Earlier this month, the third class of chefs opened up their concepts in the Strip District’s restaurant incubator, Smallman Galley. Two of the four kitchens are new, while two chefs from the second class have remained. Here’s what you’ll expect to see.
Modern take on classic comfort food
The days of tearing open a hot TV dinner has returned at Home. Chef Phill Milton and his wife Melanie are evoking nostalgia with their cuisine. The focus is on familiar dishes with a playful twist. On the menu is “cheese in crackers:” cheese curds breaded in cracker crumbs and “chicken & biscuit:” a buttermilk biscuit with pickled brined chicken, pimento cheese grits and pepper jelly. The couple is also working on a TV dinner special of the week in which you can peel back the vacuum-sealed, clear cover.
“It’s modern and better tasting food,” says Milton.
Milton went to culinary school at the Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, Ariz., and moved back home to Michigan, working in fine dining in Detroit. He moved to Florida to continue his culinary career, but when 9/11 happened, he signed up for the army the next day and served two tours. After, he returned to Florida and then moved to Atlantic City to work for Geoffrey Zakarian at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. He came to Pittsburgh in 2016 and worked at Social House 7 and the Fairmont before opening up in Smallman Galley.
Joey’s Snack Bar: Gourmet snacks on acid
Joey Hilty has a serious addiction when it comes to restaurant ideas. Since he opened Lawrenceville’s The Vandal almost three years ago, he’s thought of about 20 different concepts for a new spot, and he gets to test out his ideas at Joey’s Snack Bar.
Since opening, Hilty has changed the menu slightly, appealing to Pittsburghers taste buds. His original idea was to offer progressive style tapas and has refined his menu to focus on fun food with global inspiration.
“I take great joy when I see people enjoy their food, whether it’s a Buffalo chicken sandwich or anchovies,” says Hilty. “It’s very visceral for me.”
The menu does include a chicken sandwich, something that’s been a huge hit for him at The Vandal. The Snack Bar version features a pickle brined fried chicken sandwich with American cheese, saucy ramp ranch and slaw. Hilty says it’s excessively sauced so you can dip your sandwich back into it. Other highlights on the menu include barbacoa lamb nachos and joe-stata (tostada) with tuna, pineapple, peppers, sesame and herbs. Hilty says he tries to sneak in the Joe name as much as he can. All of his favorite ingredients from Penn Mac are in the Italian Grocery Salad dressed with a pepperoni vinaigrette.
Hilty is one of the only chefs who has entered Smallman Galley while running a pre-existing restaurant in the city. He will now be tested to see how he can run two at once; a challenge, he’s wanted to experience.
Iron Born Pizza:
Thick and delicious Detroit-ish style pizza
Sinking your teeth into a deep-dish pizza is memorable and the thick six-cut pizzas at Iron Born are no exception. When owner Pete Tolman tried this of pizza, it excited him and he wanted to learn how to make it himself.
“It’s not exactly like the pizza in Detroit, but it’s really good pizza made in the style of Detroit,” says Tolman.
And, he’s received praise not only from Pittsburghers, but from true Detroiters willing to bend from the city’s staple, Buddy’s.
Iron Born is on its second run at Smallman, opening up last summer. Tolman was working in a corporate environment with Giant Eagle but wanted to get back to cooking food. He felt that opening up his own restaurant made sense and trying out a concept at Smallman was the way to go.
Tolman says he’s decided to extend is run because he developed a great staff in the first year and didn’t want to lose them.
“Many of them have children and it’s very important to keep them happy and healthy while looking for a building,” says Tolman.
Tolman is actively looking for a brick and mortar pizza shop and has his focus narrowed to Oakland near the University of Pittsburgh.
For the month of June, Tolman has partnered with Ben Kronman, a recent Fox Chapel graduate to create a special Make-A-Wish Greater PA and WV pie. Ten percent of the total sales for this pie will be donated to Make-A-Wish on Kronman’s behalf. The thick cut, square pizza is topped with shishito peppers, arrabbiata sauce, white soy ricotta, mugo pine syrup, and Locatelli Romano.
Modern Vietnamese fusion
Hoa Le moved to Pittsburgh four years ago for a job at Del Monte but when the company was sold and she was asked to relocate to Ohio, she said no.
“I was familiar with the city and I thought it would be a good opportunity to start my own business,” says Le.
At the time, Pittsburgh didn’t have a modern fusion Vietnamese restaurant, which she says is the food she likes to eat, so she decided to fill that need. She applied to Smallman Galley and was accepted last year. She will end her residency at the end of this year with sights set on opening up her own restaurant somewhere in Pittsburgh.
With little experience in running a business, Le did have some restaurant experience. When she grew up in Vietnam, her family was in the restaurant industry and after moving to the United States, she worked as a server and a little in the kitchen while in high school. After college, she became a microbiologist working in food testing. It was working in Smallman with other experienced chefs that have really taught her more of the business. She says she’s learned a lot of cooking techniques as well as how to prep and clean efficiently.
“I learned a lot from operating inside Smallman: it’s a lot more work and more challenging than I thought,” says Le. “I don’t think I could get as much business and exposure if I didn’t join the Smallman team.”
She changes her menu frequently and new for June is a jerk chicken taco inspired by her recent travels to Jamaica, as well as a pork belly rice bowl. She also recently launched the Banh Mi Bao Bun loaded with the traditional banh mi fillings but served on a soft bun instead of a crunchy baguette. The traditional sandwich is also very much available alongside noodle soups and spring rolls.
Sarah Sudar is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.