tasty treats from Pittsburgh-area businesses.

Drink Like the French on Beaujolais Nouveau Day

Why and where to celebrate on Thursday, which marks the annual release of the young wine.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Pittsburgh Just Dodged the Amazon Bullet

Pittsburgh Just Dodged the Amazon Bullet

We should be relieved that the tech giant opted not to move in.

Comments

It's Official: Amazon HQ2 is Not Coming to Pittsburgh

It's Official: Amazon HQ2 is Not Coming to Pittsburgh

Instead of one city, the giant retailer is splitting its second headquarters between northern Virginia and New York City.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Pittsburgh Restaurant News: Reduced Hours and a Chef Change

Pittsburgh Restaurant News: Reduced Hours and a Chef Change

Two Oakland restaurants now have shorter hours and a chef moves from Downtown to Lawrenceville.

Comments

How to Shop Like a Pro for Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh

How to Shop Like a Pro for Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh

Our guide to produce, pastries, libations and more will help your table brim with tasty treats from Pittsburgh-area businesses.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Don’t resign yourself to the gym treadmills just yet – fall is one of the best times of the year to get outside and pound the pavement, surrounded by falling leaves and the possibility of grabbing a hot latte on the way home.

Comments

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

We dove into the local artisan bread scene to find the best places that bake naturally leavened bread in Pittsburgh.

Comments


At Scene75, Be a Kid (or Bring Your Kids)

At Scene75, Be a Kid (or Bring Your Kids)

The entertainment center in Edgewood is a great time with or without little ones.

Comments

Five Essential November Events in Pittsburgh

Five Essential November Events in Pittsburgh

Avian art, altruistic alt-rock and more November nights.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pitt Attaches Old-School Signature to Narduzzi’s Championship Prediction

Pitt Attaches Old-School Signature to Narduzzi’s Championship Prediction

Thanks to wide receivers recognized for their blocking ability and an offensive line endearingly referred to as “knuckleheads“ –– the Panthers are one win away from making their head coach's bold pre-season prediction a reality.

Comments

Steelers Have Changed the Narrative in Dramatic Fashion

Steelers Have Changed the Narrative in Dramatic Fashion

A defense that was groping to accomplish the simplest of tasks has started to dominate. The offense has stopped getting in its own way and started exploding scoreboards.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The 400-Word Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

While Harry Potter diehards will find more than enough sustenance in the sequel, non-devotees may have a rough time following the action.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The 400-Word Review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Coen Brothers' western anthology is less than the sum of its parts, but it boasts some great tales.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Matters of the Heart

Matters of the Heart

In a city of eds and meds, it’s to be expected that some couples are going to meet in the medical field. We found some of the best “meet-cutes” from recent Pittsburgh weddings.

Comments

‘X’ Marks the Spot for This Wedding Scavenger Hunt

‘X’ Marks the Spot for This Wedding Scavenger Hunt

She thought she was going on a simple scavenger hunt. She never dreamed it would end with a wedding.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Schoolhouse Electric Brings Hip Lighting, Coffee, to Pittsburgh

Schoolhouse Electric Brings Hip Lighting, Coffee, to Pittsburgh

The Portland, Ore-based lighting and furnishings store, which shares space with a high-end coffeehouse from the team behind The Vandal restaurant, is located in East Liberty's Detective Building.

Comments

Own a Piece of the Allegheny County Courthouse With New Gift Line

Own a Piece of the Allegheny County Courthouse With New Gift Line

Wendell August Forge is turning the century-old terracotta roof tiles into a line of collectible itms that include wall hangings and beer flight carriers.

Comments