The view from Pittsburgh's parkways sometimes puts us strangely in mind of a feudal fiefdom: clustered rooftops of shops and houses dominated by the soaring architecture of churches. There's the green steeple of the former St. Michael's midway up the South Side Slopes, the massive classical basilica just off 28 in Sharpsburg, and the quartet of onion-domed towers in Carnegie. If you take that last exit, you'll soon find yourself amid three handsome sanctuaries just a block apart. As times have changed, so has usage: Only one of these venerable old buildings still serves as a house of worship. At the other two, food reigns supreme. One is home to a banquet and catering hall, while the last has been transformed by Mount Lebanon natives Leonard Cefalo and his son Dean into Cefalo's Restaurant and Nightclub.
In Cefalo's main sanctuary, instead of pews and an altar, you'll find barstools, club chairs and a dance floor. It's a vast yet cozily configured space, where latter-day big-band, jazz and blues musicians play nightly to patrons sipping martinis and nibbling sophisticated hors d'oeuvres. A smaller room has become a separate enclosed dining room for those whose appetites do not include live music. In redecorating, the Cefalos have made no effort to lighten the spaces contained within the former Presbyterian church's somber stone walls. Instead, deep velvety colors accentuate the feeling of being inside a jewel box -- deep blue for the club, burgundy for the dining room. The rooms' only natural illumination is filtered through stained-glass windows, supplemented by low lamplight and tabletop votive candles, lending each space an intimate glow.
The menu is a la carte, with brief but well-composed selections of salads, soups, appetizers, entrees and side dishes. As we plotted our feast, a black-clad server provided us with food for thought: a basket of Mediterra bread, crackers, a plate of sweet and creamy Amish butter and a salty tapenade.
With tomatoes at their seasonal peak, we could not resist the beefsteak tomato salad, in which red and yellow slices were layered with fresh-plucked basil, disks of buffalo mozzarella, olive oil and ground black pepper. Microgreens hidden beneath the cheese were a happy surprise, and shaved Asiago added a much-appreciated extra note to this classic dish, its tangy nuttiness a lively counterpoint to the mild mozzarella.
Our "scallop threesome" appetizer included scallops wrapped in bacon, in lime-hollandaise sauce and in Hawaiian barbecue. The bacon-wrapped scallop was cut in thirds and the bacon just done for an impeccable balance of flavors, the sweetly briny scallops and the smoky, salty bacon adding up to perfect savory mouthfuls. Jason thought the lime hollandaise was reminiscent of tartar sauce, but Angelique preferred its tangy creaminess to the barbecue, whose sharp, unsubtle taste she found overwhelmed the delicately seared scallop.
Who could resist a dish called Snuggled Pork Filet? Not Jason. A thick slice of pork tenderloin was wrapped in prosciutto, then seared and roasted. The pork wasn't as tender as filet mignon, but its juicy, mild flavor stood up to the salty ham, almost crisp from its sojourn in the oven. The sweet sauce completed this symphony of contrasts.
Angelique fell for a special entrée, Indian rubbed chicken. Two breasts and a thigh arrived moist and tender, their juices contained in a crispy skin that had been rubbed with a blend of cinnamon, cardamom and cayenne. The chicken appeared to have been pan-roasted and the pan deglazed with red wine, producing the subtly yet intensely flavored drippings which ringed the plate. A sweet peach salsa acted as a summery foil to the otherwise autumnal spice mix, and a bed of spinach, carrots and almonds completed the dish.
We had two side dishes between us, and they were plenty big enough for sharing. Polenta, cut into triangles and toasted, was firm, flavorful and served with a marinara and a bed of microgreens -- a handsome success. Less pleasing was red-wine risotto, its characteristic creaminess overwhelmed by the tannic presence of merlot.
Our dessert of berries and Bailey's, a decadent martini glass filled with peak-of-season fruit and liqueur-laced whipped cream, left us with little doubt that the Cefalos and their staff share a reverence for food. Perhaps the old church is still a house of worship, after all.
Jason: 2.5 stars
Angelique: 3 stars