By Andrea Bosco Stehle | Photographs by Michael Fornataro
If the walls of 120 S. Whitfield St. could talk, I would listen intently. The century-old building and former YMCA, set in the heart of East Liberty, houses Ace Hotel Pittsburgh. Original wainscoting and terrazzo floors greet neighbors and tourists, who, upon entering, are given a slew of choices anterior to check-in. Offerings are aplenty, from a coffee and cocktail bar, to a utilitarian workspace and built-in window seat for taking ten. Though its major draw, Whitfield, lies at left.
The restaurant, which continues to garner national attention, is led by one of Brooklyn’s best butchers, Brent Young, who recruited Executive Chef Bethany Zozula and Executive Pastry Chef Casey Shively to lead his team. The creative forces came together to develop reputable menus, mesmeric to regulars, using their backgrounds, personal appetites, and simply put, their roots.
“Our clientele in general is savvy,” Young says. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, though, which is really exciting. We can make great food, and that’s satisfying because they don’t need something totally insane and brand new.” Shively, who most recently hails from the Batali-and-Bastianich-famed Del Posto in NYC, adds, “We get to create for our families and people we love.” For her, Pittsburgh is like rediscovering a new place because so much has changed in the last decade. “The city has come into its own thing,” she says. “The food scene is exploding, and it’s really nice to be back.”
Because she was local, Zozula helped to make crucial connections with the restaurant and its purveyors, many of whom she had worked with at her former post as executive sous chef at Eleven. “For me, it’s really exciting to be utilizing the same people,” she says. “I feel like my promotion to chef was good for others as well. Everything has come together just the way we wanted it to.”
Young chimes in, “Beth was the perfect person to tie everything together. Pittsburgh is our hometown and our people. But, in order to actually tie all of those things together, Beth was the one with the actual relationships that make this type of restaurant and eating possible. I think it’s really dynamic that, as a team, we’re pretty comprehensive as far as experience, know-how, and availability to produce.”
The kitchen’s humble helm never expected such a sizable response and for Young, they’ve just barely gotten started. “The freedom to create is something we love, and it’s scary at first,” Shively says. “You have to explore what you really want versus should do. I want the things I really love and that always make me happy when I eat them. I feel so lucky because I really love my job. I’ve been really thankful for this opportunity. Coming from fine dining and Michelin stars, it has taught me a lot of discipline, style, and technique, and now I get to do whatever I want, which is great.”
Quips Zozula, “I’m not the person on the Internet trying to find out what everybody’s doing. I’m just trying to make good food that people want to eat. I’m not trying to blow minds. I just want you to come in, eat, be satisfied, and leave…or stay [laughs] — hang out with us!” Don’t mind if we do.
+ In April, Whitfield is hosting Weeknight Brewery Dinners, which include four beers (one aperitif and three paired) with a three-course meal, served family-style. Fifty seats are available at $50 each; mega tickets for all four dinners are $175 at acehotel.com.
Monday, April 18
East End Brewing Co.
Tuesday, April 19
Wednesday, April 20
Hop Farm Brewing Company
Thursday, April 21
Spoonwood Brewing Company
Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh, 120 S. Whitfield St., East Liberty. 412.626.3090. whitfieldpgh.com.