There is a burgeoning food scene in Pittsburgh. Yes, you read that correctly. The culinary wave is making its way through the Steel City, and I got the opportunity to ride it this past weekend.
In the transitional neighborhood of Upper Lawrenceville, you’ll find Cure, a newish hot spot serving up “local urban Mediterranean food.” The unassuming décor is modern yet rustic, with only a handful of tables, a four-seat bar, and several stools parked in front of the open kitchen. I tried making a reservation for two with one week’s notice, and the only seating available was at the bar. Apparently, patrons are reserving their tables weeks in advance, so plan accordingly.
Chef Justin Severino has an impressive resume, not to mention he was a 2014 James Beard Foundation award nominee. His knowledge and skill of butchery and charcuterie stem from his Italian-American upbringing and are heavily reflected in his menu. Severino also derives inspiration from the seasons of Western Pennsylvania and sources his ingredients from the local farming community.
I don’t normally like dining at a bar, but we had a friendly and inspired bartender who was knowledgeable and very attentive. He informed us that all of the ingredients used to make the various cocktails are produced in-house. I started off with a refreshing Madeira Collins, and then switched to a spectacular dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes district. My partner enjoyed the “Sparkling”, a Cava-based concoction mixed with orange, elderflower, and fennel.
Prior to our meal, I did scope out the menu and so when we were seated, I knew immediately that I wanted to order the SALUMI plate (SALUMI in all caps because there is also a smaller Salumi plate…for beginners). The SALUMI plate is essentially a showcase of Chef Severino’s masterwork in charcuterie. Everything on the plate is cured, molded, and pickled on site. Some of the highlights for me were the nduja (spreadable pork sausage seasoned with paprika), the pâté campagnola (chunky pâté with a mix of pork shoulder and liver), the spalla (cured, thinly sliced pork shoulder), and the lardo (essentially, butter made from pork fat).
Next we shared a dish named Autumn. It featured fresh crab mixed with lemongrass mayo served over burnt delicata squash and carrot persimmon custard, garnished with a crispin apple wedge, parsley, pickled shallot and sunchoke, and fried garlic. Need I state the obvious that there was a lot going on in this dish, but it was plated impeccably and all of the flavors complemented each other nicely.
For our main we shared the gnudi, which can only be described as superb. Out from the kitchen came a shallow bowl of ragu with tender chunks of smoked beef brisket and delicate balls of gnudi garnished with pine nuts and Calabrian chili oil. It was the perfect portion for sharing, especially following the colossal SALUMI plate.
Hats off to Chef Severino and team for their locavore aesthetic and innovative dishes that pay homage to the Pittsburgh region. After eating at Cure and a few other great restaurants in town, I for one have a new found respect for the food scene in Pennsylvania’s #2.
(Last visited in November, 2014)