Tag Archives: beer

Brookline Pub


Bar-and-restaurants are not created equal. For every notable, really decent place to grab a brew and some food, there are at least a dozen that are notable only in their place-less, generic nature. These sub-par establishments usually serve the same blend of tasteless, mediocre (and below) food at junk prices to complement whatever beer special is attracting the local population. This isn’t meant as an insult to these places. A perfectly fine watering hole does not guarantee a decent place to eat, but that does not negate the positives of visiting. You just have to keep your expectations in line with where you are.

The problem with setting expectations, however, is that it’s often difficult to discern the good from the bad upon initial glance. Some sparkly, polished, pre-fab pubs offer dismal food offerings, while some of the dingiest, grimiest hole-in-the-walls conceal culinary treasures worthy of frequent visits with or without drinking.

Situated in the middle of the business district on Brookline Boulevard, Brookline Pub certainly has its location going for it. Also to its favor: The multi-room set-up, including a sheltered patio area and an enclosed dedicated non-smoking room. The main area is taken up by a smattering of tables and chairs, with the bar dead center.

As far as general environment, this is the type of place to go drinking, not eating. The main area is large, loud, and smokey, and the non-smoking section is small and rundown. Also, because it is tucked away off to the side, the non-smoking section is seemingly forgettable from a service standpoint. (Although, I will admit, this is more of a service matter than an issue with the layout, which I will get to eventually.)

Given its size, location, and agreeable price-point, it excels as a place to grab a cold one, but as a spot to get some grub, it proved less desirable.

Anyone who has watched a considerable amount of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares can tell you that one of the main problems found in most mid-level restaurants is that the menu is too large. While a laminated double-sided menu doesn’t seem like it would be huge, Brookline Pub manages to pack a lot of stuff onto both ends, including a list of wing flavors numbering somewhere around twenty. Quantity and variety seem like positives, but so many options give the kitchen little time to specialize and strengthen specific meals. Everything ends up mediocre, and because there is so much of it, that’s a whole lot of mediocre.

Worse still, the mediocre offerings were on classic bar menu items, proving that even something as simple as a chicken wing or pierogi can be undone by lackluster preparation.

Brookline Pub on Urbanspoon

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Blue Dust


Pittsburghers have a weird relationship with our industrial past, an equal split of looking backward and forward. We want to move into the future eschewing all that limited us in the past, but our lives and the overall life of our city is irrevocably tied to those very same limitations. We make shopping centers out of smokestacks, but we’re still learning how to address the past concern while retaining a contemporary focus.

This tension is evident in all matter of city-living, including dining out of both high and low end varieties. Truth be told, the more casual, low-key establishments have the edge. However intriguingly the local past is interpreted by the latest four-star restaurant, our industrial roots are far more linked into the culture of the watering hole, the post-work drinking spot, the refuge of idle for those with far too much weight to carry.

It’s very possible to  envision the direct ancestors of Blue Dust as the type of safe haven for the sullen, sullied masses, even as the present-day variation features accommodations unknown to that history. Its placement – just over the railroad tracks from the Waterfront in Homestead – is indicative of the type of establishment it means to be, the type of establishment far more linked with the Homestead of yore than the glossy, consumer-paradise of today.


Pittsburgh’s industrial past is represented not just in placement but in decor. Dusky impressions of mills and factories adorn the far wall and the lighting is spare but golden, hanging from metal rods and fixtures that give the restaurant a factory-floor feel echoed by the earthy color of the tiles and woodwork.

As a simple, stylish homage to Pittsburgh’s roots, Blue Dust’s decor and atmosphere succeeds. But what of its menu? Does it hearken back to the old days of simple, nourishing foods? Or does it play it safe by sticking to contemporary bar/restaurant casual dining staples?

Blue Dust on Urbanspoon

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D’s Six Pax & Dogz



Sometimes, you run into the limits of reviewing. Some places just seem to resist a direct assessment. For example, it seems kind of silly to “review” D’s Six Pax & Dogs. What is there really to say?


