I'm a Rick Sebak fanboy. There, I said it. Some people go to comic book conventions, others dig Anthrocon. Me? Take me to a "Sandwiches That You Will Like" expo any day of the week. I don't like to admit this, but he's the reason I grew a mustache that one year.
He's also the reason I found myself at Emil's Lounge in Rankin. I'd never been there before, and had never even contemplated the trip before watching Mr. Sebak's "25 Things I Like About Pittsburgh" last year. One of those things he liked was the fish sandwich at Emil's.
I had remembered reading the news obituary of the owner, Emil Luzaich, who had run the bar and restaurant from the mid 1950s until his death in 2009. Among his many honorable character traits, he often bought his customers -- both newbies and long-timers -- a drink, beckoning, "How 'bout a shot?" as patrons bellied up to the bar.
Sounds like Munch's kind of place, no? Emil's is a lounge in its truest, etymological sense -- from the Scottish "to loll idly," which is pretty much our guiding philosophy here at Munch HQ -- and it is the sort of mill town establishment where you're quite likely to see someone polishing off a reuben platter and a very tall screwdriver at 11:30 in the morning.
Again, Munch's precise kind of place. Not a cocktail bar, not a diner, not a bottle shop, and certainly not an ultralounge. How can you tell the difference? Check the menu -- if it has sauteed calves liver on it, then you are probably at a lounge. If it has prime rib on it, the odds go up still. It's the cuisine of postwar, post-rationing America -- of a Pittsburgh, and a Mon Valley, in its prime -- and I have a soft spot for this style of dining that will never go away, no matter how many ramen places open in Squirrel Hill.
The screwdriver-and-liver combo was tempting, but alas, as a Sebak fanboy, I must follow in his precise footsteps (it's like Bloomsday for Pittsburghers), and that means trying the fish sandwich ($8.99). What else can be said about a pound of fried fish on a bun? Neither man nor beast requires such a sandwich. Truly, this is the age of plenty. Truly, it was a good sandwich.
The hot roast beef sandwich ($7.99) came with mashed potatoes, a fine lunch and a preposterous amount of food, which is a running theme at Emil's.
"He built his reputation on homemade 'Hunky' food," said his daughter, Kristine Kochis, in the 2009 obituary. "He always gave you a portion where you'd have to take some home." Mr. Luzaich has been gone for four years, but that Serbian spirit of abundance (not to mention the "Hunky hand grenades," or stuffed cabbage) hasn't disappeared.
Also unchanged is the lounge itself, folded into the first floor of a red brick bunker at 414 Hawkins Ave., a small painted awning calling customers toward the hard-to-find entrance. You can have a seat at the triangular bar with the regulars, where Emil himself use to count money and consort with mill workers, or find a table in the dining room -- yellow walls, green carpeting, faux-wood paneling, and a jungle mural flanked by silk ficus trees.
Yeah, it's Munch's precise kind of place. I believe other things were eaten that day -- mozzarella sticks? Fried mushrooms? Delmonico steak for two? It's irrelevant, really. Rick Sebak wouldn't steer you wrong, would he?munch
Emil's is at 414 Hawkins Ave., Rankin, 412-271-9911 and www. emilslounge.com; open Tuesday through Saturday. Btoland@post-gazette.com, email@example.com or Twitter @ PGMunch. Become a Facebook Friend of Munch at www.facebook.com/munchPG.