Japanese gastropub delivers quality fare at reasonable prices.
Last month, Munch read PG food writer Marlene Parrish's ode to the humanely slaughtered and locally sourced meats at the new Salem's Grill in the Strip District.
And Munch thinks those things are all well and good.
But what Munch really wanted to know was 1) Is it cheap and 2) Does it taste good?
And so Munch took a trip down Penn Avenue to find out.
Salem's is in the Strip District in the sense that the Pirates are in the major leagues - that is to say, on the fringes. Drive way down yonder past the Polish deli, past Harp & Fiddle, past Klavon's and you'll find Salem's between 29th and 30th streets in a brightly lit boxy warehouse.
It's a sister store to the Salem's Halal Meats & Groceries on Bouquet Street in Oakland (not to be confused with Salim's Middle Eastern grocery in Oakland, on Centre Avenue) and will eventually include a meat market as well.
For authenticity's sake, Munch brought an expert along to Salem's. And Full-blooded Half-Lebanese Friend of Munch did not disappoint, striding authoritatively up to the counter and reeling off his order. Spinach pie ($2.50). Lamb-goat curry ($6.99). Diet Coke. FHLFOM even started inquiring about the zatar manakeesh, a heavily spiced piece of flatbread that apparently Middle Easterners eat for breakfast with tea.
If only Munch and Dear One of Munch were so decisive. A chalkboard menu was filled with tempting curries, kebabs, sandwiches and salads, the vast majority under $7. Service was so quick that FHLFOM's food was ready before Munch and DOOM had even ordered.
Munch finally settled on a cheese pie (with spinach, $2.50) and chicken curry ($5.99, including rice and a mini salad), while DOOM ordered a Greek salad ($4.50) and a lamb schwarma ($6.99).
A few bites in, Munch decided there's a whole lot to like about Salem's. The place is clean, bright and fresh. The staff couldn't be nicer or more helpful. The portions were more than generous, particularly the sizable pies, which are an absolute steal at $2.50.
The bread was simply fantastic - light, pillowy and warm - and, as would be expected of a future meat market, the meat portions were generous and perfectly cooked and spiced.
Little known fact: Munch has a childhood phobia of cartilage and tends to dissect meat as if Munch were playing "Operation." Even so, Munch found nary a shred of fat or cartilage in Munch's dark meat chicken curry. Sighing, "I could eat this every day," Munch inhaled the chicken, basmati rice and salad.
Together, the trio happily stuffed their collective faces and embarked on the same conversation everyone else in Pittsburgh was having this week: Why, Ben, why?
The best cure for football-related anxieties, of course, is dessert, and Salem's has a beautiful assortment of nutty, syrupy treats displayed in a glass case near the counter.
In short, Salem's has shot to the top of the Munch's list of Pittsburgh's finest Middle Eastern establishments. And while it's not near much, it's certainly close enough to Downtown for a driving lunch or for picking up take-out on the way home from work.
In fact, Munch was so eager for more Salem's Munch picked up a couple more pies for dinner on the way out.