When in Rome… but we weren’t; not even in Italy. We were in the Steel City on a Saturday evening for a Sunday night Steelers football game. Our residence for two nights was at Homewood Suites by Hilton in the “Strip District” just two miles shy of Heinz Field. It was an extended stay hotel with a fully equipped kitchen, except that we didn’t bring any food. Next best thing? Make a res, of course.
We feared that might be a bit of an issue because the area was packed with excited fans of both Pittsburgh and the opposing Green Bay Packers teams, some of which were already donning their cheese heads! As Russ was scanning the Internet for possible eateries, I noticed the hotel had included a flyer promoting Lidia Bastianich’s restaurant, which was located conveniently right around the corner.
Russ holding his coveted Steelers football tickets for great seats right near the 50-yard line!
Well, as not only Steelers fans, we are also fans of Lidia, so getting a coveted reservation at her esteemed establishment, was an additional coup for us. Luckily they were able to fit us in at the time slot we wanted, and we made the short walk in mere moments. And what an impressive place it is!
Lidia’s Pittsburgh opened in March of 2001, only two years after Lidia Bastianich and her son Joseph Bastianich opened the popular Lidia’s Kansas City, their first venture outside of Manhattan. Acclaimed New York architect David Rockwell designed the interior to reflect an open-warehouse atmosphere nestled in the heart of the strip district. Lidia’s Pittsburgh menu concept is a combination of the New York restaurants, Felidia and Becco.
The environment is friendly enough to dine with family and kids, as well as quiet enough to have a lovely evening as a twosome. The classy Italian atmosphere is very warm and welcoming with a warehouse-modern decor. Soaring ceilings, a massive stone fireplace, huge baubled chandeliers, eye-catching stained glass circles, and a second story dining area all tie together for a stunning ambience.
Our starter was the ANTIPASTI—Chef’s Selection of Salumi, Cheese, and Seasonal Vegetables. Not a fan of either salumi or paté, Russ got those all to himself, but I did enjoy the pickled onions, herbed olives, buffalo mozzarella and white truffle cheeses, and the smoked pork.
Along with our shared appetizer, a bread basket appeared with a plate of house-made bean and basil pesto spread, an olive spread, and an olive oil for dipping. The spreads were creamy, well-seasoned, and delicious. And included with two types of freshly baked bread were the most amazingly delicious parmesan bread sticks! In fact, when our waitress packed up the leftovers, we asked her for the remaining breadsticks—of which, lucky for us, she tripled!
Prior to entrées we each chose a salad, with Russ getting his usual Caesar, and me the Rucola consisting of arugula, gorgonzola, walnuts and pear slices. Russ is always thrilled when he can get whole anchovies. Mine was lightly dressed, which is how I prefer salad, and the large chunks of gorgonzola “peared” well with the other ingredients.
Knowing Lidia hailed from northern Italy near Austria, Russ was drawn to the SARME—Beef and pork stuffed cabbage rolls braised in sauerkraut, and served with a large crock of mashed potatoes. He shared a taste of that luscious meat stuffing which was a savory, melt-in-your-mouth bite!
I went with one of my usuals, the SALMONE—A perfectly cooked grilled salmon fillet, accompanied by roasted Yukon potatoes and string beans, all nestled in a delicate mustard sauce. The portion was more than ample and I remembered our full-sized refrigerator back at the hotel which would accommodate my doggie bag.
Along with an all-you-can-eat sampler of three different house-made pastas that change daily, the menu entrées are mostly very traditional with pastas like cannelloni and lasagna, and meat dishes such as chicken parmigiana and Osso Buco. If we ever get to the Strip District again, we’ll make a point to revisit Lidia’s.
Lidia Bastianich is the chef/owner of four acclaimed New York City restaurants — Felidia, Becco, Esca & Del Posto, as well as Lidia’s Pittsburgh & Lidia’s Kansas City. Together with her son Joseph, she produces award-winning wines at their Bastianich Vineyards in Friuli. 2007 signified a true benchmark in Lidia’s career, as she had the esteem honor of cooking for His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI during his travels to New York. In fall of 2010, Lidia released her first children’s book, soon to be a holiday classic, Nonna Tell Me a Story: Lidia’s Christmas Kitchen. Perhaps the single most important quality that Lidia shares is her belief that it’s not only the food on the table that makes the meal, it’s the people who join around the table who bring the meal to life. Her signature line: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!” means “Everybody to the table to eat!”