...absinthe, that is. But that's getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning: 8:00 p.m., Friday night, Meat and Potatoes. With Heinz Hall across the street, the CLO Cabaret to the rear, and the O'Reilly Theater on one side, Meat and Potatoes might be the new heart of the Cultural District... in location and spirit. It's a gastrobpub, which was not in my vernacular until I read the definition: a public house (a.k.a. pub) that specializes in high quality food and libations. Our experience proved the defiition to be correct... Meat and Potatoes is "high quality."
If you know anything about the 20's, you will have a true appreciation for Meat and Potatoes. I know this because in 1995, I drew the 1920's out of the hat for our history class's research projects. While helping me with this project, my uncle, JFG asked me when I planned to use the information that I was learning; and I said with sincerity, "Probably never. Who cares about the Teapot Dome anyway?" I was fifteen, and age-appropriately disinterested in history. Ask JFG about how I fell asleep on the riding tour of Gettysburg a few weeks later. He'll tell any captive audience about that quintessential HGB incident. There were eight of us in a teal blue mini-van and the tour guide was so old that he may or may not have fought in the Civil War. Who can blame me? But back to the topic...
One look around Meat and Potatoes brought that 1920's research project back to mind. Why? Because Meat and Potatoes is Prohibition chic. In other words, it's a plushly modern speakeasy. With aged mirrors; rich fabrics; creamy, textured wallpaper; Thonet-inspired seating; thick granite tabletops; bare retro lightbulbs; a lone vase of fresh sunflowers; and simplistic place settings (cotton dishtowels for napkins); the decor is as straightforward as the words, "meat and potatoes," but not saturated with faux nostalgia. The only missing element is Steve Buscemi in the corner wearing his Boardwalk Empire apparel.
Since it was late evening, JTP and I focused on ordering one main course each, and the Moules (mussels) of the Day. There were three options for moules; and we chose the "sofrito, chorizo, piquillo and garlic" pot. We order mussels wherever they are served and by comparison, these were delicious and some of the best. It was a large order for an appetizer, so it's good that we didn't order more appetizers.
While we were eating the mussels, we noticed that the couple next to us had something interesting on their table. If you know me, you know that I'm not shy, so I introduced myself and asked what they had ordered. They (PSM and NLM) were quite friendly, and told us it was the Bone Marrow (served with grilled bread and pinch pots of sea salt, gremolata, and ramp relish). They were kind enough to let is try it, and to quote them, it tastes like "meat butter." JTP and I agreed with them... this is something you must try at Meat and Potatoes.
For dinner JTP and I ordered the Braised Veal Shanks (served with sofritto, creamy polenta, gremolata, and ricotta solata)...
...and the Pork (served with pastrami bacon, baked beans, and spicy apple slaw).
The veal was the most tender we've ever eaten, and when paired with the polenta, created a wonderful, savory entree (proving once again, that Chef Richard DeShantz is brilliant). The pork was very flavorful, and adding the beans and bacon to a bite packed in even more flavor. The apple slaw was spicy, and crispy, which is always our preference for slaw. Who wants soggy slaw? JTP brought up a great point while we were eating with, "This place is right in the middle of the food trends: mussels, bacon, and finding new ways to make comfort food relevant."
PSM (who uses "avant garde" very well in sentences) and NLM were daring enough to try the Meat and Potatoes' namesake menu item... served on a cutting board with a very large knife, onion rings (fried in dough, tasting like gourmet "Funyons"), roasted garlic potatoes, ramp, and wild mushrooms.
Needless to say, they didn't finish the meal, but not because of poor quality. It's really a meal for four, so they had it wrapped for later.
At this point, we truly were sharing our meal with this great couple, discussing our favorite Pittsburgh restaurants and neighborhoods. And isn't that one of the best things about Pittsburgh? We are a family... when we want to be.
For dessert both couples ordered the Pot de Creme; and I almost passed ahhhht from pure bliss. No joke. Chilled hot chocolate creme with a thick, cold marshmallow creme on top is bliss. It was a heavenly "change-of-taste" for after the meal... and the presentation was quite clever (and synonymous with the decor).
For his "change-of-taste," PSM ordered the absinthe, which we all tried. It tasted much like Sambvca, but warmed the chest much like West Virginia's state beverage, moonshine. PSM claims "it had an Olde English aftertaste," but that argument is up for debate.
(4 stars, 4/4)