Japanese gastropub delivers quality fare at reasonable prices.
Just beyond the North Huntingdon post office in the Banco Business Park, there's a restaurant and retail market that's drawing in throngs of customers.
This space of reclaimed wood, stainless-steel shelves, concrete floors and industrial lighting might seem like any other warehouse-turned restaurant, except for the word "fellowship" painted along the wall.
In October, Steve Salvi opened Cenacolo with a menu of fresh pasta dishes, a handful of appetizers and a short list of meats and cheeses.
Cenacolo is an Italian reference to The Last Supper, which, for Christians, marks Jesus' last meal with his Apostles before his crucifixion.
Banco Business Park
1061 Main St.
North Huntingdon, PA 15642
Cenacolo joins Fede, the wholesale pasta business Mr. Salvi started in his home basement in 2005. Three and a half years ago he moved Fede to this location, where he now employs 14 people, including his wife, Jen, who works as a server three days a week.
Despite the restaurant's quirky location, Mr. Salvi has been pulling in crowds by word of mouth for tables of eight-, 12- and 15-member families from the North Hills, Murrysville and Uniontown. They're attracted to the style of cuisine at the restaurant, the to-go foods at the market and the values of the Salvi family.
What's also interesting about the place is the range of 40 pasta shapes and the sourcing for his cheese.
After working in the kitchens of Morton's The Steakhouse, Downtown, and Lidia's in the Strip, Mr. Salvi was inspired to make his own pasta when he realized a variety of shapes was not available in Pittsburgh markets.
In the basement of his North Huntingdon home, he taught himself to make fresh pasta, from linguini to fluted gigli to twists of gemelli.
Fede means "faith" in Italian. "I needed to remind myself things would work out," he said.
When he started, he struggled with tight quarters, an unreliable car and worry. "Back then, I worked 115 hours a week," he said, recalling days where he'd fight falling asleep at the wheel between deliveries.
Today, the wholesale, retail and restaurant operations are interwoven. In an open kitchen at Cenacolo, giant machines make 30 pounds of pasta an hour.
Nearby, a refrigerated case holds plastic containers, each with one of dozens of shapes for customers to take home. Deli cases hold a range of sauces, honey butter, cured meats and cheeses.
Mr. Salvi is tight-lipped about the restaurants he serves, although, with three distribution companies, he says he delivers to more than 100 eateries, including several Asian restaurants.
He wishes restaurants would serve more unusual shapes, little thimbles such as ditalini or thick strands of pici, which originated in Tuscany.
"Maybe Pittsburgh hasn't been ready for these in the past," he said. "But lately, diners have become more adventurous. They're coming along."
He says that the sauce a cook serves with a particular shape of pasta "depends on the mood." In this case, he doesn't adhere to rules.
He points out orecchiette ($19) on Cenacolo's spring menu introduced last week. The ear-shaped pasta is served with corn, red peppers, zucchini and basil. "The shape is a nice complement to corn," he said.
For another dish, clams and scallops are served in their shells on a bed of linguini ($23), while tomatoes and pancetta join parsley in a white wine sauce.
Cavatelli ($20) is a simpler dish, with butter, garlic, tomatoes, basil and Grana Padano cheese. The pasta tastes of egg, flour and salt. And the ricotta is terrific.
It's among the freshest ricotta available in Pittsburgh right now, made by Caputo Brothers Creamery, an artisan cheesemaker that opened in Spring Grove, York County, in 2011.
Each 11/4-pound container arrives at his shop in a mesh basket in a plastic bag to catch the whey as it seeps from the fresh cheese. It is soft and tangy, bright and delicious, so unlike mass-manufactured versions.
Mr. Salvi said he found the place through his cheese supplier, Anne Saxelby, who had been an employee at Murray's Cheese shop in New York City before she broke off to start Saxelby Cheesemongers, a purveyor of American farmstead cheese.
She's the one who cherry picks the sweet cow's milk rupert ($16) on the menu as well as the Cabot clothbound cheddar ($15), both from Vermont.
Cheese dominates the antipasti as well, such as the fior di late ($12), which Mr. Salvi makes from Caputo Brothers' fresh curd, as well as the burrino, fresh cheese and butter with toasted bread ($9).
Fried herb goat cheese ($11) with mushrooms and corn round out the cheese options, while meatballs with sauce, garlic and Parmesan ($10) or fried artichoke hearts ($10) serve as alternates.
When Mr. Salvi isn't in the kitchen, it's run by his friend and former colleague at Lidia's, Josh Tony.
If it weren't for Mr. Tony, Mr. Salvi wouldn't serve dinner, because his responsibilities for the wholesale business and raising six children compete for his time.
But he completely trusts him. "We had the same training, the same beat down in restaurant kitchens," he said.
"I have faith."
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.