Hungry For Something Good, Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating In April
We're visiting a Turkish Market, eating cheese expertly paired with condiments, enjoying Caribbean cuisine and revisiting one of our favorite sandwich shops. Plus, we chat with Sabatino ‘Sam’ DiBattista, Executive Chef/Owner of Vivo Kitchen.
photo by erin kelly
Turkish Delight: The Olive Tree
Turkish expatriates Denise and Sinan Ucargonul opened The Olive Tree in October 2016 in Squirrel Hill. The speciality foods store brings a taste of their home country to Pittsburgh. Customers can find a range of products such as soujouk (a spicy, dried-beef sausage flavored with garlic and cumin), üçgen yufka (large wedges of filo pastry sheets), spices, olives and an array of imported jams and sweets. The Ucargonuls plan to roll out coffee and tea service in the next few months, accompanied by pastries prepared by Denise, who attended culinary school for four years in Turkey.
5824 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/422-4545, theolivetree.us
photo by evan custer
Casellula @ Alphabet City
Pittsburgh now has a next-level cheese bar. Earlier this year, owner Brian Keyser opened a second outpost of his Hell’s Kitchen establishment that now is the cornerstone of City of Asylum’s North Side home, which also includes a performance space and bookstore. Go for hard-to-find cheeses expertly paired with enhancing condiments. Executive Chef Andrew Hill offers a menu of shareable plates such as beets with pomegranate molasses, yogurt and cashews, and tagliatelle with pork belly, Calabrian chili, tomato and Pecorino.
North Side: 40 W. North Ave.; 412/226-9740, casellulapgh.com
photo by hal B. Klein
Hit the (south) hills to get to the islands. Owner Leon Rose began serving plates of Jamaican cuisine at his eponymous restaurant a little more than two years ago. I wish it hadn’t taken me this long to start visiting. Jerk chicken is smoky, savory and has a building heat. Goat curry, served bone-in and fork-tender, sings with background notes of allspice, ground ginger and thyme. Tasty steamed fish in pumpkin sauce and oxtail stew also are on the menu. I don’t often drink soda, but the D & G Genuine Jamaican cream soda is a nice compliment to Rose’s dishes.
Allentown: 823 E. Warrington Ave.; 412/431-5366
High design and French cuisine reign supreme at this restaurant in Sewickley. I’m all for the rise of quick and casual restaurant experiences, but it also is nice to see a new establishment aim higher and offer a formal, French menu. I was impressed by a meaty, lemony Dover sole dish when I visited. With a bit more attention to detail from the kitchen and front-of-house staff, this is sure to become a go-to dining destination.
Sewickley: 409 Beaver St.; 412/741-9200, bruneaux409.com
Executive Chef Wyatt Lash assumed command of the restaurant’s kitchen in February 2016, and he has really settled into the gig. Go to the Downtown gastropub, located in the Hotel Monaco, for filling brunch, lunch and dinner meals. Short ribs, deeply caramelized and savory, are an excellent option, as is British pub-grub favorite chicken tikka masala. Charred cauliflower is a solid choice for diners looking for a lighter option.
Downtown: 458 Strawberry Way; 412/230-4800, thecommonerpgh.com
photo by erin kelly
Better Between Buns: Thin Man Sandwich Shop
Sandwiches at Thin Man Sandwich Shop are made with an eye toward culinary technique but served without pretension. They’re crafted by former fine-dining chefs Sherri and Dan Leiphart, who opened their Strip District eatery in 2013. The duo serves a rotating selection of sandwiches such as butter-braised beets with oyster mushrooms, Manchego cheese and balsamic vinegar (foreground), as well as staples such as The Smash, a feel-good combination of goat-milk-marinated organic chicken breast, avocado, sprouts and lemon-pickled green onion.
50 21st. St., Strip District; 412/586-7370, thinmansandwichshop.com
Sabatino ‘Sam’ DiBattista
Vivo kitchen | Executive Chef / Owner
Sam DiBattista, 58, opened Vivo in Bellevue in 2000. At one point, he also owned a club, a coffee shop called Affogato and a community arts space called Creative Treehouse in the neighborhood. DiBattista closed those locations when the economy went sour at the end of the 2000s and reopened Vivo in 2012 in Sewickley.
What’s changed in the restaurant industry in the last 17 years?
If you opened up something good around here in 2000, people would find you wherever you were. Trying to be a destination restaurant in the Pittsburgh market now is more difficult because there’s so much good food out there. The quality of the food has been so elevated that finding enough staff to get it done at that high level is now the problem.
What ingredients/techniques are driving you at the moment?
I’m a minimalist with my food. I’ve always been like that. We have access to a farm up on the hill. We use it during the summer when we can grow peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, apples and pears. Now, we’re trying to work on a project where we can organize more structure in what’s coming out of that space. Also, I love hanging out with the younger chefs who are pushing things forward.
Is it different feeding people in the suburbs than it is in the city?
I think so. People like to be challenged when they travel. They want the food to be interesting but not challenging when it’s in their own backyard because you’re going there a few days per week. Changing the menu as much isn’t quite as important because people develop dishes that they really like and will come here specifically for them.
You’re an artist. And you worked not just on your own restaurant but also Morcilla?
Justin (Severino, Morcilla’s owner) was nice enough to let me in on some of the design work. We did the lighting there and the rack for the prosciutto and a bunch of little art metal trimming things here and there. And then most of the design and buildout at Vivo we did ourselves; we had an architect there to make sure we didn’t get off track. It was a lot of fun. This was the first time I had some money to work with on design.