Lee Corbett loves a challenge.
What better one for a chef than opening a restaurant?
Corbett, 31, heads the kitchen at Taste of Dahntahn, acquiring the job under a tight deadline. Hired after another chef backed out in late spring, he says he steamed ahead with staff to meet an August opening.
“If it’s possible — if it’s almost impossible — I’ll try,” says Corbett of his general philosophy, as he bustles around Dahntahn.
The restaurant’s themes are Pittsburgh and nostalgia, sitting perhaps a bit ironically at 535 Liberty Ave., on the edges of the city’s latest urban Renaissances, the Liberty-Fifth avenues intersection and Market Square.
Just across the street from the shiny stack of cubes that is the Three PNC tower and its upscale Fairmont Hotel, Taste of Dahntahn throws back to the 1920s and yet gives off a little “Mad Men” feel.
A large mural of women in flapper dresses dominates a wall opposite the bar, while a starburst mirror owns another wall in the rear of the narrow restaurant. The venue seats 90, including at the funky bar, whose curved-back stools are brilliant white, with red backs and buttons, and belly up to a red granite bar top flecked with glass.
So wear your skinny tie, if not your flapper dress, to Taste of Dahntahn. It’s really all about mashup.
Tabletops at the booths in the rear of the restaurant feature historical photos of Liberty Avenue from the turn of the 20th century, through Model Ts and the commercial mishmash that once ruled Downtown. (Who knew you could at one time shoot at a rifle range on Liberty?)
The attention-getting, turquoise-green-red-orange neon sign hanging outside the restaurant bears a martini glass, with an olive on a pick, not to mention the simple wheedlings, “Eat here!” “Great food!”
“(Pittsburgh) is a multicultural city — a little bit of everything,” says Corbett, a native Baltimorean, who says he researched books and websites to bring the yinzer to Dahntahn.
So, a Fried Green Tomato BLT is on the menu, as are crab cakes, Soppresatta Margharita pizza and six kinds of hoagies.
The menu reflects the city’s twist — some would say mangling — of pronunciation.
Entrees use “tuhmaytuhs” on “sammitches,” which include an Isaly’s Chipped Chopped Ham BBQ. There’s an Iron City Wedge Salad, and a couple of items beginning in “Da,” as in “Da Pittza.”
Splashed about the menu are references to the ’20s — an Attaboy Beef & Swiss — a sandwich of roasted beef, swiss, chopped romaine, red onion, tomato, Dijon mustard and horseradish — and a Bee’s Knees Sirloin — a burger topped with more tomato and the restaurant’s mayo.
Dinner is less yinzer, more Cultural District, which is just blocks away. The menu references Iron City and Three Rivers, but evening diners are offered pan-seared ahi tuna, Shrimp & Saffron Risotto, Port Braised Osso Bucco and London Broil Forced Meat, a loaf of ground beef, flank steak, pork, smoked cheddar and seasonings that promises to be “on the next level.”
Dahntahn occupies the street level of the Dallmeyer building, which owners husband-and-wife Bob and Courtney Lynch-Crawford of Fox Chapel gutted in their remodel. The couple work from the building; she is a manufacturer’s representative for contract furniture, he is a contractor who did the work on the Dallmeyer. Apartments are on the upper levels. Courtney Lynch-Crawford also owns Nine on Nine on Penn Avenue.
Corbett rules a stainless galley kitchen in the basement. A graduate of the Baltimore International College of Culinary Arts, he has worked in Chicago and, in this region, at Hyeholde and Jackson’s in Moon. He has served as everything from roundsman to executive banquet chef to, now, chef de cuisine.
Kassandra Scribner, restaurant manager, and sous chef Mike Lanza assist in daily operations.
“Life as a chief is really a learning process,” says Corbett, of Ambridge. What he’s learned in his new venture is multifaceted, from being in charge of ordering china, flatware, glassware and other equipment, to sussing out Pittsburgh’s culinary tastes.
“They love dipping their fries in ranch dressing,” he says, noting Dahntahn makes its dressing in its all-from-scratch kitchen. “They love their fish sandwiches.”
He also knows the culinary trade’s rules to live by: tweak, listen.
“You have to cater to what the public wants, not always what the executive chef likes,” Corbett says. “If they want something a certain way — no problem. We’re here to cater to our patrons.”
It’s that melting pot he’s after. With a background in French country, he sees no contradiction in moving from one style of cooking to another, and, in fact, sees the links between all sorts.
“If you don’t adapt, you don’t survive,” Corbett says.
Fried Green Tomato BLT
Fried green tomatoes are Southern food, but they’ve been received well at Taste of Dahntahn.
This sandwich probably represents that mashup Pittsburgh is historically known for.
“You want crunch-soft-crunch – that multilayer of textures,” chef Lee Corbett says.
You might want to share one of these with a friend or two. Taste of Dahntahn serves an appetizer version of this sandwich, which is the fried tomatoes alone served in a cunning little fry basket.
For the sandwich:
To prepare the coating: Mix the flour, garlic, onion, salt and pepper in a medium-size bowl.
In another bowl, whisk the buttermilk and whole milk into the eggs. Set it next to the flour mixture.
In a third bowl, combine the bread crumbs, grated parmesan and herbs. Place this next to the egg wash.
Bread the green tomatoes by dipping first in the seasoned flour, coating well. Then, dip the floured tomato in the egg wash, also coating well. Finish by placing it in the bread-crumb mixture, pressing it lightly on both sides. Place the green tomato on the coated sheet.
Repeat the process with the rest of the tomatoes. Reserve the egg wash in the refrigerator.
Place the cookie sheet with tomatoes in the freezer and freeze until firm, for about 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove the tomatoes from the freezer. Dip again in the egg wash and then, in the bread-crumb mixture.
To prepare the sandwich: In a saute pan, heat the oil to 325 degrees.
Carefully add the tomato slices and cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until the tomato is golden brown. It might need to cook a little longer until the center is hot. Place the tomatoes on folded napkins to dry.
Cool down the oil and wipe out the pan. Return the pan to medium-low heat.
Butter one side of each piece of bread and toast that side in the pan.
To assemble the sandwich: Lay one piece of bread toast side down on a plate. Spread with the desired amount of mayonnaise or Miracle Whip. Place 2 or 3 fried tomatoes down, 2 slices of cheddar, 3 pieces of bacon and 1 piece of romaine heart.
Put the cream cheese on the untoasted side of the top piece of bread, if desired, place the bread on the sandwich, toasted side up.
Makes 4 servings.
Cusine: American fusion, Pittsburgh favorites
Entree price range: Lunch, $6-$14; Dinner, $16-$32
Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Lunch menu includes hearty Pittsburgh favorites, such as Isaly’s Chipped Chopped Ham BBQ, salads, pizza and burgers. Live entertainment from the mezzanine on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Hours: Breakfast: 6:30-10:30 a.m. Monday-Fridays. Lunch: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Bar menu: 2:30 -5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5-10 p.m. Sundays. Brunch: 8 a.m.-2p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.
Address: 535 Liberty Ave., Downtown
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