Sharp Edge Bistro goes Downtown with new location
Over the past two decades, owner Jeff Walewski has established Sharp Edge locations in each of the four compass points around Pittsburgh -- Friendship, Sewickley, Robinson Township and Crafton.
On June 7, Sharp Edge zeroed in on Downtown by opening its fifth location on Penn Avenue in the Cultural District.
"Why not?" says manager Mark Sampson, who has worked for Sharp Edge for the past 2 1/2 years. "It helps get our name out there."
Sharp Edge focuses on Belgian beer and a menu of casual dining options with a Belgian twist. The bar has 30 taps, 20 of them pumping out beers from Belgium such as Dekoninck amber ale and Bornem. There's also a wide-ranging selections on tap or in bottles such as Germany's Spaten Lager and Urquell Pilsner from the Czech Republic.
Executive chef and kitchen manager Brian Christman came to the Cultural District location after 18 months at the Sharp Edge Bistro in Sewickley.
Christman got his chef training on the job while working at Food For Thought catering company in Chicago. He also has worked as a chef/supervisor at Oglebay Resort & Conference Center in Wheeling, W.Va.
While recognizing the need for consistency between one Sharp Edge location and the others, Christman says he has been given a lot of freedom.
"I've developed the new menu with seven of my own dishes that will change seasonally," Christman says.
Among those items, he's particularly proud of his Jerk Grilled Cod Loin, which will be served with beans, rice, a sweet tomato sauce and greens.
Designed to provide the ambiance of a Belgian bistro, the interior has a long, friendly bar area with requisite televisions silently spewing sports coverage and lots of people conversing. The first thing you notice is that almost every beer seems to have its own specially shaped glass.
There's a tall, glass-fronted display refrigerator at the back of the room, filled with a big selection of beers with colorful labels. Chalk boards keep track of the specials and specialty beers that change on an almost daily basis.
Bar seating and plain high-top tables serve approximately 60.
Beyond the partial wall there's a brightly painted but bland dining room that accommodates another 75 diners.
There's a buzz in the bar that some may call noisy. But there's also an energy that's missing in the dining room.
Open less than a month, service can be unpredictable.
One meal was prolonged by unexplained long waits in a virtually empty restaurant. At another meal, service flowed efficiently and pleasantly with the waiter checking back at regular intervals.
Waitstaff can vary widely.
On one visit our waitress was friendly and working hard to answer our questions, but clearly inexperienced and under-informed.
On another visit, a Sharp Edge veteran waiter who had transferred from another location, displayed solid knowledge of the beers and the menu selections and made several helpful suggestions about food and drink.
"It's always a work in progress," says Sampson, who says the restaurant makes a special effort to train its staff on the beers, how each should be poured and the differences in taste, aroma, color.
On the plus side, Sharp Edge fills an almost-empty niche in the Cultural District, taking its place between white tablecloth restaurants and fast-food emporia as a place you can drop into for a sandwich before the theater.
It's also available for after-theater dining.
Casual is what Sharp Edge does best.
We enjoyed the Chicken Avocado Club Panini ($12 with a side order of frites), a flat and crisp sandwich with grilled chicken, avocado salsa, melted Swiss cheese, bacon and mayonnaisey aioli.
They also make a very satisfying Buffalo Burger ($13 with frites). Despite buffalo's reputation as a low-fat beef alternative, our burger was nicely juicy with a slightly pink medium rare center, just as we requested.
The individual Chicken Pesto Pizza ($13) with its thin, cracker-like crust may puzzle some. But that's the way they're done in Belgium, we're told. Topped with an abundance of ground chicken and a fresh tasting pesto, it was satisfying and filling.
Both the sweet potato and regular potato frites that came as side orders were lackluster. But the tangy aioli made a hit with at least one of our party.
The soggy pastry in the Mushroom and Leek Tart appetizer ($9) was a disappointment. But the fully flavorful, meaty mushrooms helped redeem it.
We also were disappointed after narrowing down the large list of mussel dishes ($10 for 1 pound, $18 for 2 pounds) to a single choice to discover they had run out. They must be very, very good because the kitchen had gone through 40 pounds in two days. We anticipate having them on another visit.
Instead, at our waiter's urging, we tried the Crab Cakes ($14), which came with a small side salad. The two fat cakes were sweet and moist on the inside, slightly crunchy on the outside.
Desserts are made in-house, one in full view of patrons.
The Belgian Waffle ($3), cooked to order in a waffle iron at the bar, is soft, round and chubby, about the size of a personal pizza. It's served with a generous drizzle of chocolate.
Belgium also has a deserved reputation for creating chocolate as well as beer.
So, do not pass up an opportunity to tuck into Belgian Chocolate Pudding Parfait ($6), which lives up to its billing as decadent. The chocolate pudding is extremely rich and thick and topped with your choice of raspberry sauce or chocolate sauce and whipped cream. For an extra 50 cents you can have it with both raspberry and chocolate toppings.Additional Information:
Sharp Edge Bistro
Cuisine: American with a Belgian twist
Hours: Opens daily at 11 a.m. Bar and kitchen close at 10 p.m. Sundays, at midnight Mondays to Thursdays. On Fridays and Saturdays, kitchen closes at midnight and bar closes at 1 a.m.
Entree price range: $13-$15
Notes: Specializes in Belgian beers. Wide selection of bottles and growlers sold for off-premises consumption. Outdoor seating planned for next season. Daily beer specials.
Location: 922 Penn Ave., Downtown
Details: 412-338-2437 or website