Lidia Bastianich and her daughter, Tanya Manuali, have come out with their eighth cookbook, “Lidia’s Celebrate Like an Italian.”
The best part about being Munch, aside from the admiration of adoring legions and the free lifetime supply of paper bags, is that working (nominally) as a restaurant critic (extremely nominally) often means a continuing education in food-service history.
For example, did you know that the term "speakeasy" is said to have originated near Pittsburgh? Suburban legend assigns the coinage to McKeesport saloon owner Kate Hester, who ran an unlicensed bar in the late 1800s: When customers got too rowdy, and risked drawing the attention of police, she'd try to quiet them by whispering, "Speak easy, boys! Speak easy!" The speakeasy was thus born here, and Pittsburgh "newspapermen accepted the term as filling a long-felt want," according to a New York Times story from 1891, adding to an already long list of things born around here, such as the Devonshire sandwich and Amber Brkich.
The low-class cousins of the speakeasy were the "blind pig" and the "blind tiger," so named because Prohibition-era dive bar owners would acquire a blind pig or "other curious animals, charging 25 cents for a sight of the pig and throwing in a gin cocktail gratuitously." In other words, they weren't selling booze -- they were offering entertainment, and the booze was free, a technique used by your grungier nudie clubs to this day. (Not that Munch has ever visited such a place.)
Which brings us, in the meandering way that is Munch's calling card, to the Blind Pig Tavern in the South Side, in the storefront formerly occupied by HKAN hookah bar. The booze isn't free there, sadly, and there are no blind pigs or other animal curiosities inside, which is really too bad. Probably a county health department issue. Get on that, Bruce Dixon.
Munch kicked things off with a lobster salad roll ($11). Note I said lobster salad, not lobster -- if you are expecting a Maine-style lobster roll, with big chunks of claw meat, this isn't that. But it was a fine little pub grub starter, sweet, creamy and lemony, served on both halves of a toasted bun. A hummus platter ($7, and just try finding a bar today that doesn't offer a hummus platter these days) came served in a bread bowl, flanked by bread cubes and vegetables, and was pleasing to Dear One of Munch, who is something of a hummus expert.
For dinner, Munch indulged in a turkey and bacon wrap ($9), modified at Munch's request from a turkey sub, and served with a nice spinach-and-poppy-seed side salad. The evening's standout was DOOM's small margherita-style pizza ($8 for the small, available in a large size), a sauceless pie topped with mozzarella and tomato, with a pleasant, flaky crust. Pretty good, as bar food goes.
Tap list: Leinenkugel's, Brooklyn Brewery, Red Seal Ale from North Coast Brewing and a few other interesting beers, with Bud Light being the only mainstay in the lineup.
If you remember HKAN at all, the new owners have rid the place of the cramped HKAN booths, installing standard tables and pub-height stools, and cleverly inscribing on the walls various Prohibition-era proclamations and constitutional amendments. Keeping watch from behind the bar is a toy pig wearing some Ray Charles sunglasses.
As this is the bar's first year of existence, this is its first menu, as well. Items will be necessarily added and subtracted in coming months; Munch, offered some unsolicited menu suggestions to the friendly barkeep and owner who were there the day we visited (namely, more speciality pork items, in keeping with the pig theme. Maybe some pickled pigs' feet?).
The owners come to 2210 E. Carson St. by way of The Library, a nearby bar that has struck a nice balance between watering hole and restaurant. If the Blind Pig is someday The Library's equal when it comes to the menu, we'll know why.
Munch@post-gazette.com , or look for Munch on Facebook.