Bistro to Go

Bistro to Go and Bistro Soul are go-to places for comfort food and more.

Bistro to Go is a great spot for old-fashioned home cooking served in a quaint, unpretentious environment. Since opening in October 2007 on East Ohio Street on the North Side, Bistro to Go has grown to include a new adjacent restaurant, Bistro Soul, which comprises a very active catering business, cooking classes and the provision of food at the nearby National Aviary.

Another good reason to try it out: Bistro to Go is one of the most community-oriented dining establishments in Pittsburgh. Owner Nikki Heckman, along with husband Stanley, created Bistro to Go with the goal of having a positive influence on the East Ohio Street neighborhood.

The restaurant is built on core values of caring for customers, employees, community and the earth. The Heckmans also engage in a myriad of community activities and partnerships, including providing meeting space, discounted food, job training and instruction on healthy eating.

An inviting, homey environment created by independent designer Robert Sands (who also did the logo) is to be found at Bistro to Go. There’s a tall tin ceiling, lots of colors (crimson, moss green and mustard) and accent pieces such as a pale-yellow vintage stove. Tables, all glass-topped, come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and you’ll be served on plates of assorted colors and patterns to boot. A few board games and newspapers are available, and sometimes you might see a poster display set up by a local nonprofit explaining its mission.

The kitchen is visible, and the food is offered cafeteria-style behind glass. Let me explain that: You go up to the counter, look at the food, order and pay, and a server brings your food to your table as quickly as you can sit down. Your meal arrives on brown cafeteria trays (why not a fun color?) and some of the serveware is plastic.

Nikki Heckman says she wants Bistro to Go to be a place where diverse people can meet and mingle. In order to achieve that goal, she designed the menu to be widely varied in both content and price range.

Each day, there is a hot-food selection that includes a traditional main dish such as beef Stroganoff, a “Lite” dish such as lemon-pepper salmon and a vegan option such as spicy chickpea cakes. Entrées, which range from $6 to $13, include one side dish and a traditional dinner roll made at neighboring Priory Fine Pastries.

Under the “Main” category, I recommend the traditional stuffed chicken ($8.95). It’s a substantial breast amplified by mild but flavorful breading, celery and onion stuffing. Under Lite offerings, I like the honey-mustard salmon ($9.50), a 6-ounce portion of fish baked with a mildly sweet glaze.

bread pudding

Sugared pecan bread pudding: Fresh cream, eggs
and Breadworks’ artisanal bread, baked with glazed buttery sugared pecans and raisins. Served warm
and drizzled with a brandy créme sauce.

Photo by Laura Petrilla   

The mac and cheese—cooked just right—is one of Bistro to Go’s strongest dishes. It appears on the menu as an entrée in several variations. A kid-friendly version features the mac and cheese mixed with Buffalo-chicken tenders ($5); choose a side of fruit and a drink, and it’s the perfect meal for youngsters.

Side dishes include traditional choices such as green beans, stuffing, mashed potatoes, wild rice and mixed steamed vegetables; a second side can be added for $2. Numerous cold salads are available, including fruit; tomato, mozzarella and basil; and chopped broccoli, cheese and olives.

If you are not in the mood for comfort food, Bistro to Go offers substantial sandwiches ($7.50, whole; $3.95, half). A decadent, yummy choice is the Apple, Ham & Cheddar, which comprises sweet maple ham, crisp bacon, red onion, apple slices and aged sharp cheddar on a warm cheese roll. There’s also the Kids Lunch Box ($5), which features a sandwich (yes, peanut butter and jelly is an option), cookie and fruit cup.

The specialty salads ($7.50) are very large and can also be purchased in half sizes ($4.25). The sugared-pecan salad, which is the most popular, starts with a base of romaine lettuce and field greens that is topped with (too) sweet sugared pecans, sliced almonds, feta cheese and dried cranberries.

Despite being a comfort-food restaurant, there is no deep-frying on the premises. Nikki Heckman says that policy was established while she kept customers’ health in mind.

The menu is published weekly with daily specials. Heckman receives about 30 menu suggestions each week from customers, so she designs each menu to accommodate what her customers like to eat.

The desserts come from a variety of sources—some made in-house and others purchased from local bakers and bakeries. I recommend the coconut-cream cake ($3.75), a traditional yellow cake with a rather thick coating of icing topped by fluffy coconut.

Last summer, a new addition opened: Bistro Soul, which shares the kitchen. It offers less expensive, slow-cooked comfort food served in a more casual environment. The menu is appealing, and I found a few standouts: The pot roast special ($8.50) so tender it falls apart on your fork and the terrific vinegary collard greens with ham ($3). Note: Bistro Soul is open weekdays during the winter and every day in the summer.

Bistro to Go’s limitations are that it closes at 7 p.m. and doesn’t serve alcohol. Some menu items are better than others, and you could get carried away with all the sides and end up spending more than you expected.

Having said that, Bistro to Go is a place I enjoy when I’m in the mood for a basic home-cooked meal in a friendly, down-to-earth environment.

Bistro to Go, 415 E. Ohio St., North Side (Pittsburgh 15212); 412/231-0218, Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Salads: $4.25/side, $7.50/entrée; Sandwiches: $3.95/half, $7.50/whole; Entrées: $6-$13; Dessert: $1.75-$3.75. No alcohol, major credit cards accepted, no reservations, vegetarian and vegan options, wheelchair-accessible, no smoking, street parking.

Categories: From the Magazine, Restaurant Reviews