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Cooking class: With Table 86, former Steeler Hines Ward leaves gridiron for Napa Valley

| Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, 8:12 p.m.
Table 86's blackened tuna entree Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Table 86's blackened tuna entree Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Table 86 Sous Chef Mark Roginski, left, and Executive Chef Scott Croyle with their blackened tuna dish Tuesday, oct. 6, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Table 86 Sous Chef Mark Roginski, left, and Executive Chef Scott Croyle with their blackened tuna dish Tuesday, oct. 6, 2015.
Drizzle caramel sauce on the blackened tuna dish for Table 86 dish Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Drizzle caramel sauce on the blackened tuna dish for Table 86 dish Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Cut blackened tuna steaks on a bias for the Table 86 dish Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Cut blackened tuna steaks on a bias for the Table 86 dish Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Blacken tuna steaks on all sides for the Table 86 dish Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Blacken tuna steaks on all sides for the Table 86 dish Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Pour soy sauce mixture over sauteeing vegetables for the Table 86 blackened tuna dish Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Pour soy sauce mixture over sauteeing vegetables for the Table 86 blackened tuna dish Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Table 86 Executive Chef Scott Croyle places a blackened rub on tuna for their cooking class dish Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Table 86 Executive Chef Scott Croyle places a blackened rub on tuna for their cooking class dish Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Vegetable stir fry over top of the rice pilaf for the blackened tuna dish Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Vegetable stir fry over top of the rice pilaf for the blackened tuna dish Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.

When Steelers standout wide receiver Hines Ward researched getting into the restaurant business after his football career ended, he had his agent contact Howard Shiller as a potential partner.

Shiller, 60, a Cleveland native who grew up in the Detroit area, has a plethora of expertise in partnering with athletes in the hospitality business. He is a partner in The Great Grill Group, which owns Jerome Bettis Grille 36 on the North Shore and three other sports-oriented bar-restaurants in Columbus, Indianapolis and Houston.

Shiller found Siba restaurant, which had just closed in Seven Fields.

Shiller and Ward, who retired from the Steelers after the 2011 season, struck a deal for the space, then set about transforming it into Table 86 Kitchen and Cocktails by Hines Ward.

And when Shiller saw the nearby Bohem Bohemian Bistro, in the back of the same Northpointe Circle building, “I said, ‘Oh my God, this is a Napa Valley-style wine bar.'”

So, he and Ward turned it into Vines, a wine and whiskey bar featuring small bites.

While the other establishments Shiller is involved with are owned by the Great Grille Group, the only investors in Table 86 and Vines are Ward and Shiller.

“I didn't want this restaurant to be like the other ones,” Shiller says of Table 86, which opened in August and is named for Ward's number with the Steelers. “This has more of a restaurant focus. We want people to know they're in a restaurant, not a sports bar.

“Everything is made from scratch here,” he says.

“A sports bar — that's not what we are,” says general manager Howie Gardner. Flat-screen televisions are visible primarily to patrons at the bar: “They're there if you're looking, but not when you're not looking,” he says.

“Our menu sets us apart,” Gardner says.

Entrees include Pasta Fra Diavolo with sliced spicy sausage, peppers, onions, roasted garlic and tomato-basil sauce over cavatappi pasta, for $14.99; and the MVP Butcher Block Burger, topped with pulled pork, aged cheddar, bacon and Asian slaw, for $12.86.

Korean BBQ Ribs, a nod to Ward's Korean heritage, are house-smoked and char-grilled and served with french fries, for $21.86. A Crab Mac and Cheese with lump crab, creamy aged cheddar sauce, seasoned bread crumbs and diced tomatoes is $16.86. Seafood includes Blackened Ahi Tuna with a light caramel drizzle, stir-fry vegetables and rice, for $19.86.

An array of steaks are available, including a 20-ounce Bone-in Ribeye with Yukon smashed potatoes and broccoli for $34.99 and a 12-ounce N.Y. Strip topped with blue cheese, candied bacon and balsamic drizzle, served with Yukon smashed potatoes and broccoli, for $28.99.

