Registering just ahead of "here's your tab" and a furlong behind "last call," among Munch's least favorite phrases from the gastronomical-industrial complex is "gourmet comfort food."
This bit of Martha Stewart propaganda conjures images of a dainty puff pastry souffle served steaming on a cold New England night in a cabin, with a glass of port, and Bach playing in the background. Feh! Call it what it is: a froufrou take on the fare you gorge on until you're splayed on the couch, hand in your waistline like Al Bundy, drooling and nodding out like an "Exile on Main Street"-era Keith Richards.
If there is one "comfort" dish Munch is helpless against, it's macaroni and cheese, pulling Munch in like the Death Star's tractor beam on the Millennium Falcon. Munch once wrote a college essay about macaroni. Munch could munch the orange Kraft dinner cheese powder with a Fun Dip stick. Munch's favorite hip-hop lyric ever, courtesy of the Beastie Boys: She is the cheese, and I'm the macaroni. Munch stuck a feather in a hat, called it macaroni, then ate the hat.
Macaroni as "gourmet comfort food" isn't a new concept. Munch has tried it all over America, from Schiller's on the Lower East Side to the Top of the World in Vegas. And some of the best -- no hyperbole -- can now be found in the new incarnation of an old Shadyside haunt.
Located in the longtime Ellsworth Avenue home of the seminal Elbow Room (which scooted on over to Walnut Street), the 1947 Tavern's signature menu item is Mac & Cheese ($9). Using locally made Fede artisan pasta, aged Vermont cheddar and a house-made bechamel sauce, it's nothing short of a revelation. The Mac & Short Rib ($13) comes as sort of a baked casserole with a perfectly cooked, juicy cut of short rib atop it. This could easily be the best mac and cheese Munch has ever had, if it wasn't one-upped by the Mac & Bacon ($11): Double-cut, smoked bacon. Housemade pimento cheese. Merely typing the words elicits a Pavlovian response in Munch, who may start pawning things to support this habit.
The Tavern menu is rounded out by well-prepared sandwiches, salads and hearty but sophisticated fare, heavy on meats and cheeses. Co-worker of Munch (COM) enjoyed the Country Ham sandwich, made with thin-sliced, fresh baked country ham, topped with Gruyere cheese, caramelized onion, watercress, tomato and a spicy honey-mustard on a baguette from Squirrel Hill's Allegro Hearth bakery ($11) and served with fresh-cut steak fries. We positively massacred a plate of smoked kielbasa, slow cooked, then grilled, served with a hot mustard dipping sauce and a warm baguette ($10).
Classy, comfortable, and unpretentious, the place is an ideal spot for an after-work nosh and a drink. Bartenders are knowledgeable and professional, offering their thoughts on the menu of premium bourbons such as Angel's Envy, Eagle Rare and Elmer T. Lee and preparing the Tavern's 10 takes on classic bourbon cocktails (all $9).
With a focus on small-batch bourbon and macaroni, the 1947 Tavern could have its own entry on the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness. Just don't call it gourmet comfort food.