Michael Marino would not have guessed that washing dishes would alter the trajectory of his life. After all, he was a 17-year-old, Class of 1996 high school senior headed to WVU to study forestry and just looking for a part-time job when he started a gig at Cafe Georgio in Bethel Park.
“I was washing dishes and they needed a busser,” he explained. “They pulled me out of the dish room. Then eventually I got pulled into the kitchen. I knew absolutely nothing. I couldn’t even open a can of spaghetti.”
But he was hooked.
“That’s where I learned to love food,” he said. “[Cafe Georgio owner] George Ward was an inspiration. He made me confident, and I learned how to push the boundaries of flavor.”
And so he dropped out of WVU after a year and has followed an itinerant cooking, serving and bartending career that’s taken him to Colorado and California and numerous kitchens in around Pittsburgh. His two-plus decades of experience have culminated with him opening M.I.C.K. -- a.k.a. MIchael’s International Creekside Kitchen -- in the former Piccolina’s space in the Pinebridge Commons complex on McLaughlin Run Road.
The name is also an homage to his father, named Mick, and officially opened for business Tuesday. Despite being one of the tonier zip codes in the county, Upper St. Clair has a dearth of independent restaurants.
The 54-seat dining room is dark and cozy, with stone walls and a tropical fish tank, and local spirits from Quantum and Liberty Pole will soon flow in the 22-seat bar area — they cleared their final liquor license hurdles this week, and there is outdoor seating overlooking the babbling waters of McLaughlin Run.
The menu, by Mr. Marino and his longtime friend and colleague, chef Brian Matalik, is eclectic, drawing from their lifetimes of experience (and apparently littered with references to the band Phish). They’re sourcing meat from Jublilee Hilltop Ranch near Bedford and Heritage Craft Butchers in Waynesburg.
Those products will be used in dishes like the Porc Aux Framboise, a brined, crusted and seared pork tenderloin over braised red cabbage, bacon and onions, finished with raspberry coulis and served with creamy herbed polenta ($27); and the Real Deal Veal Saltimbocca — veal scallopini layered with sage, prosciutto, and mozzarella over fresh spinach with marsala gravy, served with creamy, herbed polenta ($32).
Housemade pasta dishes include the Pasta Goody; spaghetti with housemade sausage, banana peppers and roasted tomato in a garlic oil ($17); and a regular feature are the “mussels of the moment,” currently served with house made sausage, carmelized onions, banana peppers, and shaved asiago, and steamed with a double IPA from Insurrection Ale Works.($11)
“What I got from Cafe Georgio was that spirit of camaraderie, that family sense, that a restaurant is like a house party you throw every night,” he said.
Mr. Marino hopes to bring that spirit to M.I.C.K., along with one other piece of indispensable advice that George Ward gave him: “Just make it taste good.”
M.I.C.K. (Michael’s International Creekside Kitchen): 1580 McLaughlin Run Road, Upper St. Clair; https://www.mick-usc.com/menu
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @gigs412