Review: Bar Marco

Bar Marco heats up the Strip with serious wine and spirits, and high-quality food to match, inside the old No. 7 firehouse.




Photos by John Altdorfer
 

 

Bar Marco is a tale of Pittsburgh youth. Four friends grew up together in Greensburg, got educated, moved away, traveled, got serious jobs and then — at the ripe old age of 27 — quit and used their combined savings to commit to their passions: good food and drinks.

The four entrepreneurs — Kevin Cox, Bobby Fry, Michael Kreha and Justin Steel — have a variety of food and bar-service experiences, and three of them (all but Fry) share chef duties to varying degrees at Bar Marco. They rehabbed the historic 1860 firehouse themselves, removing previous additions, like partition walls and a glass vestibule, to reveal original features.

Gone are the dropped ceiling, dry-wall, sheet rock and flooring — exposing the original decorative tin ceiling, glazed brick and subway tile walls, and concrete floor. The guys also built the tables, shelving bar and back bar, and added some candles as well as a funky chandelier, creating a space that seems unfinished in a shabby-chic way.

Joining the four co-owners is Texan sous chef John Heidelmeier, formerly of Root 174, who can also be found in Bar Marco’s basement woodshop crafting kitchen knives from reclaimed wood (soon to be available to the public). Rounding out the team: Colin Anderson, the “rock star,” says Fry, behind the bar; and the servers, a bunch of plaid-shirted young men who are genuinely excited about the offerings. Even Lucy Nguyen, the Strip District’s venerable banh mi vendor, is now based out of Bar Marco’s kitchen.



At this eatery, the bar is truly the focal point — and the cocktail menu is my favorite part.  Everything’s made from scratch — bitters, tinctures, juices and syrups. In general, I found the cocktails to be flavorful and made with a light, refined touch (with perfect garnishes, to boot). Drinks range from a traditional Manhattan ($12) to creative concoctions like the Vanilla Orange Thing ($10). The brunch menu (more on the fare later) also offers a spirited selection of mixed drinks, including an excellent Bloody Mary ($8).

Bar Marco staffers are serious about the wine program, and take pride in serving hard-to-find and “natural” (unfiltered) wines. Wine by the glass ($7-$16) is served in three-and-one-half ounce pours, and they’ll let you to taste several kinds before making a decision.

Despite the focus on drinks, the food is equally impressive. Because local ingredients are sourced daily, the menu changes often.  First off are the little $3 items; choose from five meats, five cheeses and five “things” (think honey or housemade preserves) to create a sampler platter. I had perfectly aged Camembert and delicious, finely sliced speck. On one visit, the baguette supplier (La Gourmandine in Lawrenceville) was on vacation, so Bar Marco instead offered tiny Middle-Eastern treats like curried naan bread.

Next up are the snacks, from which I enjoyed the tender smoked pork tamales ($10) and the seasonal garlicky bruschetta ($5) — perfect for when local tomatoes are in season.  Less to my liking were the bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with manchego ($10), which were light on the manchego and slightly burnt.



Although the entrées are a minor part of the menu (there may be three options), I thought they were among the best dishes I tried. The house-smoked pork shoulder ($19) was amazing, very tender and not fatty (and fortunately not drowning in a sweet sauce); it’s served with an excellent butternut-squash mash and braised greens.

Bar Marco does a rousing brunch on the weekend. One highlight is the broiled grapefruit half served with mint, ricotta and honey ($5), so simple yet so divine. The variety of offerings — including breakfast risotto of the day ($12), “a proper English breakfast” ($14) and French toast with housemade brioche ($10) — makes this place a fun brunch spot.

When it comes to dessert, you must try the rich panna cotta ($8) — it’s to die for — with a subtle lemon-mint flavoring; sometimes this treat is served with poached pears in port wine.

Bar Marco has a few qualities that are both strengths and weaknesses. When it’s busy, it is very loud; this is fun for times when I’m happy to lean over my mixed drink to talk to my companions but not right for every occasion. Second, the menu is spontaneously planned based on available products, which is admirable — but tough for consistency. That said, I really enjoyed many items — and I appreciate that the four co-owners care deeply about food and drinks but aren’t too hung up on convention.

