Food courts for me conjure memories of Saved By the Bell color schemes, paper hats, impaled samples of General Tso’s chicken, high fructose corn syrup and general adolescent unease. The Strip District’s newly opened Smallman Galley has elevated the humble food court with a restaurant incubator format, thoughtfully spartan interiors and blessedly, a bar.
The Galley’s shotgun style layout features four open kitchens, each home to an emerging chef and their respective restaurant concept. Patrons can order food from one, or for the shameless of appetite, all four of the kitchens. The Smallman Galley is also home to a bar that focuses on local spirits and cocktails that pair with the restaurant offerings. Seating is communal and cafeteria style, albeit a cafeteria laden with high-end go-to’s like reclaimed wood tables and artful lighting installations.
All four kitchens will complete an 18-month stint at the Smallman Galley, providing their own supplies and staff and surrendering 30 percent of their earnings in exchange for the space, publicity and opportunity to hone their craft. The goal for both Smallman’s chefs and proprietors is for each restaurant concept to manifest as a full-scale brick and mortar location within six months of the incubator tenure.
The first class of Smallman Galley chefs includes Chef Jessica Lewis, a veteran of Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen and the driving force behind Carota Cafe. Lewi’s focus is on locally sourced, seasonally sensitive vegetable forward cooking. I am, by merit of my unsettlingly sharp lateral incisor teeth, an unflinching carnivore.
However, on the day of my visit to Smallman Galley I was several hours into a bruising North Side earned hangover, as such the only food I could reasonably stomach was Carota’s noodles and broth with a side of Five Points Bakeshop squash and sesame toast. It was balanced, delicious and for my intents and purposes, medicinally indispensable.
Rafael Vencio’s Aubergine Bistro reflects the myriad of influences he has cultivated from a childhood spent in the Philippines and a career built-in kitchens across the United States, most recently Pittsburgh’s own Grit & Grace. According to my more iron gutted, Old Fashioned resistant dining cohorts, his herb gravy heavy chicken pot pie is crucial in preparing the body for cold temperatures and caloric hibernation.
Arizona transplant Stephen Eldridge brings it with the comfort food at his meat hugging ProvisionPgh outpost. His signature brunch dish, the Hot Mess is a goat cheese and pickled onion studded Tex-Mex triumph.
Jacqueline Wardle, formerly of Pittsburgh’s Isabela on Grandview is unapologetic in her reverence for carbohydrates. Josephine’s Toast is as bread heavy as the name suggests but with pairings like brioche with beef bourguignon, Warlde proves that simple staples make beautiful backdrops.
The Smallman Galley serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday, brunch and dinner on Saturday and is open for brunch service only on Sundays. The space is available for private events and does not accept reservations. For food pioneers and interested entrepreneurs, applications for the Smallman Galley’s Spring 2017 incubator class will be available this summer.