Emporio: A Meatball Joint! will open in November, the first floor of Sienna Mercato, the ambitious three-level restaurant under construction at 942 Penn Ave. Downtown.
Enterpreneur and owner of nine buildings around Market Square, Nick Nicholas bought what had been Trombino Piano Gallerie last year and recruited the ownership group of Sienna Sulla Piazza to lease the building.
Sienna executive chef Matthew Porco and general manager Michael McCoy will be managing partners and Donald Amman will be executive chef.
A Pittsburgh native, Mr. Porco earned accolades at Mio in Aspinwall, which secured four stars from the Post-Gazette at its peak in 2009 as he "refined and developed his style."
Mr. Porco honed his cooking as chef de cuisine at Veritas in New York City, the now-closed restaurant from Scott Bryan, the accomplished chef immortalized by Anthony Bourdain in the book "Kitchen Confidential."
He opened Sienna over a year ago, with a menu of antipasti, sandwiches, flatbreads and pastas for lunch, with additional entrees on the menu for dinner.
Mr. Porco said that he's been surprised at how much people gravitate toward open air and outdoor tables, which led him to pursue a rooftop location.
Italian for "marketplace," Mercato's 4,000-square-foot Emporio: A Meatball Joint! will display a 20-seat U-shaped bar where the bartender can serve any of 32 beers on tap, wine, classic cocktails, Italian ices and cream sodas. The 120-seat restaurant will have a menu based on the infinite number of dishes that can start with one of four meatballs: classic beef, spicy pork, vegetarian and chicken, though Mr. Porco said he'll also have daily specials along the lines of bacon cheeseburger meatballs or a play on a Philly cheese steak.
Garage doors will open to the sidewalk while the interior will display exposed brick, steel and distressed wood. Open-air dining isn't limited to the ground level, since it's integral to the second and third levels, too.
On the second floor, Mezzo will open in the spring of 2014 with a casual menu of wood-fired pizza, charcuterie and cheese plates and panini for starters. Mr. Porco said he's planning to feature five or six variations on risotto, too. Inspired by Mario Batali's Otto in New York as well as a Risotteria in the West Village, Mr. Porco tucked his New York inspiration away to later riff on them for these ambitious concepts. Despite that 80-seat Mezzo is the middle floor, it also has garage doors that open to the street.
Mr. Porco said he's also hoping to open the rooftop wine and beer garden, Il Tetto, around the same time as Mezzo's debut. A retractable roof will allow for year-round use of the 150-seat restaurant. The menu will feature a short list of pickles, wood-fired oysters, charcuterie, cheese and carpaccio.
Flagship Sienna Sulla Piazza will be the most chef-driven and refined of the group's properties, but the restaurant that's focused on seasonal ingredients, house-made pastas and slow-cooked fare is not to be confused with fine dining.
"People want something more festive and fun," said Mr. Porco. "Fine dining is dead."
Draft menu from Sienna Mercato Facebook