Bethel Park's Slate Bistro lets chefs explore culinary treats

| Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 8:04 p.m.

Certified master chef Dave Sgro is a member of an extended family of restaurateurs and once owned La Scala restaurant, Downtown. Cheryl Tacka operated a bed-and-breakfast and restaurant in her native West Virginia.

The two met at Piccolina's in Upper St. Clair, after Tacka moved to this area to be closer to family. There, Tacka kept suggesting they open a restaurant together.

In August, that suggestion became reality when the business partners opened Slate Bistro in the former Cafe Giorgio on Donati Road in Bethel Park, not far from South Hills Village.

“As soon as someone suggested (the name Slate), we thought, ‘Yeah, this will be a clean slate for us. We can change the menu monthly and wipe the slate clean,” says Tacka, 53, of Bethel Park. The owners highlight the bistro name with small slate tiles that hold tea lights and salt and pepper shakers on each table.

“Cheryl and I live to cook,” says Sgro, 42, of Bethel Park. “We enjoy it.”

“We have such a good time cooking. We want (our customers) to be happy,” Tacka says.

The bistro has the same creamy walls, hardwood floors and 100-year-old barn wood wainscoting that Cafe Giorgio did. The former owners even left artwork and furnishings, such as tables and black bentwood chairs upholstered with a modern tapestry fabric. When Sgro and Tacka first opened Slate Bistro in August, they tried featuring a few items that Cafe Giorgio did. But making someone else's cuisine just didn't feel right.

The two chefs decided instead to produce their own creative entrees like a recent New York strip steak dish meant to look like a breakfast. The steak came with a savory rosemary waffle; a thickened demi-glace served in a ramekin, which made it resemble syrup; and applewood-smoked bacon.

“People said, ‘That is the coolest thing,' ” Sgro says.

The new owners chose to spotlight Sgro's restaurant heritage by hanging framed mementoes of Sgro's restaurant over the fireplace mantel. The frame contains a blue-rimmed dinner plate, spoon, menus and photos of the former Robinson establishment and of Sgro's three great-uncles, who owned it.

Sgro learned to walk in that restaurant and worked in Italian restaurants for years.

“I have 25 years of doing Italian,” he says. “People say, ‘Dave, why don't you do Italian?' I say, ‘Well, we want to do something different.' ”

Still, Italian entrees, each with a twist, occasionally find their way onto the Slate menu. Two such examples are this month's Milanese Veal Cutlet with crispy prosciutto, pine nuts, lemon, butter and Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese for $25, and Asiago-Stuffed Gnocchi, which features jumbo lump crab, roasted leeks and sweet bell pepper and zesty herb creme sauce, for $26.

Then again, diners can choose a New York Strip with peppers, mushrooms, onions, plum tomatoes and garlic butter for $30.

Says Sgro of their food philosophy: “We can do anything we want.”

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

Pork Chops With Apple-Sage Stuffing and Balsamic-Pomegranate Sauce

Dave Sgro, chef at Slate Bistro in Bethel Park, thinks pork and apples “complement each other so much. … The pork is mild, and there's tang in an apple.” Add some tasty ingredients like butter, sage and pomegranate seeds, and the result is an eminently tender chop with a sauce and stuffing that are complementary indeed.

Sgro and his business partner, chef Cheryl Tacka, say this dish is perfect for New Year's Day, when many families traditionally serve pork for good luck. But the dish is suitable for any cold winter's dinner.

Says Sgro, “It's one of our best sellers.”

4 pork chops, thickly cut (about 8-12 ounces each)

For the stuffing:

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped apple

¼ ounce fresh sage, chopped

½ pound butter, melted

8 ounces rustic Italian bread, cubed

1 cup chicken broth

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the balsamic sauce:

2 cups beef stock or broth

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

½ cup pomegranate “seeds”

For the garnish:

1 tablespoon pomegranate “seeds”

4 fresh sage sprigs

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Saute the onion, celery, apple and chopped sage in butter until cooked, then add the bread cubes, broth and salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish in the oven while preparing the chops.

Meanwhile, place the beef stock or broth in a saucepan with the balsamic vinegar. Reduce the mixture to the consistency of cream, or by about half. When the sauce has reduced, add the half-cup of pomegranate “seeds” and heat through.

Pan-fry the pork chops for about 5 minutes on each side on medium heat. For well-done chops, place them in oven for an additional 10 minutes alongside the stuffing. When the chops have finished cooking, serve the sauce immediately on the chops, and garnish each of the four chops with a quarter-tablespoon of the unheated pomegranate “seeds.” Serve the stuffing alongside the chop.

Makes 4 servings.

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