Settler’s Ridge is about what you’d expect from the latest fashion of shopping areas. It’s expansive and open air. It’s filled to the brim with stores and restaurants of both high-class and mid-level appeal. It’s got a big movie theater. It’s got an even bigger Giant Eagle Market District, looming in the corner like an airport hanger filled with food. It’s a huge maze of parking and commerce that on a busy Friday evening can drive a person to the brink of madness.
What a relief, then, that nestled in there, next to the movie theater, down the sidewalk from the monstrous and cacophony-laden Cadillac Ranch is a little oasis of calm?
Pure & Simple Bistro is about as far away from its neighboring establishments as it can get without an actual physical relocation. As quiet as the others are loud, as simple as the others are high concept, as low-key as the others are high energy, P&S is sweet Southern cooking with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients and simple, classic dishes done with careful attention paid toward proportion and quality.
Walking through the doors on a hot summer night is like taking a dip in cool waters. The decor is sleek, wooden, and stylish. If you ever wondered what kind of cafe Pottery Barn would have (if, say, they went the IKEA route), you can be it would look like this:
The menu is a concise mix of classic American and Southern dishes, some prepared fairly traditionally, some prepared with an unusual or unexpected twist to the flavor. Anybody looking to make an argument for small menus need look no further than P&S, which manages to make the most out of its two-sided one sheet. The assurance of quality is in the attention paid to what actually stays on the seasonal menu, which is an especially favorable trait when making a first visit to the restaurant.
Between the quiet and cool interior, the friendly service, and the complementary wine (!), I was thoroughly charmed well before I even ordered dinner. I did what I usually do when I’m bewitched by a restaurant – I ordered one of my favorite dishes and hoped for the best. The best being the best version I have ever tasted.
Cajun fish tacos were unfortunately not the best fish tacos I have ever tasted, but they were still pretty damn delicious. The tender catfish was meaty and smokey and well served by the avocado creme fraiche and scattering of chopped green onions, lettuce, and red peppers. The flour tortillas were lightly grilled but still soft, perfect for enclosing the fillings and providing a warm, neutral base for the fresh flavors inside. The catfish seasoning could have been a tad heavier, a little saltier or little spicier, as the cool mildness of the creme and the veggies could have used a bit more pronounced a counterpoint. Still, a trio of very, very strong fish tacos.
My dining companion for the evening, Jackie, had also played it fairly safe in her ordering choice, but where mine had satisfactory, if not revelatory results, Jackie’s burger with Havarti and bacon was…
Look, the burger battles that are currently going on in this city are ridiculous. People spending time debating whether BRGR or Burgatory have better burgers (or whatever other local burger joints have popped up since I stopped paying attention) are missing a deciding factor entirely: Does either place have a burger that is better than Pure & Simple’s?
The answer, in my small amount of experience with both places, is no. This might have been the juiciest, most flavorful, most luxurious non-luxury burger I’ve had in a long, long time. It was a handmade patty, cooked to a medium perfection, the thin coat of Havarti melted to an elegant silkiness, the thick-cut strips of bacon offering just the extra salty crunch necessary to push this burger into the taste stratosphere.
It was a melt in your mouth, tongue-teasing, taste bud tantalizing treat to the senses. It was even the ideal size, not too large, not too small, perfect for reasonable-sized mouths taking reasonable-sized bites. In addition to the splendor experienced by Jackie and I at the will of this sandwich, I have to angrily call out P&S for its corrupting influence. I mostly gave up red meat a while ago, but they have made a startling offensive: Tuesday night is “Burger Night,” when a burger and fries will cost you a whopping $5.
Damn you, Pure & Simple Bistro.
We were elated and satisfied by our meal choices, but we couldn’t resist a three-scoop tasting of P&S’s in-house made ice cream. From a list of over a dozen options, we chose three: (From foreground to background) Lemon Ginger, White Cheddar, and Three Chile. The cream and caramel drizzle was a nice complement to each flavor, but the pairing of the Three Chile, with its kick of jalapeno and Habanero, with the White Cheddar was something just short of genius. The spiciness of one elevated the cheesiness of the other, with a flavor combination akin to a scoop of iced queso. Larger bites imposed too much flavor on the palate, but the overall flavor effect was extremely appealing in small bites.
I am nearly breathless recapping our experience at Pure & Simple. Absolutely everything was pleasant. Our server was bubbly and friendly but also efficient and gave us great suggestions for the ice cream tasting. We were never short of water or anything else we needed. Our food was served quickly but without any lack of quality. Thanks to a subdued soundtrack and the low-key chatter of the few other guests in the restaurant, the quiet was calm-inducing rather than off putting.
Walking outside into the parking lot heat and hearing the blare of white noise coming from restaurants down the sidewalk, I longed for a repeat on my dining experience.
I can’t wait for that repeat to occur.