As will widely be discussed in the pages of this paper and other local media outlets, 125 years ago today, the bloody Homestead Steel Strike and Lockout came to an end.
And although we’re well into a second generation of Pittsburghers for whom the Waterfront has never been anything but a mall, the tributes during the past week to the events and fallen men of that day in 1892 make it clear that their place in history secure.
Modern Homestead continues to forge an identity separate from its steel past and retail present, but it is seemingly a zoning requirement for restaurants to pay homage to heavy industry, what with Blue Dust and Dorothy 6 already established neighborhood favorites.
“Honest” John McLuckie was a labor leader and Homestead’s burgess — essentially the mayor — during the infamous strike. Opened earlier this year on East Eighth Avenue, Honest John’s honors McLuckie. It’s has a clean, modern interior with some beautiful woodwork on the tables.
Other than a few nicely famed photographs of old Homestead, this is not a shrine to days of yore. Nor is the menu littered with cheesy historical references. There are no Frick firecracker shrimp, Pinkerton poppers, Insurrection sliders, Carnegie cheese fries, Bessemer Buffalo Wings (hot as molten steel!), nor are there any McLuckie Charms, for that matter.
Chef Jennifer Burfield made some fine Italian fare during her stint at Cibo in Regent Square, but the menu here is mostly dressed-up classics — New York Strip steak and frites, pork chop with sweet potato hash, or a BLT with candied bacon and avocado.
An appetizer of scallops ceviche ($15) was near perfect. A generous serving of the bivalves is cured in a light citrus dressing with cilantro and jalapeno and served with a halved avocado and fried tortilla chips.
A properly made Caesar salad seems like a lost art in an age of instant dressing and obligatory spring greens on seemingly every menu everywhere, but here the crisp chopped romaine and house anchovy dressing with slices of fresh Parmesan and big croutons ($9) was like a comfort salad.
Ancho chili gave a nice little kick to the generously portioned creamy Pimiento Mac and Cheese ($12), topped with a layer of toasted garlic bread crumbs and chives.
The Fish Tacos (three for $14) were particularly good. The blackened tilapia was generously portioned with a nice seasoning, and the cabbage, chimichurri sauce, mango, toasted coconut, lime crema and jalapeno provided a burst of flavors and texture.
A crunchy bun and big cornmeal-crusted prawns anchored the Po’ Boy ($14) that had a bite from its Tabasco remoulade.
The food at Honest John’s isn’t necessarily innovative — it won’t likely be noted the next time a national outlet or personality parachutes in for a weekend to give his or her take on Pittsburgh’s resilience and food scene. But it is straightforward, unpretentious and well-prepared food of a high quality — honest, if you will. Befitting the name.
Hopefully, 125 years from now we won’t be looking back on a dark day when rival factions from Costco and Target met on the field of battle at the Red Robin, spared by a Chinese emissary, one P.F. Chang, who restored the peace.
Honest John’s: 216 E. 8th Ave., Homestead; 412-205-3448; http://www.honestjohnspgh.com.
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @gigs412.