The Golden Age mocktail is a ginger tumeric tonic. Photo courtesy of M.I.C.K.

The global pandemic closed Michael’s International Creekside Kitchen in Upper St. Clair just four months after its grand opening.

Michael Marino, chef and owner of M.I.C.K., sees the shutdown as a mixed blessing. “It’s forcing our hand to do the things we’ve always wanted to do, which is go predominantly plant-based,” he says. “There’s no time like the present to introduce healthier options to people.”

The restaurant at 1580 McLaughlin Run Rd., reopens for dine-in service today at 4 p.m., after weeks of operating as a takeout joint. To meet social distancing guidelines, the 54-seat eatery has been reduced to four tables, with an outdoor dining area overlooking McLaughlin Run.

Reservations are recommended.

M.I.C.K.’s evolving menu is based on what fresh, local ingredients the chef can get.

Marino, 42, an Upper St. Clair native who inherited his Polish grandmother’s love of cooking, spent the majority of his culinary career in Italian restaurants. The meals he makes, however, aren’t specific to one part of the world.

Photo courtesy of M.I.C.K.

There are herbivore-friendly starters and salads, along with “Sustain-a-bowls” served in compostable receptacles you can take home to feed to your garden. Bowls include the Hail Seitan: steamed rice lightly fried with caramelized onions, sauteèd creminis, roasted red pepper, roasted eggplant, broccoli, white beans and vegan chorizo that’s seasoned with garlic, ginger, tamari, cilantro and sesame, over shredded Napa cabbage.

Marino strives to offer as many gluten-free, vegan and seafood options as he can from purveyors such as Jubilee Hilltop Ranch in Bedford County and Somerset’s Laurel Hill Trout Farm. The Cajun Trout entree is pan-seared and served with green beans almondine and cajun rice with cilantro, caramelized onions and jalapeno finished with a maple drizzle.

The recipes are simple and wholesome without sacrificing flavor.

In addition to food, M.I.C.K. boasts a full bar serving local brews, boutique wines and signature cocktails made with Pennsylvania-born spirits. Mocktails are available, too.

Although the past few months have been a whirlwind for Marino, his employees, friends, family members and a small army of loyal customers helped him weather the COVID-19 storm. The reopening of M.I.C.K. is more of a rebirth.

“This restaurant has been a dream of mine since I was 16 years old,” he says. “We’ve had to jump over a lot of hurdles, but, hopefully, we come out stronger in the end.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.