Last Updated on December 22, 2017 by Angie
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Updated: Casellula closed in December 2017.
We're so very excited about the recent opening of Casellula, a cheese and wine bar in the North Side, and we recently dined there to give you a glimpse into what it's all about. Casellula is housed in the brand new Alphabet City building, a City of Asylum project, that's part performance space and part bookstore. It's a beautiful space with high ceilings, hardwood floors, and an industrial yet elegant vibe that makes an attractive backdrop for literary events.
We visited Alphabet City on opening day, browsing the carefully curated bookstore selection, when we saw the book Composing the Cheese Plate by Casellula owner Brian Keyser. Keyser also has a Casellula location in New York, and the book includes recipes for unique condiments and recommendations for pairing these with different cheeses. After buying the book and falling in love with it, we couldn't wait to dine at Casellula and experience Keyser's creativity first hand.
The Cheese Greets You Immediately
Not surprisingly, the first thing we noticed upon entering the space was the cheese case. It sits near the entrance and is quite imposing. How can you not order a cheese plate after seeing this beauty? But the menu is more than just cheese: there are also a variety of snacks, small plates, and entrees. We knew we had to try a little bit of everything.
The drink menu includes a selection of wines by the glass and the bottle, as well as a small beer selection and an even smaller cocktail menu. The beers on tap are primarily local, while the bottles are a mix of local, regional, and national. It's clear that the focus here is wine, but you shouldn't have a problem finding something else to drink if you're not in a wine mood.
We decided to opt for wine. Although our waitress couldn't really tell us anything about the wines or make recommendations, she did offer samples for us to try. We ended up choosing Spanish wines, a tempranillo and an albariño. The albariño was new to us but we really enjoyed it. It was a Spanish white wine that smelled peachy and floral and was reminiscent of a semi dry riesling.
The cheese list is organized into categories of fresh, bloomy and soft, cooked and pressed, washed-rind, and blue. It's $6 per cheese, and you can choose however many you want. You can specify each cheese that you want, or you can leave it up to them to compose the plate for you. We ordered three cheeses, specifying that we wanted the burrata and that the others could be surprises.
The most agonizing part of the meal was waiting 45 minutes for our cheese plate. We aren't really sure where the disconnect was or what happened, but it wasn't a pleasant wait and our waitress was nowhere in sight the entire time. Luckily things went a bit smoother after we got our cheese plate.
On our cheese place was a burrata, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, and Casatica di Bufala. The burrata was deliciously creamy and fresh and paired with a tomato chutney. The flavor combination was almost reminiscent of a pizza, but fresher and lighter.
Our second cheese was the Pleasant Ridge Reserve which is the most awarded American cheese. It's made with grass fed raw milk and is an Alpine style cheese like Gruyere. It was paired with what our waitress called honeycomb, which was basically a caramelized, crunchy piece of honey with just a hint of bitterness from the caramelization. Jeremy didn't like the combination of the honeycomb and the cheese (thinking the cheese was perfect on its own), but I thought it was amazing. It was a spectacular balance of crunchy, creamy, sweet, and salty.
Our final cheese was a young buffalo milk cheese that was super creamy with just a bit of tang and slight sweetness, and it was accompanied by some figs. Overall we were really impressed with the cheeses themselves on the plate as well as the creative pairings, although the $6 price tag per cheese was a bit much for the portion sizes.
The Rest of the Food Menu is Just as Solid
Next we ordered an appetizer, the salt cod. This turned out to be little croquettes of salt cod that were fried crispy on the outside with moist, tender fish on the inside. The sauces were perfect accompaniments- a sweet but acidic tomato jam and a creamy garlic aioli. Everything just worked well together on this plate, all the way down to the earthy microgreens on top.
For entrees we chose the papardelle and the pig's ass sandwich. The papardelle was coated in a pork belly tomato sauce and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs and pecorino romano. The pasta was nice and al dente and every once in a while I got a hint of porkiness, but other than that I thought it was lacking something, maybe a little more spiciness or a touch more garlic.
The pig's ass sandwich, however, was phenomenal- probably one of the best sandwiches we've had in Pittsburgh in the past year. The rich pulled pork was made even more decadent with thinly sliced ham and two kinds of cheeses, a cheddar for tang and Fol-Epi for some creaminess. The whole thing was so creamy and rich it was almost too much, but there were plenty of contrasts to reign it in. The pickles on the sandwich brought acidity, the focaccia-like bread was so crispy on the outside, and a spicy, garlicky chipotle aioli was served on the side. Heavenly.
One important thing to note is that the space is shared with the bookstore at Alphabet City, which hosts evening events usually several nights a week. As there is no division between the spaces, this means there may be a concert or book reading going on during your dinner. If you were anticipating a quiet meal this could be a negative, but we dined during a jazz concert and thought it made the ambiance very unique and cool.
During our visit Casellula was a no-tipping establishment and the prices reflected this; however, in mid-2017 Casellula changed to the more conventional tipping model. We have not been able to confirm the prices have gone down since the change, but we certainly hope that they do as they were on the higher end even when factoring tips.
All in all, the service at Casellula was lacking and disjointed on our visit but we hope that this was just due to the restaurant's newness. The wine list is great, the cheese plates inventive, and the small plates and entrees solid. The vibe is also very fun- there was a general hum of excitement during our visit, and the jazz concert made our dinner even more unique and enjoyable.
Casellula closed in December 2017.