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Oakmont Tavern has the feel of a comfortable friend — with really good taste

| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 7:47 p.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Courtney DeVita, a bartender at Oakmont Tavern, displays the bacon swiss burger with curly fries along with the (clockwise from top) reuben with curly fries, giant fish filet sandwich with onion rings, and club sandwich with onion rings on the upstairs patio on Monday, August 12, 2013.

BACKGROUND

It's hard to believe the Oakmont Tavern has been around since only 1995. The place just feels so comfortable, it's as if it's always been there. But 18 years ago, Dave Vivino of Indiana Township and several others came together to turn what had been Vinnie's, a local bar, into the current space along Allegheny River Boulevard.

“It had always been a decent bar,” Vivino says, “but we kinda gutted the whole place and upscaled it a bit.”

A few years later, the Tavern expanded into the building next door. Then, in 2000, Vivino and Jonathan McAndrew of Penn Hills became the Tavern's owners. “I've been in the restaurant business my whole life,” Vivino says, “and Jonathan is an accountant for PNC, so he knows the money aspect.”

In 2007, the pair transformed an upstairs apartment into a modern-flavor outdoor patio and indoor party room, complete with its own, rather ample, bar.

Vivino says the Tavern's upstairs party room sees plenty of use, seating up to 50 people and available for private parties.

The kitchen staff consists of a head chef, Bill Seibert of Oakmont, and four other cooks.

ATMOSPHERE

The Tavern's ground floor consists of a large rectangular wooden bar surrounded on one side by a row of comfortable-looking booths, and on the other by a cathedral-ceiling room with tables. TVs are all around the dimly lit room. This downstairs is all bar, with a warm, friendly feel to it.

Those seeking a more traditional restaurant experience should head upstairs. A winding wooden staircase leads to an outdoor patio of yellow brick and black-iron fencing that overlooks Allegheny River Boulevard. Umbrella-shaded black metal tables cover the patio, while a few feet away, an enclosed area offers taller tables and a good-size bar. And plenty more TVs on the walls. As a matter of fact, there are almost 30 big-screen TVs scattered around the place — upstairs and downstairs. So, there's never a bad seat for catching the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates.

On a recent warm evening, the staff opened the two large black garage doors separating the indoor from the outdoor — a welcome treat.

A recent visit proved tough to find a seat, but not impossible. As the Friday night wore on, the more-mature clientele was replaced by a much younger contingent. By the time the DJ arrived, the Tavern's upstairs bar was buzzing with a 20-something crowd.

Vivino says in the summer months, the Tavern features a DJ on Friday and Saturday nights. In the winter, the Tavern brings in live bands — “disco bands, '80s bands — a good mix,” he says. “But we don't have country or blues.”

Vivino says the Tavern's usual crowd is a mix of old and young. When the weather is nice, he says, the younger crowd tends to gravitate upstairs onto the patio, while the older crowd claims the downstairs.

Any way you slice it, the Tavern seems to be the place to be in Oakmont.

MENU

At first glance, the Tavern's menu might seem to be traditional fare, but to label it “bar food” would be a mistake.

Almost all of the offerings, Vivino says, are homemade.

“In the colder months, we do a lot of comfort food — homemade meatloaf, pot roast sandwiches, hot roast beef.”

Twenty-one items are available as starters, ranging from grilled portobello mushrooms ($5.50) to crab dip ($6.25) to a must-try, the Tavern Fries ($6.95 for a small, $9.95 for a large).

The fresh-cut thick fries arrived quickly, bathed in cheese — 3 shredded cheeses and a cheese sauce — with tons of bacon pieces and ranch dressing. A fork is just about the only way to attack this. Sadly, it was gone before we knew it.

Another highly recommended starter: the wings ($6.95 for 10; $10.95 for 20). Nine styles are on the menu — from seasoned to Napalm (which the menu declares “too hot to eat”). On a recommendation from our server, we opted for the honey garlic. We were slightly disappointed the “jumbo” on the menu translated to only wing-ding size. However, one taste was enough to forgive all. The garlic scent was potent, but biting into the crispy wings, thankfully, yielded more of the honey side. Again, gone too soon.

The rest of the menu has a happy mix — soups, salads, wraps, quesadillas, burgers, sandwiches, pizzas.

“We're known for our burgers,” Vivino says with pride, adding that they are all cooked on a charcoal grill.

A good example, the huge Border Burger ($7.50), arrived cooked just slightly more than requested, but it didn't disappoint. The spicy kick each bite had never detracted from tasting the Tavern-made pico, jalapeño peppers and oozing pepper jack cheese. The zesty and crisp curly fries were well worth the extra 75 cents as a side.

The Philadelphia Wrap ($7.50) is a fresh take on the famed cheesesteak sandwich. Thinly sliced sirloin comes wrapped in a soft tortilla with onions, peppers, provolone, lettuce and ranch dressing.

The Tavern features a decent selection of greens, of which we sampled the Tavern Salad ($8.50). Fresh iceberg lettuce coated with fresh fries, cheese and chicken breast (portobello mushrooms can be substituted).

Sandwiches are plentiful at the Tavern. After changing our minds often, we settled on the Banker Boy ($7.75), a sirloin offering on a large hoagie roll and loaded with hot peppers, provolone, mushrooms and marinara sauce. The sandwich had a spicy kick that never compromised the meal. But the real treat of this selection was the inclusion of a side macaroni salad, which was deliciously pepper-tinged and delightfully creamy.

The waitstaff was attentive and friendly; there was never a time when we waited long for anything.

Being a bar, the Tavern offers plenty of options for the thirsty.

There are anywhere from 15 to 20 craft beers always available in the large cooler at the far end of the main room, but with the seasons, come new seasonal labels.

With fall arriving soon, a trip back to the Tavern is a given.

Chris Pastrick is a copy editor for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at cpastrick@tribweb.com or 412-320-7898

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