Regent Square area restaurant scene continues to bloom
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Pittsburgh's restaurant scene has been on fast-forward this summer, and while the flurry of openings has been spread out over many neighborhoods, it's had a particularly strong impact on Regent Square, the East End neighborhood made up of portions of Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg, Swissvale and Edgewood.
The departure of Legume Bistro, which will re-open in Oakland later this summer, should have been a blow to the neighborhood food scene, but only two months after Legume Bistro served its final dinner, its South Braddock Avenue space has been filled by a new establishment, and two other upscale restaurants have been added to the area's restaurant portfolio.
The impact of these new restaurants is magnified by the distinctiveness and diversity of their offerings. Root174, which opened just last Tuesday, is a contemporary American restaurant distinguished by eclectic flavors, precise techniques and visually stunning presentations. Cibo is an elegant Italian bistro with a frequently changing menu, mixing Italian-American classics like braciole with old country offerings like whole branzino. Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen is at the forefront of a new wave of Latin American restaurants. What they have in common is their determination to serve the neighborhood they call home, while also drawing diners from the entire region.
Root174's name was derived from the neighborhood itself. Chef-owner Keith Fuller took the neighborhood's two main ZIP codes (15218 and 15221), added them together, took the square root, and rounded it off to 174. The space is small and relatively casual, with dark wooden tables and walls painted in warm brown and red tones. For now, it's BYOB, though Mr. Fuller doesn't rule out the possibility of a liquor license at a later date.
The food promises to be as sophisticated and intricate as almost any in the city. Dishes on the opening menu include confit chicken wings with coffee spice, fresh green curry spice and dehydrated banana ($9), grilled watermelon salad with olive, feta and balsamic ($8), vegan vegetable cakes with chocolate mole, roasted corn salsa and fingerling potatoes ($16) and creme brulee with peach compote and whipped cream ($7).
While Root174 is not a vegetarian restaurant (chicken wing and breast, pork belly, eggs, sea scallops and more are on the menu), Mr. Fuller's business partner Patrick Bollinger is vegan, and the menu will always include several vegetarian and vegan-friendly options.
Root174 is offering a smartly designed neighborhood discount. Residents of the 15218 and 15221 ZIP codes (diners will have to show proof of residence) will be given a 10 percent discount Tuesdays through Thursdays. If they sit down at 8 p.m. or later, the discount will go up to 15 percent.
After the restaurant has been open for a few months, Mr. Fuller also hopes to draw locals to a Monday movie night. He'll show a film ("Star Wars," a particular favorite of Mr. Fuller's, will probably be an early offering) and serve a four-course, prix fixe menu inspired by it.
Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen
At Alma, owner Jamie Wallace focused on keeping prices low, to ensure that local residents could afford to be frequent visitors. The most expensive entrees -- grilled shrimp and skirt steak -- are $21 and $22, and most are between $14 and $16. Sandwiches and several vegetable plates are $10 to $12.
Like Root174, Alma also offers more than the average vegetarian options, including a Colombian arepa, an unleavened corn pastry, topped with a salad of beets, avocado, cabbage and cilantro ($10), and a vegetable tagine from Morocco ($12).
Once the restaurant's liquor license comes through, a second room will become Alma Cantina, offering drinks and a shorter menu of snacks. Mr. Wallace and chef Martin Lamarche hope it will become a neighborhood gathering place.
Cibo owner Dino DeFlavio already had close connections to the Regent Square community. He also owns D's Six Pax and Dogz, as well as McBroom Beer Distributor, both on South Braddock Avenue. He had previously opened a pizza place in Cibo's South Braddock storefront. The space has adapted nicely to the much more formal Italian restaurant.
Eric Schwarzmeier, chef of Cibo (pronounced Cheebo), trained at La Cucina Flegrea in Squirrel Hill. Highlights of a recent meal included authentic arancini and linguine al vongole, the aromatic white wine and leek sauce finished with the juices of freshly steamed littleneck clams.
Regent Square offers some of the usual challenges of residential locations. Parking can be somewhat challenging, as there are so few large lots or garages. There are also no major commercial destinations to draw diners. And with so many restaurants to choose from, neighborhood residents may be less likely to be regular visitors of any one spot.
Even without Legume Bistro and the recent openings, Regent Square offered an impressive number and range of dining choices, from breakfast and lunch at the Square Cafe, casual dining at The Map Room to great Thai food at Green Mango.
But the experience of other restaurant neighborhoods, particularly the Penn Circle-Highland Avenue intersection that bridges East Liberty and Shadyside, suggests that there's no reason they can't all thrive.
Regent Square's location is a particularly strong one. The neighborhood is already part of multiple communities, and its proximity to the Parkway East and the Penn Avenue corridor make it an easy commute from many different municipalities.
On a recent weekend evening, despite bursts of rainfall, restaurants old and new were crowded with diners, and even more people were strolling South Braddock Avenue, reading menus posted on doors, peering into restaurant windows and contemplating their multitude of choices.
First Published July 28, 2011 12:00 am