Recommended Pittsburgh Dishes From February
PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein is digging Mon Valley Red Top pizza, tabletop grilling and more.
Mon Valley Red-Top Pizza At Anthony’s Italiano
“Let’s go on a foodventure!” is a thing my friends and I like to say and do. We’ve traveled to West Virginia to see Chengdu Gourmet’s Wei Zhu serve Sichuan cuisine at a small rodeo and down the Ohio in search of frozen custard. Last weekend, prompted by a post on the first-rate blog Pittsburgh Orbit, we journeyed to the Monongahela Valley in search of Mon Valley red-top pizza. It’s a style of pizza that, as far as I know, is unique to the region (and hard to find even there). The basic build is this: there’s a thin-ish bottom crust; cheese and other items such as pepperoni that would typically be toppings; a thin second crust that’s crimped to the bottom one, encasing the cheese and toppings; red sauce atop it all. It then is baked for 14 to 16 minutes in a deck oven. I’m just getting started on my quest to learn more about Mon Valley red-top, but right now Anthony’s Italiano, a Donora staple since 1977, serves my favorite. Even while sitting in the throwback dining room, we could hear the crackle of the crust as owner Anthony DiDonato cut through the layers of the hot pizza. Inside, the cheese melted into a gooey liminal state that retained a bit of pleasant squeak, while its fat and that of the pepperoni melted into the top crust to give it an almost laminated mouthfeel. I’m already plotting a return.
557 McKean Avenue, Donora; 724/379-8866, anthonysitaliano.com
Omakase I at Cobra
Cobra Lounge is one of my favorite Pittsburgh openings thus far in 2020. Owners Derek Burnell and Mirando Piso crafted an on-point, retro-future vibe, providing just the kind of escapism we need this deep into gloomy Pittsburgh winter (and, I’m sure, just the kind of party we’ll want deep into Pittsburgh summer). It also fills a void for Korean-style barbeque — Cobra’s 10 smokeless Shinpo Yakiniku grills allow for interactive tabletop grilling, which is something that I find quite a treat. Among the a la carte and set-menu offerings, Omakase I offers a nice mix of gorgeously butchered, bite-sized meats, as well as a few vegetables and an array of side dishes. It’s $44 per person, which, considering the quality of the meat, is a pretty good deal. Combine that with one of Cobra’s excellent cocktails or a selection from its sake and beer menu, and you’re in for a good night.
4305 Main St., Bloomfield; 412/682-2608, cobrapgh.com
Chicken Parmesan at Fish Nor Fowl
Chicken parm is one of my all-time favorite dishes in the Italian-American culinary cannon. When it’s made correctly, the juiciness of tender, slightly pounded chicken gives way to salty breadcrumb crunch, tangy tomato sauce and a gooey, umami-rich melt of cheese. Problem is, terrific chicken parm is hard to find. There almost always seems to be something wrong with the preparation — tough meat, gloopy sauce, gummy breading, often all three in one bite. So I was thrilled that the version on Fish Nor Fowl’s menu lived up to my ideal. They pound the chicken breast enough to give it some nooks and crannies for the breading to find some extra-crispy areas, but not so much that it’ll overcook. Saucing is restrained enough to keep that crisp edge from fading into mush and the cheese blend is melted with a little extra browning on the top.
5525 Penn Ave., Garfield; 412/640-4622, fishnorfowlpgh.com
Lamb Loin at Eleven Contemporary Kitchen
I’ll have much more on why Eleven Contemporary Kitchen remains relevant after all these years in my forthcoming April issue review. Among a number of excellent dishes I’ve had over the past few weeks, the lamb loin entree on the dinner menu is a stand-out. It begins with Elysian Fields Pure Bred lamb; the Washington County purveyor raises what many consider to be the finest lamb in the country. For this dish, a loin is cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with a seasonally appropriate set of parsnip puree, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, rosemary and tart cherry-Marcona almond salsa. I had it on a chilly February night and the panoply of wintery flavors hit all the right notes. Into lamb for lunch? The restaurant’s lamb belly sandwich is also outstanding.
1150 Smallman St., Strip District; 412/201-5656, elevenck.com