All this talk about Lyft and Uber casts Munch's memory back to a misty, long-ago era when the nights often ended with a trip to Piper's Pub, whose inscrutable bartenders locked the doors at unpredictable hours. To them, the standard South Side 2 a.m. closing time was but a suggestion, and getting tossed out of the bar at half-past midnight was not an unusual occurrence. Being jettisoned onto East Carson Street without a lift home meant calling a taxi -- and waiting, and waiting, and then waiting some more.
Often Pittsburgh's unreliable late-night taxi service led to long layovers at the next-door pizza shop, known as Ron's Pizza Palace, which was somewhat less palatial than the name would have you believe. "Ron's Pizza Fallout Shelter" would be more accurate -- more pejorative, too, but not by an unfair margin.
That place is gone now, and the world will little note nor long remember the pizza that was made there, but I have an affection for the place, regardless. Yet I have far greater affection for fried foods -- fish and chips, English pasties, stuffed pot pies, oysters, shrimp, anything else you can jam into an industrial deep fryer.
If you share this affection, and I can't think of many who don't, I urge you to visit The Pub Chip Shop. There is nothing like it in Pittsburgh.
As Munch colleague Dan Gigler has noted in his own reporting on the place, The Pub Chip Shop is the vision of Piper's owner Drew Topping, who bought the pizza palace building years back and has been working toward an "authentic United Kingdom-style fish-and-chips shop" inspired by a 2009 trip to Scotland. It took years to get it done, but it was done right: exposed brick walls, handsome dark-wood wainscoting, and a brassy old National-brand cash register, for an antique touch. The place will do mostly a take-out business, but there is seating for 15 at butcher-block-style countertops, and it's zoned for outdoor seating, so that could be a possibility come summer.
But summer is a long way off, and nothing says winter like pot pies. The Pub Chip Shop sells eight of them, plus daily specials: Steak and ale ($7) is my current favorite, a mix of chopped steak and mushrooms in an aromatic beer-and-beef stock, encased in a sturdy fried pie about the size of your fist. A mushroom risotto pie was on special this week, an earthy, porridge-like mix of rice and mushrooms in the same crust.
Also on the menu are baps (British sandwiches) and pasties, which resemble pint-sized calzones, stuffed with meat, cheeses and vegetables. The salmon pasty ($7, salmon, potatoes, onions, Welsh cheddar) might be the best of the bunch, if the least traditional of them. And the fried fish is, of course, the specialty of the house -- Munch has sampled both the standard beer-battered haddock ($8) and the breaded perch tacos ($5 apiece).
Put any of those pies, pastries or fish plates beside some fries ($2 as a side dish), or some Welsh cheddar mac and cheese ($4), and you have yourself a meal that is substantially more elegant that what you might expect from a fish-and-chip fry shop.
With so much ground to cover on the menu, I never made it to desserts: apple pie, deep-fried Mars bars, plus some fried seasonal foods. And we're not talking about seasonal fruits and vegetables; we're talking about a deep-fried Cadbury egg.
I don't stay out until 2 a.m. as much as I used to. But I know the South Side's taxi availability is as reliably unreliable as ever, and I imagine that a new generation of Carson Street carousers will soon find itself happily loitering at the Pub Chip Shop instead of Ron's on Sunday mornings, waiting for the taxi that will never come.
The Pub Chip Shop is at 1830 East Carson St., South Side; www.thepubchipshop.com or 412-381-2447. Open seven days, starting at 11 a.m.
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