Review: Juniper Grill

Juniper Grill fires up the ‘burbs with its locations in Cranberry and Peters townships.




Photos by Laura Petrilla
 

 

Juniper Grill is on the radar as an emerging suburban hot spot. Having opened its first location in 2011 in Peters Township, the business expanded last spring to Cranberry Township and is aiming to have its Murrysville spot up and running by year’s end.

Business partners Pat McDonnell and Nick Koustis came up with the concept. Joining the Restaurant Holdings CEO and director of concept development, respectively, in this venture are executive chefs Nick Bell (Peters) and Chris Perrin (Cranberry), who have transformed the pair’s ideas into reality.

Restaurant Holdings also owns Atria’s Restaurant and Tavern, which has eight area locations, and is managing partner of the Mike Ditka’s restaurants in Chicago and Robinson Township. Because McDonnell and Koustis each have many years of restaurant experience, they created a specific vision for Juniper.

“We wanted a simpler concept,” says Koustis. “We wanted a smaller restaurant than our previous [endeavors], with a beautiful lodge-like interior where you would walk in and feel you were somewhere else … We also wanted to offer food that you might not make at home.” 



 

The interiors make you feel as if you have escaped the hubbub of the heavily trafficked shopping centers in the surrounding communities. Both places feature dark wood, stacked-stone walls, fireplaces, a large bar and an open kitchen. The space is divided into smaller sections so that diners have an intimate experience no matter where they’re seated.

The extensive bar menu lists several fun features, including the favorite Moscow Mule ($8), served in a chilled copper mug. A selection of margaritas, tequilas and mojitos ($8-$10.50) reflects the cuisine’s Southwestern flair. The wine list spans a range of prices and types, with more than 25 by-the-glass choices.

The food menu is diverse but not too large. “We want to do fewer things well,” says Koustis. “Each item has a very specific preparation to get the best results; for example, our brisket is marinated for 24 hours and then smoked overnight, and our French fries are made from scratch [in] a five-step process.”

I recommend starting with some of the homemade spreads — including the guacamole ($9), with freshly smashed avocado, and the creamy white-bean hummus ($9.50), accented with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes and served with warm pita. 



 

The signature salad is the wood-grilled romaine ($7), comprising whole leaves that are lightly grilled and drizzled with a thick housemade Caesar dressing and topped with housemade cornbread croutons. The house Caesar salad ($5) is much less special. At lunch, you can add your choice of meat — chicken ($4 more), salmon or steak (each $7.50 extra)  — to the wood-grilled romaine to create a satisfying meal.

Juniper’s fish tacos (two for $11; three for $13) are prepared exactly to my liking. Served on white flour tortillas, the generous filets of Cajun-spiced tilapia go well with the “drunken” black beans, rice and a fresh, chunky mango salsa. This must-have dish comes with a side of crisp Southwest cole slaw.

The traditional angus burger ($10) is deeply satisfying and served with all the usual toppings on a perfectly grilled brioche bun. Koustis says the kitchen staff toasts the bun on a special flat-top surface so the bun is dry enough to be paired with the juicy burger meat. The aforementioned hand-cut fries are a tasty accompaniment.



 

The tender slow-roasted boneless short ribs ($19.50) are nicely sauced, accented with a succotash garnish and served with Yukon mashed potatoes or your choice of vegetable. I also enjoyed the chipotle skirt steak ($19.50), a simply prepared generous strip of beef topped with chipotle drizzle; be sure to get it with a side of wood-grilled asparagus ($4).

A disappointing choice is the featured Amish rotisserie chicken ($14) — which oddly was like baked chicken in that it was fatty, and the skin was neither crisp nor dark.

Ask your server about the sustainable fish-of-the-day option; its preparation and price vary based on daily selection.



 

With the exception of the triple chocolate-fudge cake ($7), desserts are made in-house. The three I sampled — key lime pie ($6), traditional crème brûlée ($5) and signature cornbread in a skillet with fresh berry sauce ($6.50) — all are excellent and served with ice cream from Sarris Candies in Canonsburg.

Juniper Grill is satisfying, warm and inviting, and its focus on fresh preparation raises the bar for suburban locales. 



 

Pat McDonnell | CEO and Founder, Restaurant Holdings Inc.
 

