Dive Bar & Grille off to a promising start in Wexford
Dive Bar & Grille’s executive chef, Dave DeSimone, has a great philosophy when it comes to food: If he wouldn’t give a dish to his mom, he wouldn’t serve it to his customers.
“I knew I wanted to be a chef from when I was 3 or 4 years old,” says DeSimone (no relation to the Trib’s wine columnist). “I grew up with big Italian dinners every day. I learned how to cook from my mom, grandparents, aunts and uncles. My grandparents came here from Italy, and a lot of family recipes are on the menu.”
The 75-seat restaurant, situated in the former d’Vine Bar & Lounge in the Pine Tree Shoppes in Wexford, advertised for an executive chef shortly after it opened in December. Clint Kuskie, who owns Dive with Gordon Judge, says they had a “void” in the kitchen and realized they needed a full-time chef.
“Dave said all the right things, and has lived up to all of those things and more,” says Kuskie, 29. “Our goal is for the restaurant to live up to its potential, and we’re already filling to capacity. We see regulars every day, and many people two or three times a week. People around here are really, really nice.”
Dive Bar & Grille is a pleasing mixture of glitzy and comfy. Strategic sconce lighting illuminates the modern bar and wooden tables and ceramic floor in the dining room, and casts warm glows in the waiting lounges, with their overstuffed leather couches, fireplaces and stonework. Most of the furniture and decor hasn’t changed since the space was d’Vine, Kuskie says.
“We ran across the location by chance,” he says. “We found the listing on a business brokerage site, and we didn’t have to do much to turn it into a restaurant. I live in Belle Vernon — it’s a one-hour-and-15-minute commute, but it’s worth it.”
The restaurant is a culmination of a dream that Kuskie and Judge shared while working at Bar Louie in Station Square, and then at the Waterfront in Homestead. They did everything: bussing tables, serving, bartending, cooking and managing. Kuskie decided to plunge into the restaurant business, knowing the failure rate of new restaurants is very high.
“I had no idea how much ownership would change my perspective,” admits Kuskie, who is married and has two children. “I run twice as hard now, and am twice as motivated. I knew the first year would be the most intense. Either I’m in the kitchen cooking, and Gordon’s behind the bar, or vice versa. We work 9- to 12-hour days. We have to maintain the quality of service, product and food.”
He and Judge have been gratified by the reception Dive has received from the community. It’s not unusual for the restaurant to turn over tables four times on a busy night, which is why reservations aren’t accepted between 6 and 8 p.m. on weekends.
“We had to make it first come, first serve,” Kuskie says, “but we do accept reservations during the week.”
Dive’s success can be partly attributed to the talent and creativity of DeSimone, 31, a Shaler resident.
“Our menu is a mix of American cuisine, and a lot of the menu is original,” Kuskie says. “Gordon and I had a lot of time to sit down and research, and Dave had ideas. It’s a nice collaboration among us and our wives.”
Among the 21 appetizers, there’s bacon-wrapped shrimp with sweet Thai chile barbecue sauce; ahi tuna bites with pineapple and roasted red pepper chutney; buffalo chicken wontons; a hummus, tabbouleh and cucumber salad; fried pickles; and scallops on crostini with a citrus balsamic glaze.
“The ahi tuna bites appetizer is huge — everyone loves that,” says DeSimone, who is married with one child. “Everything is made from scratch here, and I hand-cut all the meat. My mom’s meat loaf is on the menu, and I use a secret mix of herbs and other ingredients in it.”
There are more than three dozen sandwiches, burgers and sliders to choose from, and eight salads. Entrees include the miso-marinated, pan-seared salmon; grilled mahi mahi with wilted spinach, pastini and a cannellini bean red sauce; soy ginger marinated Kalbi short ribs with basmati rice; mahi tacos with Asian slaw and chipotle aioli; five-cheese macaroni and cheese cavatappi; and a Cajun alfredo penne.
“We get our produce from a variety of places, and I do my own shopping in the Strip District,” DeSimone says. “Whoever has the best product is who we go with.”
DeSimone and three assistant chefs manage to make upward of 250 meals a night in a small kitchen, but he’s not complaining.
“This is a dream come true — I always wanted my own kitchen,” DeSimone says. “I can do what I want and the owners trust me. I’ll never retire. I’ll always be cooking somewhere.”
Grilled Caesar Salad
Dive Bar & Grille’s chef Dave DeSimone is sharing his delicious grilled Caesar salad, which has become one of the restaurant’s more popular dishes.
The recipe calls for grilling everything, from the marinated chicken breasts to the romaine hearts. The key in grilling romaine is to plunge it into ice water for five minutes beforehand, shaking the excess water off, and then grilling for just a short time to achieve the nice char marks.
For the citrus marinade for chicken:
- 1 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the balsamic marinade for the mushrooms:
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- 1 tablespoon rosemary
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
- 1 tablespoon five-grain mustard
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
For the salad:
- 2 (6-ounce) chicken breasts
- 2 portobello mushroom caps
- 2 romaine hearts
- Ice water in a large bowl
- Olive oil, for drizzling
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 3 artichoke hearts, quartered
- 1 cup roasted sweet red bell peppers (jarred), julienned
- 1 cup herbed foccacia croutons (purchased at supermarket)
- Bottled Caesar dressing, for serving
- 1/2 cup parmesan-asiago blend cheese, grated or shredded
To prepare the citrus marinade: Blend together the vinegar, oil, juices, zests and seasonings, and pour over the chicken. Marinate for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator.
To prepare the balsamic marinade: In a food processor, blend the oil, vinegar, herbs, mustard, garlic and seasonings. Marinate the mushroom caps for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.
To prepare the salad: Grill the marinated chicken breasts over medium-high heat for 8 to 10 minutes , turning them 90 degrees to achieve grill marks, and flip when the chicken gets white around the edges. Set aside and keep warm.
Plunge the romaine hearts into ice water for 5 minutes before grilling, or they’ll burn on the grill. While the romaine is in the water, grill the mushroom caps for 2 to 3 minutes , and then set aside on a cutting board. Shake the excess water from the romaine, drizzle the outside with olive oil , and sprinkle with kosher salt. Place the romaine hearts on the grill and turn them continually, to achieve attractive char marks. Keep them on the grill for only 1 or 2 minutes, because you don’t want the insides to get warm.
To plate: Place the romaine hearts on 2 plates and put 6 artichoke hearts around and on top of each romaine heart. Put the julienned red peppers on top of the lettuce and on the sides. Follow with the croutons — on top and around the lettuce. Slice the chicken breasts on a bias and place over the lettuce. Cut the mushrooms into 1/4-inch slices and arrange them, crossed, over the chicken and on the plate.
Drizzle 1/4 cup Caesar dressing on the lettuce and top with the cheese blend. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 servings.
Dive Bar & Grille
Cuisine: American with other influences
Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Entree price range: $12-$22
Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible. Reservations accepted during the week but not for the weekend. Full bar and extensive wine list with happy hour specials. Catering available.
Address: 12017 Perry Highway, Pine Tree Shoppes, Wexford
Details: 724-719-2060 or www.divebarandgrille.com