There’s a beer cave. A giant hall of beers, each one available to you, the customer, at a reasonable charge. Where some restaurants offer a one-page list of drafts, followed by a one-page list of bottled beverages, D’s offers you the world of beer. You can stick with the two-page draft list, including such highlights as the Southern Tier Gemini, the Great Lakes Blackout Stout, and even the non-alcoholic 1919 Draft Root Beer. Or you can wander about in the beer cave, running your hands up and down boxes, bottles, your life infinitely more complicated than it needed to be, but it’s beer and you’re here and what the hell, you’ve got the choice make!


D’s also generously offers a great deal to go with your beer. It’s bar food, but reliably tasty. The kind of food that is regrettable for caloric intake alone, but enjoyable for any number of reasons. Affordable enough to pile it on, big enough to share, if you’re drinking and not eating at D’s, there’s obviously something wrong.

The nachos pictured above were shared by four people, which it more than accommodated. We demolished it, wiping up remnants of gooey nacho cheese with scraps of tortilla chips. The taste was akin to snack bar nachos but with better cheese and fresh chips, a taste anyone who grew up going to their neighborhood pool and roller skate rink can get behind.

Then there were the hot dogs:


The top two are veggie dogs, the bottom two are all-beef hot dogs. They’re served on simple but fresh sesame buns and topped within an inch of your life. Hot dogs aren’t much for sharing, so I can really only discuss my veggie Chihuahua dog, with its sharp cheddar, salsa, and piles of jalapeno. The real delight here, and something I honestly never would have thought to put on a dog, was gooey, creamy avocado. It soothed out the greater heat of the hot dog without detracting from any of the flavors. The veggie dog itself was a little crunchy, a little chewy, a good meaty non-meaty hot dog.


We shared nachos. We each ate a mountainous hot dog. Then we shared a pizza.

Again, like the nachos, the pizza is like a really good generic snack bar pie, the biggest difference being the quality of the crust. The crisp crust was denser than it appeared to be and sustained the weight of sauce, cheese, and the significant amount of pepperoni and mushrooms. The sauce is decent (a little sweet, mostly inconspicuous), but cheese is applied in just the right amount, and the toppings, while generous in number, do not crowd out the basic factors of the pie. It’s salty and greasy, but it’s pizza, and it’s a perfect counterpart to its hot dog and nacho brethren.

It’s hard to review a place like D’s because everything works so well within its own environment. It’s not gourmet, and it’s not supposed to be. You don’t go to D’s to eat a life changing meal, unless your plan to change your life includes a triple bypass. You go to D’s because you want to drink some beer and eat the right kind of food to go with that beer. True, there are many places like that in this ‘Burgh. But D’s is undeniably one of the best.

D's Six Pax & Dogz on Urbanspoon

Notes on a New Place: Le Brew House


Le Brew House on Urbanspoon

I’m not sure at what point in Le Brew House’s existence me and my mother happened to chance upon it one rainy Friday night. We had intended on going to Emiliano’s across the street, found it too noisy and crowded for our tastes, checked into one of our favorites Caffe Davio, only to be turned away because of a large party coming in, and what happened to be next to Davio but a big, bright, empty, yet very open new restaurant.

Le Brew House was so new, it had only just gotten its liquor license. Our hostess seemed relieved that the news that they were licensed to sell, but empty of anything to sell did not turn us away. We’re pretty easy to please, admittedly. At that point, we were just happy to get in out of the rain.


At this point in the post, I will be straightforward: If I was going to give this place a regular review, comparable to the reviews I give more established restaurants, I’d probably be saying largely negative things. This, however, is not what you do with a new restaurant. There were many positives to be found in the early stages of Le Brew House. The friendly staff and bright decor, the clean layout that nonetheless made a fairly empty restaurant still seem populated. The lovely and simple strings of lights hanging from one lofted  I even liked the one-sheet menu, as limited options tend to imply a certain amount of quality to what is featured.


