Munch is one of those extremely tedious souls who likes to memorize trivia about locally filmed movies. Did you know the denouement to "Inspector Gadget" was filmed on the Clemente Bridge? Did you that know local actor Patrick Jordan's hairy left hand appeared in the movie "Smart People?" Did you know that in the film "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," the nude body double for Seth Rogen was actually played by Henry Kissinger?
Here's another one to add to the list -- did you know that one of the restaurant scenes in "Adventureland," the new amusement park comedy set in Kennywood, was filmed in Billy's Troy Hill Bistro?
Yep, it's true. This place, now closing in on a quarter-century on Lowrie Street, used to be a favorite haunt of late county Commissioner Tom Foerster, who had a special table and went there almost every Tuesday for the meatloaf. Munch, a beloved civic leader in my own way, went there on a Friday with New Daddy Friend of Munch (NDFOM), who advised me not to try the crab cakes.
No problem. Lent is over, so having beef on a Friday will no longer result in Munch being dispatched into the sulfuric hellfires. Munch asked the waitress to bring the steak-and-apple salad ($9.50) and a hot roast beef sandwich ($5.95) to the booth, an order that in turn brought a gaping stare from the waitress.
"You've ordered two entrees," she noted, a touch confused, and likely a touch repulsed. "Are you sure you can eat it all?"
Munch always chuckles to Munch-self whenever a waitress poses this question (which is to say, nearly every time Munch visits a restaurant). Am I sure I can eat it all? Honey, there's a reason they call Munch the Sultan of Sloth. The Baron of the Buffet. The King of the Wing Ding. The Chairman of the Cheeseboard. The Great Hambino. The ...
... Wha? Oh. Sorry. Munch spends hours coming up with awesome nicknames. Doubtless this somehow correlates to the decline of the American newspaper industry, but Munch would prefer not to dwell on the Secretary of Steak!
Again. Sorry. The Secretary of Steak -- just popped into my head. Had to share it with you.
Munch's steak-and-apple salad came with all the advertised parts, plus some raisins, bleu cheese crumbles and a couple of shriveled-up tomatoes. As advertised, it came in a hubcap-sized bowl, and the steak, ordered medium, actually came out medium. Extra points for having parmesan peppercorn salad dressing on hand, if only because nobody seems to carry it these days. Penalty flag on timing -- the salad came out after the hot and hearty roast beef sammich. And NDFOM's cup of chicken barley soup ($2.25) came out after his lunch, a burger on a pretzel bun.
I don't know where this pretzel bun phenomenon came from, but on behalf of all God-loving Americans, I thank the person who invented it. NDFOM's Bavarian pretzel burger ($6.95) reminded Munch of a similar sandwich served at Mojo Bistro in Bellevue. In each case, the bun gave an otherwise basic beef sandwich some extra density and sweetness.
Beyond our own order, Billy's has a standard Pittsburgh-Italian tavern menu, with about two dozen sandwiches and hoagies (from $2.95 for a grilled cheese to $7.50 for a steak sub), a handful of linguini items, and 20 or so dinner entrees in the $10-$18 range -- veal, scrod, steaks, pork and chicken.
Like so many other Pittsburgh restaurants, this one has mysteriously aged before its time -- a place that has been around for 24 years looks as if it's existed for twice as long. Probably has something to do with all the soot particulates in the air. The green bar on the left is warm and well-worn, and the comfortable dining room booths are hugged by dark woods, faux-marble tabletops and mirrored glass wall paneling.
Twenty-four years is a prolonged span in the restaurant business, so Billy's must be doing something right. Either that or it has a captive audience, stuck on top of Troy Hill with nowhere else to eat. Probably a little of both, but more the former than the latter, says Munch. And Tom Foerster wouldn't steer you wrong, would he?