Ah, the sports bar, where we go to celebrate, commiserate and inebriate among masses of strangers, where the edibility of food takes a backseat to the quality of the HD, where we can watch our beloved waterfowl toss away a PAC-12 conference championship while watching other beloved waterfowl edge out cross-state rivals on ice.
For a while now, Munch has been on a hunt to find a place that pairs both great televisions (and also, access to the PAC-12 Network) and amazing food. Not just like, "Hey, this isn't bad for bar food," but good-for-anywhere food. There have been a few joints that have met that criteria, but by and large, sports bars have been content to draw their crowds on the size of their televisions and the economy of their beer, instead of the deliciousness -- or even edibility -- of their food.
For a while now, Sports Scribe Friend of Munch has been raving about the burgers at a place called Stack'd in Shadyside, which took over the first and second floor of a narrow building that used to house Fieldhouse, another popular sports bar, and the Pittsburgh Deli Company below.
For the sports fan, Stack'd is a bit of a dream come true. Flat screens line the walls high above the u-shaped bar. On one night in March, televisions played two different college basketball games and the Penguins, whose fans packed the bars. There were a sprinkling of business-y types in suits who swerved like they'd been there since happy hour, but by and large, the crowd was young and casual.
The handful of booths also had their own televisions. Munch half-expected to find televisions in the bathroom stalls. (There were none, but bonus, they were clean!)
The drinks, too, are cheap. The bar advertises $6 Yuengling pitchers and -- for those into sharing hangovers and mononucleosis -- the $15 Fishbowl, a giant bowl of a mixed drink served with a handful of straws.
The paper form menu is meant to be filled out by the patron and handed over to the waiter, which frees you from screaming yourself hoarse over raucous fans while trying to order wings in eight flavors.
The menu is standard bar fare: burgers, wings and an assortment of things deep fried, topped or stuffed with cheese or both. But where Stack'd attempts to stand out is with its burgers.
The burger menu occupies one whole side of the form because you're meant to "BYOS" -- build your own stack. There are five whole steps to building your own stack.
Step one -- MEAT UP. You choose from three different sizes of (meat) burgers, grilled chicken or, should you not feel like MEATING UP, a veggie burger.
Step two -- BREAD DOWN. There are four different ways to bread down, apparently: the kaiser, wheat, sesame or wrap.
Step three -- CHEESE ON. Who knew making a burger was so complicated? For an extra buck, you can get one of six varieties of cheese.
Step four -- SLATHER WITH SAUCE. Uh-oh, this sounds dangerous. There are 24 different sauces, running the gamut from the pedestrian yellow mustard to something called OMFG! (Very Hot) to the exotic sounding sriracha honey.
And finally, step five -- TOP IT OFF. You got your standard toppings -- lettuce, tomato, onion -- but then there is the decidedly indulgent (chicken fingers, for an extra dollar) and the creative (fried banana).
For the picky, the choosey or the folks that are thinking "FINALLY, a place where I can get fried bananas on my burger," this might be burger heaven for you. Based on Munch's preliminary calculations, there are more than 100,000 different burgers you could get. This is America after all. People like choice, right?
But despite all the crazy choices, Scribe Friend kept it simple: a quarter-pound burger, sesame bun, cheddar, A1 sauce, which rang up to an even $6. In the end, despite all the wacky accoutrements, the quality of the meat patty is the heart of a good burger. And Stack'd did solidly on that. The burger was cooked through (because for all the menu options, there is nothing inquiring about how you'd like it cooked), juicy and nicely seasoned. On that count, it probably fared better than most of its sports bar brethren.
Munch kept it simple -- a basket of wings ($10) in two flavors: the Buffalo sauce and the Caribbean Jerk dry rub. These were more standard bar fare -- a little overcooked and definitely too dry. Munch is more in the finger-licking wings camp -- the more sauce, the better, and the buffalo wings left something (well, sauce, to be specific) to be desired. The Caribbean jerk rub, too, left the wings a little gritty, but the meat inside was tender.
In the past, ordering salads at sports bars has been sort of like ordering sushi at gas stations: a potentially risky venture. But shockingly, an accompanying small house salad ($5), which Munch ordered as a form of redemption from the deep-fried wings, was lovely. The mixed greens and cucumbers were nicely crisp and both were served in hearty portions.
If you're looking to catch a game and have a decent meal, Stack'd hits the sports bar sweet spot with its drink specials, ubiquitous televisions and above-average bar fare. But if you're looking for a great meal, you might look elsewhere.
Stack'D is at 728 Copeland St., Shadyside; 412-682-3354 and stackedpgh.com.
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2533.