Every so often, a new restaurant enters the Pittsburgh scene and manages to slide fully under our radar. For one reason or another, we miss the fact that it has joined the restaurant scene, and then suddenly, months after the fact, we find ourselves going, “Wait, when did THAT open? And why haven’t we been there yet?”
Such was the case with Proper Brick Oven & Tap Room downtown. You may recognize this spot on 7th Avenue: it used to be home to the local favorite Tambellini until 2013.
But now, in place of the classic Italian design, there is a sleek and comfy modern look, complete with tons of exposed brick, a sizable selection of taps behind the bar, and the huge brick oven for which the restaurant is partly named.
This week, Proper is offering a three-course Pittsburgh Restaurant Week menu, and while we were really tempted to order from it…
I got a little carried away looking at the regular menu. And I couldn’t decide. And so… well, so, we went off the PRW menu and went for broke.
First things, first: cocktails!
Proper has a small but sturdy cocktail menu, with some new takes on old classics. I went with the Maple Old-Fashioned, which was wonderful. Usually, old-fashioneds are a summer night kind of cocktail for me, but the addition of the maple and the cool weather outside pushed this over into the realm of fall. Great balance of the bitters and the maple.
Michael had the Limoncello Collins (basically a Tom Collins with Limoncello subbing in for the simple syrup). It was crisp and tasty, but his only complaint was that the flavors seemed to separate after a moment or two, so he was continually stirring the drink to blend in the Limoncello and get the right balance.
The appetizer list at Proper is full of mouth-watering goodies, and we had a hard time narrowing it down. In the end, we went with three selections to share.
First, the spinach-ricotta dumplings with sage and browned butter. These are not your traditional dumplings: imagine a dumpling that could be eaten alone or spread on a thick slice of focaccia bread. That’s what these were. And as a good Ukrainian girl who loves nothing more than food doused in a good quantity of butter, this was Heaven to me. (Surprisingly light for a spinach ball dumped in butter, I might add.)
Our appetizer selection was rounded out with some homemade chips and dip, truly a Yinzer classic. Perfect slicing on these chips; they were very crispy but with that slight meatiness that only can be found in a homemade chip. The French onion dip was light but had a great tanginess.
Oh, and then there was that plate of bacon.
That plate of bacon candy. Oh yes, that’s not any plate of bacon. That’s house-cured pork belly, with a black pepper crust and a brown sugar glaze. Holy cow. Errr, pig. The bacon was meaty but crunchy, with that satisfying chewiness of jerky and the sweet smokiness of a campfire. Come to Proper, if only for a plate of this.
(Just, you know, be prepared to be sticky. Really sticky. Like so sticky you have to embarrassingly ask for another fork because your first one is too sticky.)
(Like if my life was a flow chart, it would be like, “ARE YOU STICKY?” with an arrow to “Are you having dinner?” and then another big arrow to “YEAH YOU’RE PROBABLY STICKY.” Does this happen to anyone else??)
Anyway. On to the entrees!
I fully believe the bistecca was the sole reason I decided to go off the Restaurant Week menu. It is a hanger steak, pan-seared and cooked to a perfect medium-rare, with herb roasted fingerling potatoes, honey-glazed carrots, wild mushroom & a red wine demi-glace.
I knew we had fully arrived at the height of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week because I was having my mind blown by carrots. Carrots!
You know that moment in the movie, when they pick the scrawny kid last for the baseball team thinking, oh, whatever, he’ll be here but not great, but how much damage could he do AND THEN HE HITS THE GAME WINNING HOME RUN? That was these carrots. They were crunchy yet sweet and gooey and (well, and yes, sticky), and with the delightfully-roasted potatoes, it was like a stew, if stews were part candy and ALL HEAVEN.
Michael, who NEVER orders pasta, was so intrigued by the funghi pappardelle that he had to go for it. It was so worth it. The pasta had a creamy sauce, but it wasn’t heavy or overpowering. Good heartiness added by the mushrooms, and it had toasted hazelnuts thrown in for just the right crunch and little hint of sweet earthiness.
Since Proper *is* also a tap room, Michael opted to try one of their beers, the Old Guardian Barley Wine from Stone in Escondido, CA. The weight of this beer was well-matched to the weight of the pasta, and just right in the flavor profile.
For desserts, again we had a hard time narrowing down to just a single selection. So, with it being Restaurant Week, and with us being such thorough documentarians, we got two. I got Emily’s Chocolate Cake, a flourless chocolate cake served with a luscious berry compote (and well-complemented by a pour of Angel’s Envy bourbon, which is finished in port wine barrels! SO GOOD). I don’t know what it is with flourless chocolate cake, but I will fall for it every time. Wonderful.
Michael’s weakness, on the other hand, is cheesecake. So he opted for one of the Restaurant Week special desserts, the Cheesecake Triple Crown (a sample each of triple chocolate, salted caramel, and peanut butter cup cheesecakes). I thought the salted caramel was the best of the bunch here, with its salted pretzel crust, but I know Michael was blown away by the peanut butter with the crushed-peanut graham cracker crust. There’s definitely something for every palate on this plate.
So we were pretty well impressed with our trip to Proper. Our server, April, was excellent, the food and drinks were all served promptly, and we had a seat right by the brick oven so we could keep an eye out for things we’ll try on future visits.
AND, everybody had matching towels. (I mean, I was in love with this place to begin with, but to put lobsters on your check folders? LOVE!)
Be sure to keep Proper on your downtown dinner radar. They’re situated right in the heart of the Cultural District, so they would be a natural place to stop in for a meal and a round before a show. They do not presently take reservations, but we had no trouble getting seated at dinnertime on a Thursday night. And don’t forget: GET THE BACON CANDY! (And thank me later!)
(Click this link for more recommendations for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Summer 2014.)