The Bagged One was carousing the back alleys of the South Side with a friend late one Friday night when a full-blown case of munchies swept over the two of us, like an after-hours strain of the bird flu or something. First came the chills. Then the shakes. Then the gurgling stomachs.
Let the record reflect that this was not an I-could-maybe-go-for-a-slice-of-pizza-later-on case of the munchies; no, this was the kind that required a full menu. Burgers. Pork brisket sandwiches. Seafood. A 12-ounce Delmonico steak with sides of yams and snap peas, should the mood strike us.
There are many fine things about the South Side, but one of the neighborhood's drawbacks -- heck, one of Pittsburgh's drawbacks -- is the dearth of restaurants that will serve you after midnight. Appetizer menus are fine as far as they go, as are the late-night pizza shops and cafes, but what happens if you want something more substantial?
With a tap list that rivals some of the city's better beer lineups?
You go to the Double Wide Grill, that's what. It's the newest addition to the South Side Flats, retrofitted into what used to be the South Side Lube Express, a service station at the intersection of South 24th and East Carson streets. A few years back, it was advertising oil changes for less than $18. Now, it's advertising a half rack of barbecued ribs for roughly the same price, available until at least 1 a.m. Now that's what Munch calls civic progress.
Fans of automotive-themed restaurants (and Munch knows you're out there) will be thrilled to learn that the Double Wide Grill has all of the accoutrements we've come to expect of such, uh, culinary establishments: oil drums, old gas station advertisements, tables outfitted with suspension springs, restroom mirrors fitted in discarded tires, hubcaps strung to the ceiling, and a minimum of one vintage auto, suspended perilously above the bar. The key difference between the decor at, say, Quaker Steak and Lube and the one at the Double Wide is that Quaker Steak pretends to be a garage, while Double Wide actually was one.
Bonus points for that.
Sadly, Munch has no choice but to penalize the Double Wide for mounting one of those infernal digital jukeboxes on the wall, right next to the bar entrance. Munch hates the digital jukebox the same way Joey Porter's dogs hate ponies, which is to say a lot. Jukeboxes used to reflect the personality of the bar and its owner -- no longer. Yet another American icon, transformed for the worse. Blast you, TouchTunes!
But this is a minor point and has nothing to do with the food, which Munch would categorize as "deee-lish." The menu, though heavy on beef and pork, has a surprising selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes -- pulled seitan sandwich, vegetable pot pie, tofu with chimichurri sauce, grilled vegetable bruschetta, spinach-stuffed portabella and more. Not Munch's cup of tea, but good to know in a vegan emergency.
Munch ordered up a blissful Southwest burger ($9), layered with black beans, pico de gallo salsa and Monterey Jack. The burger came with a side of "hubcaps" -- disc-shaped potato slices, fried and rubbed with herbs and garlic. Friend of Munch chowed happily on something called the Frito pie -- a corn-chip crust, topped by steak, melted cheese and perhaps a full container of sour cream ($5.95). "If I was to die," FOM mused, "I was to die happy, with a belly full of processed corn chips and beer."
The garage decor is complemented by what can best be described as a "white trash" theme. The crab and corn fritters are said to be "better than a short line at the unemployment office." The pineapple and shrimp skewers go together like "brothers and sisters." (Eew.) There's even a "Section 8" TV dinner, an item that's classless on several levels (although at $22, this wasn't exactly a Section 8 price schedule).
The founders of the Double Wide are alleged to be Tessie Mae Hullficker, which is dangerously close to sounding like a swear word, and her husband, Hank. Munch had doubts about this and, using textbook investigative journalism techniques (i.e., chatting with the bartenders), Munch discovered that the folks who run the Double Wide are not the hillbillies they make themselves out to be -- they are the same people behind the Tiki Lounge and the Lava Lounge, also in the Flats.
A word on the beer: There are about three dozen choices on tap, a fact that belies the place's alleged white-trash origins. Had this been a true white-trash venue, FOM noted astutely, only Miller High Life would have been available, and that's supposing the tap hadn't already been traded for a Chevy small-block.
Also, a word of caution: The Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale has an alcohol-by-volume level of 8 percent. Munch wasn't informed of this fairly vital statistic until well into the second pint. Maybe a warning next time, fellas?
As surprises go, though, the consternation that comes with learning you've accidentally had four beers for the price of two (.08 is the law, readers) is trumped by the pleasant thrill of finding a good restaurant when you didn't expect to -- late, late at night.
Double Wide Grill is at 2339 E. Carson St. Call 412-390-1111.