A week­end visit to Pitts­burgh’s din­ing scene

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - TRAVEL - By Melissa Ray­worth

PITTS­BURGH — When celebrity chef Lidia Bas­tianich de­cided to open a restau­rant in Pitts­burgh’s Strip District in 2001, she ar­rived in a neigh­bor­hood filled with ware­houses and fac­to­ries.

This nar­row stretch of streets in the shadow of the city’s down­town of­fice tow­ers had long been home to food pur­vey­ors like Who­ley’s Fish Mar­ket and the Penn­syl­va­nia Mac­a­roni Com­pany, known to lo­cals sim­ply as Penn Mac.

But a high-end restau­rant helmed by a James Beard award­win­ning chef? That wasn’t some­thing any­one ex­pected.

Nearly two decades later, as Bas­tianich’s epony­mous Pitts­burgh restau­rant per­ma­nently closed in Septem­ber, the neigh­bor­hood around it has changed dra­mat­i­cally. Along what is now called Ro­bot­ics Row, tech star­tups vie for of­fice space in new build­ings while Argo AI tests au­ton­o­mous cars.

In the process, Pitts­burgh’s restau­rant scene has be­come al­most as un­rec­og­niz­able.

The city has al­ways had spots where you could drop in for a mem­o­rable meal, from the up­scale Mon­terey Bay Fish Grotto on Mount Wash­ing­ton to the al­ways-sat­is­fy­ing French fries at Essie’s Orig­i­nal Hot Dog Shop in Oak­land.

But a mix of home­grown chefs and trans­plants from other cities have been open­ing risk-tak­ing and award-win­ning restau­rants, of­fer­ing creative spins on Amer­i­can food and authen­tic takes on cuisines like Venezue­lan and Viet­namese that would have been hard to find less than a decade ago.

Ben Man­tica, who co-founded Pitts­burgh’s pop­u­lar food hall Small­man Gal­ley in 2015 and fol­lowed up with Fed­eral Gal­ley in 2017, cred­its the restau­rant re­vival to an in­flux of new res­i­dents drawn to Pitts­burgh by Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­sity, the Uni­ver­sity of Pitts­burgh and the grow­ing num­ber of tech com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in the city. Ac­cus­tomed to din­ing well in San Fran­cisco or Austin or Seat­tle, he says, these new Pitts­burgh res­i­dents are seek­ing new cuisines and meals worth In­sta­gram­ming.

At his food halls, Man­tica and co-founder Tyler Ben­son host a ro­tat­ing se­lec­tion of pop-ups, each work­shop­ping a dif­fer­ent din­ing con­cept. Their “restau­rant in­cu­ba­tors” al­low chefs to road­test


El­e­vated chicken sand­wiches by chef Phillip Mil­ton at “Which Came First,” a chicken- and egg-fo­cused pop-up at Fed­eral Gal­ley in Pitts­burgh.


A poke bowl by chef Sum­mer Le at the Shaka pop-up at Fed­eral Gal­ley.

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