Pittsburgh's expanding restaurant scene doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. While last summer's openings suggested that Latin American cuisine was surging ahead in the marketplace, this year, it's Italian food that is dominating the local scene, with more than half a dozen recently opened restaurants and a few more still to debut.
Is there any cuisine so universally beloved as Italian? In just a few generations, Italian cooking has gone from a slightly suspect immigrant food to a mainstay of the American culinary experience. Pittsburgh has always had a significant number of Italian restaurants, grocery stores and specialty shops, but these newer restaurants add some diversity in style and region. A surprising number are Downtown, but few seem worried about the competition. They're betting that Pittsburghers won't get tired of bolognese, zucchini blossoms and tiramisu anytime soon.
Vallozzi's has been a mainstay of the Greensburg restaurant scene for more than 30 years. But Julian Vallozzi, son of owner Ernie, saw an opportunity to expand the restaurant to Pittsburgh. "I saw everything happening in Downtown Pittsburgh, especially in Market Square," he said, so he signed a lease in October 2010 for a large space on Fifth Avenue, just skirting the square. The build-out was more difficult than expected, and Vallozzi's Pittsburgh didn't open until this past March.
So far it has attracted mostly businesspeople, said Mr. Vallozzi, a similar clientele to the Greensburg location. He hopes that in coming months it will attract more of the younger crowd, while also building its happy hour business.
The restaurant's atmosphere and high prices partly explain the lack of younger diners. With pastas in the mid-$20 and entrees that top out at a $50 veal chop for two (and an online menu that doesn't include prices), Vallozzi's seems best-suited to expense accounts. But those on a slightly tighter budget should take advantage of large portions and a diverse appetizer menu. Take a seat at the bar and make a meal out of fried shishito peppers with olive oil and lemon, a plate of burrata with olives and crostini, and a selection of cured meats from the mozzarella bar. Vallozzi's serves lunch and dinner, but it has also opened Mattiniero next door, a more casual spot serving breakfast and lunch to-go.
La Cucina Flegrea
After a long run in Squirrel Hill, La Cucina Flegrea closed its doors a bit abruptly last April. Owner Anna Fevola quickly began looking for a new location, and the restaurant re-opened last fall in a second-story space on Market Square, just up the street from Vallozzi's.
Ms. Fevola wanted to move to Downtown so that she could offer lunch, and she likes that the new space is large and open, but there are some challenges to attracting people to the second floor. She's applied for some outdoor seating space to give the restaurant a street presence, which she thinks will help. The new location also has a larger wine list, said Ms. Fevola, and a jazz player performs in the lounge on Friday and Saturday evenings.
La Cucina Flegrea remains one of Pittsburgh's more traditional Italian restaurants, with a lengthy menu that includes grilled squid, whole fish and a long list of unusual pastas and vegetable side dishes. Ms. Fevola's Squirrel Hill regulars mostly have found their way Downtown, and many have been surprised to discover how lively Market Square has become.
Sienna Sulla Piazza
This restaurant took over the space previously occupied by Bella Sera. The new owners kept up the green certification, but they hired Matthew Porco, previously of Mio Kitchen and Wine Bar in Aspinwall, to take over the kitchen. Mr. Porco had decided to take a break from upscale restaurants, but he was particularly excited by this project. "My dad and uncle used to have restaurants and bars in Market Square," he said, "and I spent time here as a child."
He describes Sienna as "fine dining quality food and service in a casual atmosphere." The menu includes some Pittsburgh favorites such as greens and beans, stuffed banana peppers and house-made gnocchi, as well as more unusual dishes such as mushroom agnolotti, tomato risotto and braised short ribs with orzo mac 'n' cheese, parmesan, mascarpone and tomato-basil jam. The price point matches his description, with appetizers and salads that are between $5 and $12; pastas in the low to mid-teens and no entrees more than $24.
The newest offering from the team behind Cioppino and Osteria 2350, both in the Strip District, Osteria 100 is in Point Park University's new Academic Park at the corner of Wood Street and the Boulevard of the Allies. Marketing director Leisa Anderson described it as a blend between the two other restaurants, more casual than Cioppino but with a more elaborate menu than Osteria 2350. Along with simple pastas, pizzas and sandwiches, the menu includes dishes that have been or could be served at Cioppino, such as Elysian Field lamb mini burgers with onion marmalade and blue cheese ($11) and a tuna panzanella ($7). The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday and offers happy hour Monday through Friday.
The restaurant was selected because Point Park administrators felt it would appeal to both students and faculty; it's also attracting plenty of Downtown residents and office workers, Ms. Anderson said.
Mercurio's Gelato and Pizza
The Shadyside gelato shop once located on Copeland Street moved to a larger, more prominent storefront on Walnut Street last year. Anna and Michael Mercurio, the original owners' son and daughter, have taken over the business and expanded the offerings to include pizzas and salads. Mr. Mercurio trained with Roberto Caporuscio (former owner of the beloved Roberto's Pizzeria in Bellevue) at his Neapolitan pizza school at Keste in New York. He oversees the pizza making and the menu, and Ms. Mercurio handles the gelato and the rest of the staff.
314 Pasta and Prime
When David Racicot decided to move his modernist restaurant notion to East Liberty and open a more neighborhood-friendly restaurant in Oakmont, he quickly settled on Italian food, because it's what he grew up eating. The menu includes housemade mozzarella ($11), meatballs with grilled bread and marinara ($10), a make-your-own pasta section as well as a list of house pastas ($16 to $19), a range of chicken dishes ($20-$22) and several cuts of steak ($40-$45). While the prices are moderately high, the portions are large and the atmosphere is family friendly.
Chef Stephen Felder and general manager Cara DelSignore moved their charming Italian restaurant to a larger, more elegant space on the South Side early this year. They have a slightly larger menu, a full bar and a wine list, but they still focus on seasonally inspired, fresh Italian cooking.
City Oven Pizza
The popular South Hills pizzeria has opened a second location Downtown, serving wood-fired pizzas, sandwiches, soups and salads Monday through Friday.
The popular South Hills pizzeria and Italian restaurant is expanding to a new location in Market Square. There's no word yet on when the restaurant will open, and the four-story space requires extensive renovation, but the liquor license application has been posted for several months now.
Jonathan Vlasic of Alla Famiglia in Allentown expanded to Peters last year with Arlecchino Ristorante. Now, he and chef Cory Hughes are opening up a new restaurant, Emilia Romagna, in the Strip District, exploring traditional dishes from these two regions of Italy.
The menu includes a few Alla Famiglia favorites, but it also offers many new options at a range of price points such as a summer squash salad with new potatoes, honey vinaigrette, arugula and tapenade-whipped ricotta ($11); tagliatelle with zucchini and wild boar ragu ($18); a half dozen pizzas ($10 to $15); and a number of steaks, including hanger ($38) and a porterhouse ($55).
Stone Neapolitan Pizza
Expected to open soon in the lobby of the new River Vue building, they plan to serve traditional Neapolitan pizza cooked in a wood-burning oven, as well as sandwiches, salads, wine, beer and Italian sodas.