Review: Calli’s (Regent Square)

It wasn’t until my recent visit to Rose’s Ice Cream, that I even noticed Calli’s. Since then, I’ve driven by a few times and been meaning to check them out—mostly because I had no idea what to expect. After I (finally) finished catching up around the house on Sunday, it seemed like the perfect point to head out for dinner and do a review. A little poking around Urban Spoon suggested Calli’s is open for dinner 7 days a week, so a Sunday evening visit proved quite successful.

Main Storefront at Calli's

★★★★☆ ($$)
7600 Forbes ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15221
(412) 242-8281

Calli's on Urbanspoon

If I had to characterize the new establishment, I’d call it “low-key casual dining.” The menu lists appetizers, sandwiches and a few entrees, but no salads. From over at the bar (a surprise attribute), you can order a few craft beer options in bottles with one or two on draft, and even a wine option or two. If the weather’s nice, they even have a good bit of cafe seating on the side walk.

What did I find? Well, Calli’s has only been around for 4 or 5 short weeks (since mid-July), and they already have some key details either in order or heading in the right direction. That’s not to say Regent Square’s newest dining option has smoothed over all the rough edges, but I definitely expect great things from this place.

Shared awning confusion. Calli’s sits in the same building as Rose’s—the bright blue awning even spans both storefronts. To me, that just suggests the building owner played the largest hand in decoration but I’m worried that Calli’s in-window sign is a little harder to detect than Rose’s bright white sign. With time, I’m hoping they invest in bulking up on signage.

Eerily clean decor. From the interior, it’s clear that some time and money was invested in decor. Once you step inside, all similarities to Rose’s fall away. In contrast to the classic indie ice cream shop, Calli’s interior is clean, tidy, and colorful. Black tables, nicely finished walls, pre-placed white table settings serve up a lot of color contrast that defines quite an appealing decor. “Semi-modern” might be the right label.

Televisions? I’m ever so slightly confused by a series of flat screen televisions quietly flickering with cable news in the background. If you want to hang out during a Steeler’s game, that might be a bonus. That said, I’m relatively indifferent to the feature.

Dissonance: Menu vs. Decor. Calli’s feels like full scale casual dining operation, but the menu skips out on some items I find essential; Most notably, I’m pointing at the lack of any mention of a dinner salad (or side salad, for that matter). Of course, the menu’s simple (but colorful) stapled pages are probably a stepping stone to something better. In fact, a discussion with Kate Whitmore, a jack-of-all-trades-style employee (but not an owner), indicated that more permanent menus are on the way.

Calli's: Menu plus a Dogfishhead

Sandwiches and basic entrees. Based on reading my reference to “sandwiches and a few entrees,” you might worry that the food is a little low brow. Don’t get the wrong idea. Some of it is pretty class. I didn’t scribble down a list, but notable items include steamed mussels and the grilled veggie sandwiches on “multigrain Ciabatta” that I ended up ordering (more on that later). In general, veggie options seemed to be generally available and the non-veggie items were more than just low-brow pub grub.

Sorting out waitstaff kinks. When I first walked in, a server/hostess suggested I just pick a table: outside, inside, or even back at the bar. First off, the bar? That’s the first I had heard of such an option. I expected a beer-free zone (no really, I did). On my way to investigate the bar, I first bumped into Kate, who was more than eager to help me find a place. You can’t say they weren’t trying desperately to maximize assistance, but they’re still working out a system and just a tad bit apologetic for…not really getting anything wrong? That said, things settled down a little bit once I picked a table in the main dining room—not the bar.

Please: know thy beer list. If beer is an option, then I’m going to order a beer. I did (more later), but not without an awkward false start. I started with asking about what they had from Great Lakes. Response: yes. The waitress seemed a little confused and unfamiliar with the notion that Great Lakes is a brewery and not a specific beer order. Result: a trip back to the bar to get an explanation; her findings: they’re out. Try number two: Dogfish 60 Minute IPA. They had that one.

I’m thrilled that they serve up one or two beer options from craft brewers, but I also believe that it’s important for waitstaff to know something about those beers. To not know is akin to ordering a specific menu option and receiving a blank stair in return: “We have that?” That’s a kink I hope they work on.

Grilled veggie sandwich with sweet potato fries. I have to admit: when I ordered, I was a little concerned about my grilled veggie sandwich. That’s a dish that can really go either way, depending on the place. The notion of “multigrain Ciabatta” was a little disconcerting as well. From the perspective of someone who has been baking bread every week or so for almost 3 years, that’s an oxymoron. On the plus side, the sandwich came with a side, and sweet potato fries were an one of the options. Hoping to keep down calorie counts and avoid eating too many of them, I went for it.

