La Gourmandine will take over the former Penn Avenue Fish spot on Forbes Avenue
It's well known that Munch has an insatiable sweet tooth. Just ask any of Greater Pittsburgh's many cupcake purveyors and milkshake shops. Less well known, but equally committed to the cause of expanding Munch's waistline, are Munch's beer tooth, Munch's yam tooth, Munch's fettuccine carbonara tooth, the ribeye tooth, the sushi tooth, the cheeseburger tooth, the pizza tooth, the charbroiled oyster tooth, the butter tooth and, right where the mandibular canine ought to be, is Munch's fish-and-chicken tooth.
Munch will search high and low, east and west, Homestead to Wilkinsburg to the Strip District to the North Side to Allentown and back again, for a reliable chicken and fish shack. Munch doesn't need fancy. Munch doesn't even need all the chairs to match. Munch just needs a spot where the fish is crispy, the chicken comes baked or fried, the mac and cheese is made with love, and the yellow rice is gooey and rich.
Also, Munch needs it to be within walking/waddling distance of the Post-Gazette offices, if at all possible.
Also, Munch needs mumbo sauce.
You think we can swing that, Pittsburgh?
As it happens, all of those elements can be found in the new Downtown fish and chicken spot called Blue Seas. If you've been to Hook Fish & Chicken, or any similar shop, you probably know what to expect from Blue Seas -- a walk-up counter, a small menu of mostly fried items, two or three types of fish, wings and thighs, and your choice of a dozen sides.
At Blue Seas, which has filled the space recently vacated by Mocha Marianne's, you'll also have your choice from any number of aromatics and fragrance sticks, and I bring this to your attention mostly so you don't accidently drizzle your fried whiting with the vanilla-patchouli-scented body oil.
I believe they call it "Midnight Magic."
Anyway, don't do that. Stick with the mumbo sauce.
Potato, po-tah-to, mumbo or mambo -- however you say it, it's said to come from Washington, D.C., possibly originating at the city's black-owned restaurant chain, Wings and Things, in the late '50s. It's a red sauce, sweet and spicy, not quite barbecue and not quite hot sauce, and it was soon adopted by Chinese restaurants in the area.
As for the food, the most you'll spend on a large platter is $9.99, and that's good for fish or chicken (or both) and two sides. The fried tilapia comes lightly breaded -- not one of those heavily battered leviathans that are common at Lent -- and nicely seasoned. Baked chicken is dynamite, moist without being oily. Side order portions (fries, green beans, carrots, zucchini and more, $2.50 each) are basic, but substantial.
You can also downsize to the regular-sized platter ($7.99), but where's the fun in that?
The place has seating for about 20, a flat-screen TV in the front corner, and those aforementioned oils and wicks lining the walls.
Alphonso Muhammad and Troy Johnson took a flier on this space. There's a reason that soul food restaurants often exist in peripheral neighborhoods, and not in high-rent city centers. Every first-time restaurateur is an entrepreneur and risk-taker to some degree, but a place like Blue Seas, in a competitive restaurant market such as Downtown, is taking a bigger risk than a burrito joint or a yogurt shop.
Will it go the way of so many chicken shacks before it? Or will it survive? That's a tall order, and it depends on your lunch order. The Gadabout Gourmand, for what this opinion is worth, says give Blue Seas a chance.
Munch@post-gazette.com or look for Munch on Facebook.