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Quartet of chefs serving it up in Strip District’s Smallman Galley | TribLIVE.com
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Quartet of chefs serving it up in Strip District’s Smallman Galley

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Sarah Sudar
Red pie from Iron Born
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Sarah Sudar
Chicken thighs from Colonia
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Sarah Sudar
Risotto from brunoise
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Sarah Sudar
Banh mi and rolls from Bahnmilicious

The new class of chefs at the Strip District’s Smallman Galley is really bringing it. The quartet of restaurants has only been opened for a few months, since June, and the dishes they are presenting to the Pittsburgh community are definitely unlike each other.

Opened at the end of 2015, Smallman Galley is a restaurant incubator that cultivates undiscovered chefs and provides them the opportunity to showcase their craft. Four chefs have an 18-month residence and are each provided with a fully equipped kitchen and attend weekly training on branding, marketing, operations and drafting business plans. The space includes two bars, a coffee bar and seats 200 people. Ordering is done at each restaurant’s counter and dishes are brought to your table. Seating is first come, first serve.

When you enter Smallman Galley from 21st Street, the first restaurant you come upon is Ryan Peters’ brunoise, fine dining highlighting locally sourced ingredients. He’s Pennsylvania-born, Pittsburgh-trained and had the opportunity to work at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in the Napa Valley.

He’s presenting a refined menu filled with bold flavors. There’s pan-seared clams with chorizo and saffron, a burger topped with lettuce, pickles, dijonnaise and white cheddar, as well as pasta bolognaise with basil and Parmesan. His take on risotto includes pecorino, lemon and fine herbs. The risotto was cooked to perfection, tender with a little bite and remarkably creamy. The lemon came through strong, but in the best way possible. The dish was so rich that I recommend ordering it as a side and splitting with a few friends. I found it much too rich to eat on its own.

Before you make your way to the other restaurants, don’t pass up his s’mores dessert. It is an art form on its own and the perfect ending to any meal at Smallman. A savory dark chocolate rectangle is topped with smoked meringue and Millie’s graham ice cream.

At Banhmilicious, Vietnam native, Chef Hoa Le, is taking the traditional cuisine of her homeland and infusing a modern twist. There’s a two-step process for ordering at her counter. First choose from the following: four rolls filled with vermicelli rice noodles, lettuce, carrot, mint and peanut sauce; noodles topped with pickled vegetables, mint, cucumbers, carrots, sautéed onion and crushed peanuts; tacos: served three per order on fresh shells with mayo, pate, cucumbers, cilantro and pickled vegetables, rice with lettuce pickled vegetables, cucumbers and sautéed onion, or the number one best seller, a banh mi: a crusty fresh baguette filled with Vietnamese mayo, pate, pickled vegetables, cilantro, jalapeno, cucumbers and a sauce. Then, choose your protein: pork, steak, chicken or tofu.

I recommend going all out and ordering the banh mi. It’s a number-one seller for a reason. The baguette is fresh and crusty and filled a plenty. I chose tender beef marinated with lemongrass and it did live up to the expectation. And, it comes with your choice of side: a ginger salad or bone broth. Look no further than the bone broth. Seasoned with clove and other secret spices Le didn’t want to give away, it will become your go-to this fall and winter when you’re feeling under the weather. I’ll bet on it.

Third down the line is Colonia specializing in cuisine from Latin America. Chef Jesse Barlass is no stranger to Smallman as he served as a sous chef at the former restaurant Carota Café. Of the dishes I tried at Smallman the night I dined, the chicken thighs at Colonia were my favorite, something I didn’t expect. I rarely order chicken out, especially chicken thighs. I’m glad I was talked into them this night. The two juicy, bone-in thighs had crispy and buttery skin and the tender meat fell off the bone. They were served with a verde chili sauce that was slightly spicy, yet cooling. To make this a complete meal, I should have added on a side of rice. The seared tuna loin served with house-made chorizo, white beans, mirasol peppers and olives was also tempting, but I’m glad I went with the chicken.

At the last stall was by far the most popular on the night I dined, Iron Born. Chef Peter Tolman is specializing in Detroit-style pizza that’s cooked in a cast iron pan with a crisp crust and light and fluffy interior. Each rectangle-shaped pie comes six slices per order that’s perfect for sharing. He’s serving a variety of pies including a white version with garlic cream, caramelized onions, marinated cherry tomatoes, ricotta and arugula, as well as a spicy pie with hot soppressata, pepperoni, house-made banana peppers and Mike’s Hot Honey sauce. There’s a meat pie for meat lovers and you can even make your own by choosing from a variety of toppings.

I chose the classic red pie: a thick, buttery and crunchy crust first topped with brick cheese, then pepperoni with savory crispy edges, crushed red sauce and 24-month parmigiana cheese. Unlike other pizza with the sauce first, this pizza serves it on top. Every slice is an end and you’ll want to eat the crust because that’s where the perfect bite lies. The point where the crust, cheese and cast iron meet creates a crunchy cheesy crust that is perfection. No ranch dressing needed. The surprising part of eating this pie is that it wasn’t greasy at all.

When you’re looking for a unique dining experience with something for everyone that will push your taste buds give Smallman Galley a try.

Sarah Sudar is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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