Tag Archives: Mount Lebanon

Cafe IO – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: Café IO…not to be confused with Captain EO, Michael Jackson’s 1986 sci-fi theme park attraction.

Atmosphere: Cozy and convivial.

Menu: Café IO is a rustic Italian ristorante that serves classic dishes like chicken marsala and orecchiette pasta. Um, wait a sec, there’s jambalaya and hummus also on the menu so maybe Mediterranean better describes the cuisine. Oops, just saw BBQ chicken and pulled pork so forget that. Now I see pork-fried rice? WTF, this place has everything!

io1

Food: I was dining with a group of four and we started off the evening by ordering two appetizers – the Crispy Parmesan Polenta and the Crispy Green Beans*. The shaved Parmesan added an imprescindible hit of saltiness to the rather sublime polenta and combined with the sweet tomato sauce to deliver a perfectly balanced bite. And unlike T.G.I. Fridays’ fried monstrosities, Café IO’s al dente green beans were lightly adorned with a tempura-like breading and still bore resemblance to a vegetable**.

One of my dining companions has a good friend who happens to be good friends with the owner of Café IO and she had them surprise us with a Iovino starter as well. This consisted of a plate full of Italian sweet sausage, tempura mozzarella***, tomatoes and mixed greens drizzled with balsamic. It was absolutely delicious, and I’m not just saying that since it was a gift. Though that certainly didn’t hurt…

Completing my crispy trifecta, I went with the Crispy Fish Tacos for my entrée. The flavorful hunks of crunchy flounder were lovingly wrapped in a tortilla embrace with red pepper, spicy mayo, Napa cabbage shreds, pickled jalapeños and French fries (for no good reason other than why the f*ck not). Unsurprisingly the tacos were great and are now tied with Round Corner Cantina’s pescado offering as my favorites in Da ‘Burgh.

* Or by the distributive rule of algebra: Crispy (Parmesan Polenta + Green Beans).

** Green beans are botanically fruits but are still routinely referred to as vegetables in the culinary arts because chefs don’t be giving a f*ck.

*** Tempura Mozzarella would make the perfect stage name for an Italian-Japanese drag queen.

Service: Despite it being a packed house, our waitress was very attentive and kept me replete with Pumking (Pumpkin Ale, 8.60% ABV) all night.

Final Call: Combining an intimate and welcoming environment and an eclectically well-executed menu, Café IO is one of the South Hills suburbs bestest culinary destinations. And I’m not just saying that since my wife is friends with a friend of a friend of the owner. #KeepIt100

io2
Cafe io Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

restaurant REVIEWS, , , , , , ,


Hitchhiker Brewing – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: Hitchhiker Brewing Company

Location: Next to Luma* on Castle Shannon Boulevard.

* Where’s Luma you ask? Why, it’s next to Hitchhiker Brewing Company of course!

Atmosphere: The interior was basically one open (albeit compact) space with an L-shaped bar, a couple tables near the large front windows, and some perimeter ledges. The décor was understated but cool, and featured reclaimed wood and vintage brewing-inspired accoutrements. The place was nice and all, but what really stood out to me the most was all the hipsters.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love hipsters. I mean, I own Neutral Milk Hotel on vinyl and never miss an episode of Portlandia so I’m practically a closet hipster myself. I was just surprised to see so many oversized frames, ironic Daria t-shirts and meticulously weathered Vans this far out in the suburbs.

I’ve heard rumors over the past year that they were starting to colonize Brookline and had made some inroads into Dormont, but this is Mount f*ckin’ Lebanon we’re talking about. Just wait until they discover Restoration Hardware at the Galleria, then they’ll never leave!

Menu: Brief. Just a half dozen or so beer-friendly appetizers.

Food (& Beer): I started with a draft of the Tumbleweed Oatmeal Brown (5.1% ABV). The beer was malty and sweet and quite reminiscent of Brooklyn Brown Ale. I ended up liking it more than that industry standard, mainly due to it having a little less bite and carbonation. After just a few sips of the delicious beer my stomach started rumbling for food. I then quickly ordered the cheese & meat board and whiskey pretzels to munch-on as I got my buzz-on.

image

The aged raw milk cheeses and Parma sporessetta were just ok (and waaaaay overpriced at $12), but the pretzels were ADDICTIVELY SCRUMPTIOUS!!! They were billed as being coated with “a buttery blend of sugar, spices and whiskey”, but I’m sure there’s some crack in there also because NOW I THINK ABOUT THEM ALL DAY AND NIGHT! Oh well, all the more reason to go back and try some of the other beers!

