The cool thing about having a local interest blog in the fabulous city of Pittsburgh is that sometimes, people approach us to visit their places and review their things. Not only does this feel awesome because, well, you legitimize us, kind ladies and gentlemen, BUT we also get to eat yummy things and see cool stuff just in exchange for writing our reviews of them!
And that’s what happened this week: we were approached by the fine folks at the Pittsburgh location of the Hard Rock Cafe to try out the new menu that just debuted this week, with the hopes that we would do an honest blog write-up of what we sampled.
I know what you’re thinking: Fox and Michael, you guys are obsessed with tapas and charcuterie and kind of almost have earned your hipster cards. What are you doing going to a Hard Rock Cafe? They’re a chain restaurant!!!
And, yeah, they are. Admittedly, the last time I was really excited to go to a Hard Rock Cafe was when the big pyramid-shaped one opened in Myrtle Beach in the mid-90s. I even wore my brand-new seriously-gigantic Everclear t-shirt! They had just exploded on the scene with Sparkle and Fade and I wanted everyone to know I loved them.
But hear me out. Hard Rock Cafe rolled out something called the Test Kitchen – twelve locations worldwide which will be showcasing “locally inspired, responsibly sourced” new menu items. And guess what. Pittsburgh, home to the most up-and-coming food scene out there (thanks, hipsters!), is one of those twelve locations. They’re focusing on working with local partners to bring unique tastes of the cities to the menu. So even though we were maybe the tiniest bit skeptical, we were definitely intrigued, and more than happy to attend a sample tasting of the new menu.
We were greeted warmly by their manager and led to the back group room where a fabulous preview spread was set out. This was no small sampling: we were going to have appetizers, four courses of entrees, dessert, and drinks!
Their new drink partners at the Pittsburgh Hard Rock are Voodoo Brewery and Wigle Whiskey (whom we’ve written about before and whose whiskey formed the base of the black cherry Old Fashioneds that stole the show as my favorite beverage of the night). If you’re into beer, Voodoo is providing Hard Rock with some exclusive beers that you can only sample in-house or at one of their free Friday night concerts this summer.
They were featuring four beverages for the night, and one of those, which could honestly be served in a mini portion like this as a dessert, is the It’s Electric – Go Bananas cocktail (a nod to the former Pittsburgh club, The Electric Banana). I’m not a sweet drink person by any stretch of the imagination, but this was a yummy little desserty burst of flavor.
Ahem. I mean. *Lots* of things make Pittsburgh special, but if you so much as try to suggest that fries on salads are played out or not authentic Pittsburgh food or not exciting YOU’RE PROBABLY FROM CLEVELAND AND WE AREN’T EVEN FRIENDS ANYMORE. #FriesOnSaladsForDays
And naturally, the other most-Pittsburgh food thing is, of course, the pierogi. What’s special about these pierogies? They’re from Pierogies Plus, an absolutely legit pierogi shop in McKees Rocks. And they pan-fried them so they had that little tiny bit of crispiness that I love so much in a pierogi. These were really quite good. (I’d love to see the kielbasa come from S&D Polish Deli some day, but hey, there’s always room to improve.)
Next up was the fish course, baked trout with scampi butter and fresh-grilled salmon with tangy barbecue sauce. (On the full menu, these appear as separate menu items.) I was incredibly impressed with both of these. They were so fresh, and both fish just fell apart as soon as your fork touched them. Excellent flavor profiles on both. Since we aren’t really getting any prime fish beasts like this out of our fair three rivers, the trout was shipped in from nearby Seven Springs. Always fresh, never frozen: these are great words to hear from a worldwide company.
And then it was time for the burgers. Seriously, we were so close to out of room in our stomachs, but we both managed to soldier on to try these meaty delights. On the left is the Original Legendary Burger: Angus beef with bacon, melted cheddar, and a crispy fried onion ring. In the center is the pulled pork, smoky with Carolina BBQ sauce. And on the end is the newbie on the scene, the Pittsburgh Local Legendary Burger.
In addition to the creamy beer cheese sauce (think: the stuff you would love to dunk a hot pretzel in), this burger comes with barbecue sauce, fresh arugula and…. Isaly’s Chipped Ham!!! Yes girl, it is *truly* a hamburger. (Dad joke!) While this was on the saltier end of things, if you had it with a nice garden salad and one of the delicious grapefruit shandys we got to sample, you would have a really terrific dinner on a hot summer night.
Even better? The bread is now all sourced from Breadworks!! I’ve had a love affair with Breadworks since some time in the 90s, and they were the exclusive bread I served at my high school graduation party. I was pretty damn excited to know that all the buttery brioche buns were from my dream bread shop.
So yeah, Hard Rock Cafe surprised the heck out of us. Are these the more ‘traditional’ (read: Yinzer) Pittsburgh foods? Sure. But by insisting on sourcing from real, local suppliers like Pierogies Plus, Breadworks, and Isaly’s, they’re bringing in the ‘new’ Pittsburgh scene of buy fresh/buy local as well. And you know what I really loved? The staff of Hard Rock are SO into this menu. They love it. They’re passionate about it. They want to put this good stuff out from the kitchen and the bar so you can enjoy it. And when the people making the food and drink are in like that, you can’t go wrong.
Check out the new menu at the Pittsburgh Hard Rock Cafe. You will be, like we were, pleasantly surprised. (They even have outdoor seating, and they’re on the bike trail, so you’ve got no excuse!) I guess now I’m going to have to look for an Everclear picture on my next trip….