Salad is for Rabbits: The Top Five Pub Grub Destinations
Our reformed vegetarian repents with a list of the best bar food in the city (with special guest commentary from Ron Swanson).
First, a confession: I spent nearly seven years of my life as a vegetarian.
Technically, a pescetarian—someone who still eats fish, because they’re just not that committed to the whole thing. But let’s not sugar-coat it. From the time I went off to college to somewhere in the vicinity of Christmas 2009, I did not partake of poultry, beef, pork or any other creature that dwelt exclusively on land or in the air.
It was a sad time, marked by hunger and the consumption of far too many tuna wraps. Then on a trip to Quaker State & Lube on a snowy evening in late ‘09, I realized enough was enough. Many people were around me, and they were eating wings. Delicious, saucy wings. And they were very, very happy about it. In the words of Homer Simpson, quoting Popeye, “That’s all I can stand, I can’t stands no more.”
Since then, I’ve made up for lost time, particularly when it comes to bar food. I’ve gotta be exceptionally full (or, you know, actually thinking of my health for once) to pass up the opportunity to order something salty, seasoned, and ideally cheese-soaked to go with my beer.
Here, then, are my go-to choices in all of major pub grub categories. One notable exception you’ll notice is nachos. This is because nachos are never not good. The best bar for nachos is any bar with nachos.
Anyway. To the list.
If there were a chart that ranked how frequently I mention things in my contributions to the magazine and this site, the Buffalo Bites at Sharp Edge would be number one with a bullet. And I won’t stop, either. The delicious breaded hunks of chicken, available in a variety of styles (buffalo blue and cajun are my favorites,) best with both ranch and bleu cheese, are a revelation. I could eat them for every meal. I will keep mentioning them until someone stops me on the street and tells me that I’ve converted them to the church of buffalo bites.
(Various Locations. Info: sharpedgebeer.com)
While a truly passionate honorable mention must be given to the brand-new Root 174 in Regent Square for their Confit Wings with Coffee Spice, they are more a delicacy than a snack. For pure wing goodness, the best bet—and a fairly well-kept secret—are the wings at Gooski’s on Polish Hill. The no-frills bar is known much more for its throwback atmosphere, jukebox, and beer list than food, but there’s a lot of good on the menu, and the wings might just be the best in Pittsburgh. If you haven’t tried them, every night is a good time to go to Gooski’s. Start driving.
(3117 Brereton St, Polish Hill. Open daily 3 p.m. – 2 a.m. Info: 412/681-1658)
I’m still recovering from this one. 20 Best Bars selection Monterey Pub has a fine menu, and I enjoyed the bangers and mash last time I dropped by; on a visit this past Saturday, though, I went for the Pub Fries. And, like, wow. They’re topped with shredded Guinness-soaked beef, tomatoes, Monterrey and cheddar cheese, and served with ranch (whatever you do, dip every bite in that ranch.) I must have ate a pound of them. I didn’t move for nine hours afterward. Worth it.
(1227 Monterey St, North Side. Mon-Thu 3 p.m. – Midnight; Fri-Sat 3 p.m.-1 a.m. Kitchen 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. Closed Sundays. Info: 412/322-6535 or montereypub.com)
What’s this category about? You know, things that identifiably have a vegetable in them, but are quite clearly not good for you. This one’s a tie: the Esquites (corn in queso) at Round Corner Cantina are incomparable. However, the Fried Pickles at underappreciated Hal’s on Babcock Blvd are fantastic—and I seriously hate pickles. Just that good.
(Round Corner Cantina, 3720 Butler St, Lawrenceville. Mon-Tues, 5 p.m. – Midnight; Wed-Fri, 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Sat, Noon – 2 a.m.; Sun, Noon – Midnight. Info: 412/904-2279 or roundcornercantina.com
Hal’s, 3225 Babcock Blvd, North Hills. Mon, 4 p.m. – Midnight; Tue-Fri, 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Sat, Noon – 2 a.m.; Sun, Noon – 10 p.m. Info: 412/364-3230 or halsbar.com)
Many people frequent AMC/Loewes Waterfront 22 without knowing that it’s the only movie theater in Pittsburgh with a full bar and restaurant. It’s there, hidden upstairs, and it’s a surprisingly cool place to hang out before or after a movie. They also have a Buffalo Chicken Hoagie that is my favorite sandwich in the history of bread. It’s gigantic, with huge chunks of chicken, and comes with a mountain of fries. This sandwich is my spirit animal.
(300 Waterfront Drive W, Homestead. Open with movie showtimes. Info: 412/462-6550)
Of the many fine cheese plates our fair city has to offer, perhaps the best is at the twin gems of the East End, Point Brugge Cafe and Park Bruges. Make sure you get it with the sausage, and allow one cheese plate per two people; you’ll want more otherwise. And, obviously, you do have to get the mussels at either of those establishments. You may only order an entree after you finish your cheese and mussels. And you should follow that rule if you’re just in for a beer, too.
(Point Brugge, 401 Hastings St, Point Breeze; Park Bruges, 5801 Bryant St, Highland Park. Tue-Thu 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Fri-Sat 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Sun 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Closed Mondays. Info: pointbrugge.com)
And by the way, I put out a call to my Twitter followers (@SeanCollierPgh) to add their picks; some popular choices included several varieties of fries at Silky’s, the spinach and artichoke dip at Hemingway’s and the Scotch Eggs at Piper’s Pub.
Have a personal favorite when it comes to tipsy snacks? Leave a comment! I’m always looking for more food I shouldn’t be eating, after all.