E2 | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


The Highland Park eatery successfully expands its menu to include dinner

About three years ago, E2 (that's "squared") opened as an outpost of Enrico's in the Strip. Under the direction of chef Kate Romane, the tiny dining room with its tinier front patio became the best brunch spot in the East End. E2 and Enrico’s have since parted ways; more recently, dinner was added to the E2 equation, giving us an enticing excuse to return.

Where E2's brunch is refined American cuisine, with influences from Italy and New Orleans, the dinner menu is straight Italian. But Romane is too creative a cook to lean on red-sauce clichés or heavy Northern dishes. Instead, she refracts traditional, Old World recipes through the prism of the contemporary American kitchen. Her approach is fresh, local and seasonal; by turns, it's as elemental as a starter of nothing but cannellini beans with red-pepper flakes and perhaps some olive oil, or as elaborate as seared scallops with butternut-squash mash, fried leeks and Portobello, and truffled pumpkin seeds.

Whether for brunch or dinner, E2's space is still cozily lamp-lit, sociably clamorous when full (as it nearly always is) and intimately decorated; we loved seeing lots of small pictures and artwork in place of a handful of larger pieces. 

In this context, it would be easy to hunker down and try to order everything in sight. A more moderate approach is to begin with the tongue-in-cheekily named OMG selections, a dozen tiny plate options from the big chalkboard, including a few meats, cheeses and vegetables. Pay particular attention to the "mess," another in-house term that, in the case of gorgonzola, meant a sort of creamy, tangy mash with a shot of hot sauce, creating an effect suggestive, but not quite reminiscent, of buffalo wings. Spread on grilled focaccia, it was utterly addictive. The OMG list also gave us perfectly thin slices of bra duro (a young, Italian farmhouse cheese), the aforementioned beans in their almost fluffy tenderness and thin wafers of black radish, lightly fried such that they retained radishy sharpness but took on a tender-crisp texture.

We were unable to resist the aforementioned seared scallops, and found the several shades of sweet and earthy flavors in this dish to combine as harmoniously and autumnally as we'd imagined. The only quibble was that the leeks, as is their tendency, had sautéed down to papery insubstantiality.

The entrée list was heavy on the pasta, and the portions were ample, especially for anyone who nibbled on the starters. A special of campanelle with arugula-walnut pesto seemed to be seasoned with several different herbs, resulting in a spicier, heartier combination as well suited to fall as basil pesto is to late summer. Pumpkin-mascarpone ravioli with prosciutto in a sage-cream sauce was a milder, creamier distillation of fall flavors, its lush richness cut by the salty meat and herbal sage.

Another pasta dish was a bit of a throwback to warmer weather: linguine pescatore in a sort of piccata style, with tender little scallops and barely grilled shrimp, mixed with lemon, capers, butter and wine. In this, the bite one would expect from the briny capers and tart lemon was muted; in retrospect, a wedge of lemon could have made all the difference.

A dining companion sampled one distinctive, non-noodle-based dish: farro en brodo. This consisted of whole, barley-like farro grains in a dark broth with wild mushroom, chicken and sausage, finished with some of the arugula pesto. It was a warming reminder that the soups and stews of this time of year can be zesty as well as hearty.

In ordering desserts, we released ourselves from all moderation to try all three: a deep, dark, dense chocolate torte with bright berry "mess"; a satisfying pumpkin cake swirled with cream cheese; and a salted-caramel apple crostado whose texture, reminiscent more of shortbread than of traditional pastry, was extraordinary.

Dinner at E2 is as special as its brunch. Whether composed of two ingredients or a dozen, each dish was a creation to reflect both the season and the unique updating of traditional Mediterranean cooking by a skilled chef.  

Editor's note: The original version of this story misstated the relationship between E2 and Enrico's in the Strip.