By: Colleen Geyer
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a small but mighty city that has really stepped up its game in the restaurant industry over the past few years. A shining example of this is the start and expansion of a relatively new restaurant concept; the restaurant incubator. This concept was brought to us by the Galley Group, co-founded by Ben Mantica (a Pittsburgh native) and his partner Tyler Benson. The two opened their first restaurant, Smallman Galley in the bustling Strip District, just blocks from downtown. Smallman opened in December of 2015 and two years later, they opened Federal Galley just across the river on the North Side of Pittsburgh. Cleveland was home to their third location and Detroit their fourth, both opening in 2018. Both Chicago and Minneapolis are slated to open by the end of 2019. Needless to say, things are going well for the Galley Group. But what exactly is a “restaurant incubator” and why does it seem to be so popular? I’m glad you asked! The Galley Group’s four [and counting] locations give chef/owners a low-risk and low-cost opportunity to showcase their concepts, gain business ownership experience and create a following before hopefully opening their own restaurant. As Smallman Galley was the flagship location and the one I am most familiar with, I will use it as the focal point of this piece.
Smallman Galley has four restaurants housed under one roof; each of them having a definitive concept. In writing this blog, I actually learned that the word “Galley” refers to the kitchen in a ship or aircraft. This expertly chosen word is a perfect fit with its origin referring to a space that would need to be built as functional and as versatile as possible. The kitchen at Smallman Galley, in totality, runs long and narrow with little to no separation between the concepts. This unconventional, neighboring-kitchen design doesn’t stop the Smallman chefs from getting creative with their kitchen spaces though. It forces them to be innovative with their equipment and functional space to best support their craft. I have seen the Smallman restaurants produce brilliant and innovative fare from relatively compact kitchens and it impresses me every time.
Smallman Galley also hosts special prix-fixe events where a single restaurant features a seasonal or themed menu beyond the scope of their regular offerings. These are held on Mondays, when the Galley is typically closed, offering pre-paid ticket holders an exciting and exclusive dining experience that will keep them talking for weeks. I most recently attended the five-course mac and cheese dinner prepared by the restaurant, Home. The dinner was complete with either a beer or wine pairing (I chose the beer- yum!), which was included in the ticket price along with tax and gratuity. It was everything you’re thinking and then some… Because who doesn’t need five courses of rich, delicious cheesy pasta?!
While there is naturally a kitchen-heavy focus in all of the Galleys, let’s not forget about the other important part of the dining experience- the bar! Located just up a short ramp from the kitchens sits a long, communal table and a rustic 12-seat bar. There is also a large area of restaurant seating on the far side of the facility beyond the kitchen/ordering area but I typically situate myself in the bar area. It is adjacent to a small espresso bar just inside the second entrance, it has easy access to food and beverage ordering and with a clear view of the kitchens there is simply more happening on the bar side, which is a draw for me. Their drink menu features a mix of standard and local spirits, a small but on-trend wine list and a largely local draft list. Craft cocktails are just that; cocktails made by people who love their craft. They have a monthly charitable donation set up for rotating organizations where $1 from any purchased “Charity Cocktail” listed on the menu will go toward a good cause.
Overall, Smallman Galley- and the entire Galley family, have kind of nailed the restaurant experience. In one visit you have the option to eat at four different restaurants, support a rising restaurateur, perhaps donate to a charity while enjoying a thoughtfully crafted cocktail, choose from a delightful wine or craft beer list, and enjoy the company of friends, old and new in their community-driven atmosphere. If you see a Galley opening in your neighborhood or a destination you are visiting, I strongly suggest checking them out. You won’t be sorry.