Little Bites: Duck Donuts opens in Upper St. Clair, Free Primanti’s, Ballpark night at Eleven
Recorded in 1989 to a sample of “Super Freak” by Rick James and released in January 1990, M.C. Hammer’s seminal paean to elusiveness, “U Can’t Touch This” would propel his sophomore recording to sell 18 million albums, and become a hip-pop crossover smash, the dance moves of which the 12-year-old edition of this author used to routinely attempt to emulate in front of the mirror in a pair of baggy Skidz and an I.O.U. sweatshirt.
Unfortunately, the song has held up about as well as those clothes, so it was a curious choice to hear around the corner and down the block from the patio of the shiny new City Works Eatery & Pour House on a recent Tuesday night as I approached to watch Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
That it was followed up at near supersonic decibels by that terrible Imagine Dragons song (which seems to be as hard to kill as an actual dragon) gave the immediate impression: I’m going to hate this place.
And yet … it’s (mostly) a great spot to watch a game. Speaking of that — is there anything going on tonight?
Opened in March, it is one five national City Works locations by the Chicago-based Bottleneck Management Group. And, if you’re looking for a Game 5 destination, you’ll hardly do better than the copious TV situation at City Works. There are 15 of them, all giant, and when taken together have roughly the effect of watching the game at an IMAX theater — the only way you’d see more of the action is if your eyelids were peeled open a la “A Clockwork Orange.”
Watching the game, seizure-inducing anxiety follows every rising and falling syllable of Doc Emrick’s play-by-play that manages to give first-period icing calls the nerve-jangling urgency of the Hindenburg broadcast. That they go back to the music during commercial breaks can be a jarring transition, although Emrick to Pit Bull is still better than hearing anything come out of Mike Milbury’s piehole.
But the 90 beers on tap — with a nice nod to local products such as Grist House, Penn and Draai Laag — will help soothe the nerves in this 11,200-square-foot space that finally (and only 34 years after construction) acts as a proper street-level anchor for the building at a prime corner of Market Square, replacing a jumbled mess of shops that never really fit the layout and one of the more depressing food courts in town. The shoe shine guy is sorely missed, however. But the outside patio facing the square is sure to be a huge draw at happy hours this summer.
As per the website, the menu is “Classic American Food with Modern Twists,” which is often translated from restaurant-speak to mean “Everything here you can basically get somewhere else, but we added like one extra thing to justify an upcharge.”
Parmesan bread crumbs on the truffle mac and cheese are crusted over the top bed of cavatappi noodles. Underneath was a molten cheese sauce with a mushroom truffle paste, nearly bubbling in its cast-iron vessel and full of chunks of applewood smoked bacon from Nueske’s, a Wisconsin-based purveyor that’s been in the bacon business for 84 years.
The three shaved black truffles on top are superfluous, which unfortunately don’t add much except to the $13 price, but nonetheless, this was pretty good.
The late, great Clara Peller may have taken issue with the 1871 chili ($8) by invoking her catchphrase query — where’s the beef?
The base broth is a tasty one with chipotle peppers and milk stout, but it was there almost none of the promised Angus steak or pork. It was nearly all liquid.
Ample and juicy smoked wings ($13) are prepared with a light chili rub and two house sauces for dipping — a decent barbecue sauce and a chipotle maple sauce so sweet it’ll make your teeth hurt.
The Carolina Fried Chicken sandwich ($13) was a well-prepared piece of chicken with tasty, crunchy buttermilk breading, crisp house spicy bread and butter pickles, a mustard barbecue sauce, all on brioche.
A nice mix of flavors and texture.
Another good pick: the duck Rueben ($14), which was smoky and peppery with classic Russian dressing, citrus-tarragon apple sauerkraut and Gruyere on crisp marble rye.
The Nashville goalie with the name that sounds like Roman cheese was the only person getting more things thrown at them on the night of our visit, and the staff collectively hustled and got drinks and food out on a packed weeknight.
And it was well worth it to be there to hear a full house erupt after a Pittsburgh goal. Good beer and decent sandwiches were a bonus, like overtime hockey. And like an ugly playoff win, City Works is a crowd pleaser, albeit with room for improvement.
City Works Eatery & Pour House: 2 PPG Place, Downtown; 412-448-9200; cityworksrestaurant.com/pittsburgh
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @gigs412