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Renovations complete, Shadyside eatery to add to menu

By Pam Starr
Sunday, July 17, 2011

1947 Tavern in Shadyside is the effort of the DiFiore family's return to its culinary roots.

The location 1947 Tavern inhabits on Ellsworth Avenue used to house the popular Elbow Room, a casual restaurant so successful that it had outgrown its space. Michael DiFiore finally decided to move the Elbow Room into a larger place along Walnut Street.

"The Elbow Room had grown into something much more than we had the space for," says DiFiore, 47, of Highland Park. "We took the Elbow Room in its current incarnation to Walnut Street, and brought this space into what the Elbow Room was when it opened in 1947."

When the Elbow Room opened, it had a simple menu of mostly sandwiches and salads, he says. His parents, Joe and Nancy DiFiore, bought the Elbow Room in 1979 and continued the tradition of serving comfort foods.

"I remember coming home from school, and my mom would be cooking sides of roast beef and ham in our oven for the restaurant," DiFiore says. "There's a trend across the country now with chefs doing simpler things."

DiFiore owns the B2 Restaurant Group, which consists of Elbow Room, 1947 Tavern, Bites and Brews (next door to 1947 Tavern) and Buffalo Blues. This year has been a stressful one for the married father of three, as three of the four restaurants were renovated within a six-month period.

"We expanded Bites and Brews first, and then, moved the Elbow Room," says DiFiore, who grew up in Squirrel Hill and is a 1982 graduate of Central Catholic High School. "That opened in January, and then, we spent about two months doing mostly cosmetic work at 1947 Tavern, replacing ceiling tiles and painting. We opened in April."

Comfortable booths, tables and bar stools make up the 60 seats inside the intimate, dimly lit 1947 Tavern. The space is charmingly rustic, with no distracting blare of overhead television sets, and boasts a copper patina wall behind the ample bar. DiFiore says that the place "really hops" at night and has an impressive bar business.

"Ellsworth Avenue is more of a destination street -- people are here for a reason," he says. "Almost all of our customers are local here."

1947 Tavern's home-style American menu is just the right size for diners looking for straightforward sandwiches, salads and plates that won't leave a dent in your wallet. Nothing costs more than $13, and the roast beef, ham, turkey and pork used in the sandwiches are slow-cooked daily and served on locally baked Allegro Hearth baguettes.

"The baguettes are made fresh every day, and we use only Fede artisan pasta in our mac 'n cheese," DiFiore says. "We get our meats from Weiss Provisions."

Elbow Room's executive chef Eric Leibering divides his time between there and 1947 Tavern, where he's attempting to "round out" the menu and incorporate more daily specials. DiFiore hired Leibering in November, based on a recommendation from a friend in the restaurant business.

"Eric is a very talented chef who likes food and knows food," DiFiore says. "He has a bit of a Southern flair to his cooking."

Dallas native Leibering, 43, has been in the culinary field for more than 20 years and has lived in Pittsburgh with his wife, Lisa, and two children for four years. Leibering says 1947 Tavern has great concepts, but needs a little more "refinement."

"What we're trying to do is get a little better-quality product out there," says Leibering, a graduate of Pennsylvania Culinary Institute. "We have a really busy bar, and there's room to get busier on the food side. We're trying to broaden the food business."

The biggest seller on 1947 Tavern's menu is the mac 'n cheese, which Leibering makes to order using Fede artisan pasta, aged Vermont cheddar cheese, and his own bechamel sauce. Diners can choose from the regular dish, or mac 'n veggies, mac 'n short ribs or mac 'n bacon.

Sandwiches include the top-sirloin French dip; pulled pork in Asian barbecue sauce with pepperjack cheese; raisin-nut bread with tallegio cheese, apricot caper puree and tomato confit; and fried green tomato Po'boy with remoulade sauce, avocado and bacon.

Plates feature seasonal vegetable frito mistos; barbecued pork egg roll; hummus and olives with roasted red peppers; crab and pimento cheese dip; smoked kielbasa; and short ribs and mashed potatoes. Several unique salads finish the menu.

"We're going to start offering some seafood dishes and appetizers soon," Leibering says. "I would like to develop the menu more, and am interested in doing game, but that doesn't always sell."

DiFiore says that he's grateful for a chef like Leibering, because the hardest part of owning a restaurant is finding qualified staff.

"Trying to find good line cooks is horrible," DiFiore says. "Everybody in this business is constantly looking for people. We have 150 employees among four places, so it's always a challenge."

Mac 'n Cheese for Grown-Ups

Executive chef Eric Leibering is sharing his popular, rich and creamy mac 'n cheese recipe. The key to making a good mac 'n cheese is using high-quality ingredients, he says. The right ingredients make the difference between mediocre and outstanding.

"We use a fluffy noodle from Fede pasta called nueve , which means 'little snowflake,' " Leibering says. "The higher-quality pastas hold onto the sauces better."

This satisfying recipe, which could be served as a side dish or an entree, is best served with a good, dark beer, the chef suggests.

For the Bechamel Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 12 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of nutmeg to taste

For the Mac 'n Cheese

  • Water
  • 5-6 ounces fresh pasta of your choice, cooked al dente
  • Olive oil
  • 4 ounces good cheddar cheese (chef uses Vermont cheddar), grated
  • 13 cup bechamel sauce (see recipe)
  • 4 strips crisply cooked bacon, broken into pieces (if desired)

To prepare the sauce: Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add the flour. Whisk together, and then, add the milk, salt and nutmeg. Stir until it reaches a low boil, reduce the heat to low, and whisk constantly until it is smooth. Keep warm.

To prepare the mac 'n cheese: Boil a pot of water for the pasta and cook the pasta to desired doneness. In the meantime, thinly coat the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the grated cheese, let it melt and form a crust. Add the bechamel sauce, bacon and noodles, and then, heat through until bubbly. Serve immediately.

Makes 1-2 servings.

Additional Information:

1947 Tavern

Cuisine: Home-style American

Hours: 4-11 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

Entree price range: $9-$13

Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible. Full bar with many bourbons, beers and wines. Happy-hour specials. One dollar from every piece of pie or cake that's ordered is donated to the Shadyside Boys & Girls Club.

Address: 5744 12 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside

Details: 412-363-1947 or website



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