If you have to take a 1-year-old out for dinner -- a 1-year-old who has just figured out how to throw things, and needs to be distracted every 27 seconds lest she lose her mind and toss a butter knife at the oncoming waitstaff just to cut the boredom -- I suggest having a balloon animal artist handy. Also, lots of flashing lights. Also, an illuminated, technicolored waterfall. Also, beer.
You'll find that and more at The 360 Grille, the restaurant inside Latitude 40, the two-story mega-hyper-entertainment-plex in North Fayette, named for the global latitude line upon which Pittsburgh more or less sits.
Why is it called 360 Grille? Perhaps because that's the number of degrees on a circle. Perhaps because Grille 36 was already taken by Jerome Bettis. Perhaps because the markup on their Kendall Jackson Chardonnay is 360 percent.
Probably the first one, but I wouldn't rule out the latter.
If you have not read news accounts of Latitude 40's opening in November, you should know that the 65,000-square-foot establishment (a onetime furniture store) somewhat resembles the Dave & Buster's chain, but with less of an emphasis on the arcade, and more on the nightlife -- there's an over-21 club, a sports bar, a comedy club, bowling alleys on both the upper and lower floors, a live music stage and, come spring, a cinema and a cigar bar.
It goes without saying that on weekends, this must be a supremely noisy place -- bowling balls rumbling, children shrieking, Salt-N-Pepa thumping through the sound system, arcade bells clanging. In terms of decibels, we're talking jet airliner levels, and as a result this is not a "restaurant" in any conventional sense of the term, any more than the concessionaire qualifies Yankee Stadium as a hot dog stand.
But since Latitude 40 does three-quarters of its business through the kitchen and bar, the quality of that food seems fair game, even though the last thing any rational person wants to do is eat dinner in the middle of video arcade. But as most parents of toddlers know, having a baby causes irreversible brain atrophy and severely weakens your decision-making capacity, to such degree that the idea of having dinner in a video game arcade doesn't strike you as at all ludicrous. It's why Chuck E. Cheese's has been open for 35 years.
Thing is, on a Monday night, with a thin crowd and minimal arcade-clanging and the aforementioned balloon artists, this was a perfectly reasonable place to have dinner. You have seen this type of menu before, I'm sure -- a few flatbreads and dips as appetizers, pizzas and sandwiches and specialty burgers, 10 or so salads, some heavy cuts of meat as entrees, and a list of Kool-Aid-flavored cocktails. (True fact: Kool-Aid was originally called Fruit Smack. How about a cocktail called Fruit Smack, Maggie Meskey? Get to work on that, please.)
Appetizers were brought to our table in under 15 minutes -- high marks to the chicken flatbread ($8.99) and the crab and spinach dip ($10.99), the latter of which was accompanied by a cheesy, cracker-thin flatbread that our 1-year-old vigorously gummed with what we assume was approval. Seared ahi tuna ($10.99), as is typical for a place like this, was more grilled than it was seared, meaning what was supposed to be rare was more like a medium-pink presentation. Above average, although not a standout.
Sandwiches were generously sized, two-handed affairs. In the prime rib French dip sandwich ($11.99), the beef was thinly sliced and nicely seasoned, sweetened slightly by the caramelized onions on top. That sandwich, and the robust California turkey ($9.99) -- decked out with avocado slices, as required by federal law for any menu item with the word "California" in the title -- provided us with lots of leftovers for our money.
This may not be an ideal place for memaw's 90th birthday celebration, but it really is an excellent venue for parents whose newly adjusted version of dining out means wandering around the restaurant, nomad-style, hoping to entertain the child just long enough for their spouses to finish dinner in peace. Plenty of distractions here. Our daughter spent a good 10 minutes standing in front of the waterfall display, drooling and thoroughly mesmerized.
I can't vouch for the food service on a weekend. I imagine it's the type of place where dinner orders get backed up, and the bartenders are perpetually slammed. (Yelp and UrbanSpoon reviews seem to bear this out, though some of those reviews were written in the weeks immediately after the place opened, which is an adjustment period for any kitchen, let alone one that can see more than 2,000 customers in a night.) My advice, if you want to enjoy your dinner and perhaps engage in small talk with your spouse about politics or pop culture or how it's incredibly fortunate that the waitress wasn't injured by the flying butter knife, is go on a Monday.
Bill Toland: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2625.