Service: After bringing out the food, the bartender came back after a few minutes and apologetically delivered a container of olives that was supposed to be part of the cheese plate. I hadn’t noticed them missing (nor even remembered them being part of the description), but I’m glad he went out of his way to correct the oversight.

Final Call: The opening of the Hitchhiker Brewing Company is easily one of the coolest developments that has happened to the south hills suburbs since…well…ever. Between the awesome beer, urban-rustic furnishings and crack-infused snacks, it’s no wonder the hipsters are already all over this place. Highly recommended and hipster-approved!

Hitchhiker Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

restaurant REVIEWS, , , , , ,


The Simple Greek – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: The Simple Greek (formerly My Big Fat Greek Gyro).

Location: Downtown Lebo.

Atmosphere: I’ve visited Greece (PRETENTIOUS TRAVELER ALERT) and can’t say that the decor reminded me of John Stamos’ ancestral homeland. However, the restaurant was very white and very clean, which did remind me of John Stamos.

Menu: It’s setup like a Greek Chipotle, where you pick your base (pita or bowl) and then move down the chow line choosing from a bevy of fresh ingredients to stuff your fat face with.

Food: I was already planning on gorging myself on pizza later that day for dinner so my first inclination was to limit my lunchtime calories by just selecting a salad. Thankfully my growling stomach overruled my brain and I ordered a white pita stuffed with lamb meat, lettuce, Greek rice and the yogurt-based Tzatziki sauce. It was FOVERÓS*!!!

image

The truly flavorful lamb and a wonderfully warm pita could not have been more satisfying. The rice was really my biggest surprise. It was very toothsome and more pasta-like than I was expecting. This was the gyro that dreams are made of and truly deserving of my new adjective – Stamolicious!

* Greek for “awesome”!

Service: Friendly, quick and competent…basically the opposite of my old co-worker Daryl.

Final Call: I grew up on Mike & Tony’s in the Southside and can honestly say that The Simple Greek rivals that legendary establishment as having the perfect gyro. Highly recommended!

My Big Fat Greek Gyro on Urbanspoon

restaurant REVIEWS, , , , , , , , ,


BRGR – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: BRGR

Location: In the cursed spot of Galleria Mall, home to such recently failed restaurants as Amigos Restaurante, Jake’s Beef & Barbecue and Los Pollos Hermanos…

Atmosphere: The décor possessed a modern metro-style reminiscent of, yet much cooler than, downstairs neighbor Houlihan’s. The open dining space was packed with families so the noise level was a little high, but I can’t complain since my son was responsible for more than his share of yelling…

Menu: Brgrs, slds and mlkshks…

Food: I had the eponymous brgr and a side of fries with the truffle cheese whiz. In retrospect I should’ve just split a fry order with my wife ‘cause the basket was friggin’ huge. The brgr was enormous as well, but way too delicious not to scarf down completely (whereas the fries were just kinda meh).

The burger toppings (pickled red onion, oven-roasted tomato & blue cheese*) were a highlight onto themselves, but the real star of the show was the beef. The patty was cooked to a perfect medium and had just enough char to balance out all the moist juiciness**. #nmnmnm

* You can also add foie gras as a topping for $12 if you’re an assh*le…

* Or was it juicy moistness?

image

Service: Our waitress was very pleasant and even brought my son baseball cards and crayons…which he promptly began to eat instead of his mac & cheese.

Final Call: I’m not prone to hyperbolic exaggeration, but BRGR opening a location in the South Hills ‘burbs is one of the best things to ever happen to me. Before becoming a parent, I LOVED exploring Pittsburgh’s gentrified hipster neighborhoods to dine on upscale comfort food alongside my fellow pretentious foodies.

