Braddock’s Trail



Onion soup gratinée with melted gruyère.

Photo by Laura Petrilla

A Reuben on Sixth Street? Wrapped up tight and leaning into the wind on a cold night, we hurried toward Braddock’s American Brasserie at the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel on a clandestine mission to see if the rumor had legs. Flanking the entrance were our first greeters: two ornamental dragons decked out in black-and-yellow Steeler mufflers. Even one of the grandest façades on Sixth Street is permeated with the Steelers Nation. Ah Pittsburgh.

Inside, my husband, Brad, and I nabbed a historical fact sheet and a couple of menus from the concierge’s desk in the lobby, then stole away to a private marble alcove to read them. Sure enough, a “Pittsburgh Reuben,” subtitled “The Big Ugly” in quirky font, assaulted my reality like a Polamalu blitz. What’s more, not only Braddock’s American Brasserie but also its companion restaurant at the Renaissance, Braddock’s Street Side, serves a Reuben hearty enough to feed the Steelers’ frontline. The sandwich, served open-face on marble rye, crosses the line of credulity with pastrami (6 ounces), kielbasa (6 ounces) and sauerkraut (3 ounces). But wait, it gets better: That Reuben is topped with two large sauerkraut pierogies and 6 ounces of gruyère cheese.

When I got to “pierogie,” I figured it was a typo and so I grabbed a server on the fly. “It’s for real,” he said. And with that, a shot had been fired across the bow at Primanti Bros., the legendary local joint known for its giant sandwich, which includes cole slaw and French fries as components, not sides.

“It started out as comedy in the kitchen,” says executive chef Joe Elliott. A couple of chefs were fooling around, fueling a fever-pitch rivalry for sandwich-altitude records. Joining Elliott, a Pittsburgh native whose résumé includes Nemacolin and The Cloister in Sea Island in Georgia, is chef de cuisine Brian Volmrich, who worked at The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Va.

The sandwich is “extremely big, extremely ugly, extremely Pittsburgh…and it’s the way to go,” chuckles Elliott, referring now not just to the Reuben but also to national trends away from fine dining. “Fine dining—that was my parents’ generation,” he says. “My generation is fast and impatient. We want something that tastes good and we want it right now.” And what celebrities have taken the “Big Ugly” challenge? Elliott reveals that he recently watched actress Shirley Jones (born in Charleroi) finish one singlehandedly.

Braddock’s American Brasserie, located off the hotel’s lobby in the former Opus space, is a sleek, classy, sit-down restaurant with a Euro feel. Hugging Sixth Street on the other side of the lobby is Braddock’s Street Side in the space once occupied by The Bridge. It’s now an imitation of an intimate saloon, complete with a ruddy-faced barkeep, and serving American food with European undertones and local flair. Whether you’re a traditionalist or an anarchist, you have options that include the largest bourbon and whiskey collection in town.

The lighting is right; service is down pat, and modern references to a bygone era specializing in red meat, rakishness and cocktails by the goblet are still intact. An odds-on favorite dish at the moment seems to be mussels, a classic brasserie staple. Braddock’s serves five versions, with or without frites: marinière, dijonaise, fennel and tomato, Strip District (with kielbasa, tomato, herbs and beer) and Billi Bi (with saffron, Noilly Pratt Vermouth and cream). Plump and juicy, the mussels hail from Blue Hill Bay Farm, Maine. They have character—and plenty of muscle.

I also adore the charcuterie, good for grazing, and, as Elliott predicts, “the next big thing in the U.S.” Although it changes day to day, the menu’s been known to feature homemade duck prosciutto, chicken-liver pâté and country (pork) pâté, often served with fresh dried cherries and pistachios, served on a butcher block.

Every dish is fresh and homemade, incorporates food from local vendors, and shows energy and imagination. Elliott good-naturedly tags his cuisine “In-your-face Pittsburgh with a nod to European roots,” resulting in an exciting, classic sort of menu that runs the gamut from straightforward (a rich hanger steak, Gerber Farms Amish chicken) to inventive (sautéd trout menuire with demi-glace, frisée salad with bacon lardons, and a poached egg). The burger is tempting, with beef bacon, fontina and red-pepper marmalade, and the filet is gorgeous. If it’s comfort you’re after, go for an earthy French lamb and white-bean cassoulet.

One night our server, Daniel, dropped off a warm paper bag with a mini-loaf of crusty Italian bread. We hailed him back, thinking he had delivered a doggie bag to the wrong table. Instead, it turned out to be a clever ice-breaker, the house’s way of facilitating interaction between server and customer. It worked. Daniel was absent until the moment we needed him, and then—abracadabra!—present.
I love the pasta, from Fidi Pasta in Moon Township, specifically a tagliatelle with extra-thick noodles cooked perfectly al dente. It was of a smoky bent, seasoned with saffron, lemon and basil. A dozen littleneck clams were located on the periphery. Also don’t miss a unique, rich, trenne cinghiale, a wild-boar bolognese that was intriguingly flavorful. Daniel twisted my arm, and I’m glad he did.

My favorite selection just might be day-boat scallops out of Block Island, which are caught in the a.m. and then dry-packed until they arrive that afternoon. Served in a personal skillet, the plump, supple sea scallops of this variety are seared, allowing for some brown around the edges but without losing a bit of softness or flavor. They’re complemented by fork-mashed potatoes and a bright sweet-pea puree. Another favorite is the wild California bass, with an opulent flake; it’s pan-seared on a flat top and served in a saffron tomato broth. (Hint: Sparkling wines are a great match with this fish, especially when you add a little bitters to the bubbly.)

