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Gastropubs are latest food trend to hit Pittsburgh

| Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012

Most recent trends in dining have been fairly self-explanatory. It doesn't take a lot of specialized knowledge to figure out what a "burger bar" or "food truck" is. Others, like "gastropub," which have begun to pop up in and around Pittsburgh, are a bit trickier.

"Gastropub" combines the words gastronomy — "the art and science of good eating" (Merriam-Webster) — and pub. So, it's a pub with good food, right?

In a general sense, yes. But there are varying opinions on how rigid the gastropub template should be.

Meat and Potatoes, in the Cultural District, offers a fairly succinct description on their website: "A public house that serves high end or craft food and libations that also focuses on the fundamentals of food and education. We also believe that you know a gastropub when you are in it."

Chef-owner Richard DeShantz says there are three things that Meat and Potatoes focuses on as a gastropub.

"First of all, the ingredients are fresh, local and high-quality," he says. Then, they "respect the ingredients, and show them off for what they are."

The third thing is "technique," a twist of some kind that makes the dish unique.

For example, a dish he plans on introducing to Meat and Potatoes in the near future is a variation on the classic fried-bologna sandwich. It will feature seared all-beef bologna, good cheddar cheese, black truffle oil and an egg over easy, on sourdough bread.

The first place to get the gastropub label generally is considered to be the Eagle Pub in London, which made a conscious decision to go beyond traditional English pub-grub fare like fish and chips and bangers' n mash, and expend significant creative energy on its dishes.

Greg Andrews, executive chef at the Supper Club and Gastropub in Greensburg, says they used The Spotted Pig, New York City's first gastropub, as a model for the more casual part of the restaurant.

"We wanted to offer high-quality food that was a step above pub grub," says Andrews, who was previously executive chef at Monterey Bay Fish Grotto and has worked in New York, Philadelphia and several other cities. "It's sophisticated and unpretentious food in a pub atmosphere."

Like many restaurants, Andrews says they want to offer casual and upscale dining to attract a broad base of clientele.

Plus, the Gastropub allows him to experiment with dishes. "A lot of high-end chefs are looking to have fun" with the food they offer, he says.

Here are places in the Pittsburgh area that either self-identify as gastropubs or seem to exhibit the major symptoms. Some gastropub purists might dispute a few of them. But, broadly speaking, these are some bars with really good food.

— Michael Machosky

Meat and Potatoes, Cultural District

Richard DeShantz opened Meat and Potatoes last June.

Located in the Theater Square building, the restaurant signals a proper balance between casual and elegant with its decor that pairs chandeliers and velour banquettes with concrete floors, tea-towel napkins and wine served in tumblers rather than stemware.

The result, DeShantz says, is a dining experience that offers unpretentious bar-focused food and drinks that have been mindfully and imaginatively prepared.

That translates into classics such as Bone Marrow ($14), a trio of 8-inch bones cross-cut for easy access to the marrow and served with dishes of freshly made gremolata and onion relish and slices of grilled bread.

The kitchen reinvents tacos by filling tortilla shells with slices of beef brisket that has been marinated with a house-made dry rub, smoked for 12 hours and dressed with a coffee barbecue sauce, bits of cabbage, jalapeno, radish and pepper-jack cheese.

Sure, you can belly up to the bar for a Pabst or you can opt for Boulder Beer Co.'s Hazed and Infused ($4). Others might prefer an Absinthe served with a sugar cube and ice water or the concoction of Bullet rye, black pepper and whiskey bitters that transforms a standard cocktail into a Sgt. Pepper's Old Fashioned.

Meat and Potatoes, 649 Penn Ave., Cultural District. Hours: 5-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5 p.m.-midnight Fridays-Saturdays, 4-9 p.m. Sundays and brunch 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Details: 412-325-7007 or www.meatandpotatoespgh.com .

— Alice T. Carter

Gastropub at the Supper Club, Greensburg

The Supper Club at the train station in Greensburg focuses on sophisticated farm to table dining, and although the Gastropub area of the restaurant is more casual, it still offers refined tastes and locally sourced food.

Executive chef Greg Andrews, his wife Ashlee Andrews and mother-in-law Deb Driggers, who serve as general manager and operations manager, opened the restaurant in July 2010. They endeavor to use as much local food as possible.

The Gastropub is at the center of the restaurant surrounding the large wooden bar. Musicians provide live entertainment, mostly jazz, Thursday through Saturday evenings.

The restaurant's high ceilings and bench seating provide a casual atmosphere that is complemented with good spirits, high-quality wine by the glass and great craft beer. Like the locally sourced food, most of the beers come from Pennsylvania breweries.

