From Kentucky Fried Chicken to Seattle's Best Coffee, there's a longstanding tradition in the food business of choosing geographical names that intend to connote the cultural flavor of a place -- often poorly.
The grammatically questionable Bahama Breeze evokes the tropics in exotic locales such as Troy, Mich.; Texas Roadhouse peddles cowboy imagery from Delaware to Dubai, and Outback brings "Australia" to global hot spots such as Monroeville. Even sultry South Beach has the Clevelander; no word if lake-effect snow and unemployment are on the menu.
This brings Munch to the Pittsburgh Grille and Sports Bar, which sounds like it should be in a strip mall in Tacoma or an airport terminal in Reno -- some far-off place, trying to evoke stereotyped images of a gritty town of hearty, hard-hatted backslappers that exists today mostly in the mind's eye.
Instead it's in Pittsburgh, where technically every single other establishment within the city limits that serves a warm morsel of food is, in fact, a Pittsburgh grill. Zero points for creativity on the name, despite voluminous possibilities for local inspiration.
Occupying two prime pieces of real estate -- a location on the North Shore a few paces from Heinz Field and another in the lobby of the U.S. Steel Tower -- this is obviously a well-funded venture.
But it feels like you're sitting in the middle of a Best Buy that happens to serve average food. It's impossible to ever avert your gaze -- in any direction -- from the dozens of flat screen TVs at the North Shore spot. If there was one more TV in the place, you'd feel like Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" during a Ludovico Technique.
The Pittsburgh "touches" that do exist are forced. The place is littered with Pittsburgh-themed Fatheads -- those life-sized photographs of pro athletes that stick on walls in kids' bedrooms. They look chintzy, even in a sports bar.
But some decor is fun, such as pictures of Roberto Clemente and Hines Ward stylized like Warhol's Marilyn Diptych. The wall of caricatures of local athletes is a cute touch. A cigar bar up front seemed like a cool little lounge area (if only Munch smoked cigars).
A better-than-average draft beer lineup recently featured the deliciously spicy, seasonal Southern Tier 2XMAS, Abita Purple Haze and Great Divide Avalanche. Munch spied some Church Brew Works beer available in a bottle. The waitresses and bartenders we encountered all seemed nice enough.
Any place with a patio on the Allegheny River merits a visit if for no other reason than to kick back with a brew and take in the view of Downtown. The North Shore location is an acceptably grown-up enough place to grab a pop immediately before or after a Steelers or Pitt game and do just that.
But the food is as pedestrian as it comes. Despite the place's name, there's nothing Pittsburgh about any of it. None of it appeared to be from any local purveyors, as none are listed on the menu. There are no local dishes or specialties.
Instead it's the boiled-down basics of any generic chain sports bar menu between Pittsburgh and Phoenix: apps included some uninspired sounding wings, quesadillas and firecracker shrimp among other things ($6.99 to $12.99); sandwiches included the requisite number of burgers and wraps ($8.79 to $9.99); entrees featured some steaks, a couple of fish and chicken dishes ($10.99 to $22.99); soups and salads are also available ($4.49 to $12.99).
Munch had a half-pound Angus Cheeseburger topped with bacon and pepper jack cheese ($9.29) with a side of broccoli that had a little too much butter on it. Munch's dining partner had the Rib Bucket -- a pound and a half of baby back ribs in barbecue sauce with a baked potato on the side ($13.99).
We agreed that the food was neither terrible, nor great. Rather we found it to be nothing special and perfectly forgettable. Which is a shame, because Pittsburgh isn't -- and, neither should a place that alleges to be "celebrating hometown pride."munch