By Rachel Jones | Photographs by Michael Fornataro
A cozy retreat from the chilly forecast on the day we visited, Station presents itself as a simultaneously industrial and sophisticated space. The soft lighting reflecting off the dark wood and metallic features invites us to settle in, sip a craft cocktail, and unwind for a bit. Gazing at the opaque mirror behind the bar and the ornamental columns that flank it, our eyes soak in all of the details the Bloomfield beauty has to offer.
As we start to get lost in the intricacy of the patterned ceiling, Curtis Gamble breaks our focus with an aromatic trio of plates: poached pear salad with concord grape crisps, crispy oats, pistachio puree, and whole grain mustard and pear vinaigrette; crispy-skinned chicken breast and leg with date mustard, chicken liver gnocchi, hazelnut relish, and romanesco; and pan-roasted corvina with warm red bulgar wheat salad, vadouvan roasted carrots, and golden raisin-apple relish.
The spread takes forefront in our minds, and rightly so. Effortlessly exalted dishes such as these deserve the utmost attention.
“I think at the core we try to take things that are super accessible like warm grain salads and poached pears and really great chicken dishes, and try to elevate them and push them pretty hard,” says Gamble, Station’s owner and chef. “Under-promise and over-deliver. And at the same time, cook food that we like to eat.”
For Gamble, that’s the simple and smartly prepared meals he grew up eating. Following in the footsteps of the other “fantastic,” self-taught cooks in his family, who knew the best ways to repurpose and revitalize standard ingredients into outstanding creations, he attended culinary school to sharpen his skills. His first post-grad job at Bruschetta in the Southside took his Italian cooking techniques to the next level, perfecting his risotto, sausage, and egg pastas. These niche talents would take him on to restaurants in the Pittsburgh area, then to Cleveland and Chicago, and eventually, back to Pittsburgh.
He accepted a new position as the opening chef de cuisine of Grit & Grace [now G&G Noodle Bar], before John Pieranunzi approached him with an idea for a new restaurant.
“There are a lot of ways to highlight fantastic products, and they don’t have to be super traditional. They can be very modern and honest expressions of things.” — Chef Curtis Gamble
“I thought it sounded like a pretty unique endeavor,” Gamble explains. “A modern American restaurant with some Italian influences in the middle of Bloomfield. I thought it could be pretty exciting and pretty ahead of the curve.”
A year later, Gamble still finds excitement in his everyday work. This freshness derives from revamping the menu once a month or every six weeks. “Signature” items that have been well-received since the opening, such as the dreamy chicken liver mousse and the tagliatelle smoked pork shank, always have a presence, of course. But the ideas for new additions stem from the inspiring ingredients local farms are able to contribute at that time, whether it’s concord grapes, which fared well in the Lake Erie area this year, or carrots that bring more sweetness in the springtime.
“It’s hyper-seasonal, using those little pockets of change,” he says. “That gives us a lot of room to do things that excite us, and it’s always nice to see how we can do things differently or how we can do them better.”
The growers at Churchview Farm, Root and Heart Farm, and Station’s other purveyors share the joy for the process and stay involved with every step. Sourcing is less about numbers and continuity, and more about flavors and availability. It’s having real conversations that benefit the farmers, who have extensive knowledge of the products, and the chefs, who know how to take advantage of those traits.
“We say, ‘How can we work together to have things happen that are good for you and good for us.’” Gamble says. “I think having that fantastic dialogue with the people you buy from is super important and leads to flexibility with the menu. I think a lot of people see us as a modern restaurant and a cocktail-forward restaurant. But I hope people also start to take a step back and say, ‘Wow, they’re really sourcing good ingredients. They’re being really thoughtful with those ingredients.’ I hope they appreciate the labor that we put into sourcing here.”
Station, 4744 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. 412.251.0540. station4744.com.