Science proves it: food tastes better with the right background music | Taste Magazine | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Science proves it: food tastes better with the right background music

Here are some of our favorite restaurants that feature live music.

click to enlarge Science proves it: food tastes better with the right background music
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
DJ Nate Da Barber hosts Carmi’s Supper Club.

A certain smell can trigger a taste of a favorite meal you haven't had in years. Hearing a song from a decade ago can evoke long-forgotten feelings. Our senses are all connected, so it should come as no surprise that listening to music while eating can enhance the taste of a meal and overall dining experience. 

In recent years, Charles Spence, who runs the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University’s Experimental Psychology Department, has become a leader in sonic seasoning research, which studies the effect of sound on food taste. It turns out that food tastes better with background noise. In fact, they found that silence actually took away from the enjoyment of eating a meal. 

So, to help make your dining experience a little tastier, here are three establishments in Pittsburgh where one can find both food and music. Bon Appetit!

Location Details

Carmi Soul Food

1825 E. Carson St., Pittsburgh South Side

South Side is often thought of as young folk’s territory, but every Friday night after Carmi soul food’s regular hours, the restaurant opens its doors for an exclusive Supper Club. From 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., those 30 and over can relax, eat, drink, and listen to music – in a space without those in their 20s. 

Two to three of those Fridays features live music, while the others are reserved for DJs. Usually, Carmi plays a range of jazz, R&B, oldies, blues, and acoustic music. 

“The Supper Club is exclusively for the 30 and over crowd,” says co-owner Carleen King. “So, we do keep the bands on brand, but I think country and Soul Food should be partners as well.” 

While there have been repeat performers at The Supper Club, Carmi likes to switch it up each week. Some of the past ones include The Funky Fly Project, Tubby Daniels, Anita Levels, Teresa Hawthorne and Lagacee, Shawn Allen, and up-and-coming recording artist Dejah Monet. 

Food wise, during the Supper Club, Carmi offers an expanded appetizer and "bar food" menu featuring soul food classics, like fried chicken, mac and cheese, cornbread and more. The kitchen stays open until midnight. 

“When I’m listening to live music and eating soul food,” says King, “I feel like I am transported to swanky Harlem Juke Joint and it absolutely gives me breath.”

She went on further to describe the event as electric. “There is head bobbing, two-stepping, shoulder swaying, finger popping, hip moving, chair dancing, and laughter. My favorite response is ‘Who’s here next week?’ It sums up the whole purpose. It's been my joy for years to introduce other cultures to Soul Food, which is very dear to my heart. Now we have the unique honor and pleasure to introduce the Supper Club Culture.”

Location Details

NOLA On the Square

24 Market Square, Pittsburgh Downtown


A trip to Louisiana is not necessary to get a touch of that New Orleans energy. NOLA On The Square brings a Nouveau Creole menu, with live jazz and blues music to Pittsburgh every weekend. 

NOLA is open seven days a week and offers a variety of Creole cuisine options - lunch, dinner, $4 food and drink happy hours, vegan and vegetarian, and gluten-free. A Facebook review from Phyllis Martin says, “I was in New Orleans last month the food at NOLA was better than three of the restaurants in the real NOLA.”

But where NOLA really shines is Friday and Saturday evenings from 8-11 p.m., with its live music performances, truly ushering in the New Orleans way of life. During the warmer seasons, there is an outdoor patio area where diners can eat and enjoy the sunshine while music floats through the air. 

NOLA's January lineup included John Gresh, Flow Band, Benny Benack, Neon Swing X-perience, Dan Bubien, Eddan Sparks Trio, Rick Matt, and Olga Watkins Band. 

Location Details

Savoy Restaurant

2623 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh Strip District


Start your week off with a dash of jazz. Savoy, created by Chuck Sanders to showcase Black excellence in the area of fine dining, further embraces Black culture with its Monday Night Jazz event. 

“Pittsburgh is one of the most influential cities in the development of Jazz,” says Charles Sanders, Chuck’s brother and creator of the Monday Night Jazz. “So, being a lover of and performer of this culturally significant genre of music, I thought it was important that Pittsburgh have a premium place to showcase it as often as possible.”

click to enlarge Science proves it: food tastes better with the right background music
CP photo: John Colombo
Jay Willis featuring The Jenny Wilson trio at Savoy’s Monday Night Jazz.

From 6-9 p.m. jazz fans and music lovers alike can enjoy local and national musicians and bands. In the past, Roger Humphries, Kenny Blake, Etta Cox, Tony Campbell, Fred Pugh III, Judi Figel, Harry Cardillo, Elevations (a next-generation quintet), The Funky Fly Project, and national recording artist Sean Jones have taken the stage at Savoy. 

The kitchen is open for the entirety of the set, featuring a full dinner, dessert, and bar menus. Specials include a Savoy Monday Night Jazz dinner feature (entree and two sides for $30) and Savoy sangrias, red or white, for $5. All domestic beers are $3. 

“[Monday Night Jazz is] power packed and lively,” says Charles. “It’s reminiscent of such legendary jazz spots like the Crawford Grill and the Balcony.”

Furbished with spotless, chic white furniture, mood lighting, and orange and red accents, Savory aims for a higher tier of restaurant service and experience. The Strip District location asks that all customers wear at least business casual attire — no sneakers, caps, or tank tops.

“Savoy [is meant] to be a cultural hub for people of all walks of life to enjoy the 'good life' which Monday Night Jazz is a key element,” says Charles. “We’ve been at it for over seven years and with the continued support of our wonderful patrons, will keep the music playing for many more years to come.”

Location Details

Casa Reyna

2031 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh Strip District

It only fits that Casa Reyna has live Latin music most Friday evenings in the summer. The upbeat, high-energy sound pairs well with hot, sunny days and the restaurant’s fresh local ingredients. 

“Casa Reyna, as well as our customers, love the Latin theme of our restaurant,” says Carol Herder, director of operations, events, and catering. “We try to go with our theme. The music fits into our decor very smoothly. Its lively and family-party atmosphere.”

Trio Nova has played at Casa Reyna, along with John Marcinizyn, the restaurant’s favorite. Herder says that he is an excellent guitarist, especially in the Latin theme, and teaches at Carnegie Mellon University.

“We give a free dessert to any birthday person (with ID) and choreograph [Marcinizyn] to play the music as we sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in Spanish, and we present the dessert. The birthday person is welcome to wear a sombrero and take selfies. People are always happy to play along. Casa Reyna is a favorite Mexican restaurant hangout for a swelling number of locals and draws a huge tourist following.”