Debbie and Gary Komoroski opened the original Scoglio restaurant Downtown in 1990. Over the years, Scoglio has maintained a fairly constant presence on the Western Pennsylvania dining scene, even as it has moved from place to place. A second location in Robinson is still open, but under different ownership.
Linda Sciubba, a longtime manager at the other Scoglio restaurants (and a "member of the family") opened the newest incarnation in September in an office park in Green Tree, with the help of Gary Komoroski, who runs the kitchen. The incongruous location and the slightly faded quality of the lobby and dining room suggest a restaurant that has been around forever. Until recently, the space was occupied by Piccolo Mondo, another Northern Italian restaurant.
2 stars = Very good
Building 7, Foster Plaza
661 Anderson Drive
- Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, 5-9 p.m.
- Basics: A comfortable, welcoming Northern Italian restaurant with pleasant food and service that manages to combine a casual and professional style.
- Recommended dishes: Sauteed escarole with beans, warm pear salad, roast rack of lamb persille, sauteed pork chop valdostana, bolognese, profiteroles.
- Prices: Appetizers, $7.50-8.95; soups and salads, $3.50-8.50; entrees, $12.95-28.95; desserts, $5-7
- Wine: Owner Linda Sciubba is putting together the restaurant's wine list. The restaurant also has a full bar.
- Summary: Wheelchair-accessible; credit cards accepted; reservations accepted.
- Noise level: Quiet.
The restaurant is large, with a maze-like array of corridors and secondary rooms. Pay phones and chairs are available near the restrooms -- a charming reminder of the time before cell phones. Scoglio, too, exists in a slight time warp. Don't expect the menu to name-drop farms, shift the mix of its salad greens in winter or change the menu seasonally. If you want to try something "new," order a special.
The appetizer menu includes all the classics of Northern Italian restaurants of a certain era. Zucchini was sliced into long, thin strips on a mandoline, then dipped in a light batter and deep fried until golden brown and puffed up, almost like zucchini chips ($8.95). Fried calamari ($8.50), unfortunately a little tough, came with a bowl of anchovy paste -- some might wrinkle their noses, but that bowl got a big thumbs up at our table. Banana peppers ($7.50) were stuffed with moist, if slightly sedate sausage, but escarole and beans ($7.95) packed lots of sweet garlic flavor into every bite.
There are some items you should avoid. Mixed bruschetta ($8.95) came with a number of different toppings, but all were equally soaked in olive oil. The worst among the trio was the crabmeat Scoglio. While it's advertised as a signature ingredient, in multiple incarnations this crab was tinny and unappetizing. The simpler the preparation (e.g. the bruschetta), the worse it tasted.
Entrees and pastas came with a Scoglio salad or a tossed salad. (The difference is in the dressing. The Scoglio salad comes with the restaurant's signature white balsamic vinaigrette.) In either case it's worth paying a few extra dollars to upgrade to the warm pear salad with balsamic dressing and gorgonzola ($6.50). Some pieces of iceberg lettuce were brown around the edges and dark, wilted patches marred pieces of spinach and romaine (the tossed salad's greens weren't any fresher), but the sweet, sauteed pears and rich, salty gorgonzola sufficiently distracted from the subpar greens.
The bright flavors and the excellent conversation skills of my dining companion led us to linger a little too long over the salad course.
"You're talking too much," our server joked when she brought us our entrees to find we were only half done with our salads. Scoglio's is the kind of fine dining restaurant where the service style borrows a bit from the classic diner -- the jokes come free. Also, it's not the kind of restaurant where they remake your entree if you're not ready for it.
While Scoglio was long known for its seafood, today there are many better seafood restaurants, and Scoglio's best dishes lie in other parts of the menu. Once confronted with the size of my entree, I was glad I hadn't had time to finish the wedge of gorgonzola. The ratio of sauce to pasta and the soft texture of the pasta in a heaping bowl of linguine bolognese ($13.95) emphasized Italian-American traditions, and this was a fine example of that distinct cuisine. The sweet tomato sauce didn't overwhelm the delicate flavors of the tender ground veal. This flavorful sauce clearly had simmered on the stove for quite a while.
Chicken and eggplant parmigiana ($14.95), a combo plate of sorts, is a solid choice. Crispy breading concealed moist chicken and almost silky eggplant, and a portabella mushroom and plum tomato sauce helped perk up the overall flavors of the dish, which were slightly dampened by a thick coating of melted mozzarella.
Scoglio's sauteed pork chop valdostana ($16.50) substitutes Bel Paese cheese for the Fontina from Valle d'Aosta and adds spinach, but it's still an excellent example of how a proficient chef can turn a generic piece of pork into a tasty dish. A crunchy coating of golden brown bread crumbs, tender sauteed spinach and a creamy layer of melted Bel Paese cheese were just what this lean cut of meat needed to add flavor and texture.
The rack of lamb persille ($28.95) is a splurge on this menu, but a tasty one. Bread crumbs are used to good effect here as well, as was mustard, a classic companion to lamb. The rack is roasted, rested, then sliced, which ensures that meat is actually cooked as requested before it leaves the kitchen.
Entrees also come with choice of sides, including vegetables of the day, a baked potato, a risotto of the day or a simple pasta in a zesty tomato sauce. The zucchini risotto I tried was unpleasantly similar to wet rice, but the baked potato and pasta in tomato sauce were straightforward and tasty. One selection of vegetables included sauteed zucchini, peppers and perhaps a little too much red onion. If you're the kind of person who needs to order the vegetables to justify dessert, by all means do so.
This is not one of those Italian restaurants that relies on purchased cheesecake and tiramisu. Instead, you'll find an impressive array of house-made desserts. A magnificent strawberry basket ($6) was large enough for a table of four to share. The basket was constructed from crisp, fresh sugar tuile and filled with three or so scoops of vanilla ice cream, what looked like a pint of strawberries and dollops of whipped cream. Even better (and probably more appropriately sized) was a beautiful duo of profiteroles ($5), choux pastry filled with ice cream and topped with a rich chocolate sauce.
An evening at Scoglio's may not include the most groundbreaking food or elegant decor. But there's something to be said for a quiet restaurant that serves food of reasonable quality for reasonable prices and seems content to go on being itself, even as time and trends pass it by.