Loosely translated, the word "sprezzatura" means to look and feel effortless, and that's pretty on-the-nose for Jen Saffron's new cafe in Millvale: Sprezzatura, housed in the refurbished Millvale Moose Lodge, has the chatty, laid-back nature of a diner. The service is hospitable and relaxed, and the menu is accessible and fresh.
But behind the easygoing atmosphere at Sprezzatura, there’s a lot going on.
The restaurant is part of the Millvale Food + Energy Hub, a project of local nonprofit New Sun Rising. The hub helps drive New Sun Rising’s greater mission to advance Millvale as a sustainable, equitable neighborhood. Saffron shares the building with a few other tenants: 412 Food Rescue’s Good Food Project (which uses the other half of Sprezzatura’s kitchen), The Food Trust, FracTracker Alliance, and others. The building is powered by solar panels; Sprezzatura has been a Gold-designated Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant since day one, a certification that represents Saffron’s commitment to being part of the “demonstration of sustainability” the hub is meant to be.
Back to the food: The menu at Saffron’s counter-service, BYOB cafe is small but impressive. The dishes are “heritage-inspired, accessible, affordable, and healthy," with staples like spaghetti and meatballs, butternut squash soup, and sandwiches during lunch service. Saffron feels strongly about supporting state farmers and tries to source as locally as possible, changing her menu to fit the seasons. (For a wider selection, check out the catering menu's antipasti, meat platters, salads, soups, and desserts.)
Of the dishes I have tried, which is many, Saffron’s vegetarian lasagna is my favorite. Contrary to many veggie pastas that rely too heavily on spinach which subsequently turn stringy, Saffron layers her lasagna with roasted vegetables and never skimps on spices or seasoning. Other main dishes that stand out include the roast chicken and spaghetti and meatball. The roast chicken was the exact kind of roast chicken I look for at restaurants: straightforward and unpretentious. Saffron’s meatballs fell apart at the touch, and were matched with a thick spaghetti and a homemade red sauce.
Strong entree list aside, starters should not be skipped. A citrus fennel salad brings the sweet flavors of winter citrus, and the cafe’s pine nut and basil dip (more like a bruschetta) acknowledges the flavor of pine nuts in a way many chefs overlook.
Eating at the cafe, it’s easy to forget about the sustainable goings-on around you. Saffron doesn’t even call her eatery a restaurant; it's "a community cafe." She’s using Sprezzatura as a platform to start a conversation about sustainability, activate a new community space, and create a “spot of goodness” in the neighborhood.
Favorite Features1. Desserts
Dessert at Sprezzatura is definitely worth the calories, especially with the delicious addition of freshly whipped cream. Try one of everything.2. Moose Lodge
The Moose Lodge hasn’t been completely replaced: Sprezzatura still uses the original tables.3. Events
Keep an eye out for events at the cafe, including improv nights, live music, Sunday suppers, and more.