Because it's the Cup, it's time to Buckle Up, Baby, and get your caboose down to the corner of Mario Lemieux Place and Centre Avenue to cheer on your Pittsburgh Aptenodytes on the big screen, in what's become an annual harbinger of spring along with robins and crusties.
Notice I said for you to get your caboose there, because while I like the idea of hanging with anywhere between a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand of my fellow Yinz'guins to watch the games, I prefer climate control and drink refills.
Ergo, you're more likely to find me directly across from the arena at a place like the Blue Line Grille, which opened a week before Thanksgiving and is the collaboration of James Mendelson of the erstwhile Shadyside institution Doc's and North Hills businessman Kevin Nord. Former Penguins Phil Bourque and Bill Guerin also have a stake in the place and, subsequently, menu items named for them.
Many sports bars go for the cramming-as-much-memorabilia-as-possible-on-the-walls motif. By contrast, the Blue Line Grille (which, given the Penguins' health woes on defense for much of this season could've more accurately been called The Infirmary Grille, but I digress) has a clean, contemporary look with a few flourishes -- autographed jerseys from Lemieux and Sidney Crosby, a full set of Marc-Andre Fleury's game-used blockers, gloves and mask; a really cool mural of the city featuring not only Lemieux and Crosby but also players donning sweaters of long-gone local teams -- the Hornets, Yellow Jackets and Pirates among them. And there's a replica of a penalty box -- The Sin Bin -- that can be used for VIP affairs.
The menu is upscale bar food. Plenty of good-looking pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and wings are on the menu but so are things like wild mushroom bucatini ($13), a cold water lobster roll ($19) and filet mignon in a red currant port wine reduction ($34).
The Montreal poutine frites $9, fresh-cut fries with Canadian cheese curds and a house pan gravy ($9), made for a terrific appetizer and I followed it with the lobster spaetzle: housemade Spaetzle, lobster tail and claw meat, a creamy lobster broth, corn, and baked with cheese crumbles ($26).
Unfortunately, due to a mix-up during Monday night's game against the Rangers, it became a contest as to which would happen first: Crosby breaking his postseason goal-less streak, or me getting the spaetzle. Never bet against the Kid, it turns out. He scored early in the second period. I finally ate nearly an hour after ordering, although the staff did ultimately address the problem with aplomb.
They didn't skimp on the lobster, either, which was fresh and delicious; the spaetzle, tasty little sticky dumplings; and the creamy, cheesy broth offset nicely by the sweet corn. This was a very good meal and not unlike the Penguins series with Columbus: some shaky moments erased with a strong finish.
A second visit, however, was more like the Penguins' debacle last year against the Bruins.
My appetizer, smoked paprika garlic smashed cheese spread served cold with warmed pretzel bread ($9), sounded a lot more interesting than it actually was, and was terribly bland -- a surprise given all the alleged spices put into it.
Despite having no hangover to speak of, I opted for something called The Hangover Cure, which was a misnomer in that it nearly drove me to drink. Topped with shaved roast beef, bacon, avocado, fried eggs, pepper jack cheese, chimchurri sauce and sriracha, this should've been great, but, like Craig Hillier, it was a bust.
Garnished with a totally wilted piece of lettuce atop the bun, despite all those ingredients, the only things I could really taste were eggs and hot sauce. The opposing empty netter came when I bit into a wrapper that was left on the cheese. To borrow from the Ol' Two-Niner's legendary broadcast partner: "Ladies and gentlemen, the kitchen is closed!" At least it was for me at that point.
But as the hockey club across the street can attest, everybody has an off night. Regardless, the service was courteous and professional, and the Blue Line Grille has a very respectable draft list featuring local products -- Full Pint, Church and Fat Head's -- and a fun-sounding cocktail menu. A swanky rooftop bar offers Downtown views and the bottom floor has garage-style doors that when open allow the nice weather and arena energy on game and concert nights to spill into the place.
Game on, to that.
The Blue Line Grille is at 1014 Fifth Ave., Uptown. Call 412-281-2853 or visit bluelinegrille.com.
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