Calli's: Grilled Veggie Sandwich

The food was excellent…despite concerns. All the concerns I just spelled out turned out to be unfounded. The grilled veggie sandwich consisted of zucchini and roasted red pepper between a bread that I would compare to Brownberry’s “Health Nut.” Despite the flat, square form factor of the individual roll, the slices were thin and appropriately balanced with the the veggies. The best part: what I suspect was a sort of pesto lining the bread to offer up a nice flavor profile along side the veggies. Normally, I end up going for mustard with this style sandwich, but, in this case, there was more than enough flavor here to go without. As for the fries: I can’t gush enough. They were fresh, very lightly seasoned, and just crunchy enough to balance a soft interior texture.

Did I mention the pickle? Plump and crunchy—not a deli-style pickle, but not a lame pickle either.

Some good beer, but only you can make it better. I talked briefly about beer options earlier, but it’s worth pulling together some disparate pieces. First, this isn’t a craft beer destination; it’s not D’s. All but one of the draft options are from larger brewers—the single outlier being the Dogfish 60 Minute that I ordered. Who would have thought? The bottle situation was a little better, but the most notable was the Great Lakes they turned out not to really have. The rest weren’t all of the large-scale light lager variety, but they weren’t anything crazy either. My hope is that demand for good beer is sufficient to drive in a few more options. Also, why isn’t Scott from just up the road at East End Brewing talking to them?

Will I go back? Without a doubt. I am definitely one to give points for trying, and Calli’s is clearly a local independent newcomer that desperately wants to get it right. Kate claims they’ve seen modest success despite starting mid-recession. I think that’s great and hope to make it out there again—with some friends to help spread the word. I fully expect that, over time, Calli’s can become an excellent choice among Pittsburgh’s local destinations.

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14 Responses to “Review: Calli’s (Regent Square)”

  1. SugarSilvio Says:
    August 29th, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    08/29/09 We are currently at Calli’s eating our way through the menu. I ordered the wedge salad and hummus with homemade corn chips. Both were excellent! The wedge was made with a mini-iceberg lettuce and tasty blue cheese topped with a flavorful balsamic dressing. The hummus was slightly spicy and went well with the flash-fried chips. Southern boy Charlie ordered the shrimp creole and sweet potato fries. It brought back the good old days of N’Awlins eatin’! Wow! We also imbibed in the Brooklyn Brown beer and Calli rum punch (and boy did it pack one!). Eventhough we were a few feet from Rose’s Icecream, we were so pleased with our meal and drinks, we ordered the Calli’s cheese and carrot cakes. Both were scrumptious!

  2. mike Says:
    August 29th, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    Very cool; I’m glad word of Calli’s is getting out. They definitely deserve some attention.

  3. Deb Says:
    September 2nd, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    That grilled veggie sandwich looks and sounds delicious (nice photo). I can’t wait to try it! Also, I hope that PA will pass legislation similar to what has passed in NY requiring calorie information be shown on restaurant menus. Very helpful.

  4. mike Says:
    September 2nd, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Hmmm. The calorie info on menus would be very helpful, but I fear it would be very expensive/difficult for small restaurants like Calli’s.

  5. arthur Says:
    September 11th, 2009 at 10:20 am

    i hate callis i worked for them and there management sucks big time i cant wait for this establishment to go under and i predict it happening very soon.The management needs work and there menus are so tucky that it gives the whole restaurant a bad name.oh by the way i got fired for dancing on the job while still working apparently you are meant to be miserable.Fuck u Damian(owner).

  6. Aretha Says:
    September 18th, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    I am here sitting in Barbados and my mouth is springing water because of the delicacies from Cali’s customer are describing. Soon I hope there would be some type of expansion. This young businessman is living his deceased mother’s legacy in honor of her father. Typically, he has Caribbean roots and indeed we do not hesitate to to work hard. We know how to party also how to become business-like. Dancing would be unprofessional and you are in a restauarant not a club. Arthurm, have you been to a Five Star hotel and observed any staff serving customers dancing? Next time be responsible for your action and do not blame management…BLESS UP!!!

  7. Linda Bolgert Says:
    September 22nd, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Was followed out to curb by waitress because I did not leave a tip. I inadvertently left the wrong slip on the table. Also the hostess and waitress were having a very loud conversation about someone’s pregnancy. Not something I want to hear during dinner.

