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Review: Meat & Potatoes

Visit this modern-day Pittsburgh speakeasy for decadent comfort food and top-notch mixed drinks.


Photos by Laura Petrilla

What is a gastropub? According to chef Richard DeShantz, owner of the new Cultural District restaurant Meat & Potatoes, it’s a pub that serves high-end or craft food and libations. Meat & Potatoes is a modern-day Pittsburgh speakeasy, with a Paris-meets-Brooklyn interior, a wealth of interesting mixed drinks—including those honoring both Prohibition and “the Repeal”—and decadent food that will excite your taste buds, warm your belly and (depending on what you order) prompt visits to your cardiologist.

Owners Tolga Sedvik and DeShantz are also the forces behind Nine on Nine, a nearby fine-dining spot. DeShantz opened Meat & Potatoes to offer something different from his other venture: “food that a chef would eat after a busy day at work, food you grew up with, comfort food and street food.”

The central focal point of the stylized restaurant is, no doubt, the large wood, granite-topped bar that seats 30. The drink menu offers intriguing mixed drinks with names like the Aviation and the Dark & Smokey. Try one of the Barrel-Aged drinks, cocktails mixed and then aged in an oak barrel for two months, giving the components time to integrate, while the wood imparts vanilla, caramel, or spicy notes. I had a barrel-aged Manhattan ($11), and it was magnificent. The restaurant also offers absinthe drinks (Grand Absente $14 and Vieux Carre $12), an extensive selection of reasonably priced bottled and draught beers ($3-$7), and about a dozen each of red and white wines by the glass ($8-$19) or bottle ($32-$76).

Meat & Potatoes' interior is evocative of an era gone by, incorporating bare Edison light bulbs with glowing orange filaments, brown velveteen chairs and booths, tall mirrors, 1920s-style sconces, and a concrete floor. My compliments to DeShantz and his brother, who designed and built this hipster-meets-chophouse interior. The space, the menu (a single sheet of brown parchment with “old thyme” styling), the mounted cow head on the wall, a chalkboard illustration of beef cuts and the fun serveware (drinks in juice glasses, dish towels for napkins, cast-iron pots and desserts in jelly jars) work together to make a coherent experience not common enough in local restaurants.

The ceiling is high, and the tabletops are granite—so it’s a noisy place. But the noise is from conversation and laughter (and, thankfully, not TVs) and is part of the experience: This is the kind of place where you sit at the bar, order a whiskey and Devils on Horseback (a $6 retro, stuffed date appetizer) and talk about politics.

My favorite appetizer is the Moules ($14), which changes daily. An abundance of steamed mussels are served in a black pot with a lid; when the lid is opened, the mussels release their fragrant steam. The ones I ate were steamed in a spicy and satisfying curry, lime and chili-pepper broth, which was so good that I requested a spoon to make sure I didn’t miss a drop.

The bar snacks platter, comprising housemade jerky fried Brussels sprouts, roasted bone marrow, duck pâte, devils on horseback and pickeled egg.

 

I enjoyed the mac-n-cheese ($12), featuring bits of pork-belly pastrami and peas, and the very good lobster risotto ($14): thankfully not overcooked or clumpy and abundant with lobster chunks. A traditional salad that fits right in is the wedge ($7), featuring baby iceberg, bacon, roasted tomatoes, croutons and pickled onions, with a creamy and (not too blue) blue-cheese dressing.

The appetizer that has become the talk of the town is the bone marrow ($14): three roasted, halved bones about 8 inches long that, together, provide an outrageous amount (maybe a cup) of marrow, served with little ramekins of capers, onion relish, sea salt and gremalota to help cut the richness. The San Marzano flatbread ($10), however, is not remarkable, featuring homemade dough, tomato, Mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, artichoke and olives.

I was miffed when I learned that the housemade bread cost $3 for a few hearty slices. But when I tasted this bread, grilled and served with butter and homemade rhubarb compote, my feelings softened.

Among the main courses, my top picks were the “Mom” Meat Loaf ($16): a sweet, tomato-y loaf, served with perfect buttermilk mashed potatoes, spicy tomatoe [sic] jam and fried leeks; and the hamburger ($14, not always available): a special version topped with cheddar cheese and short ribs, served on a super fresh housemade bun. The fried taters are salty and delicious; be sure to ask for the truffle mayonnaise, which elevates the fries to a whole new level. Another excellent choice (and better for the heart) is the grilled bronzino fish ($22), served whole with roasted summer vegetables.

The chicken pot pie ($20) is beautifully served in an oval cast-iron pot, full of tender chicken, potatoes, peas and carrots; although it was soupy, the flavors were terrific. The hanger steak ($24) is a menu staple: chunky steak served with a little Southwestern flair, provided by chimichurri sauce, delicious grilled plantains and black-bean salsa. 

For those with big appetite, there is a daily over-the-top selection, such as the ribeye ($42, which sold out when I was there), a 40-ounce prime rib or a 30-ounce porterhouse. 

The desserts are served in jelly jars. I tried the rich, creamy chocolate pot de crème ($7), which had a rich dark-chocolate flavor. The key lime pie was also delicious, but I wasn’t jazzed about the presentation, excavating the crust from the bottom of a jelly jar.

My biggest gripe with Meat & Potatoes was the amount of time it took to receive my food, which appeared to be the fault of the kitchen staff, not the waitstaff. I’m going to chalk this up to the newness of the place and its overwhelming initial success, serving up to 350 customers per night during the first month of operation. And if you are rushing to see a show, be sure to tell your server after you're seated.

Although it's a drinking environment, the restaurant is kid-friendly, offering plain pasta with butter, hot dogs and hamburgers (all offerings aren't listed on the menu). And despite the name, the restaurant also offers several vegetarian dishes, including pasta, risotto, and flatbread, and keeps tempeh and seitan on hand for special requests. 
 

Info:
» 649 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA (15222); 412/325-7007, meatandpotatoespgh.com
» Mon.-Thurs., 5-11 p.m.; Fri., 5 p.m.-12 a.m.; Sat. brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 5 p.m.-12 a.m.; Sun. brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 4-9 p.m.; contact restaurant to check on lunch
» Snacks, $3-$7; Appetizers & Salads, $7-$14; Main Courses, $16-$24; Desserts, $6
» Full bar, major credit cards accepted, reservations suggested, some vegetarian options, wheelchair-accessible, no smoking, $10 corkage fee, catering/banquet services, gluten-friendly options, downtown parking garages (with validation $4 at adjacent Theatre Square Garage at Penn Avenue & 7th Street).

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