Dining Review: Trattoria classics are just right at Pino's Mercato
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Joe "Pino" Mico was a fixture on the Pittsburgh restaurant scene even before he opened a pizza and sandwich emporium on Reynolds Street in Point Breeze a dozen years ago. Pino's Pizza was on the front lines of the "thin crust" revolution taking place at that time in Pittsburgh. By 1999, Joe had an urge to offer a more complete dining experience and moved to larger quarters on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill. What was originally Pino's Pizza Kitchen morphed into Pino's Cafe Rustica. That cafe is now closed, and all of Mico's talents are focused on Pino's Mercato, his neighborhood trattoria on Reynolds Street. You might say that he has come full circle since the Mercato is directly across the street from the original pizza parlor.Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette
At Pino's Mercato in Point Breeze, executive chef and owner Joe Mico, left, and chef de cuisine Jim Zummo with two popular dishes: Veal Zingara, left (veal scaloppini with sauteed onions, hot banana peppers, Mediterranean olives, fresh tomatoes and potatoes in white wine sauce, tomato sauce, topped with seasoned ricotta), and Balsamic Grilled Vegetable Platter (eggplant, zucchini, roasted red peppers, red onions and tomatoes over a bed of romaine lettuce with roasted red pepper hummus, artichokes, Mediterranean olives and feta cheese).
Click photo for larger image.
6738 Reynolds St.
Hours: Mondays 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturdays noon-10 p.m.; Sundays 4-9 p.m.
Basics: A casual neighborhood dining spot that serves Italian comfort food in all its forms from pizza to pasta to elaborate creations featuring meats and fish. All are also available for take-out. Service in most cases is friendly. Sidewalk tables are preferred.
Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-$7.95; entrees, $12.95-$18.95; desserts, $4.95-$6.95.
SUMMARY: Smoking outside only. Wheelchair accessible. Street parking; no meters. All major credit cards accepted. Reservations accepted. Dogs welcome outside.
Old-time residents of this East End neighborhood still refer to this address as the Reynolds Market. Really old-timers might even remember when it was the first A&P market in Pittsburgh. I know it as Joe and Jennifer Mico's "Mercato." What for many years was a grocery store is now a casual neighborhood restaurant that serves everything from pizza and pasta to upscale cuisine.
The five-page menu is chock-full of Italian trattoria classics, complemented by an array of unusual and inventive additions. For example, the "Primi" (appetizer) section has all of the expected entries such as wedding soup, stuffed banana peppers, and greens and beans. But in addition there are surprises such as Risotto Cakes ($5.95). These crisply sauteed rice cakes, topped with fontinella and parmesan and fresh herbs are served with a fabulous house-made marinara sauce. There is Portabello Napoleon ($7.95) with spinach and goat cheese sandwiched between slices of the meat-like grilled mushroom. This dish is embellished with a fire-roasted tomato coulis and balsamic reduction making it a composition of multiple flavors and textures.
Even the fried zucchini ($5.95) at the Mercato has an unusual twist. The squash is stuffed with provolone cheese before being breaded and deep fried. It, too, is accompanied by the signature marinara sauce. You can have your calamari fried as you might in other venues or you can have it grilled and served with fresh lemon wedges over wilted greens ($7.95).
Pino's makes everything in-house, including salad dressings. I enjoyed its Caesar Salad ($6.95), which is sprinkled with house-made focaccia croutons. The romaine was crisp and the anchovy flavor in the dressing was subtle. I did feel that the price was steep for the portion size, which was the same as the one served with a dinner entree.
One page of the menu features Grilled Flatbreads and Focaccia Sandwiches. Priced from $5.95 to $8.95, all are made to order. I haven't personally sampled the sandwiches, but there are many that I am looking forward to trying on future visits. The first will be a Grilled Salmon BLT ($7.95). Veal Saltimbocca ($8.95) on home-made focaccia sounds like another "must try" combo.
Entrees come with a salad and a basket of fresh-baked breads and a spread made of chick peas and sun-dried tomatoes. There are the standard piccata or marsala sauced chicken or veal, cacciatore-style chicken or eggplant Parmigiana. The more creative entree dishes include Veal Angelina ($18.95), a sauteed escallop of veal served with wild mushroom ravioli in a red wine demi-glaze sauce. I also found the Veal Katarina ($18.95) an intriguing innovation. In this dish the veal is tossed with artichokes, roasted red peppers, dry-cured olives and wild mushrooms in a white wine demi-glaze sauce and served over house-made linguini. Shrimp Romano Style ($19.95) combines jumbo shrimp with artichoke quarters in white wine lemon butter sauce, served on a plate with wilted greens and a risotto cake.
The house-made ravioli come in two versions. I recommend the Wild Mushroom Ravioli ($14.95). A blend of earthy-tasting mushrooms and creamy mascarpone cheese inside pasta pillows, this entree hits many "taste" high notes. The creamy sauce is flavored with sherry wine and sage. The end result is a dish that makes you want to lick the plate. All of the flat pastas here are made in the kitchen. One can choose the shape and the sauce from a long list of possibilities. Pizzas come in three sizes and in a choice of thin crust or thick crust. Thin crust pizzas start at $7.95 for the base plus $1.50 for each topping. There are also calzones on the menu.
The Mercato has initiated a program of changing features on different days of the week. Its Lazy Lasagna dinners on Monday and Tuesday are a neighborhood favorite. I am partial to Thursday night, when it serves what it calls "tapas" but I would call simply small plates. No two Thursday nights will serve the same thing. This is the night the chefs get to entertain themselves. They go off the charts creating dishes that are not on the normal menu. Some recent examples are Asparagus en Croute ($4), fresh asparagus and prosciutto wrapped in pastry and served with lemon vinaigrette. Rustica Strudel ($7) with spinach, mushrooms and feta cheese in strudel pastry with red pepper coulis was another. Our table loved Escargot ($8), a heap of snails and wild mushroom ragout piled on a puff pastry base. The Frico ($6) was a crisp of Gruyere stuffed with crab and spinach. Don't count on finding these on the menu when you go to Pino's since they rarely repeat the Thursday experiments, but I can assure you that future choices will be equally enticing.
Desserts are made in the kitchen and also change daily. Tiramisu for two ($6.95) and the Berry Panna Cotta (4.95) are exceptions to this rule and are always available. You might, in addition, find cakes, fresh fruit tarts and brownies. Incidentally, the classically prepared tiramisu was in fact just right for four.
Joe Mico has a team of talented chefs working with him in the kitchen. Jim Zummo gets the credit for a number of the new additions to the menu. He spent many years in the Primadonna kitchen when it was an award-winning restaurant. There are plans to renovate the interior of the restaurant, which at the moment feels like a temporary installation, with elements of the grocery store heritage still visible. It will be a true trattoria when the warmth of the dining room matches the food coming from the kitchen. Until then, a table on the sidewalk on this quiet tree-lined street is hard to beat. And you can even take your dog to dinner if you dine outside!
This is a BYOB restaurant. Corkage is $5 a bottle. The service is ultra-casual, almost family-like. This is possibly because there are so many regulars, many of them dating back to the days of the little pizza place across the street. Mico stops by every table to chat with his guests or to advise on choices. This is a man who loves his work. It is great to see him back on Reynolds Street full time. It looks like this time he is there to stay.
First Published September 1, 2005 12:00 am