Restaurant + Bar = Love

If the delicious food served up by these area hotspots doesn't warm your soul, the spirits just might do the trick.

Photo of Il Pizzaiolo pizza by Laura Petrilla

Here in the early, frigid days of 2012 (and yes, typing this sentence did come with a perfunctory glance at the calendar to ensure that I had the year right), I’ve become enamored with establishments that are truly a bar and restaurant. Not a restaurant with a bar. Not a bar with table service. Two things. Over here is the bar, and over here is the restaurant. Pick one.

As should be obvious by now, I enjoy going places; I also enjoy not thinking about it too hard. If a place is mostly a restaurant, you have to weigh the “but we just want drinks and maybe a snack, they’ll be mad at us taking up a table” thing carefully. If a place is mostly a bar, you’ll feel pangs of “Yeah, but I don’t want to eat my meal hunched over a tiny bar or at one of those card tables.” The bar and restaurant then, allows you to settle on a location, regardless of the time and your appetite.

My current go-to spot close to home is the still-relatively-new Alma Pan Latin Kitchen and Cantina, right at the corner of Forbes and Braddock in Regent Square. The cuisine at this tasty spot—owned by the same folks as the acclaimed Abay Ethiopian—is born of the fusion of African and traditionally South American styles; the decor in the cozy, intimate restaurant side of Alma goes along with this theme.

The Cantina, meanwhile, is just as fine a choice as the restaurant itself. The full menu is available, but most who end up on this end of the establishment grab a drink—either from the bar, or a non-alcoholic treat like the Chicha Morada (a traditional Peruvian drink) or Limonada—along with a selection of the delicious appetizers, like Empanadas or Ceviche. It’s the kind of bar where you’ll end up laughing and trading stories with the folks at the next table before the second round.

After seeing the tasty pizza featured in this month’s Dine section (pictured above), I knew I had to get some grub at Mt. Lebanon’s Il Pizzaiolo. I had never visited the uber-Italian spot, and a frosty January afternoon seemed like a great opportunity to warm up with a hot lunch. On arrival, though, I turned away from the vaunted Pizza list (extensive, with traditional ingredients) in favor of a Penne alla Vodka that made me as warm and satisfied as just about any entree I can remember.

If you’re on the restaurant side of Il Pizzaiolo, you can play people-watcher as folks stroll by on Washington Road, or observe the pizza chef as he slides your pie into the giant oven in the corner. The full experience, however, is back in the detached bar, Enoteca. A self-described “intimate Italian wine bar,” it feels more like a tricked-out den; you can take your wine or aperitivi to the plush couches that surround a warm fireplace, selecting a book from the shelves around the fire. There’s seating in the back if you’re with a group, and again, the full menu is available if you want some of that irresistible grub. Just feel like an Italian beer? Saddle up to the bar. Unless there’s a Steelers or Penguins game on, you can get some culture via two TVs that are always showing subtitled Italian films.

The common thread between Alma and Il Pizzaiolo—besides great food and fine wine and spirits—is that these are excellent places to head to in the dead of winter. What more are we looking for in the darker months than a cozy spot to spend the evening? Tuck the Snuggie away, trek out to your car and make the drive. Both these joints are well worth the trouble.

Categories: After Dark