There is a buzz around Pittsburgh – a new restaurant has just opened on the North Side. However, Casellula is more than just “a new restaurant on the North Side.” Quite literally, the space is also a bookshop, and a performance venue.
Casellula [pronounced: Cass-Sa-Lou-La] at Alphabet City is the second location for the New York City-based cheese and wine bar. The original location in Manhattan opened in 2007. Owner Brian Keyser worked with City of Asylum to bring Casellula to Pittsburgh, where the restaurant is part of City of Asylum’s new Alphabet City literary center, which opened on the North Side last month.
As Keyser describes it, Casellula is “a casual restaurant with fine dining standards. We are cheese-focused with a menu of dishes that are intended to be shared.”
The menu features many cheeses paired with expertly-selected accompaniments. Unique combinations like blue cheese and brown-sugar fudge are on the menu, along with a selection of appetizers and entrees that pair well with cheese. Head chef Andrew Hill, previously sous-chef at Station in Bloomfield, has joined Keyser in creating the Pittsburgh chapter of Casellula.
While a focus on cheese carries over from the New York City location, Keyser and Hill are working to give Pittsburgh’s Casellula its own identity.
“They are definitely separate entities,” Keyser says of the two Casellula locations. “They are siblings, but not twins. It was important to me that the chef created his own dishes. I didn’t want to take the menu from New York and say ‘Here are the dishes.’ I wanted him to be able to use his own creative abilities.”
Some of Hill’s creations on the menu currently include octopus in white bean puree, strip loin tartare, and pork belly tagliatelle, the dish that impressed Keyser during Hill’s interview, and secured him the job. Classics from the New York menu like the Pig’s Ass Sandwich (with pork, cheddar, fol epi cheese, pickles and a chipotle aioli) and Mac & Cheese are also available.
Additionally, Keyser intends for the menu to change along with the seasons.
“I see the menu as being alive. It isn’t stagnant. I know we will be a neighborhood restaurant. There aren’t a lot of places to eat in this neighborhood, and people are really excited we are here. I want to keep the menu changing enough so they don’t get bored.”
Another feature that distinguishes Pittsburgh’s Casellula from the New York location is its setup, namely being part of Alphabet City. In New York, Casellula is a 500 square-foot space in Hell’s Kitchen. In Pittsburgh, Casellula takes up one third of Alphabet City, which melds restaurant, bookstore, and performance space into one giant room.
During the day, Casellula’s tables and chairs are used by bookstore patrons as they peruse their recent finds. At 5:00pm, Casellula comes alive, and the left side of Alphabet City is transformed into a cheese and wine bar. The adjacent performance space means the atmosphere of Casellula can change depending on the night.
“In the 10 days we’ve been open we’ve had a documentary, and we’ve had jazz night which was awesome. There was a packed house on both sides, it worked perfectly. We already have regulars and they understand sometimes the curtains are opened, sometimes they are closed,” says Keyser.
While fancy cheese, fancy wine, and a fancy Latin name, Casellula (which means ‘little house’), can seem intimidating, Keyser says that Casellula is a welcoming to all.
“When we opened Casellula in New York City almost 10 years ago, almost every person who came in looked at our cheese menu and said ‘I don’t know what to do with this, this is too much.’ We said ‘That’s okay, we’re going to create a beautiful plate for you, and you’re going to learn.’”
Casellula is open Sunday – Wednesday, 5PM – 10PM & Thursday – Saturday, 5PM – 12 AM. Reservations can be made over the phone, or on Opentable. A schedule of events at Alphabet City can be found on the City of Asylum website.
Casellula (40 W. North Avenue)
Madeline Quigley is a writer living in Pittsburgh. She runs the travel and adventure website The Gal-Ivanter.