Lighter fare includes a variety of sandwiches, both side and entree-size, including a Pan Asian Grilled Chicken Salad with greens, Napa cabbage, carrots, red peppers and mandarin orange slices in a sweet mandarin orange dressing, for $12.86. That and other entree salads are available with chicken or shrimp for $4 extra or salmon for $5.

“There are some things we've seen work well that you're not going to see everywhere,” Gardner says, including Table 86's Fried Zucchini appetizer for $8.86 and Chef's Seasonal Bread Pudding with whiskey cream sauce, for $5.86.

“Scott makes the most incredible bread pudding you've ever had in your life,” Gardner says, referring to the efforts of executive chef Scott Croyle. Croyle, 42, a Ford City native who now lives in South Park, trained at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute. He's worked at several area restaurants, including Piccolino's and Scoglio.

“Mom's Italian and Syrian, so I had tons and tons of food options,” Croyle says. “I grew up in my grandmother's kitchen.”

Gardner, 44, a Munhall native who now lives in Jefferson Hills, has had more than 20 years of front-of-the-house experience with Olive Garden. Shiller worked with the TGI Friday's chain and as an area director with Disney resorts, where he gained food and beverage experience.

Their customers at Table 86 come from all over to dine at tables, at leather-upholstered booths under warm, wood-paneled ceilings lit by wrought-iron chandeliers or at the wooden bar sided with herringbone brick. The developers kept the freestanding copper fireplace, centered in the corner turret.

“We get a lot of locals,” Gardner says. “People have kind of embraced us,” partly because of the interest in Ward.

“We get people from Arizona, people who traveled 150 miles, people who are in town for the game,” Croyle says.

Ward, who lives with his family in Georgia, stops by whenever he's in the Pittsburgh area.

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Blackened Ahi Tuna

Diners don't have to have the appetites of football players to eat at Table 86 Kitchen and Cocktails by Hines Ward. The menu has a variety of lighter dishes, including Blackened Ahi Tuna, which executive chef Scott Croyle shares today with Cooking Class.

Croyle likes to balance the savory flavor of the tuna with a sweet caramel drizzle.

Croyle also balances sweet and salty flavors in the stir-fry sauce, which uses mirin, a sweetened rice wine, and salty soy sauce. The stir-fry vegetables and rice keep the dish light and nutritious, a tasty alternative to the season's more usual rich holiday fare.

For the tuna:

Olive oil

7 ounces stir-fried vegetables, including broccoli florettes, red onion sliced thin, julienned zucchini, snow peas, julienned carrots, julienned red peppers

2 ounces stir-fry sauce (recipe below)

2 pieces (8 ounces each) tuna

1 ounce blackening spice

2 cups prepared rice

12 ounce caramel sauce

Pinch of sesame seeds

1 tablespoon green onions

Fry vegetables in hot saute pan with 1 ounce olive oil. Saute 3 for minutes, then add the stir-fry sauce and remove from heat. Next, rub the tuna with the blackening spice, then sear the tuna in a hot cast-iron pan for 2 minutes on each side for rare-temperature preparation.

Mound the prepared rice in the center of the plate and top with stir-fried vegetables. Cut the tuna on the bias into three equal pieces and place around the rice at the noon, 4 and 8 o'clock positions. Drizzle with caramel sauce, sesame seeds and the tablespoon of green onion.

Makes 2 servings.

For the stir-fry sauce:

3 tablespoons ginger puree (see instructions below)

2 ounces soy sauce

8 ounces mirin (sweetened rice wine)

4 ounces rice-wine vinegar

4 tablespoons sesame oil

Peel and chop the ginger finely by hand. Place the ginger with the soy sauce in a robot coupe or food processor. Puree for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mirin and rice-wine vinegar and puree; slowly drizzle in the oil at the end to emulsify.

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