When Fiore Moletz was toying with the idea of opening a burger joint, he had one part nailed down: It would have Pittsburgh stamped all over it.
For starters, he named it Burgh’ers. He had hoped to launch in Lawrenceville, but the neighborhood’s steep rents sent him to Butler County’s Harmony, where he opened in 2010.
“The restaurant is in the worst possible location, in the worst possible building in a conservative town,” Mr. Moletz says.
But the rent was right, so he went for it, offering his signature smashed burgers made from grass-fed beef and named for Polish Hill, Morningside, Fox Chapel, Forest Hills, Lawrenceville and other Pittsburgh-area communities.
Burgh’ers gained a loyal following, leading Mr. Moletz to revisit his first love, Lawrenceville. Now able to afford the rent at 3601 Butler St., he opened his second location March 13.
The 36-year-old chef from Shaler, who says he’s 100 percent Italian, previously worked in local Italian restaurants, including Rebecca Tambellini’s restaurant in the North Hills, Rico’s in Ross and Lidia’s Pittsburgh in the Strip District. He also worked for chefs in New York for a few years, but he says his heart was always in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Moletz is all about keeping it local, from buying buns from Mediterra Bakehouse and produce from nearby farms to using reclaimed furniture and lighting in the split-level dining room.
The simple wood hostess stand is from Construction Junction in Point Breeze. The bar, built with one solid piece of walnut, has its roots in Butler County. Table tops are made of oak, maple, cherry or walnut grown in Butler and Allegheny counties.
“Oh, we have two pines, too, because they ran out of wood,” he adds.
At lunchtime, natural light floods in through huge glass windows, and at night, big dome lights reclaimed from former Pittsburgh restaurants light up the dining area. Pendants and a vintage-looking light do the trick in the bar area, which has a white metal roofing configuration as the back wall.
“I was looking for a clean ambiance that is easily cleanable as well,” he says, noting that he is a neat freak.
He’s also a minimalist. The tables are bare except for silverware wrapped in cloth napkins and a bottle of Heinz ketchup. They are surrounded by black and yellow chairs that have nothing to do with the city’s sports teams, he says. “It’s just what it is. I am not into sports.”
Bright yellow pops everywhere, from the restaurant’s name sandwiched inside a painted bun on the back wall to the bathrooms’ gold toilet seats and sink.
Mr. Moletz expects to receive his liquor license any day now and will unveil four types of beer — Penn Avenue (a pale ale), Public House Bitter (an extra special/strong bitter), Oat Black Water (an oatmeal stout) and Hipster Tone (an IPA) — which will range from $3-$5. He’ll also have distilled spirits and cocktails made from all-natural ingredients and Pennsylvania wines ($8-$10).
“I want the beers to be very drinkable, lighter and not very hoppy and pair perfectly with the burgers,” he says.
Mr. Moletz says his restaurant concept comes from his love of burgers and the environment. “Pittsburgh didn’t have a burger place that was gourmet, chef-driven and farm-to-table.”
The menu in Lawrenceville is identical to the one in Harmony. His burgers start off as meatballs, then are smashed and seared so that all the juices are locked in. They’re flipped once and they’re done.
If you order a Polish Hill, you get a beef patty with pierogies on it. The Forest Hills has wild greens, wild mushrooms, honey and boscaiolo sauce — it translates to woodsman in Italian. The Mexican War has roasted chilies, avocado and cilantro, and fennel seed is cooked with the burger to give the Bloomfield an Italian accent.
The Animal lives up to its name with an odd mix of ingredients — cream cheese, basil, jalapeno and tomato. The umami flavor is pronounced in the Fox Chapel patty, which is made with mushroom and beef and topped with mixed greens and goat cheese.
Of course there’s the Pitts Burger, which has coleslaw, pickles and onion but fries on the side. “I think it’s crazy to have it on top,” the chef says.
The Lawrenceville is the sole meatless burger. To appease the vegans and vegetarians who kept emailing him, Mr. Moletz came up with a bean burger topped with tangy pickled onions and a punchy mojo sauce on a wheat bun.
At $13, the Shadyside is the most costly burger, featuring a wealth of bacon, sweet onions and wild mushrooms. “Well, it reflects Shadyside, where everything is expensive,” he says.
The menu also lists wild game burgers such as venison, bison, wild boar, elk and even camel and kangaroo.
“I call it a gimmick,” Mr. Moletz admits. “I don’t eat it but people like it.”
Arthi Subramaniam: email@example.com, 412-263-1494 or on Twitter @arthisub.