Vendors at Pittsburgh International averaged 3 critical violations over the last two years vs. 14 when the Post-Gazette checked 4 years ago.
As Pittsburgh restaurants grow more ambitious, even independent, chef-owned spots have long lead times. Some restaurateurs don't like to talk about their plans until the doors are about to open, but these days, more and more are trying to build interest and excitement for months (even years). That's fun for food writers and enthusiastic diners, too, who enjoy keeping an eye on the process almost as much as eating in the restaurants.
Here is a preview of four coming restaurant openings: Bridge Ten Brasserie on the South Side, Tender in Lawrenceville, Rumfish Grille in Collier and Pork & Beans in East Liberty.
Bridge Ten Brasserie, at the base of the 10th Street Bridge, is the first restaurant venture from local wine writer and radio host Dave DeSimone. The restaurant is opening in stages, starting this week with the outdoor terrace and casual bar room. The main dining room is still being renovated and won't open until September when the restaurant will also debut its full menu and celebrate its grand opening.
While French restaurants have become rarer in Pittsburgh, it was the only kind of dining spot that Mr. DeSimone wanted to open. He saw the lack of options as an opportunity, and his passion for French food and wine has inspired him to take the risk.
He's never owned a restaurant, but he's been a wine writer since 1995 and has traveled to France, "more then 50 times," he said. He also oversaw the food and beverage program for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, so he worked closely with chef Toni Pais when he opened Cafe Zao, Downtown, and he also oversaw the offerings at the Cabaret at Theater Square.
Mr. DeSimone has partnered with more experienced restaurant professionals, such as Shawn Carlson, who was executive chef of Mr. Pais' restaurant Baum Vivant in Shadyside, as well as the Passport Cafe in Pine and Walnut Grill in Shadyside. David Cesaro, who was the maitre d' at Passport Cafe and Brasserie 33 in Shadyside, will run the front of the house at Bridge Ten.
The French wine list will include a number of wines only available locally at Bridge Ten, said Mr. DeSimone, and the menu will focus on classic French dishes such as mussels and french fries.
Outdoor dining is even more central to Rumfish, a new project from Chet Garland and Paul Tebbets, co-owners of Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar in Shadyside. They're still negotiating with the city to reopen Brix on the North Side, but in the meantime, they've been focusing their energies on new projects outside the city. They recently opened Jackson Fish Company, a casual restaurant and seafood market in Harmony, and they hope that Rumfish, a sprawling, indoor-outdoor seafood restaurant and bar, will open in the Great Southern Shopping Center in Collier by the end of August.
Rumfish's outdoor dining area will seat more than 100, and the indoor dining room another 150. The restaurant complex will include two bar areas and an outdoor lounge and nightclub. The raw bar also will be set up as a fish market, where people can pick up fresh seafood by the pound.
The menu will include squid ceviche, whole Maine lobster, peel and eat shrimp, fish tacos and sandwiches. But there also will be beer-can chicken, and biscuits and gravy.
The drink program will include about 40 wines available by the glass and half-glass, a dozen beers on tap and upward of 20 bottles, with a focus on local craft beers, a simple cocktail list and a number of frozen drink items, Mr. Tebbets said.
Elaborate but accessible cocktails and regional American cuisine will be the focus at Tender Kitchen and Bar, said Jeff Catalina, owner of Verde Mexican Kitchen and Cantina in Garfield. Mr. Catalina opened his first restaurant just six months ago, but he decided that he couldn't miss the opportunity to open a restaurant in the former Arsenal Bank building. The building's identity inspired the restaurant's name (think "legal tender"), while its marble floors and wainscotting and 14.5-foot ceilings set the scene for the luxurious yet welcoming restaurant that Mr. Catalina envisions.
The menu will focus on regional American cuisine, offering interpretations of iconic dishes from across the country such as city chicken from Pittsburgh and scrapple from Lancaster, beef on weck from Buffalo, N.Y., MoonPie from Chattanooga, Tenn., and the lobster roll from Bar Harbor, Maine. Neil Heidekat, the sous chef at Verde, will be the executive chef. He has also worked at Spoon in East Liberty and The Sonoma Grille and Seviche, Downtown.
It won't be fine dining, but it will be upscale, said Mr. Catalina. The drink program will focus on cocktails with freshly squeezed juices, house-made bitters and infusions, and old-fashioned phosphate sodas -- there won't be any soda guns. Prices will range from $8 to $14 for cocktails and $8 and $20 for food items. The wine program will be all American. With several months of construction ahead of them, Mr. Catalina hopes Tender will open sometime in December.
Richard DeShantz hasn't finalized the location of his next project, but he's been planning it since before he opened Meat & Potatoes in the Cultural District last year. Pork & Beans will be a neighborhood watering hole with creative, affordable food -- around a $14 per person price point -- and a great drink list. It's going to have the same feel as Meat & Potatoes, said Mr. DeShantz, but a little more casual. The menu will feature house-smoked and house-cured meats, and it will be more drink-driven, with a variety of bourbons and draft beer. The restaurant will be small, but there will be a large outdoor space, similar to a beer garden. He's considering spaces in the East Liberty area and hopes to have a deal signed by the fall, start construction by the beginning of 2013 and open in the spring.