I am just going to come ahhhht and say it, thus sparing everyone my usual narrative.* I like Bar Marco. In fact, I like it a lot. It's less of a restaurant that happens to have a bar, and more of a bar that happens to have a restaurant... and a damn good one at that.
A new and warm glow transforms the former Embury/Firehouse Lounge into Bar Marco. An open layout, brighter (and smarter) lighting, and original artwork contrast with what folks may remember about the space. Suddenly the white glazed brick interior and the pressed tin ceiling are features rather than accents. The simple metal furniture, the subtle candles lit, and the soft sounds of reggae are blended well to create a welcoming atmosphere. It's not the perfect ambiance because some aspects seem unfinished; but it's definitely one to which I'd return.**
The food menu is divided into three simple (less=more) categories: "cheese. meat. & things.", "snacks.", and "for two."; and on the contrary, the drink menu is features a wide variety of options: "rosé.", "sparkling.", "sherry.", "white.", "red.", "cocktails.", "beer.", "pittsburgh seltzer.", "bitters/amari.", "spirits.", "champagne." With a period (.) after each subtitle, one can assume that these options are making a statement, both literally and figuratively.
"cheese. meat. & things."
Each item on this menu category is $3, and one can build the platter as he or she wishes. In our case, we were with another couple, so we ordered a large sampling.*** All items are served with a plate of crusty bread. Starting in the top left corner of the picture and moving clockwise: marinated olives, julianna (herb goat cheese), aged cheddar, dirty martini salami, prosciutto, and pork and apricot paté. Of those items, the paté was our favorite with the olives coming in a close second.
|fried caulifower ($7)|
|greens and beans ($6)|
|winter meatballs ($7)|
|patatas gratas ($6)|
|my half of the duck BLT ($8)|
Again, we ordered a large sampling of these tapas; and I would recommend everything pictured, with the exception of the greens and beans because of a bitter flavor that overpowered the dish. The fried cauliflower surprised us the most with a burst of creamy flavor from within the warm, crispy shell. If you enjoy the fried artichokes at NOLA, I would order this. Also, the winter meatballs are savory and tender, which does complement a cool evening. The patatas gratas are perfect for sharing, and if you like chili spices, the aioli will be in your wheelhouse. My personal favorite was the duck BLT, which is also perfect for sharing. Cured duck bacon tastes fantastic, and when served as a traditional BLT (grilled, crispy texture, a mix of cool and warm), it's delicious.
Lastly, I must address why Bar Marco is "more of a bar that happens to have a restaurant" as I stated earlier. The drink menu is diverse and vast; and there was a steady crowd of patrons who were there exclusively to utilize the bar. Strangely enough, I opted for a $3 Pabst Blue Ribbon pounder (an emergence of my Fayette County roots?). Fortunately for Bar Marco, I am a fake drinker, and it's going to take many more trips to wet my whistle with what seems like some really interesting options. Their homemade limoncello is first on my list. Oh yes, and kudos to owners Bobby Fry, Justin Steel, Kevin Cox and Michael Kreha for serving Pittsburgh's own Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka, as it is in my opinion, sublime.
3 stars (3/4)
*Here is what I would have written if I wasn't trying to be more direct: Not long ago, SAA said to me, "You should try this new place in the Strip called Bar Marco." How she "discovered" this little diamond in the rough from all the way dahn in Ft. Lauderdale remains unbeknownst to me. Yet, it was serendipity because her comment came on the same day that I had read the Pittsburgh City Paper's review of Bar Marco. Thus, I sent JTP a declarative text that we would be patronizing this new joint on Saturday.
**Upon leaving, JTP announced (as he usually does when he has something relevantly important to say) that Bar Marco would be an excellent place for a first date. Coincidentally, I happened to be thinking the same thing...
***Because we wanted to try as many menu items as possible, we opted ahhhht of the "for two." category despite being intrigued by both the pork tenderloin w/ cider jus and the baked fusilli, brussel sprouts/butternut squash/sage.