Throughout a wide swath of the 200-year history of the city’s Lawrenceville section, if one were to suggest meeting at a dive bar there, the appropriate response would be a two-fold query: “Which one, and on what corner?”
But that was the Lawrenceville of yore. As this once-most quintessential working class neighborhood continues to evolve into a symbolic poster child of “New Pittsburgh,” the 15201 of 2014 is a hub of white-hot real estate and home to a nationally feted restaurant. The cold gold of Iron City has given way to hoppy nanobrews; industry has shifted from Heppenstall to Children’s Hospital, from Crucible Steel to Carnegie Robots; and the male denizens look less like blue-collar Joe Magarac and increasingly more like yupster Macklemore.
An invitation to a contemporary Lawrenceville dive could imply Kelly’s Korner or the Round Corner Cantina, depending on who’s asking. And now it might also be a straightforward suggestion for Dive Bar & Grille on Butler Street. Opened in March in the former home of the Big Belly Deli and Alchemy & Ale, it’s the second location of the North Hills establishment of the same name — used ironically as this is an attractive, uncluttered space with a large selection of favorites and a bit of gastropub flair.
The liquor and cocktail list is more than respectable, as is the draft list, and I and fellow Muncher Bill Toland spent Saturday night putting away a few East End products — Fat Gary and Big Hop to be specific — while we perused the menu where standards like wings, nachos and fried pickles are available along with items like a chimichurri skirt steak, smoked gouda risotto and Jamacian jerk-crusted salmon.
The other Munch (the lesser Munch, perhaps?) scarfed down an order of the tangy BBQ pulled pork sliders ($9) to which he gave an enthusiastic endorsement, while this Munch, after considering the PB N’ Chutney burger (topped with peanut butter, roasted red pepper and pineapple chutney, cheddar and bacon, $12) settled on the massive Comfort Burger ($12).
Made with a meatloaf patty topped with mashed potatoes, gravy and macaroni and cheese, this covered four of my personal five food groups (if only I’d asked for bacon!). Predictably it was a total mess to eat (I broke down and used a knife and fork) but was every bit delicious and fun as it sounds. My only gripe was about the house- made chips that came with it, which were dry and tasted like baked Lays, which is to say they didn’t really taste like anything. More oil on these, please.
There must’ve been something with the potatoes that particular evening because the allegedly fresh-cut fries in our Reuben Bowl ($12) were also dry, despite the corned beef, Swiss, cole slaw and Thousand Island dressing atop them.
A second visit yielded nothing but high marks. If the place is something of a gastropub, then I went gastro, ordering the Thai Chili Mahi ($18) while my girlfriend went all pub with a Fried Bologna sandwich ($9).
Mine was a perfectly cooked piece of mahi-mahi glazed in a Thai chili sauce over rice. Served with panko fried Brussels sprouts, chopped bacon, candied almonds and bleu cheese crumbles, this had salty, sharp, sweet, and spicy tastes all happening in concert. Hers was a thick cut of “Jumbo” (as the elder Lawrencevillians might call it), a fried egg and cheese. Simple, delicious, and perfect with a pint.
Finally, whatever your preconceived notion of a dive bar is, none of them are worth their salt-before-a-tequila shot if they don’t have an able barkeep. Dive Bar & Grille has two of the best around in Adam Piscatelli and Stacey Hart, a pair of consummate pros who run things with a fun vibe and no pretense whatsoever. That more than anything else is the most important element of any dive bar, or in this case any Dive Bar & Grille.
Dive Bar & Grille is at 5147 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412-408-2015 or divebarandgrille.com.
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org; @gigs412.