Good eats: The most notable restaurant openings of 2013


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Ethnic restaurants, pared-down concepts and cocktail dens dominated the year's new restaurants, with Notion in East Liberty and the second location of Il Pizzaiolo, Downtown, serving the most ambitious fare among them.

Capping off a year of expansive growth was the December debut of two other Downtown spots: TenPenny on Ninth Street and Grit & Grace from Brian Pekarcik of Spoon in East Liberty.

These late-breakers reinforce the frenetic activity in Allegheny County in 2013, with an average of 15 openings per month, a momentum that will continue through 2014.

Here is a roundup of the most notable restaurant openings of the year and how they're shaking out since their opening days.

January

Franktuary (3810 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412-586-7224): Megan Lindsey and Tim Tobitsch expanded the menu at their second site, a hub of lower Lawrenceville from midday to late night. Since the Downtown restaurant opened in Trinity Cathedral in 2004, followed by the food truck in 2010, the team has been a pioneer of casual creativity. Although the Lawrenceville space offers intriguing cocktails and warm service, the food can be disappointing.

February

Thin Man Sandwich Shop (50 21st St., Strip District. 412-586-7370): Dan and Sherri Leiphart borrow technique and ingredients from fine dining and serve them on baguettes and focaccia. Though seasonal sandwiches like the baccala, goat curry and veal ragu can resonate, the namesake with pate, bacon and frisee remains the winner.

Matteo's (3615 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412-586-7722): Vintage Pittsburgh arrived in Lawrenceville with the opening of Matteo's, an old-school red sauce Italian restaurant in a new space. Since Matt Cavanaugh, former chef at Sarafino's in Crafton, opened the restaurant, he has been serving his take on greens and beans, wedding soup, and pizzas. Service has been stronger and the restaurant more festive as the place gets its legs.

Everyday Noodles (5875 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412-421-6668): Everyday Noodles was inspired by owner Mike Chen's trip to Toronto three years ago when a dining experience motivated him to bring authentic Chinese cuisine to Pittsburgh. Since then, he has worked with the Taiwanese government to bring cooks here for six-month stints. Even with a six-month chef change, the restaurant is in its groove, dishing up value and pleasing diners.

Notion (128 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty; 412-361-1188): This 28-seat restaurant opened as one of the most compelling experiences in the city from chef-owner David Racicot. And while Notion remains an important restaurant -- Mr. Racicot is one of the most skilled chefs in the city -- a tasting menu that has not changed since it opened stunts its potential. Instead of drawing diners with a lively dining experience, it retains the air of a museum exhibit.

March

Il Pizzaiolo (8 Market Square, Downtown; 412-575-5858): Once a week, $10,000 worth of cheese is flown in from Naples, a gesture of fastidiousness from chef/owner Ron Molinaro. The pizzas at this followup to the Mt. Lebanon flagship are among the city's best. Service here remains hit and miss, although it's offset by the quality of the food and the location.

Tender Bar + Kitchen (4300 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412-402-9522): The 19th-century Arsenal Bank that hulked at the corner of 43rd and Butler streets had been neglected for decades, an eyesore rehabbed by Jeff Catalina, the restaurateur behind Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina in Garfield. A couple of months after opening, the room remains a draw, with updates to the lounge that is as appealing as the bar room. While the menu has loosened up from a region-focused debut, the cocktails are what the place does best. Early week offers live jazz or bluegrass reminiscent of the speakeasy era.

May

Naya (2018 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412-421-1920): Even though she's cooking, Radwa Ibrahim comes out of the kitchen to visit every table. Dressed in black, she greets diners and answers questions about the menu. Of her Syrian specialties, the most interesting is molukhia, a chicken dish layered in spindly greens that resonates with Ms. Ibrahim and her Egyptian sous chef. But sleek is the best-seller, a dish of wilted kale sauteed in butter, mixed with caramelized onion, bulgur wheat and black-eyed peas.

Casa Reyna (2031 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412-904-1242): Peruse a menu of vibrant dishes from Oaxaca, Guadalajara and Mexico City prepared by three chefs recruited by Nic DiCio. The owner has designed every aspect of the dining room, most of which has been crafted from reclaimed materials from his family's 50-acre farm. Although the menu and the restaurant remain compelling, service and presentation have slipped since Casa Reyna's opening. For those who'd rather not commit to dine, the walk-up stand is a new daytime option for terrific al pastor tacos.

