Pittsburgh Chefs Share Opinions on Customers, Each Other

We polled some of the city's top chefs for an insider's look on the industry.

 Photos by Laura Petrilla

(from left) Richard DeShantz, Trevett Hooper, Justin Severino and Brian Pekarcik


Restaurants increasingly are associated with the personalities of the chef whose name is on the menu. Yet most of what we know about these chefs comes from what they serve at their restaurants and, perhaps, display on their Instagram feeds. We wanted to know a little bit more about how local chefs perceive their customers and their compatriots, as well as their overall view of Pittsburgh’s dining culture. Our solution was straightforward: Ask them.

We sent a list of 17 questions to the chefs who helm our Best Restaurants, and we received responses from 21 chefs. What was very clear is that their opinions of Pittsburgh’s dining culture are as diverse as anyone’s. Most categories didn’t have a definite winner. Chefs tended to like their own pastry chefs (if they had them) and bartenders, and they overwhelmingly chose “home” as their preferred after-work hangout.

(from left) Matthew Porco, Mr. Shu, Derek Stevens and Keith Fuller

While Justin Severino received the most votes — six — for Chef of the Year, 13 other restaurant chefs also received at least one vote. Cure, however, was the chefs’ top choice by a wide margin (10) for the Pittsburgh kitchen in which they would like to work for a week.

When combined, adjacent spots Legume and Butterjoint won for favorite restaurant (six), with Cure pulling in second with four votes.

Seven chefs said they believe the Pittsburgh restaurant scene could use more and better restaurants that focus on non-American cuisines such as ramen, non-Thai Southeast Asian, sushi and Mexican. Some chefs also said that Pittsburgh needed late-night dining options and a large, high-quality, year-round farmers market.

(from left) Chris Bonfili, Gloria Fortunato, Jamilka Borges and Kate Romane

One Woman Farm, Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, Who Cooks For You Farm, Paragon and Churchview Farm all received multiple votes for favorite produce supplier, but none stood out as a clear winner.

While 13 different meat suppliers received at least one vote, local lamb produced by Jamison Farm and Elysian Fields Farm took a combined five of those votes.

We also asked chefs to share their pet peeves about customers. Answers varied, but they can be narrowed down to three main irritations: treating staff members as if they were servants and not people, faking food allergies to avoid having something in a dish and writing a bad review online instead of telling someone at the restaurant directly about displeasure with a meal.


Chris Bonfili, Avenue B; Jamilka Borges, Bar Marco/The Wine Room; Domenic Branduzzi, Piccolo Forno and Grapperia; Richard DeShantz, Meat & Potatoes, Butcher and the Rye and täkō; Sabatino “Sam” DiBattista, Vivo Kitchen; Anthony Falcon, Gaucho Parrilla Argentina; Stephen Felder, Stagioni; Brandon Fisher, Salt of the Earth; Bill Fuller, big Burrito Restaurant Group; Keith Fuller, Root 174; Dustin Gardner, Soba; Trevett Hooper, Legume and Butterjoint; Brian Pekarcik, Spoon, Grit & Grace and BRGR; Matthew Porco, Sienna on the Square and Sienna Mercato; Justin Severino, Cure; Derek Stevens, Eleven Contemporary Kitchen; Kate Romane, E2; Mr. Shu, Umi Japanese Restaurant; Joseph Tambellini, Joseph Tambellini Restaurant; Eli Wahl, Casbah; Don Winkie, Eighty Acres Kitchen & Bar.

The Poll

* Note: Some chefs voted for more than one in certain categories, and not everyone voted in every category. Also, responses don’t correlate with the order in which chefs are listed.


Who is your Pittsburgh Chef of the Year?

