At 1947 Tavern in Shadyside, high-end comforts
It's hard not to like a restaurant that builds its menu around gourmet macaroni and cheese.
From the moment you slip in out of the cold at 1947 Tavern, your shivers melt away in the midst of a sleek crackling fireplace stacked high with split wood. The flames glint off of smooth copper-plated walls, and, as you slide into a booth and scan the menu, you get even warmer.
Smack at the top of the menu, are the made-to-order mac 'n cheese offerings. Sure you have the plain variety and one with veggies, but let's be honest: How can you pass up delicious artisan pasta and aged Vermont cheddar paired with the likes of bacon or short rib?
1947 Tavern, a purveyor of high-end comfort food, is at the former site of The Elbow Room, which needed more, um, elbow room and nudged over to Walnut Street to accommodate bigger crowds.
A fledgling 1947 Tavern, named for the year The Elbow Room opened, began serving this past spring as part of Michael DiFiore's collection of establishments. DiFiore owns the B2 Restaurant Group, which includes The Elbow Room, Buffalo Blues and 1947's neighbor, Bites and Brews.
General manager Josh Smith emphasizes that while 1947 Tavern is geared toward gourmet comfort food, it has an extensive collection of bourbon. Recently, the master distiller for Jim Beam, Fred Noe, came to teach a two-hour tutorial and perform tastings with the staff.
"They are more educated than ever and are happy to recommend different bourbons to guests. We're certainly blessed with the East End crowd but have seen a new population because of it," Smith says.
Just enough of the indie music from the neighboring Bites and Brews filtered into the dining room of 1947 Tavern to add ambiance.
Water was served in mason jars, but chalkboards on the wall boasted the listing of wines, beers and bourbons.
The copper on one wall is eroded to green, contrasting the sleeker copper of the large bar.
Our server, ever accommodating, explained that a new cook is being trained, and food will be a little late. Grateful for the warning, we made use of her expertise as we selected dishes.
Executive chef Eric Leibering splits his time between The Elbow Room and 1947 Tavern and is in the midst of expanding the new menu, which will be unveiled after the holidays. He says patrons can look forward to a longer list of entrees, such as: fried trout, meatloaf, mushroom shepherd's pie and more vegetarian options. He works closely with DiFiore and Smith to make sure the dishes shine with simplicity and comfort and aren't overworked. Leibering, a 1992 graduate of the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, has worked at restaurants from North Carolina to Wisconsin, cooking everything from "French with a southern twist" to "modern American." His wife, Lisa, deciding to get a Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh, brought him to Pittsburgh.
Since the mac 'n cheese is the establishment's hallmark, we opted to try the Mac & Short Rib ($13), which boasted wavy locally made Fede artisan pasta, the previously mentioned aged Vermont cheddar and a homemade, creamy bechamel sauce.
The pasta and cheese, creamy under a light crusted surface, rested beneath a large cut of short rib, oozing its brown juices into the dish as an added treat. We were surprised at how light the flavor was, and that the cheese didn't overpower the other elements.
"The cheesy crust is the whole kit and caboodle of that dish," says Leibering.
It was a plate-scraper for sure and we regretted not ordering another variety to take home.
Although the menu is small, it has a good variety -- especially when it comes to small-plate offerings. There are cheese and charcuterie plates, a barbecue pork egg roll, a hummus and olive plate and, in true Western Pennsylvania fashion, a smoked kielbasa dish.
We were bowled over by the Crab & Pimento Cheese Dip ($10), a delightful pool of aged Vermont cheddar, sour cream and chopped pimentos mixed with small lumps of fresh crab.
After watching our server light up while discussing the finer points of the French Dip ($11), we decided we needed to see what all the fuss was about. We also opted to try the fresh Crab and Avocado Salad ($12).
The French dip was a heaping stack of slow-cooked top sirloin served on a baguette with a side of homemade au jus. Thick slabs of seasoned steak fries rested on the side for dipping.
The salad was a flurry of mixed greens, highlighted by halved cherry tomatoes, oranges, slivers of avocado and hunks of crabmeat. A light drizzle of lemon horseradish dressing kept the taste light, a nice contrast to the heavier dishes we tried.
Be sure to try one of the Tavern's tasty pie offerings. For each slice ordered, $1 will be donated to the Shadyside Boys & Girls Club.Additional Information:
Cuisine: American comfort food
Hours: 4-11 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
Entree price range: $9-$13
Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Happy Hour specials. Extensive beer, bourbon and wine list. Separate outdoor beer garden.
Address: 5744 1⁄2 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside
Details: 412-363-1947 or www.1947tavern.com