Munch goes (back) to Young's Tavern

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A true confession: During Munch's salad days, the incognito barfly went double-undercover to pull capers. The objective was simple: beer and acquisition thereof. The rub? Munch was only old enough to vote. A creative solution required a marriage of synergy and commerce.

Here's the spiel: freshman year. Munch knows a bloke, who knows a bloke. A Polaroid shot, an HP scanner, contact paper and $50 later -- voila! -- Munch is in business with a fake I.D. Munch assumes the identity of one Pat McKeever, age 24, of 123 Elm St., Portland, Maine. Scheming Pal of Munch (SPOM) got hooked up, too.

Using an alias today would get one outed by Karl Rove, but back then Munch and SPOM passed ourselves off as a pair of Mainers (Maine-ites? Maine-iacs?), working in sales for a Portland-based paint manufacturer. Though neither of us had ever set foot in the Pine Tree State, we knew that the state bird was the chickadee and we even spun a yarn about the great Nor'easter of '89 that blew through Bah Hah-bah (wicked cold, FYI).

That trace levels of South Hills yinzer betrayed our pseudonyms mattered little at the roadhouses and dives where we plied our trade -- questionable establishments where Dora the Explorer could suck down cervezas and cigarillos without suspicion.

Emboldened, we scouted new territory during a South Side reconnaissance mission. Dissuaded by the tattoo-laden no-necked doormen at a few bars, we settled on a sleepy old millworkers pub called Young's Tavern.

We swaggered through the door, ordered with confidence, proudly wielded our proof of Maine citizenship, and ... were promptly laughed straight out of the joint by the old barkeep, who could've passed for Ernie "Coach" Pantusso. Drat!

Young's was long closed by the time Munch and SPOM were legal, so we were washed over with nostalgia upon learning that it reopened last month under the care of the Folino family of Tom's Diner fame.

Munch and SPOM immediately exorcised old demons, ordering a Penn Weizen ($3.50) and a Sierra Nevada Wheat ($4) from among the respectable list of 70 domestics, imports and microbrews. No I.D. required this time.

The place retains a classic neighborhood bar feel with some polished upgrades: Framed prints of contemporary artwork hang next to vintage beer, liquor and cigar ads. A restored tin ceiling presides over the front bar area and the original wooden bar is attached to a side wall, with a Depression-era photo of the original owner hanging over it.

Plush modern chairs give a hint of lounge, while a row of handsome old wooden booths line the back room wall. An old wooden telephone booth (remember those?) stands in the back. Local jazz musicians play on weekends.

But are the six televisions in the front bar truly necessary? I mean, Steelers Sundays aside, isn't the point of going to a bar to enjoy cordials and chat with friends or strangers, not to be assaulted by the hyperstimulation of the E! channel coming at you from a half-dozen directions?

Young's menu comes courtesy of the Tom's Diner kitchen and is full of familiar staples like the Hobo Omelette Special ($6.95) and the Gyro Plate ($7.95) and other diner favorites such as corned beef hash and close to a dozen different burgers.

Despite the fact that it was approaching 11 p.m., SPOM, had the Italian Breakfast Sandwich: a spicy Italian sausage patty covered with an over-easy egg and a gob of American cheese, packed between two huge slices of toasted Italian bread ($3.25). SPOM reported it to be tasty but hardly memorable.

Munch went for an Open-Faced Meatloaf Sandwich, covered in gravy, with fries and corn on the side ($6.45). The all-American comfort food was a little too greasy, but it did the job in a pinch.

And that's the thing. This food is simply more appealing after last call when making some insane, Jagermeister-induced order that sounds like the cravings of a woman in the third trimester: "I'll have the French toast, a bowl of chili, gravy fries and a chocolate shake please. And a pickle."

It's even better the next morning, as greasy nourishment to hung-over brains and limbs. Gyro meat and scrambled eggs were first combined by Bacchus for this very reason.

Young's offers honest diner food -- no more, no less -- for now, anyway. A barmaid said that a menu unique to Young's is in the pipeline, but she didn't know when. An expansion is already under way into the former South Side Card & Gifts store next door.

Munch and SPOM applaud the well-done reinvention of Young's Tavern and hope that the new menu isn't far behind. It took 10 years between visits to Young's, but the next stop will be exponentially sooner.

And if we do return in another decade, unlike our first visit, our pathetically vain egos will be begging to get carded.


Young's Tavern is at 1719 E. Carson St., South Side Flats. Open until 2 a.m., seven days a week. Call 412-488-8108. Suggestions? E-mail munch@post-gazette.com .


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