The Gastropub menu definitely has dishes you won't find at your average bar. For starters, you can get Smoked Trout Spread and Cornbread Waffles with Pulled Pork. There are a variety of salads and unusual pizzas, including Brie/Pear/ Arugula/Balsamic Reduction or Hanger Steak/Spinach/Blue Cheese/Frizzled Onions ($15).

Andrews says two dishes in particular have gained fans — Grilled Mac 'n' Jack ($8), which features Fede pasta, local dairy products and artisanal cheese from the state and is grilled on the top, and their NYC Burger ($12), which has ground brisket, chuck and top round beef. "All the ingredients are outstanding on their own, and combine to make a better burger," he says. There's also a Jamison Lamb Burger, Crab & Shrimp Burger and House-Made Vegetable Burger.

Gastropub at the Supper Club, 101 Ehalt St., Greensburg. Hours: 4-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4 to 11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. Details: 724-691-0536; www.supperclubgreensburg.com

— Susan Jones

Winghart's, Downtown

Burgers and pizza are common bar fare, but owner Zachery Winghart and his crew at Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar gives them an uncommon quality.

There is the Shipwrecked Burger ($12.95), which has brie, bacon, caramelized onions and arugula. Simpler but also tasty is the popular Denny's Double Blue ($8.95), which is topped with blue-cheese dressing and then a landslide of crumbled blue cheese.

The pizza lineup is led by Rachael's Trip to Greece ($9.75), which has spinach, feta, artichokes, olives and roasted red peppers. The Wing-hart Attack is like a Pittsburgh sandwich on a pie: bacon, fries, chili and cheddar.

Having a drink to wash everything down is important, and Winghart's does not disappoint there, either. It offers six rotating craft beers on tap, a rotating cider and a commercial favorite. True to the name, the pub also has a fine whiskey lineup.

Beware: At lunch it can get crazy in the tight, little eatery. The line to place an order wraps around the bar and seats are as hard to find as ordinary food. A midweek dinner might work out better.

Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar, 5 Market Square, Downtown. Hours: 10 a.m.-midnight Mondays-Fridays, noon-midnight Saturdays. Details: 412-434-5600; www.winghartburgers.com

— Bob Karlovits

Sharp Edge Bistro on Penn, Cultural District

The menu at the five Sharp Edge restaurants almost has to have a distinct identity; it's competing with the hundreds of specialty, craft and international beers that have endeared the Sharp Edge franchise to thousands of thirsty devotees.

At Bistro on Penn in the Cultural District, their newest location, they earn their gastropub cred by updating humble workingman's fare with cosmopolitan gourmet flavors. Their Duck Confit & Fig Pizza ($13) is made with dried figs, wild mushrooms, caramelized onions and provolone and asiago cheese. Their romance with Belgium isn't confined to their impressive selection of ales. Their mussels ($11 to $20) are cooked in traditional Belgian mussel pots, and their Belgian-style Pomme Frites ($7.50) are served with ancho-chili aioli and stone-ground mustard sauce.

The Wild Mushroom and Leek Tart ($10) features a flaky tart stuffed with mushrooms that are grilled in a Belgian double and sauteed in a mixture of Dijon-chive butter and Belgian beer. The ostrich burger ($16) adds sirloin to the ostrich meat for a bit of sizzle. It's served with caramelized onions, Dijon mustard, black pepper and topped with pepper-jack cheese and ancho-chili aioli.

Bistro on Penn also looks the part of your local public house, with its long bar, exposed brick walls, comfortable seating and television screens. Other Sharp Edge locations include the Beer Emporium in Friendship, the Brasserie in Peters Township, the Bistro in Sewickley and the Creekhouse in Crafton.

Bistro on Penn, 922 Penn Ave., Cultural District. Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays (Kitchen closes at midnight); 11 a.m.-midnight Sundays. Details: 412-338-2437; www.sharpedgebeer.com/bistro-on-penn

— William Loeffler

Blue Dust Restaurant, Homestead

At the Blue Dust restaurant in Homestead, even the regulars have to stay on their toes -- the menu selections change every month.

That means the succulent open-faced Turkey Devonshire Sandwich with sherry-cheese sauce ($8.95), the Masas de Puerco ($12.95), and the Yellow Crab Curry Soup ($3.95) are here today, but could be gone tomorrow.

"We do that on purpose," says Sarah Cunniff, who runs the pub with her father, Jerry Miller. "We try to mix it up, to keep people guessing. They're always wondering what's next. That keeps them coming back."

