Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Revisiting Fat Head's

The South Side stalwart punches above its weight thanks to good beer and gigantic sandwiches.




Photo by Sean Collier
 

My memories of Fat Head’s, the Carson Street mainstay known for hearty burgers and a bulbous logo with a cheshire-cat grin, are primarily from childhood.

No, I wasn’t bar-hopping as a preteen. Although that would really up my credibility. “I’ve been going to Dee’s Cafe since I was wearin’ Ninja Turtle suspenders!” Anyway.

Grown-up family members were quite fond of Fat Head’s in the mid-’90s, and it emerged as a destination for group outings. They liked the draft selections and the giant piles of food; I was mostly in it for the Jones Soda, the proto-hipster brand of cane-sugar pop that enjoyed a wave of popularity through the mid-2000s.

Fat Head’s had Jones Soda. I liked Jones Soda. Ergo, I liked Fat Head’s. This is how the 12-year-old brain typically works.

Since then, though, I’ve found little cause to return, even as the pub has established satellite locations, begun brewing its own beer and marked a quarter-century of service on the South Side (a fairly remarkable run on ever-changing Carson Street).

Last week, though, my girlfriend suggested we pop in for a Bumble Berry, Fat Head’s popular honey/blueberry ale. I ordered their Dortmunder Lager. My beer was good. Her beer, she said, was delicious, and garnished with surprisingly fresh berries.

That made it official: It was time to reevaluate Fat Head’s, on the merits of more than brightly-colored fad soda.

I returned for lunch, finding a menu with an embarrassment of sandwiches. Stuff between bread is distributed over a full three sections of Fat Head’s menu: sandwiches, burgers, and “Headwiches,” which are like sandwiches, but, y’know, big. I ended up ordering the Southside Slopes, which the menu claims was ranked among the nation’s best sandwiches by lad mag Maxim. (A little Googling reveals this to be a bit of an exaggeration; in 2004, the magazine included it on a list of the nation’s best “meat hog” sandwiches, a collection of artery-choking megadishes. More recent domestic sandwich rankings by Maxim have not included any mention of Fat Head’s.)

The sandwich was definitely gigantic. And it was satisfying enough — a kielbasa hoagie on a bun, basically, topped off with a couple of nicely done pierogies. It wasn’t anything to write home about, but paired with a signature beer — the Starlight, a helles lager, this time — it was a filling and pleasant meal. The house-made chips it was served with were quite good — despite a bizarrely prominent placard on the menu declaring that sandwiches would be served with chips, burgers would be served with fries and no substitutions on potato products would be permitted.

Hell of a hill to die on, there.

The remarkable thing about Fat Head’s is how inviting it is. Even on a stretch of pavement known for its eagerness to please, this is a place with attentive-yet-unobtrusive service, pleasant atmosphere and genuine positivity pervading its staff and clientele. A soundtrack of standards — “Mother and Child Reunion,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Heroes” — perfectly walked the tightrope between toe-tapping and incidental. For all the Spotify playlists that attempt to do so, throwback music collections are tough to get right. Fat Head’s nails it.

They nail most things, oddly centralized gift shop notwithstanding. It’s a well-run, welcoming neighborhood restaurant with mountains of food, and they make perfectly respectable beer. You’d never mistake Fat Head’s for one of the best bars or restaurants in town; you can throw a frisbee from the front door and hit a better bar.

But, for trips exactly like those that brought me there as a child, it’s just right — a family from the suburbs comes Downtown looking for big meals and a beer or two in a laid-back restaurant. Downtown without the pretension, South Side without the chaos. This is a fine restaurant.

I don’t think they serve Jones Soda anymore, though.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

New Restaurants That Opened in October in Pittsburgh

A tasting menu restaurant, Brazilian cuisine and new sandwich spot are among the offerings.

Steelers Have Changed the Narrative in Dramatic Fashion

A defense that was groping to accomplish the simplest of tasks has started to dominate. The offense has stopped getting in its own way and started exploding scoreboards.

The 400-Word Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Melissa McCarthy shines in an unconventional tale.

How to Plan Your Light Up Night Like a Pro

We've got a few tried and tested ways to enjoy the start of the holiday season without giving yourself a stress headache.

Just Films Series Opens Big Conversations

The screening series will next week feature "Served Like a Girl," about the lives of female veterans in the United States.

The 400-Word Review: Outlaw King

In Netflix's historical epic, Braveheart gets another chapter (and an upgrade).

More than $2 Million Raised in the Wake of Tree of Life Tragedy

The Tree of Life shooting shook the Pittsburgh community — but its reverberations reached way past city limits. Donors near and far have shown their support in a variety of campaigns and fundraisers.

"Gone With The Wind" Makes its 81-Year Return

Howard Schweitzer grants his late mother’s wish in returning a book to the Carrick library she checked out in 1937.

See What Pittsburgh’s Restaurant Industry is Doing for Tree of Life Victims

The city’s chefs, bartenders and food truck operators all have organized fundraisers that will take place in the next few weeks.

The Clarks Cover Elvis Costello for Tree of Life

The band’s cover of “Peace, Love and Understanding” will benefit victims of the shooting.

How to Curate Humanity at the Carnegie Museum

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has hired a new staff member whose specialty is to study how and why humans became the dominant force in the earth’s system.

In Just One Night Pittsburgh Brewers Raise Thousands for Tree of Life Victims

The event, held at Lorelei in East Liberty, had brewers scrambling back to their home bases for additional kegs.

A Tale of Two Weddings

In a theatrical performance set to stun audiences for years to come, this Pittsburgh couple took on two weddings — one featuring a mayor, a movie trailer and a secret marriage.

He Wondered If Pittsburgh Could Survive a Disaster – And Then It Did

The reporter who researched and wrote a story about how Pittsburgh might respond to a disaster got the answer much sooner than he anticipated.

The 400-Word Review: Boy Erased

Great performances lift the family drama. But was a better movie left behind?