'Awesome' food one focal point of The Smiling Moose on the South Side

| Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, 8:54 p.m.

If you owned a bar, what would you do with it?

You'd want to make it awesome, right?

Over time, Mike “Scarfo” Scarlatelli created a list of things that are indisputably awesome that he wanted to incorporate into his South Side bar, The Smiling Moose.

“We love good movies, rock and roll, hockey, craft beer and really good food,” he says. “I'm a total food dork, for sure. All that in one building.

“My mom was like, ‘You can't do that, you have to have a certain theme.' I just wanted to get a bunch of cool things in one place.”

That's a tall order, and The Smiling Moose had one major obstacle in its path — its past as a smoky, dingy, chaotic dive bar.

“We had shovels at one point, where we'd have to sweep up glass at the end of the night from broken bottles,” he says. “That wild past hurts us.”

Scarlatelli even considered changing the name at one point. He settled on a series of major renovations. The rock club is still upstairs, booked solid with local bands and up-and-coming national touring acts most days of the week.

“It's pretty much been all over the place,” Scarlatelli says. “We'll do anything — comedians, bubblegum stuff, to some pretty … heavy metal.”

Many nights, there's an all-ages show at 7:30 p.m., then, a late show at 9:30 p.m.

The entire back wall on the first floor is a screen for a projection TV. When the puck drops for Pens games, it's easy to spot. The small, clean dining room sits right before it, under the malevolent gaze of Ash (“Army of Darkness”), Pinhead (“Hellraiser”), and the rest of Scarlatelli's extensive collection of horror-movie memorabilia.

He plays in a band with Reggie Banister of Phantasm, and they perform at horror conventions, where he gets most of his autographs and posters. The theme carries over to the mixed drinks, which include names like “The Boom Stick” and “Pinhead Punch.” It's not unusual to see various horror-movie luminaries at the bar, now and then.

“I know Pinhead (actor Doug Bradley),” Scarlatelli says. “He lives here (in Pittsburgh). He comes in all the time. I have a picture of Pinhead drinking his Pinhead Punch.”

Then, there's the food, perhaps the most surprising thing at The Smiling Moose. “A couple years ago, I decided we should have awesome food here,” Scarlatelli says. “We do all-ages shows, so parents come in. Older people tend to have an appreciation for good food and beer.”

Scarlatelli persuaded the chef at one of his favorite restaurants, Christopher Cook at Cafe du Jour, to work his culinary magic for the Moose.

There are daily specials like Catfish Tempura Tacos ($10), and an extensive menu of creative sandwiches, sliders and burgers, like the Habanero Burger ($9), with grilled cherry peppers, pepper-jack cheese and habanero aioli. There's always a soup of the day, and The Smiling Moose won the competitive South Side Soup Contest this year.

Vegetarians have lots of choices, from the Fritters of Polenta, Kalamata Olives, Garlic Marinara ($7), to the Black Bean & Corn “Burger” ($8) with pepper-jack cheese, tomato salsa and citrus sour cream ($8).

The Smiling Moose, 1306 E. Carson St., South Side is open from 6 p.m. to midnight, Mondays; 11 a.m. to midnight, Tuesdays through Saturdays; and 4 to 10 p.m. Sundays.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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