Plan a trip to the Strip for Osteria 2350, a Strip District restaurant, featuring homey Italian fare that’s “simple, affordable and approachable.”
Osteria 2350 is an informal, friendly eatery where diners can enjoy a plate of simple, well-prepared Italian food, a glass of a wine and some lively conversation at very affordable prices (the priciest item on the menu costs $12). It is aptly named for the Italian word “osteria,” a dining establishment that is more casual than a ristorante or trattoria.
The 2350 in the name references the business’s address on Railroad Street in the Strip District, directly across the street from the entrance to the newly renovated Cork Factory complex.
This restaurant is brought to us by executive chef Greg Alauzen, also executive chef of Cioppino, a fine-dining restaurant opened in 2008 that specializes in seafood, meats and pasta. Not only is Osteria 2350 next door to Cioppino, but the two restaurants also share a kitchen—in addition to Alauzen’s commitment to approachable food made with quality ingredients.
A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Alauzen worked at two esteemed New York restaurants (Maxim’s and Aureole) before he returned to his hometown, where he spent six years as executive chef of Steelhead Grill. He moved on to be the opening chef at Eleven and then was the opening chef at Cioppino, where he’s been ever since.
After years of working in fine dining, Alauzen decided to create a place that offers food he “likes to eat at home” that is “simple, affordable and approachable.” The low prices and variety of menu items (salads, sandwiches, pizza and pasta) allow you to eat there as often as you like. Alauzen’s already seeing results: Osteria has regular customers who eat there several times a week.
The interior is understated but consistent with the concept. The space is one big room with a high ceiling; it’s finished in a combination of white, red and black, quieted a bit by the earth tones of caramel-painted walls and a moss-green floor.
Upon entering Osteria 2350, you will see a row of refrigerated cases; behind these is where the cooks prepare the food, making the restaurant feel somewhat like a deli. The place is cheerfully noisy with the clanking of dishes and the laughter of diners.
Big farm tables are major elements of the furnishings, which also include smaller granite-topped tables and rustic wooden or metal chairs. In true casual form, the place mat (printed daily) doubles as the menu.
On one of my visits, I brought an Italian friend who thought the food was spot-on. Unlike the serving sizes at many Italian restaurants in Pittsburgh, the portions here were appropriately sized for one person.
The meal starts with a rustic Italian flute and homemade focaccia served with a pool of olive oil seasoned with basil, garlic and parmesan. Among the antipasti, I recommend the marinated olives, a generous variety for $3; simply roasted parsnip chunks ($2), browned on the outside and sweet and tender inside; and the awesome paper-thin sliced eggplant ($2), lightly grilled and served with a balsamic vinaigrette.
The salads are respectable. I tried the arugula ($3), which featured a simple mound of greens topped with roasted peppers, balsamic vinaigrette and a light sprinkle of Gorgonzola cheese. A more interesting choice is the radicchio & endive dish ($4), a light and fresh blend of these two ingredients, complemented by small slices of grapefruit and red onion, and simply seasoned with olive oil.
Fede Pasta’s riccolina with caramelized mushrooms, truffle oil, arugula and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Photo by Laura Petrilla
The high point for me at Osteria 2350 was the pasta. There are five to choose from: The riccolina, spaghetti and rigatoni come from artisanal pasta maker Steve Salvi, of Fede Pasta in North Huntingdon, Pa.; the gnocchi and cavatelli are made in-house.
The riccolina ($10), cooked with caramelized mushrooms, truffle oil, arugula and Parmesano Reggiano, was lovely; the pasta was cooked al dente, and the toppings were simple yet perfectly balanced. The gnocchi ($12), marvelously light and airy, is baked with fontina and Parmesano Reggiano, and served with a light house-made tomato sauce.
The cavatelli ($10) is similarly light with an added cheesy edge. Unfortunately, the cavatelli toppings—rapini, roasted carrot, olive oil and Pecorino cheese—were much less exciting than they sounded.
If you’re in the mood for meats, then the antipasti plate ($6) might be for you. It’s a sampling of the Strip District’s Parma Sausage Products including prosciutto, sweet sopressata, salami rustico and coppa secca along with fresh mozzarella and aged provolone. You can choose to buy extra meats as a side dish, including meatballs ($1.50 each), Parma’s sweet sausage ($1.80/link) and braised pork ($4), a generous portion of tender, slow-cooked pork shoulder.
As you are eating your meal, you’ll be greeted by Joe Belardi, the restaurant’s chef de cucina who’s responsible for the day-to-day food production. Belardi attended Pittsburgh’s Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts after running a restaurant in Niagara Falls for several years so he could learn the “whys” of the restaurant industry. His chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu put him in touch with Alauzen, and they have worked together ever since.
Having Italian blood on both sides of his family, Belardi, a down-to-earth guy who enjoys interacting with his customers, gets inspiration from dining in the homes of his relatives in Italy.
All the desserts are made in-house by pastry chef Meghann Walsh with the exception of the gelato, which comes from Mercurio’s Mulberry Street Creamery in Kittanning, Pa.
Walsh makes simple homemade desserts like cookies and pies ($1-$3). I tried a cannoli ($2.50), a cream éclair ($2.50), the coconut-cream pie ($3) and the pecan pie ($3).
Although the cannoli and éclair were good, the pies were out of this world. The pecan pie is packed with nuts held together by a not-too-sweet, nicely firm filling. The coconut-cream pie is among the best I’ve ever eaten—its crust is tasty and flaky, the filling creamy and full of rich coconut flavor, and the topping light and fresh.
The wine list is mostly filled with Italian choices; there are about six wines available by the glass ($5-$9) and about 10 wines by the bottle ($22-$41). I enjoyed a glass of Piegai Chianti Classico ($7).
Beer lover? Osteria 2350 offers 20 domestic and imported beers from which to choose.
Osteria offers a convivial atmosphere with lots of conversation.
The friendly atmosphere reminded me that more and more people not only work and shop in the Strip, but live and eat here, too.
2350 Railroad St., Strip District (Pittsburgh 15222); 412/281-6595, osteria2350pittsburgh.com. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Soups & Salads: $3-$4; Antipasti: $2-$6; Sandwiches: $6-$8; Pasta: $10-$12; Pizza: $6-$12; Desserts: $1-$3. Wine and beer, major credit cards accepted, reservations taken for parties of eight or more; prepares gluten-friendly and vegetarian dishes; offers catering and banquet services; wheelchair-accessible; no smoking; parking lot next to restaurant—free parking with validation.