The Next Big Thing in Pittsburgh's Culinary Scene?
Bread and Salt Bakery's Anti-Pasta event — which offered wine, multiple food courses, live music and flicks — best illustrates the dinner model our city desires.
Photos by Laila Archuleta
I went to the “Anti-Pasta” event at Bread and Salt Bakery on Saturday night with the intention of having a fun night out with my friends. I didn’t take notes or ask for quotes — I just ate, danced, drank and had a terrific time. Halfway into it, I said to a friend, “So much about this feels right. I want more of this.”
The event was organized by Bread and Salt Chef/Owner Rick Easton and Tomas Ceddia, one of the founders of Miami’s famed Electric Pickle Company. Easton was joined in the kitchen by a clutch team that included Chad Townsend (Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream), Mike Rado (Butcher on Butler), Joey Hilty (The Vandal), Csilla Thackray (The Vandal), Steve Mason (The Urban Pie) and Becca Hegarty (Bread and Salt).
The formerly barren Bread and Salt courtyard was festooned with overhead bulb lights, flowers, tables (well, raised garden beds covered with plywood; the courtyard still is a work in progress) and Italian, food-themed films projected on the wall. Ceddia and Paul Dang set the mood with a rolling, mostly electronica soundtrack. The Allegheny Wine Mixer served wine and Italian-influenced wine cocktails.
Food came in five waves. Servers greeted guests with toast topped with pureed white beans, garlic and mint on Easton’s naturally fermented bread. There also was a stuffed pizza with mortadella and greens (Easton’s stuffed pizzas nearly are always one of my favorites when I go there for a pizza lunch). Next, the Anti-Pasta antipasto: a spread of beautifully preserved mushrooms, salumi, radishes with butter, olives and pecorino crotonese. There was a bit of hiccup with organization of line dynamics, and guests weren’t sure when to line up or how much to take of each item. This happened again in the second round, so by the third, Townsend, the former executive chef at Salt of the Earth, stepped in to run the service line. That helped.
Round No. 2 stayed light but had a little more body. Butcher on Butler's Rado manned a grill and charred scallions wrapped in pancetta and also grilled asparagus, which was accompanied by gooey, salty housemade stracciatella. A chickpea salad added substance, and the turnip-grapefruit salad’s contrasting textures and earthy, bittersweet flavors added brightness to the course. It’s a shame the most people didn’t get to see the plating on this one because the creamsicle-colored platter was gorgeous. The highlight of the second round, and quite possibly the night, was the frito misto. These lightly battered, impossibly addictive fried vegetables are a perfect example of how a skilled chef can remind you of why a dish becomes ubiquitous, yet you often question how that happens when it’s almost always poorly executed.
Next was the main event, a whole hog porchetta from Butcher on Butler, accompanied by lamb skewers, roasted potatoes and braised greens. Finally, Townsend served two flavors of ice cream: a soft strawberry sheep’s milk and a herbaceous bronze fennel (that he’d cut from my garden a day earlier).
I loved the night for so many reasons, foremost because it combined delicious food, good company and a reasonable price ($50) with a relaxed, fun and unpretentious atmosphere. Long multi-course dinners can be wonderful experiences, but for me this event provided significantly better value and enjoyment than most of the sit-down dinners I’ve attended over the last few months. It demonstrated that when you start with quality ingredients and then proceed with skill, lovely things happen.
Like I said to my friend, I’d love to see more of this.
In other news:
PHOTO BY LAURA PETRILLA
Tar & Feather
June 12 is Wigle Whiskey’s third annual Tar & Feather, a raucous event that celebrates the participants in the Whiskey Rebellion, especially outlaw Phillip Wigle, the distillery’s namesake distiller. Organizations including the Attack Theatre and Pittsburgh Public Theater, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Sen. John Heinz History Center will participate in a contest to see who can have the best tar and feather re-enactment (no actual tar will be poured on anyone). Wigle cocktails ($5 each) to be served are The Spicy Swallow (Landlocked Spiced, ginger beer, lime), The Snowy Egret (Ginever, Q tonic, lime, cucumber), The Canary (white wheat whiskey, grapefruit soda) and The Green Parakeet (white rye whiskey, limeade, passionfruit, lime). A number of food trucks and vendors also be on hand to keep you full while you’re drinking those cocktails. Best of all, admission is free with online registration and only $5 at the door.
New Food Editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Finally, a warm welcome to new Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Food Editor Arthi Subramaniam, who this week replaced Bob Batz Jr. as editor of the section. Before joining the P-G staff, Subramanian wrote about food and culture for The Patriot News in Harrisburg and at the Boston Globe.
A few words of appreciation for Bob Batz: Shortly after I earned my master’s degree in Food Studies from Chatham University, Bob commissioned me to write a long feature on Appalachian truffles for the P-G’s Food & Flavor section. Over a few years and a bunch of stories, Bob became both a mentor and a friend, and those relationships have continued since I started writing for Pittsburgh Magazine. I’ll miss seeing his regular byline in the weekly section, but I’m sure that the work he’ll do in his new, still-developing position at the P-G covering events and outings equally will be outstanding. Plus, he says, he'll continue his outstanding coverage of the region's craft-beer scene.