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Hoffstot's Cafe Monaco makes the most of its traditional tastes

| Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 12:29 a.m.

A scattering of restaurants occupy the Allegheny River town of Oakmont's charming business district, but the one that usually springs to mind first is Hoffstot's Cafe Monaco.

It occupies a prominent spot along Allegheny Avenue and is large enough to accommodate a group of hungry shoppers spending the day perusing the town's boutiques and specialty stores. Service is quick, reliable and efficient -- even when the restaurant fills to capacity on a busy Saturday night.

One of Oakmont's most popular restaurants, it offers a generous variety of dinner choices spread among fish and seafood, poultry, steaks, chops, veal and lamb, as well as an extensive pasta menu.

The dishes created at Hoffstot's are reliable and familiar. It's not a restaurant where adventurous cuisine dominates the menu, but it offers a selection of entrees likely to please palates used to traditional preparations, as well as those with more diverse tastes.

The generous side dishes that accompany dinner entrees almost eliminate the need for appetizers -- but certainly we choose a sampling anyway.

We zeroed in immediately on the Stuffed Artichokes ($8.95). The tart, firm artichokes were filled with a well-seasoned crabmeat mixture, rolled in bread crumbs and baked in just enough garlic butter to add flavor and moisture. Simple and delicious, these petite morsels became our favorite starter of the evening.

Less impressive were the French Fried Tomatoes ($5.50) large slices of red -- not the usual green -- tomatoes, battered and fried. Most likely because it's winter, the tomatoes had very little flavor. The appetizer was served with a side of tomato sauce, which we found a bit redundant. Maybe a zesty cream-based sauce would have added the needed kick of flavor.

But when we moved on to the dinner entrees, we found ourselves enjoying every selection we tried.

Hoffstot's offers staples such as Fettuccini Alfredo, Stuffed Shells, Grilled Pork Chops, Old Fashioned Pot Roast, Veal Parmigiana and Chicken Piccata, among other traditional favorites.

From among the seafood menu, we chose Sea Scallops Palermo ($19.95), featuring some of the largest scallops we've seen -- only slightly smaller than your standard cupcake. These plump, tender medallions were prettily arranged on the plate and flavored with a mild mixture of butter, garlic, white wine, and orange and lemon juices, their tops dusted with breadcrumbs.

A special available only Fridays through Sundays, the Bourbon Street Chop ($16.95) provided the zestiest choice on our table. A thick rib chop that practically melted at the touch of our silverware was slathered with a rich, warm pecan bourbon sauce. It was such a large portion that half of it was carried home for the next day's lunch.

Pistachio Crusted Rainbow Trout ($16.95) was one of the heartiest fish dishes we've ever had -- two large fillets of rainbow trout thickly crusted with crushed pistachios crisscrossed on the plate. The heavy coating of nuts provided an appropriate complement to the baked trout -- a strong-flavored and relatively meaty fish. A large dollop of lemon-thyme butter atop the fish was unnecessary; the creation was rich enough without it.

These entrees were served with a choice of two side dishes, including soup of the day, a house salad, pasta, vegetable of the day or coleslaw, making way for individual tastes in the process.

Pasta dishes come with salad or soup, and we tried the Calamari Pasta ($13.95). Rings of calamari sauteed in oil and garlice were tossed amongst voluminous twirls of linguine. Tomato sauce was used sparingly in this dish. While satisfying and tasty, we'd have liked more seasoning in the sauce.

We saved room for dessert and coffee. And we must mention that this is one of the best cups of restaurant coffee we'd had in a very long while. We couldn't help but notice the dessert case at the restaurant's entrance when we arrived. Scrumptious-looking creations awaited our after-dinner decisions.

In addition to a variety of ice creams and gelatos, a selection of cakes, tortes and other sweets offered variety.

The servings are large and well-suited to sharing, with many of items changing from month to month.

Our highest recommendations go to the Chocolate Turtle Torte ($5.50). Our discriminating and demanding chocolate connoisseur immediately pronounced the layer-upon-layer of dense chocolate cake, caramel and chocolate frosting one of his favorites.

Strawberry and Cream Torte ($5.50) garnered enthusiastic reviews as well for its sweet burst of berries slathered between layers of soft yellow cake topped with homemade whipped cream icing.

We regretted not being able to try the Individual Cheesecake Squares , which beckoned to us as well from the dessert case.

But with so many menu items left to sample -- and a cheesecake with our name on it -- we're sure to return to this popular spot with its wide-ranging menu and professional service. Additional Information:

Details

Hoffstot's Cafe Monaco

Cuisine: American.

Entree price range: $10.50 to $39.95.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays; 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Notes: Reservations strongly suggested on weekends, major credit cards accepted. Full bar available.

Location: 533 Allegheny Ave., Oakmont.

Details: (412) 828-8555.

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