Location: 7606 Forbes Ave., Regent Square. 412-242-8281
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Weekend brunch 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Prices: Breakfast $5-15; appetizers, soups, salads and sandwiches $5-13; entrees $12-21
Fare: American -- from sea to shining sea
Atmosphere: Casual and contemporary
Liquor: Full bar
Like a well-stocked pantry, Regent Square's main drag may be compact, but it offers something pleasing to nearly every palate, from hot dogs and pub grub to carefully curated plates of locally grown, seasonal food. However, several long blocks separate it from the busy intersection of Forbes and Braddock, which is where you're more likely to work up an appetite, be it hiking in Frick Park, playing on its ball fields, or swinging and sliding on one of the East End's more popular playgrounds. A tiny -- make that micro -- commercial district clings to the corner. But with only three buildings, one of them a service station, at first glance it might leave you feeling hungry for more.
Fortunately, there's more to it than meets the eye. Recent reconstruction has boosted the noshing options at this end of Regent Square to an all-time high of three, including an ice-cream stand during the summer months and Calli's, a casual restaurant that seeks to satisfy a number of appetites all year 'round.
Calli's L-shaped space, which doglegs around the ice-cream shop, consists of a pair of light, bright dining rooms furnished with contemporary tables, chairs and art on the Braddock side, plus an intimate bar with just the right cozy factor to become a neighborhood clubhouse opening off Forbes.
Calli's menu is contemporary, too, in its approach to an American cuisine influenced by everything from immigrant traditions to California vegetarianism. Almost breathtaking in its breadth, it lists an ambitious array of breakfasts, sandwiches, bar food and entrees. And the ambition isn't limited to variety: Calli's kitchen stretches from simple eggs and toast to Cobb salad, tomato-crab bisque and seafood pastas. Throw in a thoughtful kids' menu, and it's practically like having all the options of Regent Square proper under one roof.
We missed breakfast, but we got a good taste of lunch with a cheeseburger, sandwich and fries. The burger was big, without being monstrous, with good, juicy beef flavor. But the large, toasted potato bun on which it was served made the whole affair taste too much like, well, potato. Speaking of spuds, we discovered that the kitchen was in the midst of switching to housemade skin-on bar fries. These were mostly light and crisp at the edges but with the familiar tendency toward occasional sogginess. That hardly mattered in our cheese-fries plate, with a double dose of cheese in both sauce and shredded forms, plus bacon, red onion and scallions. If the red onion was a little harsh, the scallions were bright and vegetal, and the bacon added substantial meaty savor.
Aside from a name that made it possibly the most fun item on the menu to order, the jive turkey sandwich featured turkey (of course), muenster cheese, caramelized onions, bacon and honey-mustard dressing on a whole-grain ciabatta. Instead of being overstuffed with turkey, this sandwich maintained a judicious balance of ingredients which allowed each to make an impression: the cheese mild and creamy, the bacon salty and smoky, the caramelized onions soft and sweet, the bread chewy and nutty. Given this nimble interplay of flavors and textures, Angelique would have preferred the zesty note of straight-up mustard to piling on the sweetness with honey mustard, which came across more like a dessert topping than a sandwich dressing. Sweet-potato fries on the side were a welcome alternative to the usual spuds -- crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside.
Garlic-parmesan wings were a bit skimpy in terms of meat per bone, but made up for it by being crisp-skinned and flavorful. In addition, we were impressed that the kitchen had conquered this sauce's tendency to be greasy.
Calli's entree list was heavy on pasta and seafood, so we decided to combine the two in an order of seafood Diablo: lump crab meat, shrimp, scallops and mussels over penne in "our spicy Diablo sauce." Whew! What an understatement. We're no wimps about spicy food, but this -- a case, apparently, of mistaking "lots of cayenne" for "Cajun seasoning" -- had us almost seeing double. To the extent we could discern the seafood amid all that heat, the mussels were mushy, but the scallops good and the shrimp terrific.
With a menu as broad as Calli's, it came as no surprise that we experienced some hits and misses. Still, when you're a long way from restaurant row, variety is the spice of life. You just might want to order a tall glass of water -- or better yet, beer -- with that.