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With most of the restrictive, COVID-19-related regulations now lifted on state restaurants, gourmands — including yours truly — are smiling like Cheshire cats. And, with facial masks secured, we’ve also begun to once again sup and sip at our favorite dining establishments.

That’s great news! In fact, I’ve been patronizing some of my favorite local eateries and I can happily report that the quality of the food is as good as ever. Today, I’ll tell you about two restaurants I visited and share my favorite menu items from each establishment. I’ll also suggest reasonably priced wines to pair with the menu items chosen from each of the restaurants’ by-the-glass list. In future scribblings, I’ll review my favorite dishes and wines from other area establishments.

So, let’s get started.

Ristorante Abruzzi, located at 601 Morris St. in the building adjacent to Appalachian Power Park, is a culinary gem. Owned by Mark and Libby Chatfield, Abruzzi features a fine cross-section of menu selections, many of which are inspired by dishes from the eponymous Italian region.

Mark’s family (on his mother’s side) hails from Abruzzi and, while he is a college professor during the day, he has always dreamed of owning a restaurant that focuses on offering many of the same foods he relished growing up. Here are two pasta dishes and accompanying wines you might like to try the next time you visit Ristorante Abruzzi:

Radiatore Bolognese — Bolognese is a thick, meaty sauce that is a combination ground beef, veal and pork with just a little tomato paste to color it slightly. The radiatore are small, squat pasta that kind of look like tiny radiators and they really absorb the Bolognese quite nicely.

I suggest pairing this with Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. This medium-bodied, rich and well-balanced red wine is full of ripe cherry flavors and hails from the Abruzzi region. It is a very compatible partner to the Bolognese.

Wild Mushroom Sagnarelli — This is a lovely blend of wild porcini mushrooms, pancetta and sun-dried tomatoes in a light cream sauce. Sagnarelli is a type of rectangular, flat, ribbon-like pasta which holds the sauce perfectly. My vinous choice for the dish is Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay. From California’s central coast, the wine is round, rich and earthy which makes it a perfect choice to accompany and compliment the wild mushroom Sagnarelli.

1010 Bridge is a restaurant born in the middle of last year’s COVID-19 pandemic. Huh? To say that owners Aaron and Marie Clark were bold might be an understatement. But with their decades of working in the restaurant and catering businesses, and with the able assistance of Chef Paul Smith, that confidence to move forward in such a challenging year has been rewarded. And we wine and food lovers are the beneficiaries of their success.

1010 occupies the same physical space as the former restaurant, The Market, in South Hills on Bridge Road. Aaron Clark describes the menu as Appalachian with Low Country influences. I’ve visited the restaurant several times and I believe it is among the best eateries in the state. Here are two of my favorite menu items with recommended wines:

Cast Iron Seared “1010 Cut” — The cut of beef used is terres major and it’s about the size of a pork tenderloin. It is also the second-most tender piece of meat on the whole cow — second only to the tenderloin. The dish is sauced with a cabernet Bordelais jus and accompanied by lobster mac & cheese, candied brussel sprouts and a foie-gras truffle butter. Sounds like a weird hodge-podge of ingredients, but it is succulent and delicious.

This complex menu item needs an equally complex wine. I chose Terre Rouge Tete-A-Tete which is a Cote Du Rhone-like red from the Sierra Foothills of California. Tete-A-Tete is a blend of 43% each of Grenache and mourvedre and 14% syrah and it can stand up to and enhance the flavors of the terres major cut.

Pan Seared Sea Scallops — Perfectly pan-seared sea scallops with a sherry-chive pan sauce are atop Hernshaw Farms mushroom risotto and along a side of sautéed spinach. Such an opulent entrée needs a chardonnay that offers richness, but which also has contrasting and refreshing acidity to keep the dish in balance. The St. Supery Oak Free Chardonnay is the perfect choice to pair with this superb entrée.

The restaurant industry is such an important part of our community, so I hope you’ll go out to support them and celebrate the end (hopefully) of a very trying time.

In addition to being a wine connoisseur, John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World,” a sequel to his debut novel, “Augie’s War.” You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com.

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