International spots offer alternatives to turkey.
With apologies to the fatalistic adherents of either religious dogmas or the space-time continuum from the "Back to the Future" trilogy, my least favorite maxim in the English language is "everything happens for a reason." The saying strikes this cynic as a generic cop-out meant to assign meaning to any lousy random turn of events from a plane crash to a parking ticket.
However, having been an absolute parking ticket magnet for years -- booted and towed three times! -- I do believe that "you can't fight city hall."
A recent trip to Benjamin's challenged my skepticism on the former saying, and confirmed belief in the latter.
To wit: In September 2011 local culinary veteran Paul Tebbets unveiled a gorgeous restaurant in the historic Kinder Building in Allegheny West called Brix, an elegant wine bar featuring wood-fired pizzas.
Although several bars and restaurants were located in the same space over the past decade, the building had never been properly zoned for them, Mr. Tebbets said, and Brix closed.
Those problems were eventually ironed out, and it reopened. But then a kerfuffle with the city's bureau of building inspection arose over the wood-fired oven that was to be the restaurant's centerpiece, and it closed again. After months of wrangling, that issue could not be rectified. Brix shuttered for good.
Mr. Tebbets regrouped and in October opened Benjamin's. Scaled back from the original concept, it's a neighborhood bar specializing in hamburgers named for his son, but also a cheeky double entendre to the money spent in a year wrestling through red tape. It's a quick walk from Heinz Field. We stopped in after a Steelers game and found it a nice alternative to the postgame bro shows at some of the chain bars on the North Shore. It's a handsome, comfortable space with a fireplace in the bar area, billiards in the lounge, and a great jukebox that skipped between everything from Jack White to Mac Miller. Classic cocktails, 16 wines and nearly three dozen mostly craft beers are available, and the service was excellent.
Flanked by my mother and significant other, we pecked at tasty plate of cured meats -- spicy coppa, turkey sausage and bresaola from Beechview's Crested Duck Charcuterie ($10.95) -- and a delicious Country Pate made from chicken, parsley and bay leaf, served with a truffle mustard and house-made pickles ($9.95).
Speaking of pickles, another snack is a plate of "Pickled Stuff" -- beets, cauliflower, peppers and hardboiled eggs ($2.25) -- which packed a nasal-clearing wallop of spice and heat.
We didn't care for the peppery Duck "Slim Jim" ($2.95), which was like snapping into a tire iron. The Macho Man, God rest his soul, would've chipped a tooth.
However, the burgers -- a handmade blend of brisket, sirloin and short rib (veggie option mixes chickpeas, sweet potatoes and fresh herbs) -- served on Breadworks buns in pie tins are very good.
Mom had the Rosemary-Balsamic Goat Cheese & Green Apple burger ($10.35) and -- although occasionally prone to hyperbole but steadfast in her convictions -- declared it the best hamburger she's ever had. She said the creamy sharp taste of the cheese, mixed with the sweet apple and savory meat gave an explosion of flavors.
The girlfriend likewise gave high marks to her Red Wine Braised Onions & Truffle Mustard burger, which she said was loaded with taste. Other combinations include Bleu Cheese, Lardo, Green Olives, Pimento, Onion ($11.75); Green Chiles, Salsa and Chipotle Sour Cream ($9.25) and Fried Egg, Bacon, Potatoes, Hot Sauce Mayo ($10.75).
I enjoyed the Pulled Pork sandwich ($8.25) -- the smoky meat and tangy house barbecue sauce were complemented nicely by a vinegar coleslaw. Other non-burger items include a House Made Lamb Sausage ($10.95), a Portobello Mushroom "Hoagie" ($8.95) and a BLT ($7.25).
Benjamin's wasn't Mr. Tebbets' original plan, but it's an impressive backup and a really nice take on a gastropub. His experience shows that while you can't fight city hall, just maybe -- wait for it ... wait for it -- everything happens for a reason.
Benjamin's Western Avenue Burger Bar is at 900 Western Ave., Allegheny West. For information: 412-224-2163 or benjaminspgh.com.