Change has been the formula since the pub opened three years ago at the corner of Amity Street and Sixth Avenue, across the tracks from the often-bustling Waterfront shopping center. It's popular with the happy-hour crowd and weekend shoppers who are looking for fresh-made martinis, draft brews and coolers of horseradish and espresso vodkas.

Despite the fluidity of its menu, the Blue Dust specializes in briskets and delicacies with smoked meats, including turkey and ham. So chances are some version of those favorites are sure to be available anytime you ask.

"We try to keep our menu small," Cunniff says. "That way, we can make sure that everything we sell every month is good."

Blue Dust Restaurant, 601 Amity St., Homestead. Hours: 11:37 a.m.-1:37 a.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11:37 a.m.-midnight Sundays. Details: 412-461-6220; www.bluedustpgh.com

— Chris Ramirez

Alchemy N' Ale, Lawrenceville

By name alone, Alchemy N' Ale sounds like the place graduates of Hogwarts Academy go to when they come of age.

Instead, it's a relatively new gastropub in Lawrenceville with upscale items such as P.E.I. Mussels ($11), which can be served with a variety of sauces, or Lobster Deviled Eggs ($14). And those are just the "starters."

Chef Patrick MacFarlane previously worked at the Tribeca Grill in New York City and the Steelhead Brasserie at Downtown's Marriott City Center Hotel.

The atmosphere and the decor are inviting, with exposed brick walls and large, wooden tables. This does feel like a place where you'd be comfortable hanging out. And, of course, it has an extensive beer menu.

Just be prepared to spend a little more than you normally would at a neighborhood hangout. The Classic Burger is $12, Steak Frites are $22 and a Grilled Tuna Steak is $18. In a nod to the British side of gastropubs, there's a Shepherd's Pie ($15) and Fish and Chips ($13).

Alchemy N' Ale, 5147 Butler St., Lawrenceville. Hours: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; noon-2 a.m. Saturdays. Details: 412-252-2156.

— Rege Behe

BrGr, East Liberty

East Liberty's BrGr was Pittsburgh's first "burger bar," according to chef-owner Brian Pekarcik.

While that's a different marketing concept from the gastropub, it doesn't mean there's no overlap between them. It's a bar, after all — with a good beer selection and alcohol-spiked shakes and floats (like the Bourbon Cherry, $8) — combined with really high-end, high-quality burgers.

There's the Kobe Beef Burger ($12), with pickled onions, arugula, blue cheese, oven-roasted tomatoes (foie gras optional), or the Thai Pork Shrimp Burger ($9), with a patty augmented by pickled cucumber, daikon radish salad, chili aioli, cilantro and mint.

It's a sleek, modern and urban space, yet with a pronounced "beef" theme, reflected by the brown-leather couches, artwork and an abstract iron sculpture of a steer.

As the burger bar concept has proliferated locally, seats can be hard to come by, especially on the weekends. The rules take a little getting used to, but fairly are simple: no reservations, first-come, first-served, no seating until your entire party has arrived.

BrGr, 5997 Penn Circle South, East Liberty. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-midnight (food served until 11 p.m.) Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. (food served until midnight) Fridays-Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays. Details: 412-362-2333 or brgrpgh.com . BrGr also has a location in Cranberry.

— Michael Machosky

Burgatory, Fox Chapel

The menu at Burgatory shows the fun its owners had planning food and drinks. From unusually fresh ingredients, such as ice cream made daily for its shakes (including hard shakes), to inventive combinations of flavors, this gastropub has defined its own sense of gourmet.

The deluxe Morty's Steakhouse ($10.50) is a peppercorn-crusted beef burger with horseradish cheddar, haystack onions and Cabernet sauce. Many diners prefer to create their own burger with Custom Creation ($7.50 to $12), chosen from six kinds of burgers, buns and rubs, with more than four dozen options of sauces and toppings.

All the beef burgers are made with a custom blend of four cuts of meat, ground daily. They are grilled to taste, from rare to well done. Other burgers include bison, Italian sausage, chicken, crab and veggie.

The bar has an exceptionally wide variety of beers and ales, a dozen of them on tap. The hard shakes ($8) have generated plenty of buzz because of singular combinations of flavors, often using speciality liquors -- although Grand Dad's Secret is a relative simple combination of bourbon with caramel for smoothness.

Burgatory, 932 Freeport Mall, Waterworks Mall, Fox Chapel. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays- Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. Details: 412-781-1456; www.burgatorybar.com .

— Mark Kanny

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