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North Huntingdon restaurant owners want to ‘give you that little bit above and beyond’

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Ken Reabe Jr. | For Trib Total Media
Patrons dine at Cenacolo in North Huntingdon on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014.

The dinner table is a place for gathering. Friends catch up. Romances are born. Families are reunited.

No piece of furniture provides a higher purpose. A meal can often be, and should be, secondary to the magic that transpires while we eat with one another.

Steve and Jen Salvi, proprietors of Cenacolo in North Huntingdon, understand and embrace this ideal. “It began from us loving to eat,” Steve Salvi says, “but we also just love the whole philosophy of sitting down and eating together.”

Cenacolo was born in October 2013 out of this love of eating, fellowship and … pasta. The Salvis spent 10 years hand-crafting noodles as Fede Pasta, and they continue to produce a line-up of more than 40 pasta shapes distributed to restaurants around the region.

These roots in pasta-making hold strong as Cenacolo’s menu entrees are entirely noodle-based and cases of pasta are available for take-home purchase, along with a variety of specialty cheese.

My parents have been singing the praises of Cenacolo for months. They may have fed me only vanilla pudding for the first few years of my life, as it was the only sustenance I wanted, but I trust their culinary acumen now. The folks know good eats. I was excited to visit and taste what all the fuss was about.

The restaurant fills a converted warehouse space in a commercial business park. While the outdoor ambiance is unusual and industrial, the inside has a surprisingly cozy feeling. Dark wood tables lit by candlelight fill several rooms painted with warm toned colors. The place exudes a spirited energy. Expect a full house and echoes of lively conversations.

The menu, which changes seasonally, currently features autumn-inspired offerings. A portion of the menu outlines the varieties of cheese and cured meats that can be ordered in assortments of threes, fives and sevens. It includes the likes of speck and sweet sopressata and truffle cheddar and asiago fresco. One can easily be full before even leaving that side of the page, but forge ahead.

Antipasti may mean “before the meal” in Italian, but here, it might as well mean “this should be your meal” or “sweet gracious, yes.” The dishes, which are ample portions, are the stars of the menu.

The Fior de Late is a fresh-made mozzarella, served floating in water, complemented with grilled bread covered in pesto and red peppers. Fresh mozzarella is indeed a revelation and the cheese presented here does not disappoint.

Equally tantalizing are the pan-fried artichokes presented with lemons to squeeze on top. The simple artichokes sing with that splash of citrus. Other noteworthy choices include the meatballs, which arrive three-strong, and the Burrino, a fresh mozzarella melted onto buttered bread slices. Cheese aficionados will have a field day here.

Entrees, as previously mentioned, are pastas and the names of the dishes reflect the shape. Familiar standbys like rigatoni and ravioli are joined by other lesser-knowns like giglio, or lily-shaped pasta, and strozzapretti, or “priest stranglers” which look like green beans.

The highlight of the fall menu is the butternut-squash gnocchi. The tender dough is finished with a creamy sauce with sage and bread crumbs. The flavor is mighty and maintains its impact even to the next day, when you will surely be eating leftovers. Ask your server for help in choosing the boldest flavor profile, and he or she will gladly oblige.

The Salvis agree that the service at Cenacolo is the main ingredient to a successful experience for visitors.

“How we run our place here is how we would want to be treated elsewhere,” Steve Salvi says. “Give you that little bit above and beyond.”

The little bit beyond arrives with your check: a limoncello for everyone at the table and a tiny almond cookie. Raise your glasses to your dining companions. Share a toast and another story around the dinner table.

A good meal demands it.

Laura Zorch is one of the food-savvy ladies of eatPGH.com who contribute a weekly Dining Out column to Trib Total Media.

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