N.Y. cafe considering location in North Side

The owner of New York’s Casellula Cheese & Wine Cafe is considering opening a restaurant in the former Masonic Hall in conjunction with nonprofit City of Asylum in Central North Side.

Under current plans, City of Asylum is to build Alphabet City, which is intended to be “a home for literature, music, and cultural experiences with a global focus,” said R. Henry Reese, City of Asylum co-founder and president. “It will have spaces for our readings, seminars, performances and workshops; a bookstore; offices; and the restaurant,” he said in an email.

The upper floors would be converted into eight apartments that would rent for market rates.

The nonprofit’s enterprise would be the anchor tenant of the project that includes the former Garden Theater on North Avenue and several buildings on Federal Street.

Brian Keyser, proprietor of Casellula, confirmed that plans are in progress. He and a group from the restaurant will visit Pittsburgh on Friday to meet with designers, architects and Mr. Reese to flesh out plans for the space. He hopes to open in spring 2016.

“Pittsburgh is going through an interesting growth spurt,” Mr. Keyser said. “And it seems like a good opportunity for us.”

Mr. Keyser said he was introduced to Mr. Reese through a mutual friend; Mr. Reese apparently liked the restaurant so much, he asked Mr. Keyser if he would be interested in opening in the space. Mr. Keyser has since been to Pittsburgh several times and has decided to take him up on the offer.

Casellula specializes in a wide-ranging cheese selection, offering more than 40 from around the world on the menu every day. As the wine director, Mr. Keyser also oversees an eclectic wine list. Casellula also offers small, medium and large plates.

The concept would be similar to its New York flagship; Casellula executive chef Megan Johnson would oversee two-thirds of the menu, and a local chef would shape the rest of the menu and run the kitchen.

Before opening the cheese-focused restaurant in 2007, Mr. Keyser had been the fromager at The Modern, the restaurant within the Museum of Modern Art in New York .

Following Mr. Keyser’s trip to Pittsburgh, both parties would await the final contract and closing on the Masonic Building with the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

As plans for the development of the block have evolved, so have potential restaurant tenants. The Garden Theater also is being redeveloped with a restaurant in mind. Plans for ARDE, a 4,500-square-foot Italian restaurant from Domenic Branduzzi of Piccolo Forno in Lawrenceville, fell through after Mr. Branduzzi switched gears last November to open Grapperia behind his current dining spot.

The Garden Theater is the last of the properties owned by Allegheny City Development Group, led by managing member Wayne Zukin.

Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.


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