Munch goes to the Harris Grill

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Lately Munch has been longing for simpler days.

The times when Munch thought 401(k) was a rapper feuding with 50 Cent. When "hooking up" wasn't an irritating task involving computer equipment and the "walk of shame" didn't refer to the morning ritual of going to work.

   

The Harris Grill is located at 5747 Ellsworth Ave. Call 412-362-5273 or go to www.harrisgrill.com.

   

In those pre-"Office Space" days, a favorite loafing spot for Ol' Dirty Bagface was the Harris Grill on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside. It was a chill place with a beatnik-ey vibe. Dave Matthews on the juke. Chicks in Birkenstocks. White guys with dreadlocks. The occasional waft of patchouli. That kind of joint.

Munch spent many a sunny afternoon getting comfortably numb on the Harris' legendary front patio, chatting up striking strangers while an annoyed Liver of Munch (LOM) wished it could instead belong to an observant Mormon or Muslim.

Allegedly the Harris served food, too, but this was college and any surplus funds Munch was able to shake loose from under the futon went straight to the procurement of oat sodas and other ins, outs and what-have-yous.

Two years ago, the original Harris Grill closed. The patio was vacant, taunting those of us who habitually soaked up suds there on spring and summer evenings. So it's an understatement to say that Munch was elated upon hearing it had reopened in late December.

It appears that like Munch, the Grill has showered and had a haircut since last we parted. Munch and Gal Pal of Munch (GPOM) were pleased to find a more sophisticated incarnation with a bit of a lounge feel to it.

The dark downstairs bar area is backlit by red neon lights. A side room has a cool mural of monks quaffing beers and mosaics on the wall. Upstairs, a sleek dining room of deep red and black walls decorated with funky artwork and candlelit tables provides an intimate setting for attractive Pittsburghers to flirt.

However, lest anyone accuse the new Harris Grill of going the chichi route of the rest of Shadyside, they needn't worry.

Prices were reasonable. The house playlist included a schizophrenic mix of Run-DMC, Johnny Cash and the Beta Band. The fellow who seated us had a mohawk. And the menu was authored by some wiseacre with a puckish sense of humor.

To wit: ribs braised in a sauce named for a South Park character -- "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Strawberry Chipotle BBQ Sauce (pronounced with a Noticeable Lisp)" ($16). This description of the Monte Cristo ($7): "Chevy's watered-down sports car for the beat husband who just can't drive a station wagon. Wait, that's the Monte Carlo." Finally, this admonition for those ordering "Burghers": -- "Over half a pound of black angus beef from happy, well adjusted cattle who came from good-looking Lutheran families. ... Vegetarians beware: one of these at your table could mess with your convictions."

Eschewing patio seating because of the cool evening climes, Munch and GPOM showed their age and ate inside. But with years comes accidental wisdom, as we were guided to prime real estate -- a second-floor booth pressed against a floor-to-ceiling window facing the street -- where Munch and GPOM gave running commentary about the people scurrying like ants up and down Ellsworth.

We started off with the Pigs-on-Prawn ($7), skewered jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon, slathered in barbecue sauce. Tasty? Muy. Filling? No. There were only two of them! Don't be so stingy with the crustaceans!

In touch with her inner carnivore, GPOM ordered a medium-rare Burghermeister Meister Burgher -- a hockey puck of juicy beef topped with cheddar and bacon ($8).

"Simple, bloody, perfection," she reported between enthusiastic chomps washed down with a Heineken ($4).

Munch opted for the Macaroni and Cheese with grilled chicken ($9). Covered in creamy sauce Mornay, bread crumbs and hipster irony, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. Like meatloaf and apple pie, some comfort foods are best left to roadside diners or people who answer to "Mom."

A tasty pint of East End Blackstrap Stout ($4), brewed locally by the Homewood-based East End Brewing Co., complemented it nicely.

Like a 400-pound gorilla entering a room, the signature dessert at the Harris Grill demands attention. Dubbed "The Wrongest Dessert Ever," it is an appropriate moniker for a dish comprised of a chocolate raspberry sauce, Godiva Cappuccino Liqueur, ice cream and a frozen, tempura battered and deep-fried Hostess Twinkie dusted in powdered sugar ($6).

GPOM speculated that one killer bout of the munchies inspired such a concoction. We passed on said caloric avalanche but will certainly prepare our heart valves accordingly during a future visit.

Gazing down at the gorgeous gals and dapper dudes strolling up and down Ellsworth en route to evenings of thwarted pickups, drunk-dialing and staying awake until 5 a.m. from massive consumption of Red Bull-based libations, Munch and GPOM found the scene fun to watch, but the vantage appropriate, the glass oddly protective.

In the words of Blink-182, "Well, I guess this is growing up."



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