Sienna Mercato in downtown Pittsburgh is a brilliant three-story restaurant and bar concept with something for everyone. The first floor contains Emporio, a casual build-your-own meatball restaurant; the second story houses Mezzo, an Italian restaurant focusing on wine, charcuterie, and wood-fired pizzas; and the third story is home to a rooftop bar called Il Tetto.
Although it is impossible to sample all three in one visit, we have returned to this one many times to try them all and were pleasantly surprised by what we found.
Emporio: A Meatball Joint on Floor One
Emporio is a unique restaurant that focuses on all things meatballs. The fun part about their menu is that everything is fully customizable: you pick the type of meatball you want, the sauce, and the presentation. The number of combinations, according to our waitress, is in the thousands. This can either be amazing or terrifying, if you have difficulty making decisions like me. Luckily our waitress was awesome at helping us zero on in on our order based on the combinations we were considering.
Emporio offers four different types of meatballs including beef, pork, vegetarian, and chicken, as well as a special meatball which on our visit was a combination pork and beef meatball with jalapeno and cheddar. There are about ten sauce options ranging from traditional marinara to gravies to spinach-almond pesto. For the presentation options, you can go with individual sliders, panini, grinder, or just the meatballs themselves (“saucy balls”).
We started off with the buffalo fried chicken balls, which were the most mind-blowing dish we've had in a while. The dish starts with chicken meatballs covered in spicy buffalo sauce. But the fun begins with the blue cheese sauce that the meatballs rest on top of. When the buffalo sauce mingles with the blue cheese, it creates a spicy-creamy combination that is addicting and irresistible. But the most intriguing part of all was the razor-thin slices of crunchy celery that topped the whole dish. I still want to know how they slice the celery so thinly!
For our entrees, we decided on the special jalapeno cheddar meatball served on a grinder for the first, and the saucy balls for the second. The special meatballs were cheesy and just spicy enough, and they were topped with the creamy parmesan sauce which was like a bechamel sauce. The whole thing was topped with our choice of cheese, which was smoked gouda. This was a solid sandwich, but not as special as the buffalo chicken appetizer.
For the saucy balls, we ordered half vegetarian meatballs and half chicken, topped with the creamy parmesan sauce and served over tomato risotto. The overall flavor combinations were good, which we thank our waitress for recommending. The risotto could have been creamier, while the chicken meatballs were moist and well-seasoned. But our favorite part of this dish was the vegetarian meatballs. Made from mushrooms, white beans, and cauliflower, they had an overall
Mezzo on Floor Two
Mezzo is an Italian restaurant in Sienna Mercato's downtown empire, located on the second floor above Emporio and below the rooftop bar Il Tetto. More formal than the bar-type atmosphere of Emporio but still leaning towards casual, Mezzo is a perfect blend of great service, delicious food, and a fun vibe.
Naturally we wanted to try everything so we ordered a mix of plates and a pizza. We started with a small plate of grilled octopus that came with shishito peppers, roasted baby fennel, red pepper puree, and a lemon gremolata. The dominant flavors were smokiness from the roasted red pepper sauce and the grilled octopus, and spiciness from the shishitos. The octopus itself was great and we would have loved even more of it.
Along with the octopus came another small plate, the burrata with corn custard, heirloom tomatoes, basil oil, and a balsamic reduction. Sometimes I get nervous when people put balsamic on tomatoes because it has the potential to really overwhelm and dominate the tomatoes, but this plate let the juiciness of the tomatoes shine through. The creamy inside of the burrata oozed out once cut open to mingle with the corn sauce and basil oil to create one deliciously creamy sauce that counterbalanced the balsamic.
The medium plate rosemary gnocchi came out next with summer squash, confit cherry tomatoes, basil custard, and fiore sardo pecorino. Typically when you think of gnocchi you don't think of a light, summery dish, but this dish checked all the boxes for a perfect summer dish with chunks of zucchini and tart-sweet cherry tomatoes. The basil sauce was a touch creamy but still light and fresh, and the thin slivers of fiore sardo cheese provided a nice funky counterpoint. The gnocchi themselves were pan fried and had a great crispy crust on the outside.
Lastly, we couldn't resist checking out one of their pizzas. Our stomachs and eyes were drawn to the duck speck pizza which was quite rich and intense with garlic, duck confit, scallion, mozzarella, feta, and arugula. Our server also asked if we would like to add an egg on top and, naturally, we did. The whole thing was quite rich but the arugula and feta did help to provide some counterpoints of bitterness and brininess. The crust was a medium thickness and had a decent crunch on the bottom. The speck slices were thin and crispy- perfection!
Although the food was quite good, the service was an equal if not greater standout. Our server was polished and very knowledgeable about the dishes and the way they were prepared. Everything just flowed really well and was timed extremely well. He was also very helpful when the runner that delivered our gnocchi dish described the basil sauce as a pesto and I had a freak out moment and had to double check that it wasn't actually a pesto. Our server took care of the situation with grace and speed and double checked with the kitchen and quickly returned to assure me that it was a basil cream sauce and not a pesto. If there is a bar for world class service, it would be here.
Overall, Mezzo is a star restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh (not just Sienna Mercato), and is an absolute must try.
Il Tetto Rooftop Bar on Floor Three
The process for getting up to Il Tetto is somewhat confusing, but once you figure it out you'll be glad you did. As you walk into the restaurant, walk straight to the back of Emporio where an elevator will take you up to the third floor. Be prepared to show your ID to the bouncer in front of the elevator, too. We've also heard this place gets crazy busy on weekend nights, especially in the summer, so expect a line to get on the elevator.
The rooftop bar is a big, open space with a retractable glass roof and a trendy party vibe. Even with the glass roof closed in the winter, you can still peer up at some of the downtown buildings- very cool! The draft list here is the same as in Emporio and includes dozens of good quality craft beers. There isn't a focus on local beers, although on our visit there were a few beers from Pittsburgh breweries like Spoonwood and Helltown. There is also a small food menu that includes bar snacks. On Sundays, the space turns into a tiki bar complete with cocktails like Mai Tais and Pina Coladas, which we can't wait to check out.
Overall this is a really cool space with solid drink options (albeit fairly expensive outside of happy hour), and completes the trifecta that makes Sienna Mercato a great addition to downtown's dining scene.
Sienna Mercato is located at 942 Penn Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh.
Looking for more restaurants near the Cultural District? Be sure to check out Joe & Pie, Proper Brick Oven, Union Standard, Lidia's Pittsburgh, Pork and Beans, or Butcher and the Rye! Or, for more reviews of Pittsburgh restaurants, click the previous link to be taken to our directory of every review on Discover the Burgh!
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