Dining review: Pino’s in Point Breeze offers cozy spot for authentic Southern Italian fare
When friends return home from an epic trip to Italy, the proper welcome home includes a rehashing of memories at an Italian bistro. It helps make living vicariously through them a touch easier, I think.
So when my pals landed, I booked a table at Pino’s. This cozy eatery with warm decor and a front wall that opens up for the summer air seemed the perfect fit. The intimate space features a wooden bar with seating for about 10 and a little more than a dozen tables for dinner patrons. The size and atmosphere lend to the feeling of stumbling upon the restaurant on a side street in Rome — or, you know, just Reynolds Street in Point Breeze.
Chef Pino, or Joe, owns the spot that specializes in Southern Italian cuisine and a meticulously curated wine list by his wife and sommelier, Jen Mico. Born in the South of Italy, Pino strives to create each meal “as honest as (he) knows how to make it.” This means every dish is created from scratch, from breads to mozzarella, with an attention to freshness.
Before the current location, Pino operated Pino’s Pizzeria, also in Point Breeze, starting in 1994. This evolved into the full-service restaurant that has occupied the small storefront at 6738 Reynolds St. for the past 13 years.
“We have a huge history in the community. Once they discover us, they just get it,” Pino says.
On our recent trip, it seemed as though every patron in the place was a frequent visitor. It felt comfortable and familiar. Settling in was no problem, and before we knew it, three hours had flown by as we chatted and reminisced while downing housemade pasta and Neopolitan-esque pizza pies.
We started our meal with the Italian fries, twice-fried potatoes paired with a basil aioli. It is a dish reminiscent of the much-heralded frites a block away at Point Brugge Cafe. Perhaps double-fried taters dipped in delicious condiments are the neighborhood specialty? I’m not complaining. Other starters include several baked dishes, including olives and eggplant, and Italian standards of greens and beans and calamari. Another must-be-a-Point Breeze fan favorite, PEI mussels, round out the appetizer offerings.
The roasted vegetable antipasto came next with hearty helpings of carrots, zucchini, cauliflower and broccoli to dip in a slightly spicy remoulade. A very simple presentation and execution made for a pleasant plate.
Thin and crispy pizza is a staple on the menu, a carryover from the days of Pino’s Pizzeria. Choices of white pizza include a Bianca with roasted garlic puree and fontina; shrimp and spinach; wild mushrooms; and a spinach spanakopita pie. Red pizza options include sausage; a meat-heavy pie with pepperoni, sausage, capicola and bacon; margherita with housemade mozzarella; and an artichoke and sundried tomato with olives and anchovies. Pino says he blends Neapolitan and Roman styles to create the pies. Our margherita did not pack the flavor punch I had hoped for — it needed more of something, be it the tomato sauce or the chopped basil. The crust, however, was crispy as promised.
Housemade pastas are the focus of the menu with eight preparations available, including spaghetti and meatballs, clam sauce and carbonara. I tried the chicken del sol with sundried tomatoes and a creamy basil sauce. The curly, cresto de gallo pasta was prepared firm and carried the creamy sauce well. All of the noodles are vegan, but, oddly, no vegetarian or vegan preparations are currently on the menu. The kitchen can handle any diet request, but I would love to see a no-meat house creation up for offer.
If pasta and pizza aren’t your speed, the menu features a weekly rotating chef special. Fresh fish often makes an appearance like a pan-seared swordfish with Sicilian couscous.
At Pino’s, the best bite is saved for last. The house specialty of tiramisu is deemed as such for a reason. It is outstanding. I am not a fan of heavy-handed coffee flavor, and this confection approaches that flavor delicately. The soaked cookies did not overpower the fluffy layers of sugar and mascarpone.
All in all, the menu creates a comforting tapestry of food that encourages long evenings of enjoying company at a neighborhood staple. It’s worth a visit with or without Italy tales in tow.
Laura Zorch is one of the food-savvy ladies of eatPGH.com, who contribute a weekly Dining Out column to the Tribune-Review.