Dive Bar & Grille is anything but a sacrifice for your tastebuds
It's hard to believe Dive Bar & Grille in Pine has been the years-long dream of an elephant trainer and weight-guesser at an amusement park who decided at the same time that their mission in life was to "quench people's thirsts."
That's what the fun-loving duo of friends and co-owners Clint Kuskie and Gordon Judge would have you think on their restaurant's Web site, under the "Our Story" section, but really the tale is an inside joke started by Judge's brother as part of an elaborate wedding toast.
"The story was a nice fit right there -- a little sense of humor," Kuskie says.
Kuskie and Judge are happy to share their inside jokes with diners, beginning with the restaurant's name.
"We wanted to call it 'Dive' because it's funny because everything is brand-new," says Judge, motioning to sleek wooden furniture and leather couches -- left over from the former d'Vine Bar & Lounge -- that have been rearranged to form cozy nooks around various fireplaces. Real "dive" bars are represented in photographic form on the walls.
Kuskie and Judge met while working for Bar Louie and they looked for five years to find the perfect location to open their own place, even if it meant a longer commute. Judge lives in the South Hills and Kuskie resides in Belle Vernon, but they felt the sacrifices were worth the Dec. 18 opening.
"We all work very hard at what we do," Judge says.
"We're all married, have wives and kids. They all come in to help if we get jammed up. Fridays have been crazy here," he says.
Clusters of people can be found perched at the bar or talking in more private cave-like recesses in the restaurant, allowing for a diverse mix of personalities in the low light.
The walls behind the bar are a deep cranberry, accented with stacked stonework. Sconce lights spill warm golden light across taupe walls.
A matte black exposed ceiling swallows up remaining light, putting the focus on the stone fireplaces.
"It read really cool on a brokerage website, and when we saw it in person, we thought it was too good to be true. We just had to make the lounge a little more dining-friendly," Kuskie says.
Kuskie and Judge found their executive chef, Dave DeSimone (not related to the Trib's wine columnist), on Craigslist. He had worked as an assistant chef at Vallozzi's in Greensburg and considers steaks and fish his areas of expertise, and he cuts steak in-house.
The appetizer list features a whopping 21 items, from the healthiest Ahi Tuna Bites ($10), with guilt-free pineapple and roasted red pepper chutney and wasabi drizzle, to a decadent Dive Dog ($7), wrapped in bacon, stuffed with pepper jack cheese and fried.
A slider menu can serve as an additional appetizer list.
One of the more imaginative appetizers was a perfect marriage of the traditional comfort dishes of bar wings and Chinese food: the Buffalo Chicken Won Tons ($7). The spicy chicken, rolled in buffalo sauce and blue cheese crumbles would have been fine on its own, but was taken to the next level when wrapped in a crisp, golden won ton and served with celery sticks and ranch.
Another winner was the Turkey Mashers ($8), four pretty sliders fat with shaved turkey breast, potato pancakes and covered in a whipped, creamy white gravy. It was a smart idea to make the gravy so light, as not to miss the smoky flavors blending beneath it.
Narrowing down choices from the menu was daunting, from the BYOB (Build Your Own Burger) ($6) to Miso Salmon ($15) and the I Hate Vegetables Salad ($9), a sinful blend of diced chicken fingers, bacon, onion strings, fries and beer cheese with ranch drizzle.
For dinner, we picked opposite ends of the spectrum: Mahi Tacos ($15), served with Asian slaw, chipotle aioli and two sides, and the 12-ounce House-Cut Prime Rib ($20), with accompanying au jus and two sides. We would like to see the sides expanded a bit in the future into selections as inspired as some of the main dishes.
The mahi was cut into substantial chunks and stacked high with the slaw on three soft tacos. Our server was happy to sub a Greek salad for a house salad. It was thoughtfully prepared with kalamata olives, roma tomatoes, diced cucumbers, artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers, with a conservative speckling of feta cheese, to keep the flavors balanced and not too tart.
The prime rib was a surprisingly generous cut and laced with the right amount of buttery smooth fat around the edges. Dunked in savory au jus and complimented by rice and baked macaroni and cheese, it was a blood-warming antidote to the flurries outside.
To hurry the warming along, I ordered a Chocolate Martini ($6), but I'm really anxious to try the inventive Chocolate Pretzel Martini ($6) next time, a drink Judge dubs the "perfect mixture of salty and sweet."Additional Information:
Dive Bar & Grille
Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Fridays; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Entree price range: $12-$22
Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Specialty drinks and extensive wine list. Happy Hour specials. Available for catering and private parties.
Address: Pine Tree Shoppes, 12017 Perry Highway, Pine
Details: 724-719-2060 or website