For small plates there are short-rib pierogies, fried zucchini and eggplant, and kielbasa from Strip District Meats with sauerkraut. There’s a jumbo lump-crab cake, ubiquitous maybe, but in Pittsburgh, you’ve gotta do it. I like the salty shoestring potatoes piled on top, and lemon aioli replaces cocktail sauce.  And I am secretly thrilled that here’s a chef who no longer feels the need to discuss the presence or absence of filler. Have we grown up a bit?

“Dessert,” we whispered obsessively, and soon a warm fudge brownie appeared. We forged ahead into banana marshmallow fluff, caramel, candied walnuts and French-vanilla ice cream. Coffee from Presto George—perfect!

A good hotel these days is a place, a town, a city, a world unto itself. The aura it exudes has almost nothing to do with sheets and thread count, and everything to do with everything else—the lobby, the bar, the restaurant, the façade, even what’s next door and across the street. It’s not so much what it takes you away from as what it brings to you. Being different is a more precious quality than ever before.

Peter Karpinski, founder and COO of Sage Restaurant Group, which operates both Braddock eateries, is a man who understands all of this. “Eighty percent of our business is from the city,” he says. “We want to create a comfortable place for people who live and work in Pittsburgh, [something] unique to Pittsburgh. There will never be another Braddock’s.”

Braddock’s American Brasserie & Braddock’s Street Side

Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel
107 Sixth St., downtown
412/992-2005, renaissancepittsburgh.com

Braddock’s American Brasserie
Breakfast: Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-11 a.m.; Sat. buffet 7 a.m.-noon.; Sun. brunch, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Lunch: Every day 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Dinner: Sun.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m.

Braddock’s Street Side
Mon.-Thurs., noon-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight; Sun., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Small plates: $6-$17
Pasta: $6-$18
Meat and Poultry: $17-$29
Fish and Shellfish: $17-$23
Sandwiches: $9-$14
Desserts: $6-$10
Full bar, valet parking, major credit cards, reservations accepted, walk-ins welcome, main bar and dining room wheelchair-accessible, no smoking.
 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Two years after Chuck Noll’s death, University of Pittsburgh Press prepares to publish the first definitive biography of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to share an interview with author Michael MacCambridge and an exclusive excerpt of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work,” scheduled for release in October.
The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.
Fall Fashion: In the Black

Fall Fashion: In the Black

The little black dress, and shirt, and pants, never go out of style. Add mystery to your wardrobe with these easy-to-accent autumn staples.
Apteka: A Taste of Home

Apteka: A Taste of Home

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski bring top-notch vegan, eastern European cuisine to Bloomfield.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

In its 225th year, the reference book on weather suggests we tune up our snow-removal equipment.
Chris Jamison Releases His First EP

Chris Jamison Releases His First EP

The Ross native finished third on NBC's “The Voice” in December of 2014.
Up Close Photo Gallery: 10 New Perspectives of Pittsburgh

Up Close Photo Gallery: 10 New Perspectives of Pittsburgh

Zoom in on the places that make our region so fascinating and diverse.
 You Now Can Purchase Wine at a Pennsylvania Grocery Store

You Now Can Purchase Wine at a Pennsylvania Grocery Store

The Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson becomes the first store in the state to offer direct-to-consumer wine sales.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our 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

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Two years after Chuck Noll’s death, University of Pittsburgh Press prepares to publish the first definitive biography of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to share an interview with author Michael MacCambridge and an exclusive excerpt of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work,” scheduled for release in October.
The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.
Fall Fashion: In the Black

Fall Fashion: In the Black

The little black dress, and shirt, and pants, never go out of style. Add mystery to your wardrobe with these easy-to-accent autumn staples.
Apteka: A Taste of Home

Apteka: A Taste of Home

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski bring top-notch vegan, eastern European cuisine to Bloomfield.
Talk of The Tahn: City of Beer

Talk of The Tahn: City of Beer

There are plans afoot for a international museum of beer to be built and staffed right here in Pittsburgh.
Pitt vs Penn State: Resumption of Hostilities

Pitt vs Penn State: Resumption of Hostilities

After an extended hiatus, the storied rivalry between the Pitt Panthers and Penn State Nittany Lions returns in September to Heinz Field.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

In its 225th year, the reference book on weather suggests we tune up our snow-removal equipment.

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
See How Pittsburgh Chefs Are Giving Back

See How Pittsburgh Chefs Are Giving Back

Some of the city's top chefs and bartenders are organizing events to raise awareness about food waste and hate crimes in our community.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

These comic book shops offer more than just your casual Batman or Spider-Man choices.

Comments


New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

If you’re in need of a dining option that’s not a national chain while visiting the Robinson area, this is one to keep in mind.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

The Steelers running back emphasized his latest suspension resulted from missed random drug tests, and not a relapse into the marijuana-induced haze that got him jammed up last season. But if you lack the maturity to grasp the consequences of your actions (or, in this case, inactions), does it really matter?

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Straight out of Canada, the custom menswear store opens its first U.S. location in Pittsburgh.

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.
Hipsters in Iraq, Cops and Robbers in the Old West

Hipsters in Iraq, Cops and Robbers in the Old West

Reviews of "War Dogs" and "Hell or High Water," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Lucky Ones: Katie Doré and John Potter

The Lucky Ones: Katie Doré and John Potter

Want even more Real Pittsburgh Weddings? We'll be bringing them to you throughout the fall, beginning with this lovely and lucky couple.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

The store famous for carrying storage and organizational products is set to open at the revamped Block Northway in Ross Township.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

A fall visitation day and a Saturday information session aim to allow interested students a look into life at the university.

Comments