Justin Severino, Cure  [6]
Michele Savoia, Dish Osteria & Bar  [2]
Derek Stevens, Eleven Contemporary Kitchen  [2]
Richard DeShantz, Meat & Potatoes, Butcher and the Rye and täkō
Anthony Falcon, Gaucho Parrilla Argentina
Sabatino “Sam” DiBattista, Vivo Kitchen
Dave Racicot, täkō
Leah Lizarondo, The Brazen Kitchen blogger
Trevett Hooper, Legume and Butterjoint
Brian Pekarcik, Spoon, Grit & Grace and BRGR
Rick Easton, Bread and Salt Bakery
Keith Fuller, Root 174
Bill Fuller, big Burrito Restaurant Group
Jamilka Borges, Bar Marco
Kate Romane, E2

What is your favorite restaurant?

Cure [4]
Legume [4]
Butterjoint [2]
Dish Osteria & Bar [3]
Eleven Contemporary Kitchen [3]
Butcher and the Rye [2]
Chengdu Gourmet
Sesame Inn
Grit & Grace
Feng Japanese Steak Hibachi & Sushi House
Umi Japanese Restaurant
Meat & Potatoes

If you could work in another Pittsburgh kitchen for a week, which one would it be?

Cure [10]
Legume [2]
Everyday Noodles [2]
Chengdu Gourmet
Bread and Salt Bakery
Vivo Kitchen
Umi Japanese Restaurant
YinzBurgh BBQ
Penn Avenue Fish Co.


Who is your favorite bartender?

Maggie Meskey, täko [3]
Mike Mills, formerly of Butcher and the Rye [2]
Evan Thorsen, The Livermore/The Cloakroom and Soba [2]
Will Groves, formerly of Butterjoint [2]
Shane Morrison, Acacia
“Acacia staff”
Josh Katora, Vivo Kitchen
Carrie Clayton, The Livermore
Giuseppe Capolupo, The Livermore
Sean Rosenkrans, Allegheny Wine Mixer
Deirdre Durant, Kelly’s Bar & Lounge
“Eighty Acres team”
Amanda Carto, formerly of Butterjoint
John Wabeck, Spoon
Byron Nash, Harris Grill

Who is the best pastry chef in Pittsburgh?

Julie Martin, Eleven [2]
“Food Glorious Food” [2]
“Gaby et Jules Patisseries et Macarons” [2]
Rick Easton, Bread and Salt Bakery 
Emily Bourdon, Soba
April Simpson, Vanilla Pastry Studio 
Annalee DePaoli, Piebird (forthcoming) 
Melanie Mills, Ali’s Marketplace
“La Gourmandine”
Shelby Ortz, Lux Artisan Chocolates
Vanessa Gangewere, Meat & Potatoes, Butcher and the Rye and täko  
Erin Ribo, Sienna Mercato

What new kitchen skill or technique do you want to learn this year?

Curing meats [3]
Better understanding dumplings [2]
Bread-baking [2]
Canning in a commercial kitchen, legally
Mastering corn tortillas
CVAP (controlled vapor technology)
Overall refinement of skill
Fine tuning and expanding pasta techniques
Molecular gastronomy
Asian noodles
How to make more money
Keeping knives super-sharp at all times
Cheese-making with ancient techniques


Who is your favorite produce supplier?

Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance [6]
One Woman Farm [4]
Who Cooks For You Farm [3]
Paragon Foods [3]
Churchview Farm [2]
Sunfresh Food Service
Chef’s Garden
Monteverde Inc.
Garfield Community Farm
Anthony’s Original Produce

What’s your biggest pet peeve with customers?

Treating staff poorly [3]
Threatening or writing bad/snarky reviews on online review sites [3]
Faking food allergies [2]
No-call, no-shows for reservations [2]
Lack of perspective
Ordering buttered noodles for kids instead of real food
Calling chef during busy time
Customers creating their own dishes
Sending back food even though it was made exactly as described on menu
Not trying new things
Everyone wants to eat at 7 p.m.
Throwing away wooden plates
None. I love all of my customers.

Next: favorite after-work hangouts, inspiring ingredients, guilty pleasures, go-to take-out spots and more..



Where is your favorite after-work hangout?

