Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hungry Ahhht-of-Tahners

The Pittsburgh City Paper published its annual "Best Of Pittsburgh Readers' Poll" last month, which is a yearly feature that I highly anticipate and always enjoy. One particular category has been somewhat of a hot topic between JTP and me: "Best Restaurant to Take Out-of-Towners." In the City Paper, the first place winner was Primanti Bros. (multiple locations); the second place winner was Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville; and the third place winner was Fat Head's Saloon on the South Side. Coincidentally, I've been meaning to address Primanti Bros. and Fat Head's. Also, I have been procrastinating on a review of Church Brew Works, so this is the perfect opportunity to address all three in one fell swoop. 

Primanti Bros.
"What's the name of that sandwich place? You know, the one owned by those brothers?" -BMC

Primanti Bros. is a media darling, and if you have visitors in from ahhhht-of-tahn, there's a pretty high chance that they will have heard of this place. A common consensus has developed nationally that a Primanti sandwich is to Pittsburgh as a cheesesteak is to Philadelphia (FYI: I like Pat's... and I have no shame in that). Furthermore, when Man v. Food does a feature on a particular item from a particular joint in a particular city, it projects that item/joint/city into the "quintessential" category. I'll admit I crushed a burger at the Vortex in Atlanta, having been influenced by three factors: my friends (MMM & DNM), my hunger, and Man v. Food. Therefore, chances are that your guests (especially Pittsburgh rookies) will have heard of "that sandwich place" owned by "those brothers."

If your guests are unrelentingly determined to have this sandwich juggernaut and they are not traveling with children, then I recommend taking them to one of the urban, more authentic Primanti Bros. locations: Strip District, South Side, Oakland, Cherry Way (dahntahn) and Market Square (dahntahn).

On the other hand, if your guests are traveling with children, I suggest the one of the suburban locations because these offer a more expansive menu and an overall family-friendly environment: Cranberry, Greensburg, Grove City (if you are hittin' up the ahhhhhtlets n'at), Harmarville, Monroeville, Moon Twp., North Versailles (pronounced ver-sales), Pleasant Hills, and Robinson Twp. 

My favorite sandwiches (topped with fresh fries, tomatoes and a fantastic sweet and sour, crunchy cole slaw): Corned Beef & Cheese ($6.49), Capicola & Cheese ($6.29), and Kolbassi & Cheese ($6.29). At the suburban locations, I always get an order of Spicy Batter Dipped Pub Pickles ($4.99) with my sandwich. Also, the Hand-Tossed Pizza (prices vary) is a good choice if you aren't in the mood for a sandwich.

3 stars (3/4)

Church Brew Works
"I will not go into a church unless it's a dance club." - JTP

Okay, that's not entirely true, but that's how JTP feels about the Church Brew Works. Me? I've never given a negative review; but I am fond of constructive criticism, and my experiences at the Brew Works warrants exactly that...  Thus, there are a few things that Church Brew Works could improve on before I would take any ahhht-of-tahn guests there. To begin with, the acoustics are rough and it's difficult to visit with fellow diners. Next, the Church Brew Works needs to start taking reservations. While one half of the space is a "pub" with first come, first serve seating; the other side is not, and there's inevitably a wait. Without the option for reserving a table, Church Brew Works becomes a lesser option (considering the stiff competition on the Pittsburgh restaurant scene, especially in its own neighborhood of Lawrenceville). Lastly, it needs to improve the lighting. With such a beautiful and unique space to feature, it's a shame that the interior architecture isn't more visible.

But, if you and your ahhht-of-tahn guests end up sitting in the noisy shadows, there are some noteworthy menu items that deserve a nod. The Untraditional Pierogies ($7) are excellent and provide an interesting twist on traditional Burgh fare; and, if no one is feeling brave, there are Traditional Pierogies ($6.50) on the menu as well. Furthermore, the Pierogie Saute ($13) is tossed with broccoli and bacon in garlic cream sauce, and is a delicious pierogie alternative. The wood-fired Garlic Plum Tomato Pizza ($13.75) provides a nicely sized option for a few friends to share while catching up with each other. If you order a salad, try the tasty Beer Vinaigrette dressing. And for your sweet tooth, go for the ice cream. It's Dave and Andy's, which is simply the best in the Burgh.

Oh yes... it would be remiss if I failed to mentioned the craft beer selections, brewed on the Church Brew Works' very own altar. Admittedly, I'm not much a of beer drinker; but if your guests are junkies for a micro-brewed beverage, those whom are beer drinkers have given truly glowing reviews. And there are awards to back them up... 

Church Brew Works on Urbanspoon

2 stars (2/4)

Fat Head's Saloon
JWR: "Have you ever eaten at Piper's Pub?" 
HGB: "No, because I always go to Fat Head's."*

When MAB brought her significant other, AMC, to town for a quick visit, he had requested going to Primanti Bros. JTP and I squashed that idea quickly because we believe that Fat Head's offers a better sandwich (not that we dislike Primanti's... we just think Fat Head's is better). Despite it's new(er) location in Cleveland, Fat Head's remains very much a Pittsburgh institution; and is undoubtedly one of the quintessential Carson Street destinations. The sandwiches are so huge that they are called "Headwiches," and as the menu indicates, they are "relatively close to the size of your head." If your ahhht-of-tahn guests have already done the Primanti's thing, then we recommend taking them to Fat Head's for an excellent lunch. 

With 42 beers on tap, you can pair just about anything with any menu item. That being said, everything on the menu is good (and I am open to trying anything as long as there isn't mayo on it). Here are my favorite Fate Head's menu items: Spicy Parmesan Wings (prices vary by size of order); Bay of Pigs Headwich ($10.95); Beefed Up Headwich ($10.95); The Ultimate Tuna Melt ($8.95); Grown-Up Grilled Cheese ($8.95); and of course, Fried Pierogies ($6.95). 

Oh yeah, ordering sides is fine... but prepare to take food home unless you have the appetite of someone who just ran the Pittsburgh Marathon and/or danced all day and night in PSU's THON.

Fat Head's Saloon on Urbanspoon

4 stars (4/4)

*Note: This is not a criticism of Piper's Pub. I'll get there eventually. Maybe I can recruit some guests? Hint hint.