Pittsburgh restaurant trends to love (or loathe) in 2017

With scores of restaurants opening in 2017, it’s clear Pittsburgh has moved beyond wings, pierogies and burgers. The hot trends popping up in cities around the country are appearing here just as quickly, and no longer is there a lag time. 

Trends to love ...

Rise of food halls

Tyler Benson and Benjamin Mantica of Galley Group are single-handedly pushing the growth of Pittsburgh’s food hall scene, having opened restaurant incubator Smallman Galley (54 21st St., Strip District) in December 2015. After a second round of chefs took residence this fall, the co-founders opened Federal Galley in Nova Place (200 Children’s Way, North Side) earlier this month.

While the effects of food halls on a city’s restaurant scene is still to be determined, so far, Galley Group is shaking up Pittsburgh’s dining offerings with eclectic fare, from Detroit-style pizza at Smallman’s Iron Born and Federal’s Michigan and Trumbull, to bone broth at Smallman’s Banhmilicious, or veg-forward dishes at Federal’s Supper.

Two more food halls will enter the fray in 2018.

Oxford Market is coming to One Oxford Centre, Downtown, in January, a 6,000-square-foot food hall from San Francisco-based Shorenstein Properties that has paired up with the Charlotte, N.C.-based Eurest, the $1.4 billion food and vending division of Compass Group. It’s planning on stalls offering Asian, Italian, Mexican, farm-to-table-inspired and a grill. Another station will feature a rotating local chef or food truck. The stations will serve breakfast and lunch, while another option, Bar Oxford, will open for drinks and bar food for after-work crowds.

Another food hall in the Strip, Pennsylvania Market  at the Pennsylvania Building on 19th Street, is on track to open in the spring.

More wine, local beer lists

As diners ask for more natural wines, sparkling roses or bottles that diverge from conservative lists of big Cabs and Pinot Grigio, Pittsburgh sommeliers are shaping expectations by upping the varietals and offering more pours to get excited about, especially at Or, The Whale (463 Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown), Bar Marco (2216 Penn Ave., Strip District) and Allegheny Wine Mixer (5326 Butler St., Lawrenceville).

The combination of the loosening of laws and more interest in wines has the potential to change Pittsburgh’s wine landscape in 2018 although it will never catch up with the city’s captivating local beer scene that’s been booming for years. Places such as Mindful Brewing (3719 Library Road, Castle Shannon); Couch Brewery (1351 Washington Blvd., Larimer); Eleventh Hour Brewing (3711 Charlotte St.) and Cinderlands Beer Co. (3705 Butler St.), both in Lawrenceville; and War Streets Brewery (900 Western Ave., North Side) all opened this year.  

Diverse seafood offerings

Five years ago, the only places to get raw oysters were Gandy Dancer Saloon (100 W. Station Square Drive, South Side), and Eleven (1150 Smallman St.) and Penn Ave. Fish Co. (2208 Penn Ave.), both in the Strip District.

Now, Penn Ave. has upped its game with dollar oyster happy hours during the week, and just about everyone in town is selling them, from Cure (5336 Butler St., Lawrenceville) to Muddy Waters Oyster Bar (130 S. Highland Ave.) and Bar Frenchman (5925 Baum Blvd.), both in East Liberty.

With the rise of the raw bar comes the second wave of seafood fare that diverges from the hegemony of Pittsburgh’s oversized fish sandwich and the standard salmon-and-a-side fare.

From smelts at Union Standard (524 William Penn Place, Downtown) to Oysters Rockefeller at Cure, to Eddie V’s, the upscale chain restaurant (501 Grant St., Downtown) that offers a menu of caviar, to a more casual clam chowder menu at Merchant Oyster Co. (4129 Butler St., Lawrenceville), stylish seafood dishes have been featured on menus in 2017.

Investment in design

Yes, a restaurant’s cooking is important, but design also holds weight whether it encourages intimacy or it’s a scene-y dining room or it’s a place that feels like home or it transports diners to another world.

The good news is we’re seeing an evolution from Edison bulbs and reclaimed wood on the casual end, with places such as Merchant Oyster Co. mirroring a dockside clam hut, or Pork and Beans (136 Sixth St., Downtown) calling up a Deep South juke joint. On the high end, there’s the posh Twisted Frenchman in East Liberty that is the upstairs tasting menu sibling to Bar Frenchman, with $800 dining room chairs and lighting that’s the same as Chicago’s Michelin-starred Alinea.

Then there’s Fl.2 in the Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel (510 Market St., Downtown), which has experienced a dramatic overhaul since its earlier incarnation as Habitat. Barcelona-based designer Lazaro Rosa-Violan, who has designed the famed Mussol and Ajoblanco restaurants in his hometown, has done away with the original brown and orange vibes for a more eclectic space with dramatic chandeliers, cushy banquettes, a fabulous round bar and midcentury accents.

Rise of regional Chinese food

Regional Chinese fare is trending across the country from major metropolitan areas to university towns. There are five examples just in Squirrel Hill: Last year saw the opening of Taiwanese Bistro Cafe 33  (1711 Shady Ave.), which serves dishes such as the traditional three-cup chicken to its hallmark fermented bean curd and pork intestine in spicy sauce.

There’s Sichuan fare at the acclaimed Chengdu Gourmet (5840 Forward Ave.), where Wei Zhu serves his three-pepper fish fillet, Chonqing-style beef stew and, in winter, an amazing homemade Chinese sausage. Over at 5875 Forbes Ave. at Everyday Noodles, owner Mike Chen continues to bring in teaching chefs from Taiwan, where they’re hand-pulling noodles and making soup dumplings stuffed with crab and pork, or shrimp and loofah. Ka Mei (2208 Murray Ave.) offers Cantonese fare: dumplings, congee, crunchy noodles and spare ribs with fermented black beans. And although the space at 5882 Forbes Ave. is named Sakura, a separate menu offers dishes from the owners’ hometown province of Shanxi.

In Oakland, there’s the Xi’an menu at Sichuan Gourmet (328 Atwood St.), which includes handmade noodles with chili oil, a Chinese burger, sauteed cold glass noodles and pita in lamb soup.

Trends to loathe ...

Aside from the ubiquity of overpriced toast, there’s the closing of independent butcher shops that were selling local, heritage meats, including Marty’s Market in the Strip and DJ’s Butcher Block in Bloomfield. With Whole Foods bought out by Amazon, there’s less assurance of getting quality local meats than ever. 

Another annoyance: the growth of the steakhouse. I like a steak as much as anyone, but with a $2 million renovation of Ruth’s Chris (6 PPG Place, Downtown), the opening of Red the Steakhouse (600 Grant St., Downtown) and meat lairs positioned like sentinels between Downtown and the North Shore — Eddie Merlot’s (444 Liberty Ave.), Morton’s (625 Liberty Ave.), Capital Grille (301 Fifth Ave.), The Carlton (500 Grant St.) and Hyde Park Prime (247 N. Shore Drive) — enough already with the clubby restaurants serving giant hulks of steak. But this, too, isn’t just a Pittsburgh thing: It is everywhere. 

Melissa McCart: mmccart@post-gazette.com; Instagram @postgazettefood; Facebook @postgazettefood.

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