Munch goes to Brick N’ Mortar

There’s a chill in the air. The days are short. And the lists are long.

With only 10 shop­ping days left un­til 2018, it’s year-end lis­ti­cle sea­son for us me­dia types, and along with it come all of the req­ui­site Top 10 and Best Of lists, trends, award nom­i­nees and snubs in mov­ies, TV, books — you name it. Mu­sic writer non­pa­reil Scott Mer­vis put to­gether a ter­rific wrap-up of the year in mu­sic, and last week the food staff named our fa­vor­ite restau­rant dishes of the year.

So if you’ll al­low Munch to get even more es­o­teric with a list, in what’s been an­other ban­ner year for Pitts­burgh din­ing, here are the 10 best new restau­rant names in 2017, for bet­ter and worse.

There’s or, The Whale in the Di­s­trikt (with-a-K) Ho­tel, which even with its punc­tu­a­tion pre­tense is ad­mit­tedly hard to for­get, if only for that rea­son. It is out­done in that re­gard, how­ever, by the Fair­mont Pitts­burgh ho­tel’s flir­ta­tion with ab­bre­vi­a­tions at fl.2 — that’s Floor Two to you rubes be­cause it’s ON THE SECOND FLOOR, GET IT? Su­pe­rior Mo­tors hon­ors its his­tory in Brad­dock. Acorn planted a seed in Shadyside. The Strip’s Iron Born com­bines two of the great things in this world: pizza and “Game of Thrones.” Dor­mont’s Nee­dle & Pin em­ploys cock­ney slang. The most ex­cel­lently ti­tled Onion Maiden in Al­len­town re­flects its vegan-metal-fe­male chef ethos, and Bahn Mi & Tea in Law­renceville and Baby Loves Ta­cos! in Bloom­field are both just fun to say.

But more than any other, Brick N’ Mor­tar in Hei­del­berg tells a great story with its ti­tle.

University of Pittsburgh and Art In­sti­tute of Pittsburgh culi­nary pro­gram grad Ricci Minella — who bears a strik­ing re­sem­blance to Poe Dameron in the new “Star Wars” mov­ies — started the Burgh Bites food cart six years ago in Shadyside, build­ing a loyal fol­low­ing among East Enders look­ing for a nosh af­ter a night on the town. That grew into a full-fledged Burgh Bites food truck three years later. And keep­ing on that same three-year sched­ule, the Chart­iers Val­ley alumnus spun off a store­front lo­ca­tion close to home on Route 50 in Hei­del­berg.

Hence, Brick N’ Mor­tar.

So, good story — lo­cal kid with am­bi­tion and en­tre­pre­neurial spirit does well grow­ing his busi­ness. But how is it?

It’s a cozy lit­tle spot with seat­ing for about 20 around some beau­ti­ful new live-edge ta­bles, with an­tique pop bot­tles bor­der­ing the ceil­ing and a friendly staff. The menu is es­sen­tially high-qual­ity pub grub — sand­wiches, burg­ers, hot dogs, sal­ads, pizza and Ital­ian-Amer­i­can fa­vor­ites. Al­lud­ing to the name, many dishes in­clude brick cheese and the house red or “mor­tar” sauce, and they make as much as pos­si­ble in-house: ev­ery­thing from fresh pasta to ranch dress­ing. And, it is very rea­son­able in an age of sky­rock­et­ing menu prices — noth­ing is more than $15, and the help­ings are co­pi­ous.

On one visit, the Schmucker, slow-braised pork shoul­der in a sweet and spicy chipo­tle sauce with coleslaw and spicy pick­les on grilled cia­b­atta ($8.99) was not only de­li­cious but also roughly the size of a foot­ball, leav­ing lit­tle room for a re­spect­able cup of beef and bean chili, with cheese, sour cream, ja­l­a­p­e­nos, scal­lions and house-made tor­ti­lla chips ($3.99).

On an­other stop, my mother gushed about the Hey Dude BBQ chicken sand­wich ba­con, roasted sweet pep­pers, car­a­mel­ized on­ions, ched­dar jack cheese, spicy pick­les and greens on a grilled pita ($9.49).

The Chicken Parm plat­ter was mas­sive: two large pieces of breaded and pan-fried chicken smoth­ered with brick cheese, mor­tar sauce, roasted to­ma­toes, Parme­san and Romano cheese with fresh ba­sil and served over fet­tuc­cine ($13.99). The chicken was per­fectly cooked, the sauce light and the cheese plen­ti­ful, but it wasn’t a bub­bling mess as is of­ten the case. The only gripe — it needed a lit­tle more sea­son­ing in the bread­ing.

Brick N’ Mor­tar also re­cently started a brunch that has some prom­is­ing if not dec­a­dent-sound­ing dishes, like the Pizza Ben­e­dict — ham, ba­con and cheese with a poached egg and hol­lan­daise on pizza crust ($9.99).

Mr. Minella’s food cart yielded a food truck in three years, and that truck be­gat a lit­eral ‘Brick N’ Mor­tar’ lo­ca­tion three years af­ter that. So it’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see what an­other three years brings — Brick N’ Fran­chise?

Brick N’ Mor­tar: 1709 E. Rail­road St., Hei­del­berg; 412-276 -0727; burgh­bit­e­​brick-n-mor­tar-restau­rant.

Dan Gigler:; Twitter @gigs412.


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