You have opened your two existing Juniper sites close to Atria’s, which you also own.  Do you feel like you’re creating your own competition?  
Some people might say we are cannibalizing our own restaurants, but we look at it differently. Because we own those Atria’s, we understand the market there very well, and we understand our customer base.  Juniper is a totally different concept with a different experience. So really, we look at it as giving our customers more choices. 

What trends are you seeing in the restaurant business?  
I definitely see a trend toward healthier eating. Our top-seller is the fish tacos. People love our catch of the day, [along with] food that is cooked on the rotisserie or grilled. I’m also seeing that the big chain restaurants are becoming more and more like each other; they are so focused on offering discounts and Groupons, and their food is becoming more and more unfocused, and the quality is just not there. 

What are the challenges of maintaining consistency between restaurants with identical menus?  
First of all, you have to have good procedures, recipes and ingredients to try to reduce the number of variables and the number of things that can go wrong. Then you need to add talented chefs. The thing about Mother Nature is that she may hand you different kinds of food products, [such as] tomatoes, and you need someone who actually understands how to cook to know how to prepare that product in a way that works. Our chefs do a great job.

You are a managing partner in Mike Ditka’s restaurants here and in Chicago.  How does Pittsburgh compare to Chicago?  
I have always considered Chicago to be like New York and San Francisco in terms of being a breeding ground for chef/owners and food trends. There always is something new in Chicago, and I really enjoy traveling there to eat. Pittsburgh used to be really behind the times, but [in] the last 10 years, we have seen a lot more creativity here.

 

Gallery

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

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in October

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in October

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh

The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh

From glass and aluminum to ketchup and candy, Pittsburgh has made its mark, thanks in large part to the instantly recognizable brands that remain etched not merely on its buildings — but on its DNA. We look at 10 of those brands and explore how they helped to establish and define the Steel City.
Wheels Up? What's Next for PIT

Wheels Up? What's Next for PIT

Under a new CEO, Pittsburgh International Airport heads into its 25th year while attempting to woo flyers and flights and leave its empty, post-hub days behind.
Pittsburgh's Connection to an Out-of-This-World View of Space

Pittsburgh's Connection to an Out-of-This-World View of Space

Three men at NASA serve pivotal roles in maintaining the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been taking high-resolution photos of deep space for more than 25 years. And they're all from Pittsburgh.
Dish Review: Bar Marco's Turnaround

Dish Review: Bar Marco's Turnaround

The Strip District eatery overcomes tumult and once again is one of Pittsburgh’s finest restaurants.
Talk of The Tahn: Weird Things We Do that Make Pittsburgh Wonderful

Talk of The Tahn: Weird Things We Do that Make Pittsburgh Wonderful

The things that are best about us? They’re not things. They’re ways.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


New Contract for PSO is a No Go

New Contract for PSO is a No Go

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians vote to go on strike.

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
e2 to Close in Highland Park

e2 to Close in Highland Park

Chef/owner Kate Romane will move on to a new project.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
6 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

6 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

Easy access from universities, wallet-friendly prices and really good food make these our favorite choices for the university set.

Comments


Halloween Hotlist: 10 Events That Prove Scaring is Caring

Halloween Hotlist: 10 Events That Prove Scaring is Caring

Pittsburgh is a wicked destination for spooky shenanigans. Here’s a sampling of what’s to come.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates’ Ship Sunk But Salvageable

Pirates’ Ship Sunk But Salvageable

Of all that conspired to derail the Pirates after three consecutive trips to the playoffs, the unanticipated implosions of Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano proved, in retrospect, to be more of a deal-breaker than anything else.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Green Chic: The Boxcar Planter Set

Green Chic: The Boxcar Planter Set

The geometric set is available through the hip Ace Hotel shop.

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.
Surprise: Deepwater Horizon is Quite Good

Surprise: Deepwater Horizon is Quite Good

Reviews of "Deepwater Horizon" and "Queen of Katwe," along with local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
A Laid-Back Love: Kelly McHolme and Bob Stasa

A Laid-Back Love: Kelly McHolme and Bob Stasa

This Pittsburgh couple wanted their guests to be just as content as they were at their wedding.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Make Your Design Work for You: Mecox Opens In Pittsburgh

Make Your Design Work for You: Mecox Opens In Pittsburgh

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Mecox will be opening its eighth location, but its first in Pittsburgh, in Shadyside.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education

Thiel College to Break Ground on New Science Facility

The project will cost $4.5 million and will connect two previously existing structures.

Comments