Baseball is here, and Pittsburgh, can't you feel the excitement? No, not that. That was a snow flurry on your cheek. Not that either. That was sleet. And the tear in your eye? That wasn't brought on by two decades of Pirates futility, but rather a punishingly frigid airstream from Saskatoon that just now made it to the Allegheny riverbank.
Good old Pittsburgh, where the baseball is bad and the weather is worse. I kid of course. The weather at least isn't always this lousy.
Unfortunately, baseball-wise Pittsburgh's 21st century high point didn't occur on the field. Rather it was the opening of the field. And the lineup of restaurants near PNC Park are a lot like numerous Pirates rosters during that time: too many overpriced, underperforming duds. So with the same trepidation and skepticism that I approach every baseball season, I and XROM (Ex-Roommate of Munch) checked out BZ's Bar & Grill, which opened late last year directly across from the ballpark.
Located at the former Firewaters space, it's a total gut job of that place, which had something of an old-tavern feel -- heavy on woodwork. By contrast, BZ's is sleek, clean and industrial looking. Lots of exposed brick and steel. Large, high resolution black and white photos of Pittsburgh scenes adorn the walls. Two huge garage doors face Federal Street and the ballpark and will open for a most excellent patio scene on warm weather days (if they ever arrive).
It should be a good stop for a pregame quaff or a postgame nip as the well-curated beer list -- two dozen on draft and three dozen-plus bottles -- is heavy on American craft beers and imports.
BZ's also has some nice flourishes on the cocktail list -- for instance an Old Fashioned made with bacon-infused Bulleit Bourbon and maple syrup or a spicy martini made with local Boyd & Blair potato vodka and pickle brine.
Bar food staples -- sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, salads -- rule the menu. I was excited to try the Lo Country Mac & Cheese ($16) which, made with pimento cheese and topped with fried chicken, sounded like a hearty southern style dish. Unfortunately the cheese was a little watery and lacking flavor. Even the chicken's breading was bland.
Likewise, the Bedded Duck pizza ($12) -- topped with duck confit, goat cheese, olive oil, garlic and arugula -- sounded promising but had little flavor. We had better luck with the Racy Swine ($12), a standard red sauce pizza topped with chorizo, bacon, pepperoni, and red chili flakes, which was spicy and full of pork goodness.
My Turducken burger ($12) was a very tasty and clever homage to the Franken-bird of culinary lore, popularized by John Madden. A turkey burger topped with duck confit, a dippy egg and sage aioli, it should come with a side of Plavix, but the arugula atop it hopefully lessens the arterial blow dealt by this flavorful creation.
XROM loved the seasoning of his Shrimp Po' Boy ($12) though he'd have preferred the shrimp be fried -- the more standard preparation. We agreed that the fries with the sandwiches were decidedly in the meh column.
Even if the food was uneven, most anything washes down well with a few pints of Penn Weizen and East End Big Hop ($6 each).
Chris Rock warns about being the old guy in the club, and that's what XROM and I felt like when BZ's DJ spun Drake and Nikki Minaj's rap about being Up All Night, while coincidentally we were moaning about having both once been up all night with sciatic pain.
Although there's room for improvement, BZ's at least hits a mark that their neighbors across the street haven't in quite a while -- just above .500.
BZ's Bar & Grill is at 140 Federal St., North Shore; 412-323-2924 or bzbarandgrill.com.
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @gigs412.