Nowadays the idea of taking a toddler to Tamari is akin to trying to ice skate with a squirrel in my pants. Thankfully the new BRGR in The Galleria allows me to dine with dignity on gourmet burgers and handmade shakes, whilst watching my son dine with indignity on cardboard and Crayola. It just doesn’t get much better than that!

BRGR on Urbanspoon

restaurant REVIEWS, , , , ,


Artisan Pizza – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: Artisan Pizza Company

Location: The Norman Centre shopping plaza by the Pie Place (Mmm…pie).

Atmosphere: This is a take-out only place so the ambiance is akin to a dentist’s office waiting room. Except instead of leaving with sore gums and a new toothbrush, you go home with a pizza.

image

Menu: A nice selection of specialty pies (bbq chicken, margherita), salads (Caesar, Greek) and cookies (Mmm…cookies).

Food: My wife and I always order a salad with our pizza ‘cause it gives us the false feeling that we’re eating healthy. Artisan’s “Mighty Ceasar” reminded me of Panera’s version except with even bigger chunks of shaved parmesan. I hate myself for saying this, but there was almost TOO much cheese. #Blasphemy

The Basil and Spice pizza came with thin salami slices, fresh basil, mozzarella* and even more parmesan. Artisan guarantees “the freshest pizza experience possible”, and you know what – they deliver. Fresh is the best adjective to describe their pie. All of the ingredients just taste like the best version of themselves.

My only criticisms were that the crust wasn’t as doughy as I usually like and I could have went for some more moots-zur-rell. However, making those complaints would be akin to saying that Scarlett Johansson would be hotter with bigger boobs. While theoretically true, any changes would also be wholly unnecessary.

* I pronounce mozzarella “moots-zur-rell” and advise you to do the same. It’s more authentico**!

** Authentico = made up word that means “annoying to my wife”.

Service: N/A

Final Call: I initially groaned when I heard about this place. I mean, fifteen bucks for a pizza that I gotta pick-up AND cook myself? I know people in Mount Lebanon love to pretentiously overpay for stuff, but this seemed even drastic by their standards. However, after giving Artisan Pizza Co. a try, I’ve reversed my position. Their food is fresh and tasty and worth every penny. Mucho delicioso***!

*** I think that this may be Spanish and not Italian. Oh well…

artisan pizza co on Urbanspoon

restaurant REVIEWS, , , , ,


Lebo Subs – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: Lebo Subs

Location: Downtown Mount Lebanon, between Little Tokyo and Aladdin’s.

Atmosphere: The exposed brick and ductwork gave the restaurant a modern vibe, whilst a vintage Mt. Lebo wall mural added just the right amount of nostalgic decoration. Before I even tasted the food, I declared the place ten-gazillion times better than Subway based on the appearance alone.

image

Menu: Subs (obvi), along with homemade soups and salads (chicken, potato).

Food: Though the meatball sub was calling my name, I went with my usual selection – turkey breast with provolone, lettuce and mayonnaise. At first I ordered the large, but after I saw the sandwich artist grab a 14” hoagie roll that Linda Lovelace wouldn’t even dare take on, I quickly downsized to the regular.

image

The sammich came stuffed with freshly sliced meat and cheese and I immediately went to work scarfing it down. Though the interior fixings all tasted as good as they looked, the hoagie roll itself wasn’t up to par. It wasn’t bad per se; it just didn’t come close to matching the doughy deliciousness as the ones used by Uncle Sam’s or Carhops*. This letdown forced me to downgrade the place to only nine-gazillion times better than Subway.

* The Lennon & McCartney of Pittsburgh sub shops.

Service: The guy behind the counter, who I think may have been the owner, was extremely pleasant and appreciative of our patronage. He even offered to give my son a free piece of cheese, which to me is the highest form of kindness.

Final Call: Even though I didn’t love my hoagie, I did love my overall visit to Lebo Subs due to their wonderful service and clean*, contemporary dining space. I will definitely go back again soon, and next time I’m getting the meatball!

* No one would ever use the adjective “clean” to describe either Uncle Sam’s or Carhops.

