“Happily ever after” is hard-won in the restaurant business, but if anyone is living a foodie fairy tale, it might be Matt and Lauren Christie. The couple met at Wild Sage on Route 8 when he was a chef and she, a hostess. Partners now in marriage and in business, the two live upstairs from their own restaurant, Streets on Carson, in a building they bought on the happening South Side.
Streets is tied to several current trends, chief among them the casual, affordable “small plates” approach to dining and the gastropub. Yet it stands out in the Pittsburgh food scene as unique. The concept is simple: street foods from around the world. Appealing enough, but chef Christie — also formerly of Bridge Ten Brasserie — takes it to not one, but two additional levels. First, he ups the intrigue by eliminating the usual suspects: no tacos, no sausages, no satay, no sushi. Second, the execution and attention to detail bring about a sense of revelation that is seldom experienced outside of actual travel.
Which is good, because we can hardly imagine the air miles involved in tracking down actual Turkish balik, Brazilian bolinho, Czech chiebicek and more. Even something as ordinary-seeming as flatbread with cheesy filling is here neither familiar crepe nor quesadilla, but instead tapioca. It’s a Brazilian dish that uses, yes, tapioca to make something that splits the difference between crepe and corn tortilla. It was tender like the former, but chewy and faintly flaky like the latter.
Streets presented three filling options for tapioca (and the only choice on the menu between vegetarian or not): mozzarella, tomato and basil; chorizo with peppers; or duck confit with leeks, shallots and smoked gouda. We opted for the duck confit, and it was delectable. The rich duck took on mild zing from the shallots, caramelized but still juicy. The leeks had been sliced into ultra-thin straws, fried to a crisp, and scattered on top of the folded tapioca to highlight their flavor and texture.
We lingered in Rio with the bolinho feijoada, fritters of black beans loaded with meat and vegetables. These might be best described as Brazilian falafel. Where many kitchens use salt to kick up the impact of savory dishes, this one was an umami bomb, with ingredients such as pork and bacon, garlic, onion, kale and peppers filling the mouth with robust flavor.
Poutine was less subtle and more salty, but very satisfying. Tiny bits of molten cheese, enlivened by herbes de Provence, were well distributed on a bowl of fries coated, not drowning, in gravy. The potatoes themselves were fried in duck fat for an extra-savory flavor boost.
Arancini — arborio rice balls — contained a traditional Sicilian mixture of cheese (including pecorino Romano), prosciutto and basil. With a creamy texture and nutty flavor within a crunchy fried coating, these were like risotto fritters. A touch of sauce, lighter than a marinara, was tantalizing; we wish the kitchen had not used quite so much restraint, as there was so little, it was more of a garnish.
A few sandwiches comprise the most substantial items on the menu. We were torn between Philadelphia pork and rabe (a more estimable choice than the ubiquitous cheesesteak) or Peruvian pan con chicharron. In a pinch we can always drive to Philly, so we looked to Lima for satisfaction, and it delivered. Pork belly was cooked until meltingly tender, then crisped at the edges and placed within a focaccia-like roll with sweet potato, onion, cilantro and chilies. While the succulent pork was the star, the supporting elements were strong and lively.
Similarly, the juicy patty of ground filet took center stage in the All-American Classic burger. Christie wisely resisted overwhelming the inherently mild filet, but the other components weren’t so deferential they didn’t get noticed. Caramelized shallots were soft yet juicy, like the interior of a good onion ring, while cheddar was plentiful but not oozing. Bacon was lightly smoked, crisp at the edges but mostly chewy so that it lingered in the mouth for maximum flavor distribution.
In a post-fusion dining culture, Streets on Carson brings balance and boldness to a menu from many lands and to the individual dishes within it.