In the days following a blow-out New Year's Eve, a person develops a certain type of hunger. It starts deep in the belly, far back in the nose, and in the place behind the eyes, where headaches sometimes settle. It consumes your being.
William Penn Tavern is at 739 Bellefonte St. in Shadyside (412-621-1000).
It's a hunger that screams: Grease! Cheese! Bacon-y goodness!
It's a hunger that will not be ignored.
Even Classy Friend of Munch, with her high-high heels and her little wrap dresses, feels the hunger. Though she tends her body like a garden, she breaks down for some French fries after getting her drink on.
Munch, being no such gardener, is always willing to consume big, honking portions of fried anything.
Together, Munch and CFOM braved the new year with a serious craving, which led us straight to William Penn Tavern.
It is not a spot Munch regularly frequents. But, late on a weeknight, many establishments with fathomless deep fryers had boarded up their kitchens for the evening. William Penn Tavern was open, neon-lit and loud with Guns N' Roses.
Inside, the decor is classic bar. The walls are festooned with sports memorabilia and a blown-up panel of "Calvin and Hobbes," the one with the bittersweet conversation we're all familiar with around here:
"Where do you suppose we go when we die?"
"If we're good or if we're bad?"
The furniture isn't much to speak of. The games are in the back. The bar is big and square, and gives the illusion of a big table, where you sit within speaking distance of the person across from you.
The beer is typical Pittsburgh tap: Yuengling, Bass, Rolling Rock, Bud. The food is typical Pittsburgh bar: hoagies, burgers, Cajun-spiced something, salads topped with fries.
But this is Pittsburgh bar food with distinction. The burgers are oblong and thin, and come on a ficelle, like a small baguette. The thin meat/chewy bread combo is a great pairing of textures. Add crisp bacon and melted Swiss cheese, as Munch did, and you may consume the entire foot-long sandwich.
The burger comes with a huge basket of fresh, hot fries. They were tossed with a spicy/sweet seasoning of sugar, cayenne, chili powder and other spices.
This is a regrettable move only to fry purist Munch, who likes 'em straight up, sprinkled with a modicum of salt. So Munch sought the fries at the bottom of the heap.
But CFOM loved the seasoning. Like a respectable bistro babe, she washed down fry after fry with ladylike sips of William Penn Tavern's decent house shiraz, legs crossed, eyes sparkly, lipstick leaving a heart-shaped crimson blot on the stemware.
William Penn Tavern puts a good, simple steak salad together. The waitress recommended it, and CFOM ordered it. It arrives in a wide wooden bowl, a bed of ripped romaine topped with red onions, tomato slices, fat squiggles of steak and fries, of course. Unlike other bars that try to pass off Steak-Umm as "steak," William Penn Tavern serves bona-fide, juicy strips of seasoned, rare meat. That's a plus.
Munch heard, from many grad school friends and firstname.lastname@example.org regulars, that William Penn Tavern was the place for a good, inexpensive repast. It's true: our check, including beers, came to only $21. It's tough to eat that cheaply anywhere, without eating from a cart.
And the menu isn't only for beef lovers. There's a good-looking shaved turkey hoagie, homemade chili, seared tuna -- and every sandwich is available as a wrap.
Munch recognized the bartender, Bear, from City Grill. He's a big, friendly guy with fast hands and an easy grin. The two syllables, "Yueng-ling" were barely out of Munch's mouth before the beer, cold and foamy, was on the table.
That's something you can get used to.