Lebo Subs on Urbanspoon

restaurant REVIEWS, , , , , , , ,


Crust! Cafe and Pizzeria – Mount Lebanon Suburb

My wife loves pizza. If a piece of pizza and I ever found ourselves in a situation in which we both stumbled off of a cliff and my wife only had the strength to pull one of us to safety, my money would be on the pizza. Her favorite pie comes from Pepperoni’s in Bethel Park, which I also love and have glowed about in the past here and here. The only complaint that we have about this adorable family-owned establishment is that it is closed on Sundays. Though I commend Mr. Pepperoni’s desire to give his staff a weekly respite, my wife’s desire for cheesy-carbs never ever takes a day off. Consequently, one of our top priorities after moving to Upper St. Clair this past year was to locate a suitable Sabbath substitute pizza purveyor as quickly as possible. 

After striking out with a few local losers, our hopes were raised when neighborhood friends of ours commented glowingly about Crust! Cafe and Pizzeria. Though the establishment doesn’t deliver, Crust! is located conveniently (for me at least) on Painters Run Road in Mount Lebanon and we headed there on a recent Friday* when our stomach’s were growling for pizza. 

My first bite of pizza revealed a satisfying arrangement of gooey cheese, tangy-sweet tomato sauce and an almost-too greasy bottom crust. Eventually I ate my way to the perimeter and discovered that their namesake crust was indeed a marketable highlight. It was both crispy and chewy, with a slathering of garlic butter and parmigiana cheese. The pizza’s doughy circumference turned out to be the tastiest version of a breadstick I’ve had in years and reminded me of the love affair I had with Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread during my college days. Veni vidi vici pinsa**!

Final Call: Though their name is an affront to proper punctuation usage, Crust!’s crust is so delicious that it does deserve an exclamation point. The rest of their pizza is pretty good as well, albeit a little on the greasy side. I highly recommend stopping by the next time you’re on the way home from Sunday Mass.

* We went there on a Friday instead of a Sunday so that if their food wasn’t any good, we still could stop at Pepperoni’s and grab a replacement pizza.

** This is Latin for “I came, I saw, I conquered pizza”. 

Crust! Cafe and Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

restaurant REVIEWS, , , , ,


Primanti Brothers – Mount Lebanon Surburb

“I love going to new places and trying their indigenous delicacies, but I don’t think that there are any foods native to Pittsburgh.”

“What about Primanti’s?!?!”

“Um, I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s a sandwich with fries and coleslaw on it n’at!”

“That’s not a delicacy. That’s a sandwich.”

The above exchange* occurred a few years ago at Heinz Hall between Anthony Bourdain and a heavily accented yinzer lady. Though seemingly a bit dismissive, I don’t believe that the celebrity gourmand meant any disrespect to our fair city. I’ve read about and watched enough of his culinary voyages to know that a Primanti’s sandwich isn’t going to come across as novel or exciting to someone who has feasted on mutton chops in Dubai, duck feet in Beijing and ensebollado in Ecuador. Regardless of its lackluster gastronomical merits, most Pittsburghers love their Primanti’s and consider it our greatest provincial delight. This unbridled adoration is kind of like when you’re a kid and think your dad is the best dad in the whole world. Statistically, there’s really no chance that he actually is, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that he’s always there to comfort you and support you through good times and bad – just like Primanti’s.

The Primanti’s in Mount Lebanon is near the bustling Washington Road/Cochran Road intersection at the spot formerly occupied by Bimbo’s**. It is nestled behind a gas station and anteceding an old folks home. This spot is not exactly the most scenic of locales and the nondescript red brick exterior does little in the way of visual stimulation either. However, the impressive hardwood-laden interior gives the place a pleasant, comforting atmosphere. Since it’s newly refurbished, it lacks the blue-collar roots of the more seasoned Primanti’s locations. However, I’ll take cleanliness over character any day when it comes to eating establishments. 

I arrived to meet some colleagues for happy hour after work on a recent Thursday and was surprised to find the parking lot jam-packed. I spotted an orange-vested attendant seemingly assigned to direct traffic, but he appeared to be on a smoke break near the dumpsters. Luckily I was able to snag a spot after only circling once and joined my already seated co-workers inside. The draft beer list rattled off by the amenable waitress wasn’t particularly lengthy, but it did contain the appealing Rogue Dead Guy Ale (Heller Bock – 6.50% ABV). My lovely wife showed up to join our group just as my first beer arrived. I took a sip and then realized that this happy hour gathering ended up being an all-female affair except for me. If you’ve ever wondered what a group of girls talk about when they’re hanging out, I now have the answer – it’s other girls. Yes, there was some television talk and complaining about work, but mostly it was female-related kvetching. 