It’s the little wrong notes that show you a restaurant is still growing. A one page, two-sided menu is just fine. But one as plainly laid out and cheaply laminated as this is obviously the product of a place rushing to get things together before the doors are opened. Chances are, a few months from now those tacky plastic menus will be a thing long forgotten.


Then there are the little things a new restaurant does right. A bar food staple, like fried zucchini, done in fairly classic style, but with all the right flavors. Not too greasy, not too heavy, with the definite presence of zucchini underneath a fine crispy layer of breading. It had a crunch where many of its contemporaries offer only a soggy bite.


My mother ordered a burger with fried shoestring onions and mushrooms, smothered by a thick layer of provolone cheese. We were both pleasantly surprised by the tenderness of the homemade beef patty. It was medium well, with just a light tint of pink to the inside, and very juicy. The shoestring onions also acquitted themselves well, lending the mild provolone a necessary bite. The one disappointment were the mushrooms, which seemed to all but disappear among more dominant flavors. While the tanginess of the onion could not be denied even underneath a thick coating of cheese, the mushrooms would have been better served on top of the concoction.


I was hungry for greens, and the three salad options Le Brew House was offering sounded decent enough. I opted for another bar and grill regular feature, the crispy chicken salad. This one left off the French fries and featured a nice bed of crispy mixed greens. The veggies on the salad were fresh and abundant, and I especially liked the use of complete rounds of green bell pepper. It lacked the croutons promised on the menu, but I don’t think it was much of a loss, especially since the crispy chicken breading was already providing a salty counterpoint.

The crispy chicken proved to be the only problem with the salad. While you get a nice sized fillet of breaded chicken, it’s so thin that the breading eclipses any of the white meat within. If you’re going to get meat on a salad, it’s got to be more than just an excuse to have something fried on top of your vegetables. Mixing a protein into the dish can be delicious and actually very healthy. When the chicken is served like this, I can’t help but wonder if the salad would be better with more vegetables in place of the fillet.

Le Brew House is one of those rare independent restaurants attempting to capitalize on all the major eating hours of the day, serving breakfast until 2 pm, then lunch and dinner till 10 pm. In addition to the expansive hours, the restaurant also promises to have a wide range of beer and alcohol for sale, another great feature which is sure to attract South Side residents and roving visitors alike.

Overall, I think it’s got a lot of promise. That spot’s not the easiest real estate. It will be surrounded by several restaurants that already have themselves well established niches. Caffe Davio, just next door, even serves breakfast. If Le Brew House suffers from any immediate faults, it’s a lack of a specific quality that makes the place memorable. The environment was attractive and the staff really were very nice, but the food was just okay and the minimal menu held little curiosity or intriguing factors.

But it says something about the right notes a new restaurant hits that I am looking forward to where Le Brew House might go from here. While South Side has no deficit of dining establishments, a new eatery at that end of East Carson is always a welcome addition to what can quickly become a well trod culinary ground. I hope that Lew Brew House makes the most of its first few months and uses the novelty of its opening as a motivating factor to really standout from its neighbors and build its own distinctive reputation.

Bocktown Beer and Grill

You get spoiled living in the city. Everywhere you turn there is another decent-to-great restaurant to try, each its own singular culinary voice in a crowded eater’s paradise. Consider each city neighborhood and their busiest streets. How many good restaurants, for example, are on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill? And not all of Murray Avenue, just the stretch between Forbes Avenue and where Murray hits Forward Avenue.

I suppose it depends on personal preference, but in my mind, the answer is somewhere around ten. Ten. In the span of a few blocks. And yes, that’s a Pittsburgh perspective. Someone coming out of a city like New York would laugh at that number.

“Ten decent restaurants in a few blocks?” they’d repeat. “My block alone has nearly a dozen places to eat, and that’s not counting the street vendors! That seems downright… suburban!” They would go on, but I have either tuned them out or punched them in the face, cause while they may be right that urban Pittsburgh doesn’t (and probably shouldn’t) pack in the businesses like urban New York, they seem to have forgotten what being out in the suburbs is like, especially for diners.

