This is how buzz and good food work: back to back! The foodies at work had already readjusted their PGH dining list and bumped the new downtown restaurant to number one. Following their lead, Nicole sent me a text message from her spot at the much talked about Meat and Potatoes, “You will love it here. Pick a day.” I eagerly did pick a day shortly after that. She wore her new bangs, I wore a new hat, and we treated ourselves quite well at that marble table. The following week, Justin and I were finally, finally, finallllly planning to dine together. We went through a list of options, and when I said, “Well, I’d definitely eat at Meat and Potatoes again,” he said, “done!” If someone invited me to dine there right this moment, I’d say the same.
The First Helping
I wish I could transport the restaurant to a different neighborhood, but the location is what it is: downtown Pittsburgh. This entails a few negatives: a complete lack of parking for no apparent reason (?) and a “cultured” crowd largely comprised of several old men entertaining much younger women, neither of whom are attractive enough to make the offset aesthetically appealing. In case this aspect of my personality has not yet been apparent, I am judgmental, but eat one meal there, and you’ll deem this an observation and not just a criticism.
In the case of this blessed union of protein and starch, I am willing to let the good far outweigh the odd: vintage wood, rusting metals, tea lights in jam jars, hanging bulb light fixtures, letterpress styles, fancy elixirs in fancy containers, chalkboards, stamps and the really obvious key factor: really amazing food!
ri 1 / aperol / citrus / agave / rhubarb / mint
My eyes scanned the Libations menu for bourbon or whiskey, and I arrived at the Franklin Mint. In an effort to save money and sobriety, I savored one, but I easily could have enjoyed my way through three more. Time to find a big spending benefactor!
roasted beets / frisee / endive / treviso / pecans / blue cheese
Aside from the fact that Nicole and I both really like beets, we had a very responsible moment during the menu planning in which we ordered the harvest salad to counterbalance our other options. Our decision process was a bit motherly, “eat your veggies,” but as it turned out, even the salad was held to a higher standard. The vegetables were crisp and fresh, and the dijon dressing had a little bit of a sweet kick to it. I’d like to think it was real honey. Whatever the source of that sweetness, the salad really stood on its own merits, which is not easy in the old man’s game of meat and potatoes.
pastrami pork belly / peas / taleggio
This is a macaroni and cheese that demands a really eloquent and adult review along the lines of, “ahem… holy shit is that good!” The inclusion of peas takes me to meals my older sister would make for me when left in her care. I’d eat macaroni with a side of peas (probably from a can which I still find appealing in a counter intuitive way). The real treat for those meals was eating my mac ‘n cheese dinner in front of the tv (because my family actually valued the dinner table, and for the record, I am grateful). Before I even hit the reminiscent appeal to this menu item, the mac ‘n cheese had me at “pastrami pork belly.” The warm, cheesy pasta with major hints of pork and then bites of peas…order it and order it again! The following day, I was already craving more!
Gravy / Local Cheese Curd
Aside from a rurual visit, my Canadian travel log is null and void, a fact I am hoping to remedy in the very near future. I cannot attest to an authentic Québécois homage, but when salty, creamy cheese curd mixes with a lightly crisped french fry, an authentic homage is really just an excess worry.
Braised Short Ribs
horseradish potatoes / red wine reduction
In my dream world, the braised short ribs would have been served on a bed of poutine, but these horseradish potatoes really earned their way to the restaurant’s namesake. The sneaky greens maintained enough of what I will call bitterness to assert their flavor. I say bitterness in a complimentary way. As for the meat, I could shred it with a fork…a fork! It was so tender, and there was barely a spot of gravy left on the plate after we finished those ribs. Let me reiterate: cut with a fork!
Save for room for the chocolate bread pudding, especially for the novelty of dessert arriving in a jam jar. It will warm your soul and your mouth when you bite into your first rich, chocolate saturated, caramely spoonful.
The Second Helping
For my first helping, Nicole and I took the safe route and made a reservation, which meant we were seated at one of the small, marble tables lining the curving wall. The second visit was more of a whim, which meant a spot at the bar. After experiencing both, my preference is for a seat at the bar. The tables are awkwardly (or “communally” depending on how you look at it) close to fellow diners, and every time I looked up, I saw my face reflected in the large mirrors. I like my face enough, but sometimes, it’s just too distracting. The bar still fostered adequate people watching, but it also provided more surface area for proper sharing and menu sampling.
“What’s in that glass canister at the end of the whiskey boxes?” you ask? That’s a canister of beef jerky made in house! We ordered a serving, which equated to about two pieces each. Not only did I grow up eating beef from cows my dad raised, but I was also spoiled in the sense of my mom making her own beef jerky from those very cows. Never will you see me eating rest stop jerky, but I’m sure that comes as no surprise. In light of my high bar for judging jerky, Meat and Potatoes made the cut. The jerky had enough thickness and flavor to make it beefy, not just dried and impossible to eat. The herbs really pronounced their flavors as well. It’s worth squeezing in a small snack into your dining plan to try it.
Old grandad bourbon / meringue /vanilla /maple / bitters / orange / lemon
Seems like more signs pointing me to our northern neighbors. If you simply read the cocktail ingredients, you’ll save me the trouble of having to elaborate why this drink was a success. They nailed it. The more important question is why haven’t I begun my own Old Canadian experiments at home?
The name of the game for the evening was Sharing is Caring, and more importantly, sharing is maximizing menu potential. Look at that spread!
pastrami pork belly / peas / taleggio
Hello familiar friend! As I said above, “order it, and order it again!”
grilled bread / gremolata / onion relish / sea salt
For as much beef as I have consumed in my lifetime, my bone marrow experiences have been limited to the little dinky, prizes at the end of a lamb shank or short ribs meal. This was the motherland of bone marrow, and it changed my world. Look at that platter! On a really secondary note to the mega hunks of bone, I’d like to give a quiet kudos to the crusty, buttery bread used as a base for the rich marrow.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken Livers
Justin pulled the “must have” card on this appetizer. I was skeptical, but I was willing to expand my liver horizons. I liked the buttermilk fried exterior, but the heart of the appetizer was still just that same old liver my mom tried to make me eat once upon a childhood. This just proves I’m not a chicken liver fan because Justin was eager to eat my portion.
ri 1 / absinthe rinse / bitters / cane sugar / lemon
Another drink? Don’t mind if I do! This one was a slow sippin’ good time.
We had to wait. We had to caffeinate a bit. We had to wait some more, but I made sure we made room for dessert because the chocolate bread pudding was beckoning. Look how they dressed it up in new clothes for my second helping!
So concluded the second helping of Meat and Potatoes, and the most pressing thought in my head was, “How quickly can I return here?”
Fin. Decadent Fin.