Burning questions as the Steelers head to training camp on Friday: Has rookie father Ben Roethlisberger's diaper changing affected his throwing arm? Will the ground game continue to be less reliable than a '71 Pinto? Will the defense remember that a turnover is not a pastry but rather their objective when the other team has the ball? Will Mike Tomlin continue his mastery of finding colorful ways to say nothing at all during his press conferences?
And will I be able to find some place nearby for good food so as to avoid stopping at the Chipotle on Route 30 for the millionth time?
Can't speak to the first few, but as for that last one the answer is an emphatic yes.
As a member of the Post-Gazette's practice squad for Steelers coverage I've made the drive to Saint Vincent enough to know that the old Lincoln highway is littered with fast-food chains, but further exploration yields some terrific finds in central Westmoreland County -- places like The Headkeeper, which sounds like a new NFL anti-concussion initiative but rather boasts 600 bottled beers and some outstanding tapas.
Located in a nondescript Downtown Greensburg building that has housed numerous taverns over decades, including the original Headkeeper, which dates back to the end of Prohibition, this incarnation opened about seven years ago and the name is now regarded by staff as a pun referencing the 'heads' of the great beers they feature.
The cavernous interior is livened by colorful local artwork, great service from the bartender, Justin, and a mesmerizing open kitchen behind the bar where head chef Kevin Volpe and his staff toil over the burners and grills on a collaborative, creative menu that truly elevates the notion of beer bar cuisine.
To wit: a Jamaican jerk seasoned grouper with roasted red peppers and citrus lobster butter sauce ($14), a five-spice pork tenderloin drizzled with chipotle beurre blanc ($12) or a Colorado lamb porterhouse duo accompanied with a Dijon fresh dill cream sauce ($15).
Dining with regular confederate The BBBOM (Blonde Barkeep Bud of Munch), we started with the house smoked pork baby back ribs and housemade blueberry bourbon barbecue sauce ($14) because good God, why wouldn't we? Baby Back. Blueberry. Bourbon. Barbecue. That's like my own personal "Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica."
Dwight Schrute-isms aside, this was as fantastic as it sounded. The ribs were generously sized and perfectly cooked. Made with whole blueberries -- a great touch -- the sauce was sweet, tangy and brought a little heat and had a jam-like consistency. This was worth-the-drive-to-Greensburg-good.
I washed it down with a citrusy Victory Liberty Bell Ringer Double IPA on draft; the BBBOM with a Cisco Grey Lady Witbier.
We also loved the stone oven pizza with lobster, spinach, tomato and scallion, drizzled with a truffle aioli ($14). The crust was perfectly crispy, the lobster sweet and buttery, the aioli gave it a ranch-like tang plus a little zip from the scallions.
Next up, pan-seared black tiger shrimp with sweet sopressata and fresh mango salsa ($13). The shrimp was good, but the star was the salsa. Mango salsas are often too sweet and kind of goopy; this was light, crisp with a subtle sweetness that complimented the briny shrimp and salty cubes of diced sopressata well.
Our second round of beers included the reliably good Penn Weizen for me and the exceptional Lavery Dulachan IPA for the BBBOM.
We finished with a Marscapone, leek and pea ravioli with snow peas and asparagus tossed in a tomato-Wittekerke sauce (Wittekerke is a Belgian Witbier) ($12). This was the only dish that missed the mark a bit. The ravioli was somewhat bland and the sweet sauce and bitter vegetables were too great a contrast.
Nonetheless, credit is due for attempting something adventurous, and that was the best aspect of The Headkeeper. This Munch is guilty of having been too generous in the past with the 'gastropub' label for bars with food that was only slightly above average. But make no mistake, this is a gastropub, and sets an example for others to raise their game in both quality and creativity.
The Headkeeper is at 618 S. Main St., Greensburg. Call 724-838-7439 or visit theheadkeeper.com.
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2533.