17th Street Café provides a little taste of Italy

Check out the South Side for some breezy spring outdoor dining at the 17th Street Café. (credit: Maricel Paz | Production Co-Manager) Check out the South Side for some breezy spring outdoor dining at the 17th Street Café. (credit: Maricel Paz | Production Co-Manager) The 17th Street Café offers a variety of tasty pasta dishes and delicious homemade sauces. (credit: Maricel Paz | Production Co-Manager) The 17th Street Café offers a variety of tasty pasta dishes and delicious homemade sauces. (credit: Maricel Paz | Production Co-Manager)

Venture over to the historic South Side of Pittsburgh, and you will soon be astounded by the diversity of establishments that this neighborhood provides. The streets are lined with restaurants and shops for all different tastes. While you can get a tattoo on one block and have a drink with a date on the next, don’t forget that the South Side is also known to have some of the best food in the city.

Off East Carson Street, there is a little restaurant that might catch your eye with its bright yellow umbrellas and simple name: the 17th Street Café. When customers walk in the door, they are always greeted with a smile and a hello — and if they happen to be regulars, they are more likely than not greeted by name and asked about their families. The intimate atmosphere and the size of the café, with an estimated seating occupancy of around 40 people, make it easily recognizable. While the walls are as bright as the umbrellas outside, the lighting indoors is at the perfect level to create a very personal experience while still allowing for an easy read of the plethora of options on the menu.

The café serves Italian cuisine, but by no means are their dishes plain old spaghetti-and-meatballs meals. The menu has a varied selection of appetizers, pasta, poultry, seafood, and even veal options. The pasta dishes come with a house salad that can be topped with your choice of dressing. The poultry entrees are served with your choice of soup or salad. Entrees start at around $15 and go all the way to $27. Appetizers are less than $10.

All food is made to order, meaning that it is easy to add or remove anything from an order as long as the ingredients are present in the kitchen. In a sense, everyone has the potential to be his or her own chef for the night.

A great way to start the meal is with zucchini planks: lightly breaded slices of zucchini fried and served with marinara sauce and lemon. The portion is large enough to tower over the plate, but the zucchini itself is light and delectable. (For those on a budget, there’s a coupon for $7 off on an appetizer. Just visit the café’s website before venturing over.) It was surprising to see that the portion sizes of the entrees weren’t the size that an Italian grandmother might force on you, but they were large enough. The restaurant keeps enough food coming to the table that by the time entrees are served, finishing a meal seems difficult. The sausage and pepper ravioli provides a kick of spice: The raviolis themselves are not stuffed with the traditional ricotta cheese, but instead are filled with a paste of cheeses and Sicilian sausage. The chicken prosciutto is also very good, served over your choice of pasta and cooked in a creamy sauce. The servers also make sure to keep customers satisfied with a constant supply of warm bread throughout the meal.

Desserts are brought out on a platter and cover a variety of options, including cheesecakes, cobblers served with ice cream, and freshly made cannoli, all of which have tempting flaky golden crusts and creamy toppings. All in all, a meal is under $25 after using the coupon.

The experience doesn’t end just because dinner is over. When the check is brought to the table, it comes with pens. The pens read, “Bring this stolen pen... back to 17th Street Café for a free order of Fried Zucchini...” — a good way to bring customers back. There is also a rewards program that sends members gifts and discounts for just about every holiday and special occasion that the owner can think of, including his wife’s birthday!

If you are looking for a place to have a nice dinner with the family or a place to take your date, the 17th Street Café is the place to go. They have something for everyone. Looking for a place to have an intimate gathering with a large group of friends? There’s a separate section in the back that can seat around 15 to 20 people. If you’re a sports fan — and let’s face it, most Pittsburgh residents are — don’t worry about missing a game. There is a large-screen TV above the bar, which has a varied selection of wines and beers for patrons’ drinking pleasure.

Whether you’re looking for a place to feel like home or to impress a date, the 17th Street Café has it all: the great service, the varied menu, the friendly atmosphere, and the intimate feel. This is the kind of seemingly hole-in-the-wall restaurant that once discovered, you won’t want to share for the fear of losing it to popular demand. It is a place that you will want to go back to again and again, with friends, family, significant others, and just about anyone. It is a place where there won’t ever be a shortage of smiling faces greeting you at the door.