That’s not to disparage suburban eating. Dormont is quasi-suburban, and I go on and on about how terrific it is for diners. I’m not thinking suburban neighborhoods so much as those areas that are, for lack of a better term, vacant of “charm” and abundant with “commercial.” I’m thinking of places like Robinson.

Robinson, with its myriad of big chain stores, its endless strip-mall-esque sections of businesses, it’s gigantic and labyrinth-like parking lots. When I think of Robinson the visual that pops out most readily in my mind is IKEA, emerging from the highway like a monolith tribute to shopping. Its vibrant blue and yellow call the eye’s attention like a shopping siren bringing cars into its parking harbor.

It may say something about my own particular Robinson experiences that the only place I recall eating in the area is the cafeteria at IKEA. (Oh, I could totally go for some Lingonberry soda right about now. I’ll pass on the Swedish meatballs, however.) Most of the nearby restaurants don’t really offer much competition. For most people in and out of Robinson, food is a secondary notion, to be eaten immediately before or immediately following the grander purpose of shopping. Why do malls have food courts and only a few full-restaurant options? Because most shoppers are in a retail-heavy area to shop.

Fortunately, someone was bound to challenge the status quo of the eateries in Robinson. Before the newly formed Settlers Ridge started bringing in restaurants that would be unique to the immediate area, Bocktown Beer and Grill was the first strike against the mediocre and mundane that comprised most of the Robinson dining options.

Bocktown’s Robinson location is in a strip mall segment across a vast lot from the Target. Its long, narrow interior is brightly lit and lined on one side by a bar area and the other side by booth and table seating, eventually leading back to an outside beer garden area. The inside is a surprise – warmly painted and lit, tasteful decor, and comfortable seating – compared to its mostly staid exterior, although the hand-drawn chalkboards advertising specials, events, and the various online locations for Bocktown was a nice touch, livening up a dimly lit concrete sidewalk.

The staff is dressed supremely casual, but move with quickness and efficiency. We were assured of a short wait, then quickly sat in a corner near the front,  slightly isolated from the rest of the dining area. A few moments to peruse the beer list, then our server, James, introduced himself and took our drink and appetizer order.

Bocktown Beer and Grill on Urbanspoon

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This Week on Dormont-Brookline Patch: Quality Beers for Quality Drinking on St. Patrick’s Day


This week’s Local Table column focuses on that time-honored tradition of getting shit faced on St. Patrick’s Day. Every good Irishman will tell you that him and his fellow countrymen don’t exactly need a national holiday to drink themselves  under the table. Drinking in of itself is a celebration, so why the excuse of a holiday to do it?

The holiday of St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the man who brought Christianity to Ireland. Many of the traditional images of the holiday stem from religious purposes. For example, the shamrock thing is said to have come from Patrick’s practice of teaching the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish via the three leaves of the plant. In America, the holiday is less about Christianity and more about basic Irish-American pride, a pride that is firmly established by parades, festivals, concerts, more parades, dance performances, art, poetry, and…. drinking. Loads and loads and loads of drinking.

Who am I to challenge a longstanding tradition of insane public drunkenness? I only seek to make things a tad more civilized by suggesting a few – or seventeen – beers that will make your St. Patrick’s Day drinking a little tastier, maybe a little more satisfying, but won’t get in the way of the whole getting-wasted-out-of-your-mind endeavor. Given the alcohol content of many of these great beers, they will only serve to enable drunkenness even more.

Drink well. Drink responsibly. Slainte!

The Getaway Cafe

Wes had been to Getaway Cafe before, and it sounded like the right spot for a relaxed Sunday evening meal. The atmosphere was pleasant – a louder, dimmer bar area gives way to a quiet dining room in the back where the decor is fairly generic, but low-key and well-lit. There’s a slightly elevated section of seating that is large group friendly, and a few TV screens in the corner, placement that allows patrons to watch without forcing them to do so. Because the soundtrack was played at a fairly low level, we could easily converse at a normal volume level (something not always feasible at a bar/restaurant).

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