Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar Opens Downtown

Led by its namesake and a guy that insists on being called "Shipwreck," Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar in Market Square is a dream come true for burger lovers.

As a heap of perfectly seasoned fries are nudged aside to make room for a gigantic, mouth-watering burger, I take a moment to listen to the upbeat punk music jumping from the speakers. I look up and down the bar at a half-dozen smiling people eagerly chatting with the line cooks, the hostess and each other. I smell pizza cooking in the wood-fired oven.

A thought occurs to me: This is the exact opposite of grabbing a sandwich and bringing it back to my desk.

I’ve had hundreds of uninteresting lunches downtown, which usually consist of balancing some fast food between my keyboard and phone. It is, to put it mildly, an uninspiring ritual. And Winghart’s is here to end it once and for all.

wingharts burger

The Beretta Veggie Burger, a Portobello-falafel patty covered in spinach-artichoke spread and topped with roasted red peppers, arugula, olives and feta, at Winghart’s Burger & Whiskey Bar.

Photo by Tony Madonna   

Head to Winghart’s—almost hidden in a corner of Market Square—around lunchtime, and you’ll grab a seat at the bar, which is all that separates you from the kitchen. You’ll order your food at the cash register, possibly be given a code name to distinguish you from other guests (mine was Captain Morgan; my friend was Julia Roberts), and your food will be prepared as you chat with the guy making it.

And you’ll love it. Oh, man, will you love it. There’s the Shipwrecked Burger: Brie, carmelized onions, bacon, arugula and white truffle aioli, on top of a perfect hunk of beef. The Tatonka Chicken Pizza (so named for what the Indians in Dances with Wolves called buffalo): House-made chicken sausage, blue cheese, mozzarella, provolone and buffalo sauce. Feeling like a salad? No light greens and vinaigrette here. Have the Popeye’s Guilty Pleasure, made of spinach, sliced egg, red onions, gruyere cheese, bacon and honey mustard.

In a word: Yes.

Winghart’s is the creation of chef and creative partner Zach Winghart, a Pittsburgh native who trained at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute (now Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts). After school, Winghart headed to Florida to study under master chef John Johnstone, of the Ritz Carlton, but eventually ended up back home. Winghart’s is his first restaurant.

“I want it to feel a certain way,” he says. “I want people to feel as much as they can like they’re a part of this restaurant.”

To do so, Winghart’s made Pittsburgh feel welcome in early January with a Free Food Day, opening their doors with gratis pizza and burgers, just to announce their presence. A few weeks later, they opened for lunch (current hours are Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m., but they’re about to expand further into the evenings), and had enthusiastic customers on the first day.

“There aren’t too many places where you could have this much walking traffic,” Winghart points out.

Winghart’s second-in-command is a man who insists that his name is “Shipwreck,” the namesake of the aforementioned burger. When pressed, he’ll defiantly state that his full name is “Nautical Vessel Wrought Asunder,” so it’s best to just call him Shipwreck. He also insists that his title at Winghart’s is not manager or cook; it’s Viceroy.

So, he’s a bit quirky.

In any case, he’s at Winghart’s every day, and he’ll probably be the one you’ll chat with over the counter. He says he was surprised at how quickly Winghart’s caught on.

“As time progressed, I saw less and less people that I recognized,” he reports. “So I thought, we must be doing well.”

Shipwreck and Winghart currently are occupied with trying to get a liquor license in order. They’re expecting it in mid-April, and clearly have had booze in their thoughts from the start; the menu reads “Winghart’s Burger & Whiskey Bar.”

Shipwreck will gladly rattle off all the varieties of whiskey they’ll soon have; until then, the food and the atmosphere are more than enough reason to stop by. It’s everything a great meal out should be: Social, lively and unique with inspired food.

“I literally had a dream about opening this place,” Winghart reports. For him, it was a dream; for Pittsburgh, it’s a dream come true.

(Wingharts Burger & Whiskey Bar, 5 Market Square, downtown. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Info: 412/434-5600)

Categories: Eat + Drink Features