Foodies honor Wooden Nickel's vanilla seafood dish

| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A signature dish inspired by a romantic gesture has earned Monroeville chef Joe Bello accolades from Pittsburgh foodies.

Bello is the executive chef of the Wooden Nickel in Monroeville and winner of best preview dish for the Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Kickoff Party last week on Penn Avenue in the Strip District.

Restaurant Week is a project of Pittsburgh TasteBuds, which promotes the area's dining scene.

Bello's winning dish was jumbo seared shrimp with crab and Tahitian vanilla bean sauce, which was inspired by a honeymoon trip in 2010 that included a layover in Tahiti, Bello said.

“When you get off the plane, this scent hits you, this sweet, savory scent,” he said. “It was vanilla bean. The entire island is vanilla beans.”

He promised his wife, Natalie, that he would incorporate vanilla bean into a dish for her.

He combined the flavor with hints of butter rum and vanilla bean butter.

“When people hear ‘vanilla,' they think dessert,” Bello said. “But it has a savory flavor to it.”

Bello, 30, was hired as head chef of Wooden Nickel three years ago when his father-in-law bought the restaurant, which has been a staple of the Monroeville dining scene for decades.

The family plans to open a second Wooden Nickel in Norwin Town Square in North Huntingdon by early summer.

That restaurant will feature a different look, Bello said.

“The dining room (will be) more modern, but with a classy, high-end feel.”

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or

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