July

Roundabout Brewery (4901 Butler St., Lawrenceville; no phone): Owner Steve Sloan helped Church Brew Works secure the Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year award at Denver's Great American Beer Festival in 2012. Shortly after the nod, he left to open Roundabout, where he's been brewing terrific beers, among them the Polish Hill Pils and the Oatmeal Cherry Brown. Roundabout is pouring some of the best beers in the region.

August

The Livermore (124 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty; 412-361-0600): The Livermore debuted in August with the building's original tin ceilings, honeycomb tile floors, a bar made from a dismantled bowling alley and shelves carved from a single piece of cherry wood. Minimalist cocktails and a less fussy food menu lend to a more consistent experience than its opening days. The service has tightened up, too.

Proper Brick Oven & Tap Room (139 Seventh St., Downtown; 412-281-5700): It's hard to imagine this space housed Tambellini's for 63 years now that it's been completely redone into a 99-seat restaurant with a wood-burning oven. Bacon candy and fried chickpeas are bar snacks on a menu that's otherwise composed of salads, pasta and pizza. These are more flatbreads than pizzas, in that the dough lacks the texture of a Neapolitan pie, and some are topped with unorthodox ingredients like burrata or beets. This is an after-work or pre-game crowd-pleaser for an extensive beer list and uncomplicated fare.

October

Butcher and the Rye (212 Sixth St., Downtown; 412-391-7292): The sibling to Meat & Potatoes, Downtown, this restaurant is a two-story drinking den rococo with early 20th-century details, from the rabbit-flecked wallpaper to the cleavers in the window. The downstairs is a whiskey fan's destiny, where 400 choices beckon from the back-lit bar. Upstairs offers more privacy and elaborate cocktails, although the restaurant feels too fluid to accommodate the distinction.

The menu tends to meat eaters with pig candy, rabbit saddle, pig cheeks and wagyu flank. Vegetarians are acknowledged with shishito peppers, kale, beets and grilled endive small plates. Service at the bar can be terrific. At tables, it ranges from tight to pushy.

Nu Jewish Bistro (1711 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412-422-0220): Nu Jewish Bistro opened in late October, a sibling restaurant from Gail Klingensmith and Pamela Cohen, the team behind Pamela's P&G Diner. House-cured meats, liberal use of schmaltz, artisan pickles and hot cinnamon sugar doughnuts are enough to make Nu a destination. Good coffee and warm hospitality are clinchers.

November

The Pub Chip Shop (1830 East Carson St., South Side; 412-381-2447): The Pub Chip Shop is the lively place from the owners of Piper's Pub next door. The primarily take-out joint features homemade meat pies, fish and chips, baps, pasties, and doner kebabs. While meat pies can be especially delicious on a cold winter's day, other items seem like works in progress that warrant repeat visits, especially after an afternoon of drinking beer.

December

Gus's Cafe (4717 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412-315-7271): George Haritos opened Gus's Cafe earlier this month, serving a short list of gluten-free small plates and snacks, such as french fries (fried in gluten-free oil), crepes, and cinnamon and sugar doughnuts. Although it's primarily a beer bar, there are plenty of gluten-free options as well as wine and cocktails. The restaurant will serve dinner all week from 5 to 11 p.m. and will be open until 2 a.m. Mr. Haritos said he'll open during daytime hours within the next couple of weeks, during which he'll also roll out a coffee subscription program for regulars.

TenPenny (960 Penn Ave., Downtown; 412-267-7613): From the people behind Steel Cactus in Shadyside and Local, Diesel and Skybar on the South Side comes the group's most food-focused restaurant, said Adam DeSimone, managing partner. Scott DeLuca, formerly of BOhem Bistro in Seven Fields and Truth Lounge on the South Side is the executive chef. The opening menu features mega-meatballs, shrimp and grits, oysters, cheese plates, a clam bake, and pasta with oxtail ragout.

Grit & Grace (535 Liberty Ave., Downtown; 412-281-4748): Chef de cuisine Curtis Gamble and Brian Pekarcik will soft-open Grit & Grace, the sibling of Spoon and BRGR, between Christmas and the New Year.

Mr. Gamble will prepare at least six dim sum dishes a night that servers will cart throughout the dining room, a trend that's making its way from San Francisco's State Bird Provisions to restaurants around the country. The remainder of the 20-item menu will list small and share plates as well as noodles, salads and sandwiches. Grit & Grace eventually will open for lunch, dinner and late-night service, seven days a week.

Among other openings in 2013: All India, Oakland (March); Cafe Delhi, Carnegie (March); Rumfish Grille, Collier (April); and Bistro BOhem, Seven Fields (June).


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