June 28 is the grand reopening of the 22-room hotel in Shadyside that was purchased by the Priory Hospitality Group last year.
It may have been the huge fish tank behind the bar. Possibly it was the purple walls and bead board, the steps lit in green and blue, and the chandeliers hanging overhead. Perhaps it was the cognitive dissonance of being both happy for and envious of a newly minted NFL millionaire sitting just a few seats away enjoying his night with friends. Or, maybe it was Lil Jon on the jukebox, repeatedly asking one of the great rhetorical questions of our times -- turn down for what, indeed?
Whatever the case, I found myself both amused and confused during several visits to this oddly named, borderline garish nightclub with surprisingly good grub.
About the name: Bobby Hendrix, is the alter ego of chef Bobby Bilder, who's used his guitar hero to influence his heavily Purple Haze-tinged nightspot, located in the once-longtime home of the City Grill (Note to self: See if column name can be changed to Munch Van Halen or Munchie Ray Vaughan). Mr. Bilder was the chef of record for several years at the former Melange Bistro in the Cultural District before opening his "namesake" late last year.
Like the décor, the menu tends toward the bombastic and adds a belt of booze to many dishes -- the Tequila Spiked Mussels ($10) are steamed in white wine and marinara sauce before being finished with Jose Cuervo; the Dirty Martini Salad ($7) features olives stuffed with bleu cheese and mozzarella over tomatoes and greens, with a Ketel One vodka vinaigrette served in a salted martinis glass; or a Bloody Mary served as an entire meal.
Made with a house mix and dubbed the World's Greatest, for $11 it may well be because it's garnished with a cheddar-bacon slider, fried prosciutto sticks, Cajun fried chicken, celery sticks, bleu cheese stuffed olives, and Old Bay seasoning on the glass rim. It is truly an absurd wonder to behold.
Bobby Hendrix boasts of its burgers, but as we've seemingly been living in an extended era of Peak Ground Beef, finding a good hamburger in Pittsburgh is hardly a challenge anymore. Local grill masters need to do something to stand out. Infusing the meat with Yuengling, seasoning it with sea salt and fresh pepper before sautéing it in butter and serving it on a warmed, soft pretzel bun qualifies. In the words of Jules Winnfield, "That is a tasty burger." I should know, as I had two of them, one with fresh mozzarella, marinara and prosciutto, and another with aged Swiss, Portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions and a bourbon caramel sauce (both $10).
As a self-professed mac and cheese expert, I likewise greatly enjoyed the Macaroni & Beer Cheese ($12), made from house noodles served al dente and tossed with beer and a cheese blend, giving it a tasty and somewhat tangy quality.
Finally, the Cajun Honey Fried Chicken ($9), which is herb marinated then fried in Panko crumbs and topped with a light drizzle of both a spicy honey sauce and a pineapple barbecue sauce, was a tasty bite with a lot of bite itself.
The beer list is passable at best, but the elaborate cocktail list ranges from the classic (a Bulleit Bourbon Mint Julep) and refreshing (a Ginger Shandy) to downright gimmicky fun (a Flaming S'mores Martini). Prices are reasonable and the service was friendly, albeit occasionally inattentive, as it seemed to disappear for stretches at a time, even when the place wasn't that crowded. To wit, neither I, nor a notable recent Pitt and Penn Hills product that I'm quite certain will be terrorizing opposing NFC West offenses for years to come for the St. Louis Rams could get our check without an interminable wait.
I'm quite a few years past even having a clue of what makes a good club -- not that I ever did -- but the food at Bobby Hendrix was a pleasant surprise, even if dining there is something of a cumbersome experience for an old head like Munch.
Bobby Hendrix is at 2019 E. Carson St., South Side; 412-488-1100 or bobbyhendrixpittsburgh.com.
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