  8. mike Says:
    September 27th, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I agree Linda. Having a waitress follow you out is completely unacceptable. I would much rather a restaurant assume it was a mistake and give patrons a chance to realize their mistake and correct as they deem appropriate.

    2009-10-24 — added the rest of my thought. Apparently I left it out at first

    I have actually started to hear quite a bit of Calli’s criticism. Even on my first visit, there were a few rough edges…but I gave the fledgling establishment the benefit of the doubt. Now it seems that many of my visits positive aspects were a result of luck and the fact that Kate noticed I was doing a review and offered up a friendly face and some background details. I’ve since heard that Kate is no longer working at Calli’s.

    It sounds like I’ll have to go back and see how how much luck I have with a return visit.

  9. Cathy Says:
    October 24th, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I was at Calli’s with friends this afternoon – by mistake, they’re a bit hidden – and thoroughly enjoyed their courteous, prompt service and even have a special order for my upcoming birthday. We didn’t order a full fare, just one round of drinks but the chef, the owners and the waiter were rather obliging. Perhaps they need to hear of future constructive criticism?

    *Luv’d* the chocolate martini!

  10. Maggie May Says:
    November 12th, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Have been there three times now…lunch twice, dinner once. Food is excellent and may sustain them, but the wait staff was…um…tacky? I was distracted by clothes that were too tight and conversations that were too loud (and none of my business.) The establishment was noisy…from the TV combined with the piped in music to the “fingernails on the blackboard” sound when the chairs were scooted in and out. I really hope they work out the kinks…it could be a nice place.

  11. kit Says:
    December 15th, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    We had a very nice time there this week. Went on a Monday night, so it was very quiet/empty. Service was attentive and very friendly — “actively engaged” is how I’d describe it — I understand this is not what everyone likes when they go out to eat, but we enjoyed it.

    Food was excellent. We had the meatloaf, the veggie chili, quesadilla with chicken, and the Calli’s chicken (on waiter’s recommendation). Had sides of the tomato bisque (YUMMMMMMM) and mashed potatoes with gravy and house salad. The vegetables are very good (and I’m not the world’s biggest fan of vegetables). The carrot cake is humongous. Everything was delicious, and the service was informed and friendly. Prices are reasonable. No problem with noise from the televisions or staff or anything — it was all very delicious, professional but friendly/neighborly service, which is really what I want in a neighborhood restaurant!

    I want to go back for brunch some time — the pancakes sound incredible!

  12. Frances Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I wanted to like Calli’s. My husband and I went there several times last summer and fall and thought it was good food, although the service was bad. As of this spring, something has gone horribly wrong.

    We stopped by one evening in May around 7:30, past the dinner rush, and ordered the hummus appetizer. They were out of hummus. I ordered the turkey sandwich, but they were out of turkey. It took three tries to find something I wanted that they actually had available to serve, and it still took 30+ minutes to get the food to us. We thought it was annoying, but chalked it up as a bad night.

    Fast forward to last Saturday. We were there circa 4:30 for an early dinner. We ordered the hummus appetizer and turkey sandwich successfully. but when my husband ordered the italian sandwich he was told they were out. When he ordered a wrap, he was told they were out of tortillas. He settled for a burger. Then the waitress came back and said they had the hummus but were out of chips for it. At this point we gave up and left.

    This place had such promise, but has completely fallen apart.

  13. mike Says:
    June 10th, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Argh. It’s such a shame to see them fall down like that.

    I too went back a few times and started to run into degrading food quality and just general bad service. By the third time I went, they seemed to be able to make what I ordered but my salad was anything but fresh. The cherry tomatoes on my salad had even started to rot.

    Clearly, there have been some major missteps to bring them to that place.

  14. Chef Says:
    September 13th, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    I worked at calli’s in aug 2009 for 6 months, due to the hardships of that place I have left. I am working at Calli’s once more, and the service here is much better than before. I am even fixing up the menu, making it more presentable with better descriptions on the food. I take a lot of pride in being a chef and I will do my absolute best to ensure that the food is excellent. I have also noticed that the wait staff is much better and all new faces then when I was there before, and the staff now is much better. There is plans in effect to eventually get a better sign out, but since the problems just have been sorted out, it will take some time. I hope that everyone who had a bad experience would give this place just one more chance. Also, I am in the Army Reserves, so keeping the propoer food inventory while being professional is what a chef is all about.

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