Munch envisions purgatory as a daily dish of boring, formulaic sameness. This is the image that Munch has each time a trek is made out the Parkway West to the sprawling, banal playground of good American consumerism known as Robinson Town Centre and the Point at North Fayette.
Then, during a typically bleak, Western Pennsylvania January Sunday, amidst the drudgery of a recent trip to Target to buy ... pillows ... Munch saw a shining light of hope, a beacon from across the parking lot:
The Bocktown Beer & Grill.
Munch poked the brown-bagged head inside to find a cozy bar and grill featuring 16 draft beers on tap and more than 400 different bottles in a 22-foot-long, 8-foot-deep walk-in cooler called "the Beer Library."
Munch wasn't able to confirm this, but best as Munch can tell, this might be the only local, independently owned, non-chain eatery in the entire complex. If so, then praise the Lord and pass the pale ale.
A trip was organized with a posse of Munchophytes: Roommate of Munch (ROM), Irish Friend of Munch (IFOM) and Neighbor of Munch (NOM). Bocktown is a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon watching football, trying new beers and stuffing our gullets with food.
Which is exactly what we did.
We made quick work of the Bocktown Board ($9.99), a mix of cut sausages and cheeses served with dipping sauces -- some sweet, some spicy -- and warm pretzel bread. The Buffalo Chicken Dip ($7.99) was very rich and tasty but could have used a little more heat and was served with triangles of fried pita.
On the rare occasion that ROM took a breath from inhaling his Grilled Filet Stack ($8.99) -- a deli roll crammed with cuts of char-grilled filet mignon and feta cheese -- it was to order another pint of Pedal Pale Ale ($4) from Pittsburgh's East End Brewing Co.
NOM's Roast Beef Dip was "Great!" and she loved the fresh horseradish that came with it. She reports that the meat was a tad dry but the au jus made up for it. And besides, she was busy whetting her beak with pints of the Atwater Vanilla Java Porter ($5), a very smooth and sweet micro from Michigan that she said "tasted like dessert."
IFOM elegantly sipped a flute of Lindeman's Kriek -- a cherry lambic ($11) -- and nibbled on a Turkey Stack -- a mound of oven-roasted turkey and melted provolone on a toasted kaiser roll. As one of the foremost turkey sandwich experts in North America, IFOM said that Bocktown's wasn't great but definitely wasn't bad.
For Munch, the Penn Dark Pot Roast sandwich ($6.99), inspired by and flavored with the stalwart Pittsburgh brew, did a more than ample job as a hunger buster, but the real treat of the visit was the discovery of a new favorite beer, the Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere Farmhouse Ale ($5). From a craft brewer in Michigan, the Bam -- named after a dog that got hit by a car and lived to bark about it -- is a delicious golden ale that seems to simultaneously combine the sweetness of a wheat beer with the spicy hoppiness of a pale ale.
Service at Bocktown was generally pleasant, though the waitstaff needs to brush up on their beer knowledge -- "I only drink Smirnoff Ice" is not what you want to hear -- though the bartender made up for what his young minions did not know.
While Munch will still associate shopping trips to Robinson with headaches and existential crises, there is some relief in knowing that amongst the triteness of the suburban chains there exists a small oasis for lovers of good beer.
And who couldn't use a tasty brew after a "big day" at Home Depot or Bed, Bath, & Beyond? That is, if you have enough time.
Bocktown Beer & Grill is in the Pointe at North Fayette, across from Target, at 690 Chauvet Drive. For more information, visit www.bocktown.com or call 412-788-2333.