Put on something lacy. Paint your lips in rouge. Perch a fur around your neck and get ready to feel like you’re stepping through time and entering Pittsburgh’s future all in one swing of the door. You’re going to have a real night on the town. You’re going to Tender!
Tender is an American cocktail lounge & restaurant that celebrates a return to the elegant simplicity of a past era. Tender is also carrying the torch passed by the movers and shakers (Meat & Potatoes, Cure, Bar Marco and Union Pig & Chicken to name a few). These restaurants are raising the bar for both dining and design in this industrial city. For a girl who doesn’t bleed black and yellow, these establishments make me happy to live exactly where I do!
When I first heard “Tender,” I assumed the name referenced meat, but the moniker is actually a clever hommage to the venue’s past life. The corner brick building was once the home of the Arsenal Bank– a storied financial institution where legal tender filled a massive safe. The restaurant’s creators embraced this history, incorporating found bank notes and the daunting safe door into the design. The tall ceilings now boast shelves of alcohol served over the formal, granite bar. The space unfolds, room after room, channeling the bank’s former elegance in its wainscoting, walpaper, fabrics and colors. The design was strategic, and it shows at every turn as you wander deeper and deeper into the unfurling restaurant.
Aptly so, the full name is Tender Bar + Kitchen, and both of these components deserve their place in the name. Equally rooted in history, the food and drink menus channel regional America. Tender’s chef describes the menu best when he says, “…the items we feature on our menu are those that are iconic and representative of a particular city, state, or region — dishes that tap into our emotional connections to food, depending on where we grew up or traveled across this great land. The menu: distinctly American. The ingredients: as local as possible….”
Poke, Honolulu, HI fresh sashimi-grade fish
Scrapple, Chester County, PA
pork, tomato jam, quail egg
Having grown up in Pennsylvania’s scrapple region, I was really hesitant to order this. Memories of weird bits in a jar flashed in my mind, but the waiter assured me, this scrapple was really well prepared. Despite the chef’s desire for diners to channel their own regional memories, this plate pleasantly created a new memory and taste association.
The Pecora Investigation (front)
Ardbeg scotch, Amontillado Sherry, crème de mûre, Amaro Montenegro
Hemingway’s Mistress (back)
Vida mezcal, maraschino, grapefruit, lime
After two Tender experiences and sampling friends’ choices, the drink menu has me hooked. Unlike so many over-mixed and indistinguishable cocktails, these drinks retain the distinct flavors of their elements. Allow yourself to be enticed by both the name (Hemingway’s Mistress? I mean c’mon!!!) and the list of ingredients. After I work my way down the left side of the drink menu, perhaps I shall venture to wines.
Penn’s Corner Salad, Pittsburgh, PA seasonal greens & vegetables, house vinaigrette
Yaka Mein, New Orleans, LA cola-braised pork rib, house made noodles, broth
Banana Split, Latrobe, PA
This was the highlight of my evening! This dessert did hit the spot, but the real reason it made my night was the historical lesson I gained from eating dessert! I was curious why the Banana Split was attributed to Latrobe, PA, and my waiter informed me the dessert’s origin is in fact Latrobe (where I venture for flour every now and then). From a venerable source, I learned…
David Evans Strickler, a 23-year-old apprentice pharmacist at Tassel Pharmacy, located at 805 Ligonier Street in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, who enjoyed inventing sundaes at the store’s soda fountain, invented the banana-based triple ice cream sundae in 1904. The sundae originally cost 10 cents, twice the price of other sundaes, and caught on with students of nearby Saint Vincent College. News of the sundae spread by word-of-mouth by students, through correspondence, and at professional conventions. Strickler went on to buy the pharmacy, naming it Strickler’s Pharmacy. The city of Latrobe celebrated the 100th anniversary of the invention of the banana split in 2004 and, in the same year, the National Ice Cream Retailers Association (NICRA) certified the city as its birthplace
Despite all the grandeur, I’ve heard a few complaints here and there. To the naysayers I say, Tender is very new, so cut the beautiful, elegant place some slack. That being said, I was offered a free dessert to compensate the long wait time on a drink, but somehow said freebie still landed on our tab. Tender, if you’re listening, beignets are a fast way to forgiveness.
I will surely return to Tender in the very near future!