When was the last time raw oysters on the half shell were sold in a restaurant in a suburban strip mall? Or rather, who would consider eating them?
So I thought as I entered Rumfish Grille, flanked by a dollar store and T.J. Maxx in the Great Southern Shopping Center in Collier.
Turns out, it's a worthy question.
1155 Washington Pike
Monday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
A sprawling dining room and view of the hills are initial draws, while uncomplicated seafood dishes and solid service ensure return visits.
Oysters on the half shell, wedge salad, create your own entree, Rumfish stew, ice cream sandwich.
Appetizers $8-$16; soups and salads $5-$9; chef features $15-$29; create-your-own entree $19.
Wheelchair accessible, parking, outdoor patio.
- Noise level:
"The smaller the oyster the farther north they're from," said a server of the day's oysters from Delaware Bay, Washington State and British Columbia. Steeped in liquor, Kumamotos were clean and sweet.
Rumfish Grille joins Off the Hook in Marshall and Wintzell's Oyster House in Pleasant Hills, the Alabama-based chain, in the opening of suburban seafood restaurants this season as fish offerings grow in popularity.
Housed in a sprawling 21,000-square-foot indoor and outdoor space, the restaurant seats 120 to 300 diners a day. It was conceived by primary partner Clint Pohl of Sauce Bar & Burgers in Bridgeville as well as Paul Tebbets and chef Chet Garland of Toast! Kitchen & Wine Bar in Oakland, Benjamins Western Avenue Burger Bar on the North Side and Jackson Fish Co. Market Cafe in Zelienople.
That a restaurant such as Rumfish Grille has landed in a strip mall also reflects a national trend, reports Atlantic Cities last week in "Gentrification of the Strip Mall."
As strip malls lose luster, small business owners are buying cheaper spaces and opening restaurants with a vibe and a menu that can be found in gentrifying neighborhoods, such as Lawrenceville's Butler Street.
"Great Southern was a down-and-out strip mall 10 or 15 years ago, but now it's on the rebound," said Rumfish general manager Bob Flood, former sommelier at Toast! Kitchen & Wine Bar.
Mr. Garland noted that the location is appealing to residents who want to reconnect with their community rather than commute to the city. "People don't want to drive as far for dining and nightlife," he said.
The view at the back of the restaurant is a surprise. On a sunny evening, a fourth wall opens to a vista of Pennsylvania's rolling hills, visible from every table as well as each of three counters. The largest frames an open kitchen.
Come July 4, a cabana bar will open in a sprawling space that can hold up to 600 people, with a stage, fire pits, fountain and greenery.
Stringed bulbs light the ceiling in the dining room as if it were an outdoor patio, while wood sails texture the ceiling. Bamboo serves as room dividers and noise absorbers. Booths are round tables with high backs for privacy.
"Is the music too loud?" a bartender asked a patron as the reggae station switched songs. Although at times green, service is attentive among the 20-somethings that comprise most of the staff.
Dishes are minimalist presentations that showcase fresh ingredients. And the portions are large, such as the wedge salad ($8), a split lettuce head garnished with bacon, tomatoes, a hard-boiled egg and chunky blue cheese dressing.
Chef de cuisine Eric Wallace, formerly of Up! Modern Kitchen in Shadyside, helms the kitchen under Mr. Garland, where he prepares starters such as respectable steamed mussels ($8) in a wine and herb broth, or old-school oysters Rockefeller ($12).
A bartender recommends the shellfish trio appetizer ($16), with lobster salad, shrimp and crab Hoelzel. The latter is a Pittsburgh recipe from the Duquesne Club from 1948, made by club member John Hoelzel. Seasoned with a lemon herb dressing, it is the highlight of the dish.
There's much to love in the Rumfish stew entree ($20), especially for one smitten with shellfish. A bounty of mussels and clams steep in saffron-infused broth, while whitefish of the day rafts the center and bay scallops dapple the bowl.
Steamed whole lobster ($29) served with fingerling potatoes, asparagus and clarified butter nearly transports a diner to New England.
The most popular items are found among the create-your-own entrees. For $19, diners can choose among 10 to 12 proteins such Mahi-Mahi, buttermilk fried chicken, ribeye, scallops and salmon. These come with a selection of sauces such as Bearnaise, red pepper cream or basil compound butter. Sides include grilled corn, asparagus, whipped potatoes, risotto, mac and cheese or roasted fingerling potatoes.
These dishes will please the hungry and occasionally the food snob. A ribeye steak arrives as ordered, medium rare. Grilled salmon is overcooked but the sea bass (no longer on the menu) is firm and sweet. Sides are hit and miss; the mac and cheese is watery while asparagus or corn is perfectly fine.
Wine selections lead to fish-friendly pairings, such as a citrusy Hemisferio Sauvignon Blanc ($8 a glass/$32 a bottle) or a round Cline Viognier ($10/$40). A jammy Juan Benegas Malbec ($8/$32), Paul Dolan Pinot Noir ($11/$44) California Cabs and blends serve the reds.
Craft beers get a nod among the Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA ($6.75), Unibroue La Fin Du Monde ($7.75) and local Church Brewery Pious Munk Dunkel ($5.75) and Duquesne Pilsner in a can ($3.75).
Though dubious-flavored vodkas line a row among liquors, island-inspired cocktails such as margaritas, daquiris, rum runners and dark and stormys (all $8.50) hold their own. With the advent of a cabana bar, they're a requirement.
Desserts are also uncomplicated. Skip the flourless chocolate cake and go for the crowd-pleaser: A chocolate ice cream sandwich swaddled in paper, a plate garnished with a quenelle of fresh whipped cream and strawberries. (A pastry chef will start next week.)
As for the leading question, should one order shellfish in a shopping mall? If Rumfish Grille is in the neighborhood and a view is in order, the answer is yes.
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart. First Published June 20, 2013 4:00 AM