Gaucho herds Argentina flavors to spot in the Strip
The cuisine of Argentina isn't really on the radar of most Pittsburghers, unless they have some kind of connection to the country. If Gaucho Parilla Argentina — a new takeout place in the Strip District — is any indication, that should probably change.
Fans of barbecue and expert grilling in general ought to find a lot to like here, even if a few of the condiments are unfamiliar.
Proprietor Anthony Falcon saw the Strip District as a place where people are already going to check out new and unusual ethnic foods, so it fit his needs perfectly.
“I'm from Brooklyn,” Falcon says. “My father and brother and sister are from Argentina. My mom's side is English. ... I took them to the Strip one day. The food is diverse; this is the spot to be. This is something we had really wanted to bring to Pittsburgh.”
Gaucho is located in the space vacated by Big Mama's House of Soul on Penn Avenue, replacing worn black-and-gold decorations with dark wood, inside and out. There's few places to sit, but counters line the walls, giving the place a cozy, convivial atmosphere. An outdoor patio with seating should be ready by May.
Everything is cooked over wood, and that's it.
“Even restaurant people say, ‘I can't believe your only source of heat for cooking anything is wood,' ” Falcon says.
Some of the world's best beef is raised in Argentina, so it's no surprise that steak takes center stage at Gaucho. You can choose from a quarter pound or half-pound of Bife del Gaucho (cowboy ribeye steak, $11 and $20), Entragna (skirt steak, $8 and $14), Matambre (flank steak, $7 and $12) or Lomo (filet mignon, $15 and $28).
If you're a little less hungry, there are five sandwiches available, including chorizo ($7), with a choice of garlic, spicy or morcilla sausage, with onion, peppers and pimenton.
Surprisingly, there's a good deal here for vegetarians, include the excellent Vegetables sandwich ($8), stacked with grilled asparagus, portobello mushrooms, onions, peppers, zucchini, papas (potatoes) and cebolla condimento.
There's always a large array of “pequenos,” or small plates, for those in the mood to sample. The roasted, seasoned Gaucho Papas ($2) are a good place to start, as are the chorizos ($5), spicy garlic sausages with an outstanding chimmichurri sauce (made from extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, salmuera, parsley, oregano).
One of the best things about Gaucho is simply standing around waiting for your food, watching the grills in action and chatting with the cooks. We were handed toasted bread, and stood around the giant butcher's block in the middle of the room, trying out Gaucho's array of condiments, from Cebolla ($3 for a to-go container), a rosemary, onion and thyme-accented olive oil, to the Pimenton ($3), redolent of charred pepper and garlic.
“The condiments — you can put them on anything,” Falcon says. “We roast the peppers and caramelize the onions and puree the roasted garlic. The only thing coming out of a can is the extra-virgin olive oil.”
The giant butcher's block sort of operates as a condiment bar, and tends to spark conversation.
“The butcher's block has become a centerpiece for us,” Falcon says. “The block itself is about 80 years old. One owner — the gentleman we bought it from — was the former butcher at the A&P in New Castle. He shed a tear as he passed it off to us.”
Simply getting it to Gaucho was a challenge.
“It's about 900, maybe a thousand pounds. There's a small Samoan/Pacific Islander community in Pittsburgh, and I'm friends with them. Even they said it was heavy, and they're ridiculously strong.”
Gaucho is BYOB at the moment, with a catch.
“The cooks prefer malbec,” Falcon says. “Make sure you bring enough for us.”
Gaucho Parilla Argentina, 1607 Penn Ave., Strip District. Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat. Details: 412-709-6622 or www.eatgaucho.com
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7901.