Disclaimer: I write the word balls in this review…a lot.
In Italian, the word emporio often refers to a store. Well, the geniuses behind Sienna Mercato may have developed the concept to one of the greatest “stores” of all time…a meatball lover’s paradise. If you love savory, meaty balls every which way, it’s time to follow me down to Emporio: A Meatball Joint.
Let’s face it, ‘Burghers…our downtown scene was pretty dismal a few years back. But lately, I’m finding myself “dahn” here more and more. Sienna Mercato is one of the newest ventures you’ll find on Penn Ave. It’s slated to be one of the hottest spots in the city if it lives up to the hype. The top floor, which will be Il Tetto is promising a rooftop beer garden with light munchies. The middle floor, Mezzo, is sounding more like a sit down eatery, complete with charcuterie, pasta, and wood fired pizza. While I’m certainly looking forward to experiencing both of these establishments, I’m here to share my current love for the main floor…Emporio.
The interior of Emporio is trending with the likes of new bars that are popping up in various larger cities…simply modern (a concrete floor and brick walls) with a splash of retro funk (metal chairs and “vintage” bulbs). With this kind of vibe, there was a great collection of people there both times I’ve visited. Picture suits n’ ties, hipsters wearing ties, rowdy college kids, and older folks scowling at the lot of ‘em. Tasty balls of meat are the common denominator uniting us all.
When casually dining out, we often avoid the dining area and Emporio’s expansive bar, complete with 32 rotating taps and an average cocktail menu, is the perfect spot for a Friday night. The beers are a bit pricey, but considering the locale of this joint, I understand their price points. That’s all the more reason to hit up happy hour when you can score ½ price pints, $5 glasses of wine, and $2 Happy Balls (sliders). We sat at the bar on our latest visit and found ourselves chatting with veteran bartenders. I opted to stray from the drink list and order up my booze of choice. Not many places can execute a Tequila Old Fashioned to my standards, but Emporio did it justice.
Alright, let's get to the part you've been waiting to read about...the meatballs. So what makes a meatball delicious? Well, flavor of course is the main factor, but for me, texture is a close second. Chewy balls? Dry balls? No, thank you! I prefer the moist, tender meatballs that Emporio is serving up. And better still, this Meatball Joint lets the customers create their dream dish every time.
It’s time for a lil’ education: here’s how the menu works. At the top you’ve got your 4 balls (beef, pork, chicken, and vegetarian) and then you have a boatload of sauces to slather them with. So, you pick your meatball and your gravy, now you get to choose how it’s served to you. If you want to mix and match, you can order individual sliders. If you’re a little more decisive, you can have your choice of meatballs served up as a 2-ball Panini or a 3-ball grinder. Want to skip the house made bread altogether? Go for the Saucy Balls! This serving option allows you to keep it simple (just 4 balls n’ sauce) or to boldly pick from various sides, including gluten-free pasta, to set those balls upon. If you want to throw yet another option into the mix, there is also a daily meatball to entice you.
After a couple visits, my dining companions and myself tried several combos. My favorite so far is the 2-ball pork Panini with pork bolognese sauce and smoked Gouda cheese. The vegetarian meatballs over penne with pesto sauce were also quite flavorful. The pesto was fresh and bold and it married well with the delicate veggie balls.
|Pork Panini with Pork Bolognese Sauce on the Side|
|Vegetarian Saucy Pesto Balls with Gluten Free Pasta|
In addition to meatballs, they have various “snacky things” like fried pickle chips with bacon-ranch dressing and house cut fries. The pickle chips were a generous portion to share and dangerously addictive. I could have easily scarfed down a second batch. The fries were golden and crisp and the dusting of herbs and Parmesan cheese gave those potato sticks a delicious, salty kick. (I used the leftover bacon-ranch to dunk my frites. So good.) They also serve up soups, salads, and poutine. And of course, you can add meatballs to all of these items as well. On a future visit, I’d like to try the Rocket salad (arugula, toasted almonds, tomato, and fresh mozzarella) topped with a chicken meatball or maybe the Chili complimented by a beef ball or two. To end your meal, I’d recommend the Ricotta Donuts, which come 5 to an order and are served piping hot. These might just be the sweetest balls I’ve ever tasted.
|Fried Pickle Chips with Bacon-Ranch Dressing|
|House Cut Fries with Parmesan and Herbs and Malt Vinegar Aioli|
|Dessert Balls: Ricotta Donuts|
I can’t speak in regards to Sienna Mercato as a complete entity just yet, but I can definitely vouch for Emporio: A Meatball Joint. The meatballs here are far from general and the atmosphere is just plain fun. The next time you find yourself complaining about downtown being dead, make your way to Penn Ave. Sienna Mercato is livening up the ‘Burgh one floor at a time.
I give Emporio: A Meatball Joint: 4.5/5 forks
942 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Tips: They don’t take reservations, but the No Wait app will allow you to check in and “get in line” before you arrive.