I’m constantly asked, “Where can you get authentic Italian food in Pittsburgh?” Until recently, I didn’t have an answer. Last Saturday I had the opportunity to dine at Cenacolo- Pittsburgh’s first truly authentic Italian eatery, located in North Huntington, PA.
A little background…
Prior to opening Cenacolo, Chef Steve Salvi was working long hours making artisanal pasta with his brand, Fede. Started five years ago in Salvi’s basement, Fede has quickly grown, now servicing over 100 clients in Pennsylvania. Fede pasta is now available in countless restaurants, and grocery stores throughout Pittsburgh.
Recently, Chef Salvi expanded his pasta empire to include a market that sells imported meats, (try the prosciutto) cured olives, rich cheeses, and other Italian fare. While browsing throughout the store, customers can watch their pasta being prepared by skilled pasta makers (Chef Salvi traveled to Milano Italy to purchase his pasta machines). While trying to decide what to take home, I was offered a few chunks of complimentary pecorino while with aged balsamic- delicious!
Cenacolo is quaint and comfortable. Warm colors adorn the walls, stimulating diner’s appetites. We nibbled on long Italian breadsticks while looking over the menu. A small platter of olives and sharp cheese was served with our drinks. Our waiter appeared with an appetizer: a large plate of creamy polenta with truffle oil and chopped green onions. The dish was smooth and perfect. The oil added an earthiness to the cornmeal, and tangy onions provided a small kick. As we were sopping up the last drops of the rich mushroom oil, a wooden platter of cheesy bread (Burrino, $8.00) was placed on the table. Large chunks of freshly-baked bread dripping with melted, oozy cheese were quickly devoured.
It was too difficult to decide what to order, so I deferred to the owner. Steve recommended the Gargenelli, ($22.00) braised pork belly, leeks, scallions, and Romano. My dinner companions ordered the Rigatoni, ($17.00) sopresatta, broccolini, banana peppers, tomatoes, and Capeletti, ($19.00) butternut squash, ricotta, pistachios, and brown butter sage.
Our meals arrived piping hot. I quickly dove into my Gargenelli and burned the top of my mouth. The braised pork belly was sweet (maybe a hint of balsamic or honey?) and delicious. The pasta was cooked perfectly. Small bits of fat from the pork added richness and complexity to the dish. My dinner companions were equally impressed, and I watched them devour their dinners with joy. Josh Toney, Executive Chef at Cenacolo is an obvious talent, and continued to put out perfectly seasoned plates as we sat after our meal.
We were too stuffed to get dessert, but we ordered a piece of homemade tiramisu anyway. As we dove into the HUGE piece of the traditional dessert, Chef Salvi stopped by with three glasses of Fratello, (a nutty Italian liquor)- a perfect ending to our meal.
Cenacolo is an exceptional eatery. Its combination of perfectly fresh ingredients, kitchen talent, and imported Italian ingredients make it one of the premier restaurants in Pittsburgh. If you plan on trying Cenacolo, call a few days in advance- reservations are becoming more and more difficult to come by.