2216 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412/471-1900, barmarcopgh.com

  Watch: Go Behind the Scenes at Bar Marco

Justin Steel, Co-Owner/Chef | Bar Marco

Do you think of Bar Marco as more of a bar or a restaurant?  
Well, our idea was that Bar Marco would be like a European wine bar, just without the pretense. We wanted the more low-key feeling of a pub. We want the drinks and the food to be great — but the main thing is that people have a good time.

Who’s Marco?  
Bar Marco is named in honor of my mentor, Marco Enrico, who has been at DeNunzio’s for many years. He has a beautiful home in Jeannette, where he has served us many amazing, elaborate Italian meals. He’s slowly adopted the four of us [co-owners], one-by-one.

The crowd at Bar Marco seems to be an interesting mix. Who are your diners?  
It’s very accurate to say that we have a wide range of ages; the crowd changes at different times of day. We have some college-aged people who are looking for a more sophisticated experience than your typical bar. We have families who come for early dinner or brunch before a show or game. And then, after midnight, it becomes like a neighborhood bar — it’s a really lively scene.

How would you describe the style of the food?  
I am really influenced by Italian food; however, our food lets the ingredients shine. Almost all of our produce is local, mostly from farmers markets. We are smoking meats in-house, and we canned, pickled and froze summer foods like tomatoes, corn and peppers for the winter; we really want to be versatile and prepare the food that is available. Recently, we had a guy come in with a really special bottle of wine; we made a few dishes that were not on the menu that went well with his wine. We just want everyone to have a great time.

What is your advice about cooking well?  
It’s really about getting good ingredients. Know where your food comes from. It’s naturally delicious. You don’t really need do that much; it sort of takes care of itself.  

What are your future plans?  
In the spring, we are planning to create an outdoor courtyard that can host 60 people and have a community wood-fired oven. It will be open from the spring to the fall.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

It only takes one person, one jagoff, one childish, attention-seeking, discourteous jerk to send a woo through PNC Park.
Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Nearby Canonsburg is a rare find for antiques collectors.
U.S. Open at Oakmont: Will The Town Finally Be a Player?

U.S. Open at Oakmont: Will The Town Finally Be a Player?

The U.S. Open is returning to Oakmont — and unlike previous tournaments, this one could make the community a vital part of the action.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Cyclists Say PennDOT's Bike Map a Start, but Could Be Better

Cyclists Say PennDOT's Bike Map a Start, but Could Be Better

The state's new interactive bike map displays the speed limit and traffic flow of state route bike paths.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Long-Standing Spoon Chef To Open His Own Eatery

Long-Standing Spoon Chef To Open His Own Eatery

Dave Anoia, the former chef de cuisine at Spoon, will open DiAnoia's Eatery in the Strip District in August.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

The in-house tavern at the Riverhounds' home stadium is now welcoming guests during weekdays. But is it worth a dedicated stop?

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Crosby’s Long-Awaited Signature has Pens Pondering The Possibilities

Crosby’s Long-Awaited Signature has Pens Pondering The Possibilities

For Sidney Crosby and for the Penguins, happy days are here again. But the emotion of the moment won’t mean much if Crosby and the Penguins aren’t able to build upon it as the series progresses.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Recycled Paper Never Looked So Good

Recycled Paper Never Looked So Good

Whether you’re looking for an original illustration, a cute note card to send a friend or a unique notebook to keep track of your thoughts, Little Alexander’s paper goods offer beautiful locally made options.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The Angry Birds Movie Is Just a Total Mess

The Angry Birds Movie Is Just a Total Mess

Plus reviews of "The Nice Guys" and "Neighbors 2," as well as local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Get with the (Wedding) Program

Get with the (Wedding) Program

Have you ever considered making programs for your wedding guests? If not, think again and get creative.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

Spread out across the city for these upcoming events, including a “Tiny House” exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center displayed by the FIY Network.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Pitt Adds New Major

Pitt Adds New Major

The environmental engineering major will be available in the 2016-17 academic year and aims to help students prepare for a changing job market.

Comments