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New Downtown eatery offers meat, potatoes and a whole lot more

| Sunday, June 19, 2011

There are plenty of beef and spuds at Meat & Potatoes, but discriminating diners will find more scintillating dishes, too, from fried brussels sprouts to sweetbread piccata.

The name is supposed to invoke classic comfort food that diners can relate to from their childhood, says chef and co-owner Richard DeShantz, who opened the Downtown gastropub on June 1 in the former Cafe Zao space.

"Pittsburgh is a real meat-and-potatoes town," says DeShantz, who also owns the upscale Nine on Nine, a few blocks away. "At Nine on Nine, you get dressed up to go there, and it's an event. Here, you can come in wearing a T-shirt and enjoy high-end bar food with great prices. We're trying to reach out to a broader audience."

DeShantz treats his new eatery as lovingly as one would a newborn baby. A former art student, DeShantz designed the place, and spent four months renovating the airy, 108-seat restaurant. He hung antique, acid-wash mirrors on the back wall, and found 1930s-style lights from a torn-down high school. The chandeliers and chairs are leftover from Cafe Zao, but DeShantz made the tables. He wrapped each table with zinc from California, sanded them, and then, stained the tables with a patina solution. Tablecloths would only ruin the distressed look he achieved.

A huge black chalkboard in front features the white outline of a cow divided into categories of the gastropub's offerings. The oval, granite-top bar in the middle of the dining room is a nod to luxury, as are the made-to-order Prohibition-era specialty drinks.

"This is meant to be fun and upbeat -- fun with the food and with the alcohol," DeShantz says.

A resident of the city, he co-owns the place with partners Tolga Sevdik and Uriel Marcovitz.

"Our menu changes three to four times a week, depending on availability of products," he says. "Getting high-quality ingredients is the key to good food. When you get inferior products, chefs have to mask the flavors."

The menu is pleasantly varied, and offers just enough items to satisfy diners who have different tastes. Big-selling mussels, prepared three ways, are served steaming hot in Belgian crock pots. Snacks include fried taters with black truffle mayo; and grilled bread with goat-cheese butter. Appetizers feature Yukon skins with pork-belly pastrami, lobster mac 'n cheese, beef carpaccio with fried garlic, and risotto with escargot and blue cheese.

DeShantz offers flatbreads, salads and unique burgers and sandwiches along with entrees, such as smoked pork chop with pastrami and baked beans, braised veal shanks with sofrito and creamy polenta, salmon with brussels sprouts kimchi, gnocchi with mushrooms and peas, roasted chicken with succotash, and Kobe flat-iron steak with chimichurri and confit potatoes.

"I do everything here -- I smoke the pork chops, brine the chicken and cut some of the meats," says DeShantz, who grew up in Sheridan with his twin brother, Ronald, and mother, Sally DeShantz. "We make everything in house. Even our coconut cream pie comes in a Mason jar."

DeShantz credits his mom with giving him the impetus to start his culinary career.

"She was a cook who worked long hours, but she was always cooking at home," he says. "She's my biggest inspiration. I started cooking (in a restaurant) at 14, and the chef took me under his wing. I fell in love with it, and found that I had a knack for it."

He attended culinary school and then, worked at Hyeholde Restaurant in Moon. After traveling for a time, DeShantz returned to Pittsburgh and opened Cafe Richard in the Strip District before going on to create Nine on Nine. DeShantz says that attention to detail, passion and respecting the integrity of the product from start to finish are important attributes that chefs should have.

"I'm always trying to improve, and believe that you never get better unless you put yourself out there," says DeShantz, who describes himself as a perfectionist. "The hard part is trying to keep the same flow, the consistency. Being a chef is not just a job for us -- it's a lifestyle and a career.

"It's a hard business," he says. "All we do is cook food. It's a demanding, stressful job, and it's a sacrifice. It could be the worst job or the best job out there. To pull it off, you need to love it."

Beer Mussels with Grilled Corn

Chef Richard DeShantz is sharing his popular Beer Mussels with Grilled Corn, which he considers to be an ideal Father's Day meal, along with a nice, grilled steak. These mussels are steamed to perfection in a heady blend of pancetta, garlic, shallots, tomato, butter and beer. The aroma alone will make your mouth water. And it's imperative to have a good, crusty bread to sop up the delicious broth.

His grilled corn is prepared with a spicy, Mexican-style dressing that will perk up your taste buds. But have lots of cool water on hand.

  • 1/4 cup pancetta, diced
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon shallots, chopped
  • 1 can (12-ounce) Brewery Pork Slap Pale Ale, or your favorite beer
  • 1 tomato ( 1/2 cup), diced
  • 1/2 pound Prince Edward Island mussels
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add the pancetta. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until browned.

Add 1 tablespoon butter, the garlic and shallots and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until translucent.

Add 8 ounces of the beer. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the mussels and cover.

Steam for 6 minutes or until the mussels open. Take the mussels out of the pan and set aside.

Let the sauce stay in the pan; add the remaining two tablespoons butter and whisk. Add the chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper. Place the mussels back in pan.

Toss and serve in a bowl.

Grilled corn

  • 2 ears of corn
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Water
  • Ice bath (for chilling)
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 canned chipotle peppers
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated Cojita cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
  • Vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges (for garnish)

Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Remove the husks from the corn.Add the salt and sugar to enough water to cover the corn, and bring to a boil. Add the corn and cook for 8 minutes.

Pull the corn and chill in an ice bath until ready to grill.

Mix the mayonnaise and chipotle peppers in a blender until smooth. Add the salt and pepper to taste.

In a separate bowl, mix the Cojita cheese, cayenne pepper and chile powder.

Rub the corn with oil and grill for 5 minutes, until charred. Take the corn off the grill and brush with the mayonnaise mixture. Roll the corn in the cheese mixture. Top with chopped green onions. Garnish with lime wedges and serve.

Makes 2 servings.

Additional Information:

At a glance

Meat & Potatoes

Cuisine: High-end bar food

Hours: 5-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5 p.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays, 4-9 p.m. Sundays. Weekday lunch service and weekend brunches will be added in July.

Entree price range: $16-$24

Notes: Reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible. Full bar with Prohibition-era specialty cocktails.

Address : 649 Penn Ave., Downtown

Details: 412-325-7007 or www.meatandpotatoespgh .com

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