Home [10]
Butterjoint [3]
Allegheny Wine Mixer [2]
Kelly’s Bar & Lounge
The Livermore
Squirrel Cage (or the
Squirrel Hill Cafe)
Emporio’s bar
Round Corner Cantina
Mad Mex
Someone Else’s Bar (in Castle Shannon)

What ingredient did you find most inspiring this year?

Minus 8 vinegars
Seafood, specifically oysters
Lamb ribs
High-quality olive oil
Arugula from Churchview Farm
Bee pollen
Monkfish liver
Fish marrow
Citrus, especially Meyer lemons
and blood oranges
Fermented and dried
Iberian cayenne pepper
Cashew milk
Live scallops

What is your guilty-pleasure food?

Cheetos [2]
Chicken wings [2]
French-fry-and-butter sandwich on baguette
Chicken wings, Buffalo-style, extra-crispy, blue cheese
Rigatoni alla Scamoza from Dish Osteria and Bar
Too much of everything
Taco Bell
Potato bun split-tops with hot dogs slathered in Heinz ketchup
Beef tendon
Fish and chips plus a pint of beer from Piper’s Pub
Burrito from Chipotle
Korean food
Fried foods
Chocolate ice cream
Hot dogs
Chocolate-covered marshmallows from IKEA
Fiori’s pizza
Milk-soaked Oreos microwaved
till warm, vanilla-bean gelato, hot fudge, walnuts


Who is your favorite meat supplier?

Jamison Farm [3]
Strip District Meats [3]
Elysian Fields Farm [2]
Heritage Farm [2]
Samuels Seafood
Clarion Farms
Weiss Provisions
True World Foods
Jo-Mar Provisions
Jubilee Hilltop Ranch
Michael’s Meats
Curtze Food Service
Butcher on Butler
Serenity Hills Farm
Thoma’s Meat Market
Miller’s Meat Market

What’s always in your fridge?

Pickles [4]
Cheese [3]
Hot sauce [3]
Butter [3]
Eggs [2]
Kimchi [2]
Mustard [2]
Beer [2]
Pecorino Romano
Roasted garlic
Good San Marzano gravy in the freezer
White wine
Cured meats
Coconut water
Kid provisions
Dr. Pepper
Rendered pig fat
Asian vegetables
Fresh garlic
Fresh berries
Almond milk
Whole milk

TAKO photo by hal b. klein


What is your favorite development in the Pittsburgh restaurant scene this year?

High-quality bakeries opening [2]
Growth of downtown as a dining destination [2]
Food trucks [2]
Multiple Szechuan restaurants
No clue
All of the James Beard recognition
You see a lot more Pittsburgh chefs branching out and establishing their own identity
Community events and collaborations such as the backyard BBQ and Italian BBQ
Some really great ethnic restaurants, Nak Won Garden, Chengdu Gourmet, etc.
Looking forward to täkō
412 Food Rescue
Artisanal breweries
More and more restaurants sourcing locally and presenting these ingredients with elegant simplicity
International camaraderie through social media

What ingredient is overused?

Pork belly [4] (Note: 3 qualified that they also love it)
Brussels sprouts [4]
Microgreens as garnish [2]
In-house charcuterie
Paper-thin radish or beet as garnish
Ground meat
Chipotle pepper
Pickled mustard seeds


Where is your go-to takeout place?

Spak Brothers [2]
Gaucho Parrilla Argentina [2]
How Lee
China Palace
Jade Grill
Sesame Inn (the North Hills location)
East End Food Co-op salad bar
Salem’s Market & Grill 
Taipei Tokyo
Korea Garden
Thai Gourmet
Beto’s Pizza
Ramen Bar

What is Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene missing? What would you like to see here?

Late-night dining [4]
Ramen [2]
“Ethnic” food [2]
Mexican [2]
Better non-Thai Southeast Asian
A Derek Stevens restaurant
Casual but delicious Italian
Formal/white tablecloth dining
More of many things
Women chefs
Lounge with a DJ and good food
Better overall dining culture with better-educated diners
Large, year-round farmers market
Nerd bars


Categories: Best Restaurants