At Casellula, the cheese never stands alone

If you’re serious about artisanal cheese or just want to learn more about it, Brian Keyser is your man.

Later this month, as part of City of Asylum’s Alphabet City project on the North Side, he’ll open Casellula @ Alphabet City.

It’s the Pittsburgh offshoot of his Caselulla Cheese & Wine Cafe, which opened in Manhattan in 2007 to bring handmade cheeses from all over the world to New Yorkers.

At the time, it was rare to find a beautifully composed cheese plate anyplace other than the fanciest restaurants, Mr. Keyser says, and most pairings and condiments weren’t all that imaginative. He had a different plan: a casual restaurant offering wonderful cheeses from Europe and the growing number of artisan American cheesemakers he’d fallen in love with while working at fine dining establishments in New York such as Chanterelle and the Modern. And he’d make it affordable to everyone, “with no pretension.”

Casellula proved successful enough that in 2015, Mr. Keyser decided to open a second restaurant. He was negotiating a deal in Nashville when he stopped in Pittsburgh for dinner with a friend. That led to a meeting with City of Asylum co-founder Henry Reese, a tour of the old Masonic Hall on West North Avenue and the beginning of a conversation that led to Cassellula @ Alphabet City.

“It’s the right size, the people couldn’t be nicer, and there’s such a great energy,” he says.

He’s aiming for a Sept. 28 opening. Beaver Falls native Andrew Hill, most recently the sous chef at Station in Bloomfield, will be doing the cooking. A graduate of Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, he also has cooked at Ten Tables and Craigie on Main in Boston.

As in New York, Casellula @ Alphabet City’s focus will be on cheese plates drawing from five categories of cheese — fresh, bloomy and soft-ripened, washed, pressed and cooked, and blue. Mr. Keyser plans on at least 25 varieties at any one time, including some from Pennsylvania cheesemakers Goat Rodeo and Clover Creek. They’ll be paired with more than 70 fine wines. Some are varietals that people will recognize, such as pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, but others will be unfamiliar to many Americans “so that people can learn something new if they’re in the mood,” he says. The 60-seat restaurant also will feature small plates, salads and sweets.

Expect to see pairings such as crostini with chevre and pesto and smoked gouda with walnut butter, both served at last month’s Three Day Blow food conference. Mr. Hill says the menu also will include a few classics from New York City that define Casellula, including its famed Pig’s Ass Sandwich, which pairs Shelburne Farms Cheddar and French Fol Epi with bread and butter pickles and chipotle aioli; peppadew peppers stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and speck; and mac ’n cheese made with three cheeses (Fol Epi, Comté and chevre) and topped with pork lardons and caramelized onions.

Mr. Keyser says they’re still figuring out what a second Casellula will look like, but “Andrew will have the freedom to create a menu that’s alive, works with the season and also works with local food traditions.”

The restaurant will initially be open seven days a week for dinner service only but will expand to include lunch, brunch and eventually breakfast. The main dining room and a private dining room downstairs will be available to rent for private affairs. For larger events such as weddings, people will be able to rent the entire City of Asylum facility.

Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.


Hot Topic