Cafe io - named for chef/owner Jeff Iovino -consists of a relatively small dining room with a 3-stool bar tucked in the back corner. The moment we walked in, we spotted friends. We said our hellos, exchanged hugs, and went on to enjoy our meals. This seemed to be the theme of the evening as friendly, familiar exchanges went on and on between parties around us. Cafe io truly proved to be the place where everybody knows your name.
Our waitress was singing and whistling her way in and out of the kitchen and the rest of the wait staff often joined in, telling us - without a doubt - that these folks truly love their jobs. A rare trait in the waiting biz. It was beyond apparent that this is a family owned business that treats its employees with care and respect.
We were in the mood for a drink so PID ordered a bottle of Brooklyn Brew (io doesn't have beer on tap) and I decided on a Blackberry Margarita on the rocks. My cocktail was refreshing and delicious and the blackberry provided a unique twist that I would definitely return for!
|Blackberry Margarita, $9|
PID started with a cup of French Mushroom Soup which was loaded with rich, earthy flavor and boasted just enough salt that the apparent lack of salt and pepper shakers on our table was nary an issue.
|French Mushroom Soup, $4|
After we ordered our appetizer - the Iovino - we saw another server walk by with an order of Tuna Maki so we decided to be copy cats and order that as well.
Cafe io's menu promises "Artfully Simple Dishes," and that's exactly what we got. The Iovino was a deliciously beautiful plate of tempura mozzarella, Italian sweet sausage, marinated tomatoes, basil, organic mixed greens. The acidity of the tomatoes and balsamic vinegar was beautifully cut by the tempura batter and smooth, creamy cheese.
|The Iovino, $10|
The mozzarella is pulled fresh, in-house weekly (sometimes more frequently) by Iovino himself, which made it all the more delicious. Cafe io also orders produce from local farmers who personally deliver ingredients every week. It's very comforting to find places like this one where serving local is a priority.
We were quite pleased with our decision to add the Maki to our order. I loved the added crunch of the lightly tempura battered roll which made it stand out a bit from the sushi we're used to.
|Tuna Maki, $8|
PID ordered the Crispy Fish Tacos which were firm and sturdy and came "Pittsburgh Style" with lightly crisped, hand-cut french fries. He adored the pickled jalepenos which gave the aioli sauce a bit of a kick. The tacos feature napa cabbage and red peppers which freshened up the entire dish. It was also a small, but important thing to know exactly what fish (Flounder) was in the tacos. There's just something about not having to guess...I guess!
|Crispy Fish Tacos, $12|
I went for the Pan Seared Flounder which was buttery and easily flaked with little effort from my fork. The balsamic and tomatoes gave the dish a much needed kick of acidity - a well known Italian trick, PID tells me. Both mine and PID's fish could have used a touch of pre-cook seasoning, but overall we were both incredibly pleased.
|Pan Seared Flounder, $16|
As much as we wanted to, we resisted the urge for dessert.
Address: 300A Beverly Road (Mt. Lebanon)
Reservations: It's a small dining room, so I'd call ahead on Friday and Saturday evenings
Hours: Monday - Saturday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Brooklyn Bottle: $5.00
Blackberry Margarita: $9.00
Mushroom Soup: $4.00
Tuna Maki: $8.00
Fish Tacos: $12.00
Tax (7% in Allegheny County + alcohol tax) @ $4.48
Total for two: $82.48
While the food was absolutely delicious, I think it was the atmosphere and overall pleasant morale of the waitstaff that made us fall in love with Cafe io. Local and hand-crafted ingredients were icing on the cake. We will certainly be back and I absolutely encourage anyone looking for a new option in the South Hills to give it a go.