Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Mezzo: This “Middle” Floor Eatery Tops My Downtown Restaurant List

My voice is starting to strain from singing the praises of Matthew Porco!  This 2010 Chef of the Year is ensuring that Mezzo, the newly opened second floor eatery of Sienna Mercato, is sending delectable food to your table without the usual new-opening indigestion.  And he’s not just leading his culinary team behind those swinging kitchen doors either.  He’s the bearded fellow who has been manning the wood-fired pizza/prep station since opening day.  If you’re lucky enough to sit at the bar, you can watch him perform the dance of the pizzas while he rotates gourmet pies among the flames, as this seating area has no obstructed viewing. 

Chef Porco
Although my favorite seat in practically any eatery I patron is that of a barstool, I want to give Mezzo’s dining area some much-deserved love, too. The sleek table settings and hardwood floors are softly illuminated with cascading Edison bulbs.  And Sienna’s staple of open-air dining is maintained with retractable garage-style windows that let you take in the views on Penn Avenue when the weather cooperates.  What I’m trying to say here is that Mezzo is stylish…romantic…teetering on sexy even. 

The only thing more appealing than how Mezzo looks, is what you get to put in your mouth while you ogle the place.  Yes, the pizza is downright superb as I alluded to earlier.  Chef Porco has taken the idea of gourmet pizzas to an even higher level.  We have had the pleasure of trying a few pies.  The Picante Salami and Peppers had a hearty, robust tomato sauce that was kicked up a notch with the addition of chili flakes and banana peppers.  The one that I will be comparing all other pies to from now until further notice, however, is the Pistachio and Porchetta.  I literally just stopped writing because I was trying to relive the consumption of that pie in my mind.  In place of tomato sauce, a foundation of pistachio pesto was generously applied and then blanketed with tender slices of porchetta (pork roast) dusted with fennel pollen.  This would be a party in your mouth as it is, but then they top the piping hot mozzarella with fresh arugula dressed in a citrus-based vinaigrette.  There are no words left to say…just go get one.  Okay, enough pizza chitchat…on to other eats.

Enjoying the pizza show.
Pistachio and Porchetta Pizza
So when combining everything we’ve ordered in our visits since Mezzo’s very recent opening, I’ve had the privilege of trying maybe ten different menu items.  (Jeeealous!)  Literally, everything I’ve tried has been pleasing to the eyes and palate.  Starting with drinks, my Manhattans have been expertly crafted.  You may also want to try some vino from their growing wine list.  You really can’t go wrong either way.  While you imbibe, you need to order up some appetizers.  I equally loved the Grilled Octopus and the Greens and Beans.  The medley of al dente white beans and roasted red peppers made the octopus dish light, yet filling enough to appease my growing hunger pangs.  The greens and beans were savory to say the least.  Rich, somewhat briny broth played perfectly with the spiciness of the crumbled sausage that enriched every bite. 

Grilled Octopus
Greens and Beans
Some other pre-entrée items worth ordering are the Little Gems salad and the charcuterie board.  A basic Caesar salad was elevated to gourmet status by using imported anchovies to not only create a flavor-punching vinaigrette but to also adorn the baby romaine hearts.  If you’ve written off anchovies because you recall them being dark, bony, morsels of dankness, give them another go.  These lil’ guys are the real deal and will change your outlook on life…or maybe just your opinion of tiny fish.  The chef selected charcuterie board on the other hand…now we are getting serious.  I have a greedy, American appetite so we ordered the large portion, which came with a dizzying amount of meats, cheeses, and a dollop of the nightly preserves.  I really tried to listen to our server name everything, for real!  But in the end, I really couldn’t tell you with 100% accuracy which cured meats and cheeses we tried, save a few.  The important part is that the flavors were thoughtfully selected.  In a singular bite you could have the saltiness of the meats, the smokiness from select cheeses, and the sweetness of the preserves all working together to create complexity.  You can be daring and throw a pickled grape in your mouth too! 

Half of the Little Gems salad
Now at this point, I probably should have been full but I was just too excited for the next course.  The highly anticipated entrees, just as our other items, had arrived at the perfect pacing.  While we had tried the La Geneovese (braised beef with ziti) and the Pork Risotto previously, our latest visit produced two new contenders for best dish: the Seafood Risotto and the Pork “Cut of the Day.”  Unlike seafood risotto I’ve had at other eateries, the ocean dwellers were bountiful and cooked to perfection.  Everything from the shrimp to the squid added tender succulence to the creamy, tomato based sauce.  I would say that this dish was my favorite if it weren’t for the pan-fried pork loin I savored.  That juicy, thick cut of pig was set on a stage of starchy white bean puree and draped with braised escarole and tomatoes.  The flavors were accented further with a velvety demi-glace.  This dish was rustic, yet beautiful. 

Seafood Risotto
Pork "Cut of the Day"
I was in food euphoria when I learned that I could complete my unofficial “Chef’s Tasting” experience with a sweet treat from Mezzo’s in-house pastry chef.  Everything sounded decadent so I was a little worried when I “hurriedly selected”  (more like hymn and hawed for 10 min) the Pear Tart.  From my front row seat I was able to witness and smell the creation of a crunchy sugar topping thanks to a trusty blowtorch.  My worries were a distant memory after tasting the dreamy combination of delicate pears, vanilla custard, and that crackly candy pane. 

Pear Tart
I never judge a new place too critically when its baby fresh, but I’m officially chastising Mezzo…for not opening sooner.  With the popularity of Il Tetto and Emporio, one had to speculate if Mezzo was going suffer the “middle” child syndrome.   Well, have no fear, this upscale eatery has been thoroughly nurtured and beautifully completes the Sienna Mercato family trio.  I encourage you to check my new favorite restaurant soon…just make sure to save me a seat at the bar. 

I give the Mezzo: 5/5 forks
942 Penn Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Mezzo on Urbanspoon

Tips: Mezzo (like all of Sienna Mercato’s eateries) does not accept reservations.  Use the “No Wait” app to snag a spot in line.  Also, you need to use the stairs, not the elevator, to get on up there.


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