I didn’t have a whole lot to add so my attention oscillated between soccer highlights that were playing on one of the flat screen televisions and reminiscing about college. Back when I went to the University of Pittsburgh, my friends and I would habitually go to the Primanti’s in Oakland after trying, and usually failing, to grind on some babes at The Attic. I always got the Ragin’ Cajun Chicken Breast with Cheese sandwich, which tasted…well…I actually can’t remember how the sandwich tasted since I was way too crunked on quarter drafts whenever I ate them.  I then realized that regardless of how this current meal would turn out, I was already thrilled that my current clambake was like a dream come true when compared to those past Primanti’s sausage fests. Keeping in the spirit of change, I decided on eschewing the Ragin’ Cajun and ordered the acclaimed Pitts-Burgher cheesesteak. 

The sandwich was delivered shortly on a wax paper plate in a basket. The cheesesteak was covered in the infamous fries and coleslaw and slapped between two thick slices of fresh Italian bread. I rolled up my sleeves and grabbed a hold of the intimidating stack of unhealthy goodness. I immediately noticed that the advertised cheese and steak were both rendered superfluous by the whopping toppings. The overwhelming profile my taste buds registered was one of mushy, vinegary saltiness. I picked out a piece of meat to try on its own and found it to be extremely nondescript. The meat tasted much more like a diner hamburger patty than actual steak. Individually, the fries and coleslaw didn’t quite impress me either. The homemade fries were too limp and potatoey, and the coleslaw had a cider tang that was a little off-putting. Despite these complaints, the sandwich as a whole had a certain je nais se quoi that made it decidedly better than the sum of its parts. My theory is that it’s because of the wonderful bread, which is as white, thick and delightful as Adele.

Final Call: Deciding to dine at Primanti’s is like when you’re picking teams for a basketball game, and you’re faced with choosing someone who can really play, or your brother-in-law who isn’t very good but is 6’8”. Primanti’s is a Pittsburgh institution, and as such deserves a visit every once in a while solely out of respect for the Steel City’s blue-collar roots. The sandwiches aren’t culinary marvels, but they are big, relatively inexpensive and will soak up a massive amount of alcohol. The new Mount Lebanon location is festooned with flat screens in typical sports bar fashion, but the wood-laden interior has a comforting, lodge-like feel to it that separates it from the pack. I highly recommend it for your next happy hour clambake.

* This is probably not verbatim but it’s definitely close. 

** Bimbo has always been my most beloved Kennywood character, even more so than the eponymous kangaroo himself. I’m not sure if he’s an alien or an albino, but I love him no matter what.

Primanti Brothers (Mt. Lebanon) on Urbanspoon

restaurant REVIEWS, , , , , ,


Bistro 19 – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Whenever I go to Bistro 19, I can’t help but be reminded of the second date I had with my wife. I originally found her on match.com and based on her profile and pictures, I was interested immediately and contacted her for a hopeful connection. She responded (naturally) and fortunately I was literate enough to keep her interest. She gave me her phone number about a week after that first email message and I called her later that night. It was a Friday and we both already had plans so I asked her about heading out the next evening. Still too unsure about me to go out on a limb and waste a prime dating slot, she instead agreed to meet for dinner on Sunday. I suggested Il Pizzaiolo, which was my go-to first date place, but she suggested we meet at Molly Brannigans instead.

Fast forward to Sunday, she was as beautiful as her pictures made her out to be and dinner and the accompanying dessert at Aladdin’s went well. However when I walked her to her car afterwards, I was met with a firm handshake and a noncommittal sounding agreement to “do this again”. There is a range of possible physical contact after a first date and hand-shaking is probably nestled firmly at the cold end of the spectrum between fist-bump and military salute. The romantic outlook for us was looking lukewarm at best.

