Brewpub located near the Butler Farm Market on Friday starts out serving 10 house beers, plus Pennsylvania wine, housemade soda and food.
It was while opining on Ragazzi’s, the popular restaurant in “The Hill,” the old Italian section of St. Louis where both he and fellow Major League Baseball catcher Joe Garagiola grew up — and waited tables — that the late great Lorenzo Pietro “Yogi” Berra uttered one of his most famous and lasting malapropisms, “It’s so crowded nobody goes there anymore.”
So on the eve of the Pirates home opener, the words of the Yankees Hall of Famer (who watched Maz’s hallowed home run sail over his head) can be applied to the newest spot on the North Shore that nobody will go to before and after trips to PNC Park this season because it’s so crowded: Southern Tier Brewing.
Opened in January it has steadily packed in visitors and it’s easy to see why: It’s the first satellite brewpub from the highly regarded brewery out of Western New York, and it’s a beauty.
As Post-Gazette hops and barley-based beverage beat man Bob Batz wrote, “It’s lit by chandeliers made from barrel staves and retro lightbulbs. Details include a marker on one end of the long concrete-topped bar showing the location of the left field foul line of the 1890 Exposition Park, site of the first World Series, played in 1903 between the Pittsburg Pirates and the Boston Americans.”
A 10,000-square-foot outdoor beer garden is nearing completion and will be a perfect warm weather spot to suck down Southern Tier’s refreshing lime gose or its crisp pilsner, among the 30 beers on tap, most of which are its own.
The menu is essentially pub grub, albeit well-constructed.
A small order of nachos ($8) was still a massive mountain of chips with a decent helping of barbecued pork, bacon, tomato, beans, scallions and fresh slices of jalapeno and avocado, a lime sour cream, beer cheese and Parmesan.
The smoked wings were well above par with a traditional Buffalo sauce ($12), and a healthier, but no less tasty, bite was the flash fried crispy Parmesan cauliflower served with a garlic aioli ($8).
The signature Southern Tier burger is an impressive specimen — a meaty hockey puck covered with a house beer cheese, a few gorgeous ribbons of a black pepper bacon, a garlic aioli, jerk pickles, arugula and an ale battered onion ring ($12). It packed a ton of flavor, but unfortunately my medium rare order was perilously close to well done.
My friend had few complaints, however, about his walnut-crusted salmon ($15), served on a cast-iron skillet over a bed of cauliflower-creamed wild rice and charred broccoli.
Service could be slow at times, owing to the constant crush of customers at a place that nobody goes to anymore.
This author’s mother has not so much a Yogi-ism but a rhetorical question said aloud over decades on nearly every single trip to a crowded Giant Eagle or South Hills Village mall.
“What are all these people doing here?”
Which would elicit an eye roll and a sigh with the answer from her impatient son: the same thing you are, Mom.
And yet, on a recent Saturday night observing the mob scene at Mindful Brewing Company in Castle Shannon, I found myself asking and answering the exact same question — What are all these people doing here? They’re here eat and drink in a cool space, just like you are, dummy.
People were lined up three deep just to look at the massive selection of beers in the coolers, let alone get a drink at the bar. There was a 90-minute-plus wait for a two-top, and the din was louder than a Ghost B.C. show, yet the service was excellent and prompt.
Open since January, the transformation that the folks at Mindful have done with the former John A. McGinnis market is downright stunning. Again, Mr. Batz picks up the narration.
“The place has been built on the market’s footprint in cool tones of gray and black with touches of stained wood and accents of green. Looking from out front at the building, topped with big light-up red letters that spell out ‘Mindful Brewing Co.,’ you can see the gleaming 10-barrel brewhouse on the right.”
Mindful has an admirable commitment to sustainable products including grass-fed meats from North Carolina’s Joyce Farms, free-range chicken from Gerber Farms in Ohio’s Amish country and Faroe Island salmon. But the execution still needs a little work and more seasoning on just about everything.
To wit: The Lee Van Cleef burger ($12) sounded like an absolute layup for flavor — grass-fed, chorizo-infused beef topped with Cotija cheese, bacon, jalapeño and onion straws, and a golden barbecue sauce. Instead a medium rare was again overcooked and disappointingly dry and bland. The advertised side of fresh steamed vegetables were clearly grilled, although they were delicious.
Likewise, the steak sandwich ($12) promised chargrilled grass-fed steak, halloumi cheese, tomato and fresh greens on grilled sourdough bread with a horseradish yogurt, which again sounds like a winner but required a side of hot sauce to amp up the taste.
Speaking of hot sauce, an order of whole wings ($9) was crackling with a crispy skin but was served naked with the sauce on the side, which kind of defeats the purpose. Conversely, the Nashville hot pressure fried chicken ($10) was perfectly cooked — juicy with a beautiful breading; however, it was mild at best.
A side order of mac ’n’ cheese was a forgettable order with a thin paste of cheese, as were the nachos ($7) despite toppings of queso blanco, tomatoes, jalapeños and onions.
The food isn’t there yet, but the beer most certainly is. Mindful has 38 on tap including a baker’s dozen of its own concoctions, plus hundreds of bottles.
Its highly crushable straight Kolsch is a perfect warm-weather beer, as is the lime agave pale ale, and the Morning Glory turbid pale ale is an excellent, juicy, citrus representation of the increasingly popular hazy New England-style beers.
And, ultimately, that’s a worth-the-trip draw, and the answer to the query as to what all those people are doing there.
Southern Tier Brewing: 316 North Shore Drive, North Shore; 412-301-2337; http://stbcbeer.com.
Mindful Brewing Company: 3759 Library Road, Castle Shannon; 412-668-3857; http://mindfulbrewing.com.
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @gigs412.ette.com; Twitter @gigs412.