Here are a dozen places to visit in Downtown/Strip District, East End, South Side and South Hills for the best tacos in Pittsburgh.
Attributed by the late New York Times "On Language" columnist William Safire to a 1920's Chicago newspaper ad, the property proverb -- location, location, location -- is as applicable to restaurants as it is to real estate. Typically, this commandment of commerce would suggest positioning one's victuals vending nearest to the gaping pieholes of a major population or employment center, or the mouths of the mustachioed millennials of an emerging neighborhood -- such as we're seeing locally with the explosion of new dining spots Downtown and in the East End.
It would not, however, suggest opening not one, but two places 31 miles outside town in a tiny village that hasn't had a whole lot of action since George Washington passed somewhere nearby in the early 1750s. But, that is called taking a risk and exploiting a hole in a market. And, as one whose main talents lie in stuffing my face and successfully stringing together the occasional subject and predicate (and a master of run-on sentences and Oxford commas!), I have great admiration for those aforementioned entrepreneurs.
Case in point: In 2010 Fiore Moletz, who rose through the ranks locally at Lidia's and Il Pizzaiolo had designs on opening Burgh'ers, an organic hamburger spot in the city's East End. However, that proved to be the year of the great ground beef deluge in Pittsburgh, with several high-profile openings of gourmet burger spots in and around Allegheny County. So instead he headed north and opened his restaurant in a small shopping plaza on the lip of Harmony, Pa., a charming town with a history that dates to 1804 and a business district out of a Norman Rockwell painting, but is not exactly a dining destination.
Well, business must be OK in such an outpost because earlier this fall Mr. Moletz opened next to Burgh'ers a sister restaurant, Della Terra (translation: of the Earth), where he can cook the Italian foods and pizzas he cut his teeth on with the same farm to table ethos he uses at the burger place. Paninis for lunch, pizzas and daily pasta specials comprise the menu, and they don't disappoint. I eat a lot of Italian food. This is good Italian food.
The pizzas (all $12) come from a wood-fired oven and feature traditional favorites like the Quattro formaggi and Margherita. I tried the Genovese, which has a house-made basil pesto, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto cotto, and very thin sliced potatoes on top. Clearly, whatever Mr. Moletz learned under Ron Molinaro at Il Pizzaiolo sunk in. This was a delicious pie with some bite from the pesto and the potatoes -- just barely cooked -- added an oddly refreshing element when paired with the salty, crispy prosciutto.
I had it with a glass of Gragnano ($8), a fizzy red wine (wine pop?) said to be the perfect wine to pair with pizza.
My mother had the Insalata di rucola ($8), a terrific salad of arugula, pear, gorgonzola, and a mild hint of lemon juice with the extra virgin olive oil. Mom, God bless her, tends to fixate on things and her zeal for this salad would later be the topic of a one-sided conversation the entire 40-minute drive back to the city (in fairness, it was very good).
For dinner, mom tried the house made Polpette (meatballs, $7). They had a nice, light quality to them, like they were made with pork or veal, but we were told that they use the same top shelf ground beef from next door. The first time I can recall ever seeing local, grass-fed meatballs. I had one of that night's pasta specials, a fresh tagliatelle tossed with peas and mushrooms, pork and boar. This was just as tasty as it sounds.
Service was both prompt and knowledgeable. The space is still a bit Spartan and could use a little warmth, but that's a minor complaint.
Clearly location, location, location is all relative when the product is premium.
Della Terra is at 100 Perry Highway, Harmony. Call 724-473-0630 or visit dellaterrapgh.com.
Correction (posted Dec. 7): This review has been updated to show the correct show number for Della Terra.
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