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Table 86 by Hines Ward offers big portions and some delightful surprises

| Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, 9:12 p.m.
Hines Ward sits at the bar of his restaurant, Table 86, in this August 2015 file photo.
Tribune-Review
Hines Ward sits at the bar of his restaurant, Table 86, in this August 2015 file photo.
Inside of Hines Ward's Vines Wine Bar that is opening along with his restaurant, Table 86, in Seven Fields on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Inside of Hines Ward's Vines Wine Bar that is opening along with his restaurant, Table 86, in Seven Fields on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015.
Hines Ward's new restaurant, Table 86, in Seven Fields on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Hines Ward's new restaurant, Table 86, in Seven Fields on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015.
Mae Oon Shrimp
Laura Zorch
Mae Oon Shrimp

Donning an oversized yellow polo shirt, I was ready to serve the Pittsburgh Steelers breakfast.

It was the early 2000s at Steelers Training Camp at St. Vincent College, and I eagerly awaited the parade of players through the cafeteria. At the end of my first day, seeing athlete after athlete, the most exciting declaration to friends and family was: “I saw Hines Ward!”

Superstar and legend Hines Ward made a name for himself years ago in Pittsburgh. Several years after the final football was caught, he is lending that famous moniker to a casually cool American dining spot in the north suburbs, Table 86 by Hines Ward.

Featuring hearty meals of enormous burgers, battered and fried appetizers, and meat-heavy entrees by executive chef Scott Croyle, this is a spot that is eager to please the masses through relatable plates.

Restaurateuring is certainly not a new sport for retired athletes. One needs only to look across the road from Heinz Field at Jerome Bettis Grille 36 to confirm. But there is still an aspect of novelty in the occupation. The celebrity name certainly ups the immediate popularity and draw.

Table 86, which resides in the former Siba in Seven Fields, has been open for a little over a month and throngs of hungry patrons already have to wait for a seat. Surveying the crowd, I got the feeling that a few folks are like the younger me, standing over eggs, hoping to utter later: “I saw Hines Ward.” We all know that is not likely to happen, but the sports fan's heart can still hope.

The clean, modern space itself is void of sports memorabilia. Glimpses of Ward can be found on the menu. Each dish that ends with $.86 is considered a specialty of the house and often includes a nod to Ward's Korean heritage.

Appetizers feature standard small-bite fare like spinach and artichoke dip, nachos and wings. The $.86 designated dishes include grilled wings, Mae Oon Shrimp, a Sicilian flatbread and fried zucchini.

On recommendation by our server, we were swayed from the flatbread featuring caramelized onions and Italian sausage and instead chose the Mae Oon Shrimp and the fried zucchini.

The shrimp was tempura-battered and served over an Asian slaw. Korean barbecue sauce, subtly sweet and spicy in flavor, covered each little, well-cooked shrimp.

Fried zucchini, usually a decidedly humdrum addition to a meal, was a delightful surprise. Long, thin ribbons of zucchini came piled high — enough to feed an entire team. The quantity was not the delight, but rather each crispy bite of lightly battered zucchini paired with a horseradish dip.

The table next to ours received a trio of outrageously large burgers. On trend with the fancy-burger movement, the burgers at Table 86 are built from a half-pound of ground steak, complete with a whole host of toppings. Highlights include the Bacon and Bleu, with blue cheese and onion jam; the MVP, topped with pulled pork and Asian slaw; and a house-made veggie burger.

While we had a tiny bit of order envy surveying the grandiose patties, burgers eluded our order in favor of two other entrees. Main dishes range from a Greek salad to a mahi mahi sandwich to a stuffed pork chop to a linguini pasta. The wide selection includes over two dozen options. So, to make life easier, we stuck to ordering some of the $.86 dishes: the Korean BBQ ribs and the crab macaroni and cheese.

The ribs were tough, but when dipped in the accompanying Korean barbecue sauce, the same sauce that made the shrimp sing, the meat was saved.

The crab macaroni and cheese left much to be desired. It has the elements of a winning plate: loads of crabmeat, lots of cheese and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs. But, these elements do not play nice with each other, due, in large part, to the Velveeta-esque cheese flavor. Our extraordinary server encouraged feedback on the dish and promised to pass the word along.

Ending the meal on a high note, we found ourselves face to face with an epic-sized malted chocolate cake. Again, a signature dish of the house, the cake is a multiple-layered wonder that will feed you for days. It is actually best right out of the fridge the next morning.

If a mountain of chocolate doesn't do it for you, there is also a Dutch apple pie, a cheesecake, and a seasonal bread pudding.

Filled to the brim, we exited the restaurant without a Ward sighting, but with confirmation of new Steelers dining nearby. Even with a menu and atmosphere that reads more sophisticated than sports bar, it turns out that one can never really be that far from the black-and-gold at a restaurant by one of our team's finest.

Laura Zorch is one of the food-savvy ladies of eatPGH.com, who contribute a weekly Dining Out column to Trib Total Media.

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