Despite the job interview-like ending, we talked more on the phone the following week and she agreed on me picking her up for dinner at Bistro 19 that next Friday. Conversation throughout our delicious meal was again wonderful, and towards the end of dinner we discussed what we should do next. Our prevailing thought was to head to the Saloon for a drink or two, but she soon realized that she forgot her driver’s license. She looked quite young (and still does), and since the Saloon doormen are sticklers for identification, she then suggested we just go back to her place for drinks. Once there, the evening progressed way past handshakes* and we’ve been together ever since. I contend to this day that she pretended to “forget” her license and actually planned to end up back at her place, but she denies it.

I recently met-up with my wife and a group of friends at Bistro 19 after partaking in a work happy-hour at the Meadows Casino. I got there a few minutes late and wedged into a rounded booth along the back wall near restroom lane. The décor was wine-inspired, nice but unoriginal except for the old-fashioned tin ceiling. This must aid in acoustics because despite the restaurant being fairly crowded we were able to converse easily with no problems hearing each other. I drank a big draft** of Blue Moon Pale Moon (ABV 5.4% – Belgian Pale Ale) at the casino before I left and I really hated it so I just stuck to water the rest of the evening. Just like our first time at Bistro 19, my wife and I split the hummus appetizer which came with pita chips and three different kinds of hummus – traditional, roasted red pepper and fresh herb. The traditional was very good, with a thicker consistency and less oily after-taste than most other renditions. The fresh herb hummus had a nice bright flavor to it, very pesto-like, and was my favorite of the three. I didn’t like the roasted red pepper hummus this time or the first time I had it so at least it’s consistent. The red pepper taste is just a little chalky and doesn’t really do anything for me but waste a pita chip.

I was tempted to try the Cornish Game Hen, but our waitress was nice enough to alert our table that is wasn’t very good. It’s rare that a server is this honest, so I heeded her advice and ran towards the Crab Cakes. They came accompanied with chive mashed potatoes and baby carrots. The potatoes were alright but the carrots were exceptionally delectable. They were cooked perfectly, soft but not mushy, with a nice glaze and just enough rosemary to add flavor without overpowering the taste. The crab cakes were unfortunately less crispy than I usually like them, but the flavor of the crab meat concoction was solid. The whole grain mustard aioli that came as a topping also made for a nice alternative to tartar sauce and overall I’d give the crab cakes a 7/10***.

Dessert brought another highlight in the Pumpkin Mousse, which had the hue and silky smoothness of Billy Dee Williams. It was downright delicious, albeit a little small of a portion for my wife and I to split so next time I’ll be sure to order my own. The mousse was layered with soft shortbread, caramel and whipped cream and was right up to the edge of being too sweet without going overboard.

Final Call: Though not particularly revolutionary, the décor and entrees are done very nicely and the suburban-trendy Bistro 19 is easily one of the best restaurants in the South Hills. The food ranged from good to magnificent, though the highlights were mostly supplied by the supplementary dishes.

* I’m sure my wife will want me to clarify that the second date interactions didn’t go all the way past handshakes…..but if what occurred that night happened on a job interview, it would have been quite inappropriate.

** Don’t drink and drive…at least don’t drink more than two beers and drive. That’s my motto.

*** My top crab cake score (10/10) belongs to Mo’s Fisherman’s Wharf in Baltimore. The lowest score (1/10) was recorded when I ate one of those crab cakes they sell at the Shop ‘n Save deli counter for a dollar. I don’t think it contained any crab meat and was most likely bread crumbs and cat food mixed together.

Bistro 19 on Urbanspoon

restaurant REVIEWS, , , , , ,


Atria’s – Mount Lebanon Borough

Some evenings when my wife and I want to go out for dinner we are hampered by a collective inability to come up with an idea desirable enough to get us moving out the door.  Occasionally the prospect of driving north into the city through the Fort Pitt tunnels just seems like too much of a hassle.  This hurdle is exponentially increased whenever there is an event going on in the city* which causes jag-off gridlock as numerous drivers hypnotically decelerate as they approach the tunnel.  Our local options are decent-enough but lately we’ve relied on them much too heavily which has made the thought of eating another Mad Mex burrito enough to make me run for the Canadian border.  After spending thirty minutes trading lackluster dinner ideas, none of which involved cooking of course, my wife finally suggested Atria’s.  This suggestion sounded enticing enough so we made our way to their neighborhood location in Mount Lebanon.

