Munch goes to Lot 17

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Now and again, Munch likes to take you to a simple place, high-ceilinged and friendly, with exposed brick walls and a long, gorgeous wooden bar that gleams with a lick of polish. The ceiling fans turn on pulleys; the ceiling of raised tin looks soft and lustrous. A strong menu and an honest bar go a long way toward this statement: There should be one of these on a corner in every Pittsburgh neighborhood.

In Bloomfield, head to Lot 17.

Munch always seems to know someone there, and there's always a seat at the bar, at the booths in the back or at the umbrella-covered tables outside, where you can watch long black cars blasting rap slink by, or old Italian men, arm in arm, with cigars, ambling down the hill from Pleasure Bar.

Lot 17 offers plenty of microbrews, but in this humid heat, Munch wanted a long, slender white ale with a wedge of lemon: Hoegaarden. Unfortunately, it was lunchtime, and Munch doesn't make it a practice to return to work with a buzz on, much as it could improve the work environment if everyone were tipsily giggling. FOM went beerless as well, since he had a full day of driving around and shaking hands ahead of him.

FOM had applied a gentle pressure to Munch for months. "You gotta get out to Lot 17," he said. "They've never been Munched."

Disbelieving, Munch finally checked the archives: FOM was right. Eureka! Munch is happy when it works out that a place Munch talks up in personal circles can be talked up in a column that serves the public.

Lot 17 is great for happy hour. It's a good spot for a post-dinner nightcap. It's a clean, friendly bar with top-shelf liquor, lacking in gimmickry, artifice and an in-your-face singles scene -- and booze prices are better than at many of the sleeker, self-satisfied Shadyside gin joints. It never fails to surprise -- and offend -- Munch that on some nights pleasant Lot 17 is very quiet while the ersatz-cool-neighborhood bars of the Waterfront, Bar Louie and Rock Bottom, are packed to the rafters.

Munch can make a night of it at Lot 17; sit down for dinner and hang out through the night, as the players change and the sunset dies. Lot 17 serves eclectic, high-quality bar food. The menu has a sunny-fresh Cal-Med flair. Leeks and sun-dried tomatoes pop up in unexpected dishes, as do good cheeses like feta and chevre. There's a homemade soup du jour, as well as pastas, grilled fish, crisp pizzas. But it's not all frou-frou fare. For the eater who likes a hunk of meat with his beer, worry not: Lot 17 has good, thick, grilled burgers and fat fries.

At lunchtime, Munch ordered a cup of peppery creamed broccoli soup ($1.95) and -- instead of the girly beer mentioned earlier -- a sweet heap of a Lot 17 salad ($7.95): mesclun greens topped with grilled chicken, crumbled chevre and raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.

FOM, who has invented a low-carb eating style that still somehow includes beer, ordered a seared swordfish steak that was black with grill marks, but creamy and rare at its center ($7.95). It was a perfect palm-sized lunch portion, which came with a scoop of buttery pilaf and a drizzle of orange-y soy glaze.

It's getting hotter, and those old-fashioned paddle fans kick up a nice, cooling breeze. A Cuba Libre may cool you down, or the suggested tall draft of pale beer. Lot 17's sidewalk seating is as good a place for people-watching as any in Shadyside or Squirrel Hill. The food is far better than you'll find at 98 percent of the bars in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is rich in neighborhood bars; Lot 17 is at the top of Munch's list.

Lot 17 is at 4617 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield (412-687-8117).



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