For our final meal of this winter’s Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, we decided to venture a bit out of the city, back to the area in which both Fox and I grew up: the North Hills. Our quest for one last excellent RW meal led us to a familiar place, Willow. It’s close to Fox’s childhood home, and we’ve actually visited it in a Restaurant Week past.
(Note: if you found this post whilst searching desperately for a last-second Restaurant Week recommendation, here’s the TL;DR version of this post: Willow rules! So get a reservation at Willow now, before it’s too late. And then, come back here and salivate over what you’ll be able to eat!)
Ahem. So like with our visit to Grit & Grace earlier in the week, we came to Willow on a double-date. This time, we brought Fox’s parents to join us (and let us photograph all their food before they could touch it). We came in at 5:30, dedicated early-birders that we are, and it was a good thing. Because while we had our pick of the dining room when we arrived…
…the place was packed within half an hour!
Our server, Victoria, started us off with a little bit of wine, and this delicious focaccia bread with a Parmesan cheese/olive oil blend for dipping.
After that, we grabbed an order of the pork belly for an appetizer, which came with a five-minute egg, maple and cranberry
reduction, and cinnamon-vanilla French toast. It was enough to give all four of us a couple of bites, but I could also see it as a totally decadent breakfast-for-dinner if you’re on your own (or just greedy).
Then it was time to study the menu and make our next move. While Fox and her parents opted to go off the regular menu, I made all my picks from these adorable Restaurant Week scrolls.
For their next course, both Fox and her mum (aka Fox-Mum) selected this roasted beet salad. The baby arugula was topped with golden and red beets, goat cheese, fried shallots, chives, and a champagne and honey vinaigrette. The beets had a great juiciness, but we would recommend that only onion-lovers get this salad, because the shallots and chives are very flavor-forward. (Fox and I are, in fact, unrepentant onion-lovers.)
For her entree, Fox picked the filet mignon, which had two petite filets with bone marrow butter, butternut squash gnocchi, sage, grilled asparagus, and truffle essence. The steaks were cooked to a perfect medium-rare, and the gnocchi was pillowy and rich, without being heavy.
Fox-Mum ordered this small-plate version of Willow’s signature crab cake, which came with a red onion-caper aioli and a bit of mixed greens with Chesapeake vinaigrette. Meaty, succulent, and not too spicy, this cake was a real hit.
Fox-Dad chose the cider brined pork chop, cooked medium. With mustard-glazed roasted red potatoes, fresh apple and fennel kraut, and an apple cider beurre blanc, this was a meal not to be trifled with. The chop was super-juicy and the beurre blanc was nice and savory.
And now, for my meal off the Restaurant Week menu! There are actually two three-course choices at Willow (see both here). I decided to be extra adventurous and choose the three more…outlandish options available. I also took advantage of Willow’s cocktail pairings at only $5 apiece!
For my first course, I had the popcorn encrusted sweetbreads, with pickled Serrano peppers, tasso ham chunks, and a sassafras remoulade. Now, sweetbreads are not bread at all, but actually made from the thymus gland of a calf. But honestly, the sweetbreads had a consistency that reminded me of hush puppies, and dipped in that remoulade…let’s just say that if there were a magazine called Thymus Gland Aficionado, I’d now be a subscriber.
My cocktail pairing for this course was called My Ride’s Here. Made with mezcal, a passion fruit puree, gingerbeer, and a cucumber garnish topped with chili dust, it served as a terrific smoky complement to the savory sweetbreads.
My second course was the crispy pig ear salad. It was arugula and frisee topped with strips of fried pig’s ear, a poached egg yolk, “tongue on fire” beans, and a mustard vinaigrette. The pig’s ears were pretty chewy — I mean, they are cartilage — but as the dish’s name might have already tipped you off, they had a nice crispiness to them; they reminded me a bit of a super-thick bacon. The rest of the salad worked really well with them, with a nice range of textures between the crisp greens, smooth vinaigrette, and gritty beans.
Accompanying the pig ear salad was the Twisted Tale. A vodka-based cocktail with elderflower, apple juice, and preserved lemon, it brought the sweetness of the dish out in a pleasing way.
This last dish, the corned beef tongue hash cakes, was definitely my favorite. The hash cake was made with beef tongue and then rye crusted for a delicious, unique flavor. It came with a caramelized onion jus, broccoli rabe, gruyere whipped potatoes, and stone ground mustard. It was a struggle, but man, was it worth it to eat every last bite!
Helping ease the food into my belly was this lovely libation, The General’s Stache. Made with bourbon, maraschino, orange bitters, and a muddled orange and cherry, it was very tasty and satisfying.
To wrap up our Willow experience, the four of us shared this baked apple puff pastry. It had Granny Smith apples, cinnamon Chantilly cream, apple caramel, and vanilla ice cream. It was absolutely to die for.
We had a great time at Willow, and even as crowded as the place eventually got, Victoria and the rest of the staff provided us with excellent service. We really couldn’t have asked for a better evening out. We hope you’ll add Willow to your to-dine list!