Atria’s is nestled on Beverly Road and this locale helps contribute to the restaurants charm but unfortunately makes it tough to find a close parking space.  My wife convinced me to utilize the valet service despite my desire to search for a spot on the nearby suburban streets. I quickly pleaded my case** but ultimately relented and headed into Atria’s lot.  It was pretty cold outside so avoiding a block-long walk to the restaurant turned out to be the correct choice.  After tossing my keys to the valet, we headed inside and were immediately warmed up as the area around the bar was cozily heated.  Atria’s décor has a neighborhood-y vibe that unfortunately now seems a bit cliché due to this motifs over-use by numerous national restaurant chains. Atria’s has six additional locations in and around Pittsburgh so it’ could be called a “chain” also but this location is the original and has been serving up food for over seventy years so it’s character is much more authentic than anything you’d get at Applebee’s.

Atria’s business was less than brisk this evening so we were promptly led upstairs for dinner seating.  Though toasty downstairs, we unfortunately ended up in an extremely chilled dining room.  It was so cold that I had to keep my Marmot on until the crab bisque arrived.  Luckily the soup warmed me up with its perfect balance of spicy, creamy and crabby.  The draft list at Atria’s was less than exciting so I paired my bisque with that old standby Guinness Draught (4.1% ABV – Dry Stout).  The beer was solid as per usual with a frothy head and a taste much lighter than its dark color belies.

Since my wife almost always ends up selecting the tastier meal option off the menu, I decided to have her choose two entrees for us to split.  The dishes that caught her eyes were the Pork Filet Gorgonzola and the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes.  She was slightly startled by the waitress when asked how she would like the pork cooked because neither of us had ever ordered pork at a restaurant before.  Despite the threat of trichinosis, she decided to go with medium which is her usual preparation choice for beef.  When the food arrived we found out that this was the way to go because the pork was extremely tender and downright delicious.  We actually gave up cooking pork at home a few years ago since we’d repeatedly over-cook it but this meal restored our faith in the other white meat.  To further guarantee that no Muslim or Jew would dare try this dish, the filets came wrapped in bacon.  Regrettably it appeared a little fatty and not crisp at all so I removed it before digging in.  More than making up for this misstep were the crispy potato pancakes that resided under the pork.  They were the epitome of crunchy goodness and along with the pork deserving of multiple superlatives as the best preparations I’ve ever had of each.  The crab cakes were first-rate as well but unfortunately were overshadowed by the other dish. We somehow filled the little room we had left in our stomachs with nibbles off of a too-big slice of the carrot cake.  It was wonderful as well as a tasty closer to a brilliant meal.

Final Call: The pork at Atria’s was the best I’ve ever had though admittedly it’s not a protein I order regularly so the sample size is small.  The bisque and crab cakes weren’t as transcendent, but they were both very excellent and should be satisfactory to even the most demanding of palettes.  The ambiance of the restaurant could use a little updating to help add vibrancy to the surroundings since it does seem a little outdated.  Furthermore, on this particular evening the overhead music was tortuously tuned into the worst of the seventies and eighties with songs such as YMCA, Man-eater and Brick House being played much too loud for my liking.  The selections seemed to be culled from the lists that engaged couples turn into their wedding DJ of songs to definitely NOT play.  Atria’s does attract an older crowd so they’re probably just pandering to their core clientele but I’d rather hear nothing over Invisible Touch by Phil Collins any day.

* This past summer we made plans to meet some friends for dinner in Lawrenceville and upon getting onto the highway we were unpleasantly surprised to find out that there were thousands of other people on the same road into town to the Taylor Swift concert.  What should have been a twenty-five minute car ride took almost two hours.  We were so frustrated that my wife hasn’t applied a spritz of Wonderstruck since.

** I’m frequently at odds with my wife since she always wants to make the correct decision and do things the right way.  I just think that sometimes doing the wrong thing is the way to go.  Most times it’s easier, faster and funner.  Alas I have yet to win many arguments with this defense.  

Atria's Restaurant & Tavern on Urbanspoon

restaurant REVIEWS, , , , , ,


next page »