960 Penn Ave., Downtown
412-318-8000 or tenpennypgh.com
Two years ago, when a business associate asked Adam DeSimone if he was interested in a property across the street from the convention center, he shrugged it off.
"We wanted to wait until the area ripened a little bit more," says DeSimone, a founder of the AMPED Group, the force behind Diesel, Steel Cactus, Dominic's Famous Deli and Bottle Shop, Skybar, Delanie's Coffee and Local Bar + Kitchen.
But the second time he got the offer, his real-estate instincts kicked in. With new residential development Downtown and bars and restaurants flourishing around the Cultural District, DeSimone thought the property was worth the risk. "Half the battle is positioning your business where you have built-in traffic," he says.
Enter Ten Penny, a gorgeous 150-seat brunch, lunch and dinner spot whose menu ranges from a standard club sandwich to pomegranate-molasses-glazed salmon.
Open since December, it's a space with dozens of interesting little design touches, from incandescent light bulbs that dangle from the ceiling to wooden tables, whose height can be adjusted by hand crank. Just outside, an eight-foot sculpture made of individual 3-D-printed nails bears its name — a nod to its 10th and Penn location and the ten-penny nails contractors found embedded in the old ceiling of the day-care center that preceded it.
In warmer months, 100 feet of collapsible windows give the already expansive dining room the feel of a breezy outdoor café. And in the center of the space, floor-to-ceiling shelves of olive oil, pasta and salt give way to a 30-seat bar, which features 48 drafts, plus cocktails and an extensive wine list.
"We basically designed the concept around the location in the city," DeSimone explains. "We wanted to make sure we didn't go too far left or too far right."
The menu is designed to accomodate — and the restaurant does a brisk business at lunch, serving up favorites like the "mega meatball." It's the size of a baseball and set on a cast-iron skillet, covered in marinara thick enough to eat with a fork (and you'll want to), then topped with a dollop of ricotta and garnished with basil.
The porcini ravioli is also worth a try. Smothered in a gravy reduction and topped with pieces of thick-cut bacon and goat cheese, its richness makes this otherwise smallish dish more than satisfying.
And while an appetizer and entrée is plenty of food, desserts like the crème brûlée trio (vanilla bean, chocolate mocha and maple bacon) or the warm cranberry-apple tartlet are worth the busted-button after-effect.
The restaurant isn't finished growing, either: In the works is a downstairs special-event space with a "speakeasy" vibe, which could seat 60 for meal or serve up to 150 for cocktails. "It's been terrific," DeSimone says of the adventure of starting the restaurant. "I couldn't ask for anything better."