Casellula opens in new headquarters of City of Asylum
New to Pittsburgh’s North Side is Casellula, a wine and cheese cafe located in Alphabet City, the new headquarters of City of Asylum, an organization that provides sanctuary to exiled and embattled writers so they can continue to write. In addition, the space is home to a bookstore and a space for readings, performances, writing workshops and residencies.
Casellula’s owner, Brian Keyser, was looking to expand his New York City cafe to a location outside of the city while at the same time the co-founders of City of Asylum were looking to add a restaurant to their new headquarters. After being introduced to each other through a mutual friend, they created this swanky new spot on the North Side for dinner. I’m glad this chance meeting happened, and you will be too once you visit.
It’s all about cheese at Casellula, and you will definitely notice that as soon as you walk through the front door, passing the elaborate cheese case displaying almost 20 different kinds of cheeses from all over the world. Whether you come for just a cheese plate and glass of wine before heading out to a concert or partake in a full-course meal, be sure to get the cheese.
The best way to order off of the broad cheese menu is to go on a cheese adventure trip and let the in-house fromager create a custom plate of cheeses ($6 each) for you based on the amount of cheese you want to consume. I let the dice roll and was pleasantly surprised with what was brought to my table. Not only was I impressed with the different cheeses, but the accoutrements paired with each cheese were exciting, robust and well thought-out.
My cheese plate included four very distinct kinds of cheeses. The Harbison, a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Vermont wrapped in spruce bark, was super creamy and served with a woodsy mushroom salad. Caution: don’t eat the bark rind.
The Quadrello di Bufala, a creamy pasteurized buffalo’s milk cheese from Italy, came with a briny and crunchy pickled fennel salad that was out of this world flavorful and super simple at the same time.
The Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a firm raw cow’s milk cheese from Wisconsin, was accompanied by herbed caramel popcorn. So good, you could easily ingest a bowl of it while reading a book.
Lastly, the pungent and creamy Echo Mountain Blue cheese, made with raw cow’s and goat’s milks, was paired with a sweet salted chocolate shortbread. Each bit of cheese by itself had a unique and interesting flavor, but when paired with the carefully curated accoutrements, the experience was mind-blowing. In addition, pieces of baguette and slices of raisin walnut bread come with the cheese plates.
Though creating your own cheese plate is the star of the show, the rest of the menu is worth eating. To accompany the cheeses, I definitely recommend the tart and briny pickled bread and butter carrots with mustard seeds and turmeric, as well as the greens salad — pickled fennel, red onion, feta and lettuce greens tossed in a dill vinaigrette — to incorporate some veggies into your meal.
Vegetarians will be blown away with the Polpette: three hearty eggplant meatballs served with tomato, spicy harissa and cool labne (strained yogurt). I dined with two vegetarians the night I visited Casellula, and both were convinced the meatballs had some kind of meat in them. These were tasty, but one of the best things I ate (besides all of the cheeses) was the Baccala cod fritters, fried golden brown and accompanied with a garlic aioli and a vibrant, sweet tomato marjoram jam.
Other sharable plates and snacks include strip loin tartare, a terrine with pate de grandmere, mixed cured meats, marinated olives, and octopus served with a white bean puree and green tomato salsa verde.
Larger entrees include an outstanding grilled cheese: two pieces of sourdough stuffed with plenty of cheesy goodness — comte cheese, cheddar, fol epi cheese, cherve — and tomatoes.
The mac and cheese has tender noodles combined with fol epi cheese, cheddar, cherve, onions and lardons, and brought to the table piping hot in a tiny cast iron dish. With the size of the other dishes, I expected it to be larger. But with the richness of the cheeses and lardons, a small bite is all you need to be satisfied. Definitely balance out the grilled cheese and the mac and cheese with the fresh greens salad. Your body will thank you.
Another entree option I was excited to try was the polenta drizzled with olive oil and topped with beef cheeks, red wine and parmigiano reggiano cheese. I am a huge fan of polenta, so when I see it on any menu it’s a no brainer for me. This dish was good, but I wanted it to be so much better. The other dishes I ate prior to this were definitely much better.
Though this is a cheese restaurant, dessert should not be overlooked at all. Chocolate lovers will rejoice in the layered chocolate cake that’s served with heavy cream poured over it. Let it sit a few minutes so the rich cake can absorb the cream for a super moist bite. Non-chocolate lovers, order the pistachio tart with a tart lemon curd.
Casellula is a wonderful addition to the North Side, housed in a space serving so much good. Though the staff is still figuring out service and navigating around the tight dining space, it’s a definite must-add to your “new restaurants to try” list. Stop by for a glass of wine and cheese and stay for a live event or pick up a new read on your way out.