Munch goes to Kelly's (again

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Munch has a full rotation of joints at which to bend an elbow. Kelly's, in East Liberty, occupies a primo position on that list.

Sure, you may have read about Kelly's in this column a few years ago. Don't worry: Munch isn't prone to repeating Munchself. Munch is sympathetic to the fact that sometimes a joint deserves a second mention because they've changed and developed.

Since Kelly's opened its hiply refurbished doors roughly two years ago, the bar's cool quotient has risen and the food has become great as the menu has been tweaked. The oyster po' boy has been banished. The fish tacos and pot stickers Munch enjoyed long ago remain on the list.

But it's Kelly's BLT, piled high with crisp pancetta, field greens and toasted bread -- buttered on both sides! -- that really gets Munch salivating. It's hammy and vegetal, hot, just crunchy enough, and always piled and sliced perfectly, so that every bite is a balance of bacon, bread, tomato and green. It's the best BLT in town, hands down, served with a fat pickle and a heap of thin, salty, crisp fries.

But Munch never stops there, for the mini mac and cheese, served bubbling and au gratin in a tiny ramekin, is irresistible. A never-too-sweet mojito, packed with mint, brisk with soda -- Munch's version of Bond's dry martini -- cuts the fat of this perfect repast. It's another of Pittsburgh's best, found at Kelly's.

Sigh -- it's wonderful that this meal is available from 4 to 11 p.m. every night, for Kelly's, like Ray's Marlin Grill in Lawrenceville, is one of the few places in Pittsburgh where you can truthfully live by the Wendy's motto: Eat great, even late.

Kelly's offers other down-home favorites: a respectably spicy meat loaf and a fat po' boy stuffed with golden fried shrimp. FOM, however, heard from a New York friend, recently enamored of Kelly's, that the burgers were the bomb, and ordered one, Mad Cow be damned. In a town that loves its burgers, in a mouth that relishes them (FOM's yaw) the Kelly's burger was a winner. The patty was flavorful and thick, served on a soft, untoasted bun with greens, red onions and a choice of cheeses: American, cheddar and blue.

There's a choice of fries also: Those of the sweet potato persuasion are super-thick steak cut. FOM, holding a limp, long potato crooked at his mouth like a cigar, said, "This just doesn't do the job of a fry" made from regular russets, which is to crunch and refresh between bites, we decided.

FOM paired his burger with a selection from Kelly's extensive list of microbrews by the bottle and on draft. It's a tough choice between the many specialty beers -- the term "craft beer" gets tossed around here -- and the list is constantly changing to include surprise brews from as far away as Europe and outside Harrisburg.

The smart cocktail list encourages you to indulge your inner dipsomaniac with old-fashioned cocktails, like a tart Negroni or a glowingly red Manhattan. You can order your sidecar, just like Dean Martin, though chances are you won't hear him crooning on the screwball jukebox, where instead you'll find Joe Strummer's early work and a world of lounge tunes a la The Squirrel Nut Zippers. If you hit the joint on a Tuesday night, DJ Polytropos is there to spin a blend of funk, soul and deep house.

Kelly's service is sometimes somnambulistic, but that's the charm. The name, after all, includes "lounge," though the low-lit, determinedly hip, reddish-hued, art deco space is without lounge furniture. No couches are in evidence -- rather, there are booths, which Munch likes even better.

More bars and restaurants should have booths, since they welcome, hug a customer, represent the antithesis of the quick-eat-turn-a-table-on-a-dime mentality that has come to dominate dining out. Pooh-pooh to that, thinks Munch: Everyone loves to huddle in a booth, and in cold weather they're great for piling coats.

Word to the wise: When it's crowded at Kelly's, a booth is mighty hard to come by. Once in a booth, people stay there. Bar space is limited.

And don't walk in looking to make friends. Kelly's is not a mingly place. But for quality libations and late-night food, with friends, there are few better spots in this town.

Kelly's is at 6012 Penn Circle (412-363-6012).


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