The Park Schenley was more than just a restaurant. It was an institution for those who liked exquisite dining and cared deeply about the atmosphere and the restaurant experience. Located in the heart of Oakland, it was one of Pittsburgh’s favorite and the region’s finest restaurants and the social center of the city in 1950s and ’60s.
The first big project of the local architect Tasso Katselas, whose works later included the Pittsburgh International Airport, the Allegheny County Jail and the Carnegie Science Center, the restaurant was an instant and overwhelming success with superb food and drink complementing the ambiance.
When Katselas just started working on Park Schenley, he had no office or staff. He built a plywood drafting board on site and began drawing. The interior design of Park Schenley was ahead of its time and nothing like it could be found in Pittsburgh in 1954. “The perimeter of the dining room had flexible alcove bench seating and the center space used columns as pivots for larger groups.” The bar was long and curved, its shape reflecting in undulating wood ceiling above.
The restaurant was popular for its exquisite cuisine, courteous waiters, pleasant ambiance and the roast beef cart that was wheeled to the table to serve the cut a diner had ordered. The person chiefly responsible for the menu was Dino Nardi, who earned high praises in the United States and in Europe. Among Chef Nardi’s popular masterpieces were Cote D’Azure paulet in skillet, curry of jumbo shrimp in casserole, stuffed deviled crab Park Schenley and roast Cornish game hens.
The giant of local restaurant restaurant business and ”a man of an absolute heart of gold,” Frank Blandi was the restaurant’s owner until 1983. Blandi opened the Park Schenley in 1954 on Forbes Avenue across from the Schenley Hotel, now the Pitt Student Union. The restaurant was moved to the Royal York building on Bigelow Boulevard in 1964, when the Hillman Library was built on its place.
Under Blandi’s leadership the restaurant won multiple awards, including a national Dining Distinction award in 1957, three years after it opened. Park Schenley’s prime rib earned it a roast beef award from Maurice C. Dreicer, noted gourmet from New York. In 1981, the Park Schenley was one of 50 award-winning restaurants to participate in “A Taste of America” at a presidential inaugural reception in Washington.
But these awards were not his only accomplishments. Blandi started the Gourmet Dinners for Children’s Hospital through The Pittsburgh Press Old Newsboys Fund in the old Park Schenley restaurant and LeMont on Mount Washington, the restaurant he founded. Those dinner were lavish, seven-course offerings that guests paid as much as $200 a piece to attend. He raised $600,000 through this campaign for Children’s Hospital. “Nothing has given more satisfaction than raising that kind of money for kids whose parents can’t afford their medical care,” Blandi said.
In 1983, the Park Schenley changed owners and had undergone major transitions. The restaurant was remodeled: a neo-deco sand-carved glass panel by local artist Rudi Maros became a centerpiece of the dining hall.