Davio brings the best of Italy to Beechview
by Heidi Price - The Observer-Reporter
BEECHVIEW - David Ayn's theories of Italy and cooling border on the mythical.
"There's two Sicilies," Ayn said, "The kingdom of Palermo and the kingdom of Naples. In Naples, there were leaf eaters, fruit eaters. The plains around are golden wheat. They are good for Pasta."
Its of little surprise that with Davio, Ayn's Italian Trattoria atop a Beechview hillside, the feel of Naples has been recreated complete with its buffet of multi-cultural fare.
"All Neapolitans eat well," Ayn said. "We try to emulate that in our cooking. We use only genuine buffalo-milk mozzarella."
The San Marzano plum tomatoes, a mainstay of Davio's marinara, are imported from Naples.
Davio's menu changes often and Ayn can be found in the kitchen. However the majority of Davio's meals are created each night by Ayn's two chefs, Adam Bernard and Adam DeLuca.
Davio, which is Ayn's nickname is a small but intimate restaurant kept busy by a stream of dedicated Pittsburgh clientele and others who travel from Ohio, West Virginia and not to mention 13 physicians who travel from San Diego every other month for dinner.
"They love to eat." Ayn said.
Davio serves a variety of pasts, meat and seafood dishes that fluctuate between the $20 and $30 range. Davio's specialty is veal chop.
Davio does not have a liquor license and most diners enjoy its BYOB policy.
Ayn regularly gets e-mails from diners requesting recipes. Some he'll gladly share, like his recipe for marina: Oil, garlic, salt, pepper, fresh plum tomatoes, fresh basil, and a touch, just a touch of red pepper, "so you can taste the sweetness," he adds.
The technique and ingredients behind other Davio signature creations, like Fagiolini, a Tuscan bean spread, remain under wraps.
When Davio first opened its doors in 1990, it was a crowded front room with the corners of its eight tables nearly touching "like Grandma's house," Ayn described. But he noticed that over the years diners craved more space.
"People have become very estranged... their own television, remote, own computer," Ayn mused.
So in April 1999 Ayn closed the doors on Davio for a major renovation and expansion. The restaurant reopened in September and can now seat a comfortable 42, though Ayn prefers fewer.
The decor inside Davio was also updated and now consists of a hodgepodge of dark cherry woods, a Tuscan sun, Italian paintings and chandeliers. A shelf lined with jars of olive oil, peppers and clay and hand painted bowls winds itself around the interior.
A mini-kitchen with a green marble countertop greets customers. An espresso machine and large, clear-glass jar brimming with biscotti are the only items visible on it.
Davio is an obscure corner building at the edge of a hillside that slopes down to Banksville Avenue. Large picture windows allow diners a view of commuters on the thoroughfare below.
But even better for Ayn, Davio is about 10 strides away from the South Hills light-rail transit system hat transports thousands of commuters past his doorway, and the brown and white striped awning above it, every morning and afternoon. Davio's corner, as it has been dubbed, is located right on Broadway Avenue between the Bousted and Chiras stops.
Ayn, a Pittsburgh native, never attended a formal culinary school. Nor is he a full-blooded Italian, though one must inquire to be sure. Ayn talks of Italy with the knowledge and passion of one born there.
"See, he philosophy of the whole thing is; Italy is divided into two countries. The kingdom of Italy is from Rome north. The kingdom of the two Sicilies stretches from Naples south including the island of Sicily," he said.
Ayn worked in restaurants most of his life and lent his talents to several well-known Pittsburgh restaurants including the Fallen Angle, The Back Room and the Gas Lite Club. The first restaurant Ayn owned was the Stage Delicatessen on Liberty Avenue "many years ago," he said.
In its former life Davio was a Lebanese restaurant run by one of Ayn's acquaintances. Ayn, who lived nearby, would often walk to the restaurant to drink Turkish coffee.
The restaurant went out of business, quickly followed by several others, including two restaurants and a pizza shop.
"I always marveled that this little corner between two subway stops never did any business," Ayn recalled. He approached his friend about renting the space. At first, he was refused but after much pestering eventually purchased that space plus the adjoining building, now the site of Palio, another Ayn-run restaurant named for a summertime horse race in Italy.
Though both serve Italian dishes, there is a subtle distinction between the two.
"Palio is Tuscan. It's north," said Ayn. "Palio's not as involved cooking. It has a liquor license and a bar."
Alla Famiglia, another Ayn-run restaurant, is on Warrington Avenue in the Allentown section of Pittsburgh. Ayn describes it as "very down to earth," complete with yelling waiters and an open kitchen.
"It tends to be more Sicilian," Ayn said and paused. "Davio is more to celebrate. You celebrate life here."