Yesyou are probably familiar with the large group of Burrito restaurants. Pittsburgh’s most established restaurant umbrella was founded in 1993 by Tom Baron and Juno Yoon with Mad Mex in Oakland; a year later they opened Kaya, at which time current President and CEO Bill Fuller came on board as Sous Chef. The next decade brought Casbah, Soba, Umi and Eleven Contemporary Kitchen, four now closed restaurants, a premier restaurant operation and numerous Mad Mex locations (currently 11).
After a 15-year hiatus from new concepts, the big Burrito opened Alta Via in O’Hara in 2019. The property toyed with the pizza offering as part of the mix, but dismissed the idea before the opening of the restaurant. Instead, a spin-off was on the horizon: Alta Via Pizzeria, an accessible, full-service but casual restaurant the group opened in March in Bakery Square. The new concept focuses on pizza, as well as a varied menu of typical Alta Via dishes, such as salads and grilled vegetables, as well as a few sandwiches.
In another timeline, Bakery Square owners Walnut Capital could have relied on trendy national chains such as Sweetgreen, Piada Italian Street Food and Bonefish Grill as cornerstones when renovating Larimer Square. While there are a few mass-market behemoths such as Starbucks and Jimmy John’s (with an upscale ice cream chain, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, on the way), the best places in the center are populated by Pittsburgh-based restaurants such than Galley Bakery Square. and tako Torta (with a second Japanese-inspired concept from Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group due later this year).
AVP, while far from perfect, is my favorite so far.
The catering group had the organizational capacity to run it. Big Burrito’s parent company, Whole Enchilada, received significant federal pandemic assistance: $7.63 million from two PPP loans and a $10 million grant from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The funds were spent on 18 restaurants (all reopened, but not yet in pre-pandemic times), the restaurant operation and nearly 1,000 staff and left them in a stronger position than many restaurateurs in the region. While a version of AVP had already been in the works for Lower Lawrenceville in 2020 (that project was scrapped due to the pandemic), having the financial assistance no doubt helped the great Burrito make build, equip and operate this establishment.
Executive chef Darren Layre, an avid baker and former sous chef at Alta Via, offers two types of pies at AVP: a 14-inch round pizza and a six-cut rectangular tray pizza. Both are notable for their flavorful, long-fermented dough, but round pies tend to be more structurally sound.
These pies are baked in the New American Baker’s style of pizza made popular in San Francisco and made possible on a larger scale by the PizzaMaster, an electric oven that’s all the rage right now because of its easy flexibility and range of control. temperature – features you won’t find in the traditional wood-fired ovens or gas ovens that have dominated pizza in the United States since the late 1940s. You get a hybrid style that has a puffy eggshell crust giving way to a thinner interior with a slight pull as you eat it. AVP’s version is one of the best bases for round pizza in Pittsburgh.
When tray pizzas perform as intended, they impart the best crispy granny-style and puffy, frico-crusted Detroit-style qualities, without the typical fat of the latter. Often, however, the dough is too dense to fully appreciate. As for the frico, the caramelized cheese lining the outside provides an addictive salty umami, but since AVP’s platter pies are less tall than a typical Detroit pizza, they become overwhelming halfway through your second cut.
There are a bunch of specialized builds available for both Pie styles. They are quite enticing on paper but not always executed as they should be. And that’s a shame because the perfect pizza is all about balance, and when the harmony is missing, the pie doesn’t sing like it should. Again, round pies were usually done better, but not always. The Juliet, which should have been a delicious white pie with sausage, charred cherry tomatoes, red onions and rosemary, had twice as much cheese as needed, leaving an undercooked center and the palates of our team. waiting for what might have been.
Oddly enough, the most balanced pie I tried, other than a nice classic margherita, was the Mad Mex Wing-O. It wasn’t for me, but I can understand how the crowd pleaser was executed with thin slices of well-grilled chicken that someone was clearly paying attention to while cooking (as opposed to pre-sliced, frozen chicken and reheated that you’ll find at a chain) and just enough ranch dressing and wing sauce to make it shine.
