The Downtown landmark is the only restaurant in Pittsburgh or Pennsylvania to make the Wine Spectator’s 2017 list.
On this, the week of the 40th anniversary of the moon walk (no, not Michael Jackson's), Munch has come to a moment of self-realization.
Munch could never have been an astronaut.
It's not the space suit: Munch loves costumes and could find a bag to fit either over or inside the helmet. And it is not the physical rigor: Munch could work out if Munch could find a decent reason, which space travel would provide. It's not even the math acumen; Munch can figure out a 20 percent tip on a check in less than seven minutes.
No, it's the planning.
Munch is awful at planning. Munch casts about week after week for where to eat and with whom. So, for this week, Munch had a plan and an entourage. It was going to be as well-executed and spontaneous as a NASA launch.
Munch, Tall Friend of Munch (TFOM) and, well, let's just say, Not As Tall Friend of Munch (NATFOM) were heading to Carnegie to go to Babyface's Carnegie Grill. And we did go. We were all ready to order one of the 25 different sumptuous burgers when we noticed the "for rent" sign in the window. As we looked, we saw that indeed, the lights were out and no one was inside. TFOM tried the door. It was locked.
There we were, in Carnegie. We had already crossed a river and gone through a tunnel. We were as far west as any of us ever go without a trip to IKEA for tea lights and napkins, and the restaurant where we planned to eat had moved (Munch later learned the new location is 36 E. Main St.) But on the day in question our tummies were rumbling.
Houston, we had a problem.
That's when we turned around. No, we were not going back to the launching pad or even the drawing board. We really turned around. Across the street was a brick bar building with a paper Italian flag and a sign that said "Ciao, an Italian Cafe." It appeared to have a roof to keep out the rain. We all thought, how bad could it be?
Ciao was open and it was beaconing.
We answered the siren's song.
Ciao is the type of place that Munch just loves. There is a big bar room in front and a small dining room in back where we chose to eat.
The menu was written in ascending price order, ranging from $8.95 for the burgers to $28 for a fancy Italian dish that Munch could not afford.
TFOM ordered the "signature cod dipped in a pale ale batter" ($9.95) and not only liked it, but would have chewed Munch's arm off if Munch had tried to grab any. It came with a pasta salad.
The specials were described with such poetic flair by the server that we thought the food could never match the description. Happily, we were wrong.
Munch ordered the sausage ($8.95), which was served on a ciabatta roll with sauteed green peppers and onions and the "famous tomato basil sauce."
NATFOM chose the "chicken paisano" sandwich with roasted red peppers and banana peppers ($10.95).
The two sandwiches were served with a ramekin (OK, not really, but it sounds better than "little bowl") of the "famous tomato basil sauce" and a side of shoestring deep-fried zucchini which Munch could have eaten on its own.
Munch and NATFOM split the sandwiches and it was tough to decide whose was better. The banana peppers really spiced up the chicken and the sauce on the side was good for dipping both the sandwiches and the zucchini. Munch and friends were very happy with the meal.
So, next time NASA shoots for the moon, maybe if they don't get there they should turn around and head for Mars. It worked in Carnegie.
Correction/Clarification: (Published July 24, 2009) Babyface's Carnegie Grille is open and has moved to 36 E. Main St. in Carnegie. In this article as originally published July 23, 2009 Munch misstated the fate of the popular restaurant, which had operated at 146 E. Main St.