Munch goes to Crystal Restaurant and Lounge
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A couple of months ago Munch stopped carrying an old comfortable briefcase and started schlepping stuff around in a tote bag. It began the day Munch needed to carry a calendar, notebooks, a book of maps of Allegheny County, an umbrella and a lunch to work. It couldn't all fit in Munch's briefcase.
Crystal Restaurant and Lounge is at 1211 Penn Ave. in the Strip District, 412-434-0480.
And so, Munch put all that crap in a tote bag and headed off.
This brings Munch to Crystal Restaurant and Lounge, a Greek restaurant in the Strip District, in a roundabout way.
You see, one day recently, Munch had lunch at Crystal and enjoyed it immensely. Munch was dining with Co-worker of Munch (COM), who suggested splitting an order of baklava and bringing a couple of orders back for other co-workers. Munch asked for two orders of the pastry to go. It was perfect baklava -- tasty and not so sweet that the nuts and dough were overpowered.
The folks at Crystal drizzle honey over the baklava, which is wonderful -- except if one is to order it to go, then stick it in a tote bag filled with other stuff.
It wasn't until Munch was at work the next day and reached to the bottom of the bag that Munch realized the baklava, which had been removed and consumed by Dear One of Munch, had spilled honey all over the bag, making the notes for an article, Munch's bus radio, Munch's calendar and Munch's umbrella very sticky, indeed.
But if Munch had it to do all over again for a meal and dessert at Crystal, it would be worth the sticky mess.
It was COM who suggested Crystal, a fairly new restaurant on Penn Avenue near the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center. COM had been to the restaurant once before and liked it.
Crystal's entrance opens to a bar with tables in the back. The first sense is that the place seems really clean, which is good for a restaurant and not always achieved. Munch and COM took a table near the kitchen. Pictures, which Munch assumed were from Crystal's family, were framed and hanging on the wall, dating from 1908 and into the '20s, '30s, '40s and '50s.
Munch and COM were handed menus with multiple pages held in binders. The lunch special was the Greek Platter: baked kibbie, grape leaves, pepper rolls, lamb, hummus, tabouli, and onions and peppers ($8). COM decided to go for the special, while Munch had a hankering for "lamb on the rod" ($8). The pair ordered grape leaves to share ($4.50)
Little did Munch know that COM's dish alone would be more than enough food for lunch.
That platter was more than enough for a small village.
Neither Munch nor COM knew what a pepper roll would be; it turned out it was hot peppers rolled in pita bread.
The grape leaves were terrific. Munch is used to those short fat little grape leaves. The grape leaves at Crystal are (and Munch is just estimating here because there wasn't a ruler at the table) about seven inches long and about three quarters of an inch in diameter. They were holding together a mix of beef, rice and pine nuts and coated in lemon juice. The narrow dimensions helped the dish hold together better, making it easier to eat.
The lamb was served with sauteed onions and peppers, pieces of pita bread and Provencal cheese that could be spread to create the effect of a little gyro.
And then there was dessert, which was, quite literally, better on the palate than it was on paper.
First Published July 21, 2005 12:00 am