Location: 2132 East Carson St., South Side. 412-488-3980
Hours: Kitchen: Mon.-Fri. 4-11 p.m.; Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Prices: Burgers, sandwiches, salads and small plates $6-11
Fare: Upscale pub grub
Atmosphere: Modern Victorian
Liquor: Full bar
Keep it simple. That's the motto of most modern bar and restaurant owners, at least when it comes to naming their establishments. A single word will do. Or, if even that is too baroque, just a numeral.
Still, there's something almost brazen about calling a bar on East Carson Street "The Bar at 2132." After a couple of decades in which the bars in Pittsburgh's undisputed pub-crawl zone engaged in ever-more colorful attempts to outshine one another -- neon signs and paint schemes, Easter Island-sized tiki statues, 200 beers on tap, faux-exclusive velvet ropes -- The Bar at 2132 seems to herald an inevitable, elemental backlash. With no theme, no scheme -- just a bar with tables, booths and a pool table in the back -- The Bar at 2132 introduces itself with a whisper, not a scream.
The Bar may be simple, but it's not nondescript. Its interior has a faintly upscale, old-fashioned feel which relies on the Victorian "bones" of the building, not a contrived decorating scheme, for its polished yet patina-ed effect. High ceilings, exposed brick walls, Corinthian columns punctuating the booths and a gas fireplace in the front seating section all steer the décor decidedly away from Meat Market Modern, even while a strategically placed 1970s-style pendant lamp keeps things from feeling too buttoned-up. A set of jumbled iron puzzles hanging above the bar is an intriguing, idiosyncratic touch, far more sophisticated than the usual video-poker machine.
The menu is, likewise, an intriguing, idiosyncratic take on bar food. Burgers, panini, pizza and, of course, appetizers all feature prominently. If their ingredients tend to be on the upscale side, the humorous menu descriptions keep them down to earth.
For instance, where some bars might offer crabcakes, and others fried ravioli, at The Bar we ordered fried Maryland blue-crab ravioli. Unfortunately, this dish promised more than it delivered. The thick pasta wrapper was chewy beneath its fryer-crisp exterior, and overwhelmed the underseasoned crab within. A bed of field greens was more side salad than garnish, and a drizzle of remoulade did help to pull the flavors together. But the dish still lacked any distinctive seafood flavor.
The Bar took thin-crust pizza to its logical extreme by spreading the toppings on tortillas. This led to the opposite problem: not enough starch to support the layers of slightly sweet tomato sauce, paper-thin pepperoni polka dots and a heavy layer of cheese. Not heavy in a bad way -- the toppings were generous and in good proportion to one another -- but they needed a double layer of tortilla, or perhaps a sandwiched approach, to keep from overloading their "crust."
In the Thai chicken appetizer, strips of white meat were moist and tender, their mild flavor enhanced by a subtle sauce that was a little bit savory, a little bit sweet and barely, barely spicy. As with the ravioli, a bed of mixed greens lent extra substance to this dish.
A bacon cheeseburger looked promising, loaded up with slices of thin but not crumbly bacon and a robust sheet of cheddar. Unfortunately, though the burger was thick, it was also dry, perhaps made with lean beef that lost too much moisture on its way to "medium." The sad winter tomato and pale iceberg lettuce alongside didn't offer much to enliven this sad state of affairs.
Angelique tried The Bar's signature grilled sandwich, filled with hard Genoa salami, cream cheese and red onions. This particular idiosyncratic creation cried out for a fourth ingredient to square its flat combination of flavors; a "secret sauce," which bore a striking similarity to Thousand Island dressing, served alongside, wasn't it.
Jason's chicken Parmesan panini was probably the triumph of the night. The chicken breast was thick, juicy, perfectly cooked and crusted with crunchy panko. The tomato sauce matched this hearty filling well, and the bread was crisp without being too much to bite through. Jason has a lot of chicken Parm sandwiches under his belt, and this one stood out as superb.
The Bar also has a stand-out list of salads, which we did not get to try on this visit. Grilled peaches and prosciutto looked especially enticing, but we think we'll wait till summer to test its promise of "fresh grilled peaches." In the meantime, The Bar's edible offerings are a cut above most of what's on offer along East Carson Street, but it's still, first and foremost, a bar.