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Zuppa's: Gourmet on a fast pace

| Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011

Three friends -- and fellow chefs -- are on a quest to take fast food to a gourmet level while keeping it healthy, fresh and affordable.

That's why Michael Kyle, Rich Harshman and Robert Stackhouse opened Zuppa's Delicatessen in Wexford a little over a year ago. Former executive chefs at various Bravo's locations, the men believe they are filling a longtime need.

Their goal is to be "the best Italian deli in Pittsburgh through delicious quality food made with love," says Kyle, 30, of Robinson.

"My theory is that a cook loves to cook, but a chef cooks with love," says Kyle, who met Stackhouse while both attended Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. "We offer a more sophisticated sandwich -- great food, great service."

Business at Zuppa's Delicatessen has been brisk since its opening, even with ongoing construction on Route 19. In fact, they say, business has improved in the past few weeks.

"With the construction here, you need to stay competitive, and diners need to feel a value," says Stackhouse, 31, a New York native who lives in Pittsburgh. "The quality of our food is 10 times better than fast food, and we have such a variety for customers. Orders never are done in advance, and we bring food to the people rather than take a number."

Zuppa's Delicatessen is attractive and airy, with 48 seats divided among booths and high round tables and bar stools. The deli, formerly a Subway, with brick wallpaper in the kitchen, is about the only reminder of that shop. The men renovated the space themselves, painting the walls a creamy color on the top, and a dark-green stucco on the bottom.

"We never wanted it to look like a pizza shop," Stackhouse says. "We wanted it to be an Italian villa style. Mike's wife, Rachel, did the decorating."

The seasonal menu is billed as casual Italian with an American twist and consists of soups, salads, sides, paninis and sandwiches. Every item is made fresh daily, and the chefs use mostly local produce to create them. Soups feature traditional Italian wedding, slow-roasted tomato bisque,minestrone and Chef Mike's original spicy corn and shrimp chowder. Paninis include tomato basil with mozzarella, prime rib with caramelized onions and alpine lace Swiss, baked chicken with roasted portobellos and red peppers, and meatloaf with smoked bacon, Asiago cheese and barbecue sauce.

"All of our portions are pretty big," Stackhouse says. "We're big guys; we like to eat. All of the menu items come from things we've always liked, or from family. The deviled eggs come from Rich's mom, Jill. The baked beans are my mom, Linda's, recipe. The chicken-salad sandwich is a hybrid of ideas from different places. The Little Italy sandwich is Rich's creation."

That sandwich, made with prosciutto imported from Parma, Italy, and fresh mozzarella, cracked black pepper, olive oil, arugula and a fig spread, is popular. So is The Reubenator, a monstrous traditional Reuben packed between two grilled Swiss cheese sandwiches on marble rye.

Other popular sandwiches include the veggie Sammy, piled high with roasted portobellos, zucchini, red peppers, spinach, mozzarella and chipotle aioli on grilled brioche bread; and the slow-cooked pulled pork, with barbecue sauce and baby Swiss on a Kaiser roll. The bread comes fresh from Breadworks.

"We have such a variety for customers -- and if someone wants something special and we have the ingredients, we'll do it," Stackhouse says.

Because the deli is open only from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, the chefs say they work a lot fewer hours than they did at their previous jobs at Bravo's. There, each had 35 or 40 cooks working for them in a chaotic environment.

"It was a lot more strenuous and harder there," Kyle says. "But we're going to open for breakfast in a few weeks, so that'll bring us back up to 60 or 70 hours a week."

Opening Zuppa's Delicatessen has been gratifying because of the freedom they have to make changes and choices. Under Harshman's suggestion, they implemented a frequent-dining program with discounts offered.

The chefs believe in giving back to the community. They donated 100 percent of the proceeds of a Lenten meal they made for 750 people at a local church, and raise money for Autism Awareness. They've done a benefit at Jubilee Soup Kitchen, a golf outing for March of Dimes and a benefit for Allegheny County Camp Cadet program.

"Being a local, singularly owned business, we need to get to know customers as well as we can," Stackhouse says.

Working with best friends who are like brothers can get tense at times, they admit, but they wouldn't have it any other way.

"We have our differences, but we're all smart enough to know we have the same goal," Kyle says.

Stackhouse agrees.

"We wouldn't have what we have today if we didn't have fights," he says. "Our goal is to have five of these in five years. That's a very lofty goal, but with our talents, it's very achievable."

Chicken Bruschetta Salad With Honey-Balsamic Dressing

The chefs are featuring their satisfying and tasty Chicken Bruschetta Salad, which uses a blend of field greens, romaine and iceberg lettuce for a base, and a honey-balsamic dressing that the men have offered to share.

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon basil, finely chopped
  • 1 cup vegetable oil

For the salad:

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped romaine and iceberg lettuce (50/50 blend)
  • 1 1/2 cups field greens
  • Honey-balsamic dressing (see recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped red onions
  • 4 tablespoons chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon thinly sliced basil
  • 1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 piece toasted Italian bread
  • 1 grilled chicken breast
  • 1 teaspoon grated parmesan cheese, more to taste

To prepare the dressing: Combine the balsamic vinegar, mustard, chopped garlic, salt, brown sugar, honey and basil in a bowl, and whisk until all is incorporated. Place a wet towel under the mixing bowl. With the whisk in your right hand and oil in your left, slowly drizzle the oil to incorporate it with the other ingredients until it thickens slightly and holds together well without separating. Place in a storage container in fridge for marinade and dressing. Shelf life is about 1 week.

To prepare the salad: Combine the lettuces and dressing in a mixing bowl, and toss lightly.

In a separate bowl, combine the onions, tomatoes, basil, vinegar and oil, and toss lightly. Place the tossed greens in the center of plate and top with the tomato-and-onion mixture.

Cut the piece of toasted bread in half, and place a half on each corner of a plate.

Slice a fully cooked, grilled chicken breast and place it in front of the salad.

Top the entire salad with 1 teaspoon of parmesan cheese or more, if you like cheese.

Makes 1 serving.

Additional Information:

Zuppa's Delicatessen

Cuisine: Casual Italian with an American twist

Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturdays; closed on Sundays

Entree price range: $7.49-$14.99

Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible. Homemade soups available in pints, quarts or gallons for takeout. Free WiFi, with outlets at almost every table. Seasonal menu. Will start opening for breakfast at 7 a.m. in September.

Address: 10850 Perry Highway, Wexford

Details: 724-934-4700 or

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