Federal Galley follows in its sister restaurant's (Smallman Galley's) footsteps in that it is a restaurant incubator that features four chefs in a food hall format.
Each chef receives a small stall in which to prepare their meals and has a contract for a variable length of time that will allow the galley to rotate new chefs in and out over the years. If you are a fan of Smallman Galley in the Strip District (what we consider to be one of Pittsburgh's best restaurants), then this one is for you.
Much like our review for its sister restaurant, we visited Federal Galley no fewer than five times after opening and in this review will be breaking down our meals from each chef individually!
If the name sounds familiar, you're right – Chef Stephen Eldridge started the Provision PGH concept at Smallman Galley when he had a stall there a few years back. We're happy to see him return with his menu of creative American cuisine that includes the likes of burgers, sandwiches, and small plates.
On our visit we tried a special, the chicken liver mousse. A huge mound of creamy, rich mousse was served with several slices of buttery grilled bread. A dollop of whole grain mustard and bread and butter pickles helped balance the richness and fattiness of the mousse. This dish was certainly decadent but delicious!
We've had the burger before at Smallman Galley (which was delicious), so we thought we'd branch out and try the Korean fried chicken sandwich. The fried chicken was covered in a sweet barbecue sauce and topped with kimchi, pickles, and remoulade. The fried chicken had soaked up a lot of the sauce and could have been a litter crispier, but the barbecue sauce was so delicious that we didn't really mind. We would have loved a little more spiciness to balance the overall sweet and creamy flavors, but we still really enjoyed the sandwich.
We also had to get an order of fries – these things are legendary. They're triple-fried, addicting, and some of the crispiest you'll ever have anywhere.
This spot serves up traditional and inventive tacos and tortas, as well as a few other special goodies like enchiladas, chips and guac, and a seafood cocktail. The corn tortillas are all homemade which is impressive- just know that they may also be a little thicker than you're used to.
We've tried the duck carnitas, chicken tinga, and beef tongue tacos. Although the duck carnitas was ok and the chicken was good (juicy meat with pops of freshness from mango and mint), the beef tongue has been our favorite. This one was topped with Russian dressing and cabbage – think Reuben in taco form. The tongue was sliced so thinly and was so tender. If you've never had tongue before and are weirded out by it, this taco would be a fantastic introduction. Note that it was a special taco during our visit and isn't available all the time, but if it is – order it!
The vegetarian enchiladas are also on point. These babies are stuffed with potatoes and chilies and smothered in a spicy, limey green mole made from poblano peppers. The enchiladas were served over stewed beans which were a little smokey and tangy and topped with queso fresco.
Pricing note: El Lugar offers a taco plate that comes with three tacos and a side of beans. This is the same price as four tacos, so if you get two dishes and one has beans (like we did with the enchiladas) go for a fourth taco instead!
Michigan & Trumbull
This stall focuses on Detroit-style pizza which has a thicker crust that's baked in a square or rectangle pan so that the edges and bottom get really crispy. The cheese is generally right on top of the dough, with the other toppings and sauce on top of that.
We loved the flavor of the dough here. It was also thick without being too dense and heavy, in fact it was rather light for such a thick crust. The edges were quite crispy while we would have loved if the bottom was even crispier for a nice solid crunch the whole way through.
On Detroit-style pizzas, cheese is definitely the star, and the pies at Michigan & Trumbull are spot on in this regard. The cheese on these pies was salty, rich, and buttery and was beautifully browned in a few spots. We got the St. Aubin Sausage pizza which had broccoli and little crumbles of fennel sausage that had a little spice kick. A scoop of thick, well-seasoned tomato sauce was in the center of each piece.
If you like your pizzas extra saucy, Detroit style may not be for you. But if you appreciate delicious crust and really great cheese, you definitely need to check this place out.
Pricing note: Michigan & Trumbull's pizzas run from $13-$17 each which is a bit of a premium for an 8″x10″ pizza. That being said, in our first five visits to Federal Galley we ate at Michigan & Trumbull three times- so we very clearly can get beyond this detail.
Supper is the final stall in Federal Galley and serves up New American Cuisine that looks like it could have come from a fine dining restaurant. The menu includes lots of smaller vegetable-focused dishes but also several larger plates like steak and pork shank.
So far we have tried the falafel dish where the fritters are made from peas. The texture on the outside was super crunchy (maybe a little bit too crunchy) and the overall flavor was very mild, but dipped in the accompanying sweet-spicy honey harissa yogurt it was divine.
We've also tried the cumin squash soup which was a perfect winter dish with lots of warm spice flavors, a chile and raisin compote, and some crispy socca breadsticks for dipping.
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If you're visiting for lunch or are looking for a lighter meal, the grilled cheese with aged cheddar, smoked provolone, tomato jam, and bacon (extra) on sourdough is everything we want in a grilled cheese. Although not tomato soup, we think the squash soup would match perfectly with this one.
Our favorite dish here, though, has been the sea bass. The fish was poached to creamy, tender perfection and was served with grapes and brussel sprouts. That combination may sound strange but the bitterness of the sprouts contrasted with the sweetness of the burst grapes and somehow just worked really well with the fish.
Pricing note: If one food stall at Federal Galley would be considered to be the premium restaurant, Supper would be it. Main dishes here exceed $20 and at times can be on the smaller side but their flavor and execution make up for it.
Go for a Drink at the Bar at Federal Galley
In addition to the four chefs at Federal Galley, the restaurant is home to a standalone bar that features 30 draft beers (a majority from Pennsylvania), craft cocktails, a rotating country-based cocktail menu, and wine on draft.
The bar is in a unique space that was previously a bank vault that was opened up to allow patrons to order drinks on both sides. This is a novel feature you don't see at too many restaurants and is a really beautiful design.
After opening week kinks the restaurant added set lines on either side of the bar for patrons to get drinks in an orderly fashion (needed during their 4:30 to 6:30 happy hour that is 50% off everything), so be sure to look through the bar to judge the line on the other side- it very much could be a faster option!
As far as the cocktails are concerned, we sampled all of the ones from their special menu which at the time of opening featured ingredients from the Philippines. If you want mixers such as ube (purple yam), lychee, pandan, or jackfruit these ones are must-tries.
Our personal favorite from the first batch was the Luya, featuring Maggie's Farm white rum, coconut rum, Aperol, ginger, lychee, and lime as it had a nice balance of flavors without being too sweet like some of the others. We really could drink this one all the time!
Overall, aside from the opening kinks of getting drinks in a relatively fast period of time, Federal Galley has a fine bar that lives up to the standard set by their sister restaurant Smallman Galley- just the way we like it.
The Incubators are Taking Over
Up until this point we've resisted the urge to compare any of the chefs to those at Smallman Galley.
It isn't a stretch for us to say that Smallman Galley is one of the best restaurants in Pittsburgh. In fact, we are considering making it our #1 restaurant after the second class of chefs maintained the high quality we loved about the first class.
The concept of the incubator restaurant is unique, thrilling, and something we're proud to have originate in Pittsburgh. (Our stack of receipts from our many visits for this review reflects this sentiment.)
Federal Galley takes this concept, runs with it, and knocks it out of the park with a bigger and more inviting space in the North Side that we look forward to frequenting many times in the future.
Federal Galley is located at 200 Children's Way in the North Side, within the Nova Place building on the west side of Commons Square. There are a few metered parking spots on Children's Way and significantly more along the Commons Square that we park in when visiting.