Four restaurant concepts, one food hall – how does it all stack up?
By: Neil Strebig
Anyone who is familiar with the history of Allegheny Center Mall understands the harsh past of the location. For decades, the area was barren and even though Faros Properties’ Nova Place has done a fine job filling the formerly uninhabited hallways, I don’t believe I’ve ever found myself asking friends or colleagues to grab lunch or drinks at Nova Place. But with the recently opened Federal Galley, that idea slowly appears to becoming a norm.
With a history of vacancy, it’s safe to say the food hall is an immediate attraction for the area. The dining area is inviting with a heavy reliance on natural light and is decorated with work from artists at Radiant Hall Nova Place next door. In comparison to Smallman Galley in the Strip District, the entire location is easier to navigate for guests and a lot more accommodating in terms of seating space. And although a December opening seems unruly for a location best-suited for outdoor seating, it does a fine job attracting diners in the cold with an easily identifiable entrance complimented with its neon orange logo and garage door entrances.
For those of you familiar with Smallman Galley, the name Provision PGH might sound familiar. Chef Stephen Eldridge brings back his original concept along with a new one in El Lugar, which harbors Eldridge’s passion – Mexican cuisine. Eldridge’s wife, Susan Cope, will oversee the daily operations at Provision PGH while Eldridge will focus on El Lugar, which translates to “The Place.”
Provision is still the classic, safe bet out of the four restaurant concepts at Federal Galley. That isn’t a discredit to what their team does. Rather, it’s an acknowledgment of their ability to sustain the same standard that made them wildly popular during their time at Smallman. They’ve flawlessly carried over that success. The Bahn Mi is still one of the tastiest lunch sandwiches around and the famous Burger remains among the best in town. But sometimes when you’re out looking for a bite to eat – especially in a food hall – a sure thing isn’t necessarily what you’re craving. You may want to take a detour from the norm.
Cue the dining hall’s other three occupants: El Lugar, Michigan and Trumbull, and Supper.
It’s still early in the each of these establishments’ tenures but at this point in time, El Lugar has to be the standout. What makes El Lugar is Eldridge’s masa tortillas. Without a solid corn tortilla, any Mexican restaurant venture is going to fall flat. The menu is wisely built around the made-to-order recipe, offering an assortment of delectable knockouts including the veggie picadillo, the smoked beef, and the duck carnita (no longer on the current menu) and the chicken tinga. Each taco hits the wallet at $3.50 apiece, leaving you with enough spare change to treat yourself to a fresh glass of horchata while you’re there.
Operated by Michigan natives Kristen Calverley and Nate Peck, Michigan and Trumbull seems to be capitalizing on the city’s latest food rage with its Detroit-style pizza — a food trend typically credited to the early success of Pete Tolman’s Iron Born Pizza at Smallman Galley. At Michigan and Trumbull, they offer a four-slice, square deep-dish pie — think a proper Sicilian pizza baked in a square cast iron pan — that is essentially a meal within one slice. Not bad for a pie that’s priced between $13 to $17. However, as tasty as the Farnsworth Funghi pie is with the whipped goat cheese and subtle lemon zest or the spicy-tart combination of the Bagley Chorizo pie, I’d be lying if I said if either is a must-have at Federal Galley. Between the dough and the flavor combinations sometimes over-seasoning can hurt a dish.
The vegan and gluten-free friendly Supper has to be my under-the-radar favorite. Led by Chef Vincent Perri, Supper’s menu isn’t flashy nor is it overly ambitious. Instead, it takes simple ingredients and executes them very well. Duck fat fries are always a smart decision and Supper’s brunch menu offers some savory delights like the corn beef hash and harissa ketchup. Simple, but effective. Although some of the dishes on the menu are a bit lackluster (i.e. seared tofu), the garden pea falafel with honeyed harrisa yogurt is a win. It may very well give Z ‘The Falafel Master,’ at The Park House a run for his money.
Despite being a food and beverage sanctuary for the Nova Place promenade there’s one major hiccup at Federal Galley – the bar.
The ingenuities of the bar’s design are admirable. The bar itself is built out from behind a steel vault door; the property was originally a bank. Similarly, the Filipino-focused cocktail menu carries a bit of nostalgia with it, drawing inspiration from the Pittsburgh Filipinos Baseball Club who played at the nearby Exposition Park in the early 1900s. The cocktail list, in fact, is written as a banknote addressed to Filipinos manager Deacon Phillippe. The bar also boasts a 30-tap system featuring 25 microbrews. However, I’m not sure the tropical cocktail menu does justice to the talented bar staff, led by manager Cat Cannon. While the likes of the sweet lychee-infused Luya Cocktail or the tequila and panda agave-driven Pandan Express are respectable drinks in their own right, I’m not sure they nor the novelty pair well with opening in the middle of a cold Pittsburgh winter.
All in all, Federal Galley is a solid venue. Smallman has established a good guideline for success and Federal follows the blueprint. There’s an attraction to the variety Federal offers from both its food and beverage programs, in addition to reasonable prices. The real challenge for the team at Federal Galley is how it can handle being a staple destination in an area that has been deprived of a go-to eatery for a long, long time.
Article was last updated on January 11, 2018 at 2:59 p.m.