A gustatory burst punctuated the last few weeks of 2015 like the high flames of a flaring kitchen grill, closing out with the opening of four restaurants — Morcilla in Lawrenceville; Whitfield at the Ace Hotel and Muddy Waters Oyster Bar, both in East Liberty; and Smallman Galley in the Strip District — which were instant hot spots.
A late December like that alone meant that 2016 would really have its work cut it out for it to matchup to the prior year, but it has held its own with a bumper crop of new spots that have enhanced Pittsburgh’s ever-expanding food scene. Here are 13 of the most notable new restaurants of the year to date, plus some more heavily anticipated destinations that were on the cusp of opening at press time.
• Apteka, Bloomfield. Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski created buzz for years with their pierogie pop-up dinners and after a successful crowd-funding campaign brought their brick-and-mortar dream of vegan Eastern European food to life this year to rave reviews.
• Block 292, Mt. Lebanon. Brooks Broadhurst broke away from the family business — Eat’n Park — to pursue this passion project, which is part restaurant, part market and butchery housed in an old auto-body shop on the quaint Beverly Road shopping district.
• Cibo, Regent Square. After being shuttered for a year, this Braddock Avenue bistro re-opened with a menu that lists beautiful rustic Italian cuisine by chef Jennifer Burfield, who returned to her kitchen roots after four years as the general manager of Cure in Lawrenceville.
• DJ’s Sandwich Shoppe, Bloomfield. The modest little diner on Pittsburgh’s Little Italy’s main Liberty Avenue drag doesn’t look like much on the surface, but the sandwiches and burgers feature excellent and often exotic meats from DJ Smulick’s neighboring butcher shop.
• The Foundry, North Shore. Amid a sea of chains in the glorified office park that is the North Shore (when there isn’t a game or concert going on anyway, at least), The Foundry opened in August and brought with it a refreshing change of pace: gourmet gastropub fare from former Duquesne Club sous chef Michael Godlewski.
• Hidden Harbor, Squirrel Hill. Kitschy yet classy, this Technicolor Tiki Land of Oz has food, drink, decor and music that hits all the senses. Monique Ruvolo’s small plates are vibrant and flavorful to match the colorful drinks by all-star bartenders Greta Dunn, Wes Shonk and Max Stein.
• Pirata, Downtown. First there were bourbon bars. Then tequila became trendy. Now, this Downtown spot bets rum will rule next, as it features more than 200 varieties of the molasses-based spirit along with foods from South America, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Mexico, on the ground floor of the Tower Two-Sixty high-rise on Forbes Avenue, just off of Market Square.
• Pork & Beans, Downtown. The fourth establishment from the DeShantz Group juggernaut was delayed several times, but Pork & Beans has delivered on its promise of a barbecue bounty Downtown from dynamic chef duo, Richard DeShantz and Keith Fuller. The setting is that of a raucous roadhouse and the cocktails complement the food and fun.
• Revel + Roost, Downtown. The new Hilton Garden Inn brought with it two restaurants under one roof: Revel, the street level gastropub and Roost, the upstairs finer dining upscale lounge.
• Roasted Barrelhouse & Eatery, Lawrenceville. The Butler Street corridor boasts two top spots, which “Cure” and “Smoke” meats. So it stands to reason that meats should be “Roasted,” too. That’s the case at Roasted, where Brandon Hobbs’s menu of slow-roasted meats make for some memorable sandwiches.
• Spork, Garfield. Christian Frangiadis made innovative cuisine here in the 1990s, and after an extended detour to the Caribbean, he returned to open Spork. The sleek but not stuffy overhaul of the former Quiet Storm coffee shop specializes in elegant but fun small plates and house-cured meats.
• Streets on Carson, South Side. This love letter to worldwide street food features as diverse a menu as you’ll find in town, from Peruvian Pan con Chicharron to Czech Chicken Chlebicek. In lesser hands, such an ambition could be a disaster, but Matt Christie seamlessly provides a culinary world tour from central Asia to central America, from the cozy confines of Carson Street.
• Umami, Lawrenceville. The Round Corner Cantina set a standard for new-Lawrenceville cool in 2009, and its restaurant within a restaurant on the top has upped the ante with Roger Li’s Umami. The dimly lit space accented by red neon lights is an izakaya (a Japanese pub), featuring highly regarded street fare and sushi dedicated to umami flavors.
And coming soon …
Derek Stevens’ Union Standard will be a ground-floor anchor as part of a restoration that’s giving new energy to what is arguably Downtown’s grandest structure, the Union Trust Building … Dave Anoia will open DiAnoia’s Eatery in the Strip Distict, featuring the Italian food of his heritage … Caselulla in Manhattan brought worldwide handmade cheeses to New Yorkers; it will do the same at Casellula @ Alphabet City on the North Side … Vallozzi’s will open Talia Cucina & Rosticcheria, a temple to Italian meats inside the old Alcoa Building Downtown … Kevin Sousa of the late Salt of the Earth is hoping to open Superior Motors in Braddock by summer 2017 … Dennis Marron’s work at The Commoner created buzz; now he strikes out on his own with Merchant Oyster Co. in Lawrenceville … Pie for Breakfast will bring the upscale fare of neighboring Legume but in a more modestly priced cafe setting … Finally, Andrew Gabarino will move his acclaimed white tablecloth fare at East Liberty’s Twisted Frenchman to Baum Boulevard; the current restaurant will go on the top floor, with brasserie Bar Frenchman downstairs.