Most of the pies on the platter I tried looked like they were put together by a guest who might have snuck into the kitchen after drinking one too many from the restaurant’s excellent bar program (apart from the Bicicleta cocktail, which brought back memories of a sad, flat wine). On one visit, my buddies and I shared a pie called Flora; some sections were teeming with grassy asparagus and blistered tomatoes, while others were empty spaces of white sauce. Likewise, AVP’s classic pepperoni had mountains of (pretty) pepperoni on some squares, rafts of pickled banana peppers on others, and nothing but cheese on one.
The rest of AVP’s relatively extensive menu is generally nice, and it won’t take much to tighten up items that could use it. The rotating selection of six vegetable dishes from Alta Via’s menu is a must, especially the artichokes and broccolini. Both are grilled with smoked char and dressed with just enough punch to make them shine. And while you’re almost certainly going to get pizza at AVP, consider the piadina burrata as an alternative (or, heck, get both). It is accompanied by a lobe of creamy and slightly sour homemade mozzarella, I will beat you for the last bite and a salad of good quality prosciutto, arugula and cherry tomatoes. The accompanying flatbread, the same dough as the round pie, is light with a slight pull and just a slight crisp around the edges.
I don’t think it’s necessary to have a burger on a menu that otherwise leans towards the Mediterranean and pizzeria extras (like a spicy meatball sandwich that gets props for the Amoroso roll but knocks for the oversized, sticky meatballs that feel pre-made). Still, they do have one, and the AVP Burger is everything you’d want a double-stacked, thin-patty burger to be, with nice touches like the addition of balsamic red onions and bitter arugula. .
Other dishes miss the mark, but not by much. A grain salad with lentils, farro, Lacinato kale, radish, carrot, citrus, pine nuts and lemon vinaigrette is the food fuel you might want after a workout. workout at nearby LA Fitness, but requires a lot more acidity and a few pinches of salt to be a star in itself. Semolina-crusted zucchini is a nifty idea for a twist on Pittsburgh’s beloved zucchini planks, but not if cut like fries. The good ones were good, but most were either overcooked or undercooked, and they weren’t very nice to pick up and dip into the hot red or ranch sauces. You could use a fork, but it’s an odd split from how it’s currently prepared. A wider fit would do here.
Make sure you have soft ice cream for dessert. It’s thicker than a typical soft serve (closer in texture to frozen custard), and it’s exactly what you’d want to end a meal at AVP. Pistachio, with a mild, not-too-sweet nuttiness, is a pretty close-to-perfect take on an ice cream flavor that almost everyone messes up. And it’s even better with the addition of toasted hazelnuts, one of the free toppings offered with every serving. Consider yourself lucky if it’s offered during your visit (but feel free to order a vanilla-chocolate swirl or the flavor of the day if it’s not).
Big Burrito has long been and continues to be a training ground for Pittsburgh’s restaurant industry. It’s pretty evident in AVP’s young but enthusiastic, super-knowledgeable and well-trained servers, which, for one person, made me feel optimistic about the future of Pittsburgh staffing. On each visit, my friends and I felt like our time was valuable with check-ins and updates delivered in a way that didn’t make us feel rushed. AVP is very good with soft keys too. In a city where you almost always get something the size of a coaster when you ask for a plate to share, I liked how each table comes with appropriately sized plates as soon as you sit down. Families with young children will appreciate that the property offers pizza-themed coloring books and crayons to keep the kids entertained.
Big Burrito hired Karen Herold of Studio K Creative in Chicago for the overall design (she also did Alta Via) of the warm and inviting interior. Baron divided the space into zones that divide the space while allowing energy to flow. The restaurant is very lively. During all of my visits, the establishment was filled with multi-generational family reunions, rowdy after-work parties, guys watching sports at the bar, and couples having seemingly sweet dates. And, aside from the music — every time I went it was a different style, ranging from a nightclub in 2008, songs that only your uncle likes to dance to, bar mitzvah and pop tunes you never want to hear again — it’s a nice place to spend a few hours.
There is a glass courtyard atrium with an outdoor feel (it will make a wonderful conservatory in a few months). And you can buy pizza from the take-out window to take home or enjoy it in front of the giant screen in the courtyard of Bakery Square.
AVP lands in a good niche between fast-casual and high-end. Big Burrito’s next big thing is a second Alta Via location slated to open in Market Square later this year, and I’ve seen the restaurant group expand this concept to multiple locations as well.
6425 Penn Ave, Larimer