20 S. 10th St., South Side. 412-904-2898
Hours: Mon.-Wed. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Thu.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Prices: Starters $6.50-10; sandwiches $7-10; entrees $10-19
Liquor: Full bar
Fish-out-of-water stories are a reliable source for Hollywood scriptwriters -- just put the ethnic New Yorker in the small-town Midwest, or the Southern bumpkin in the big city, and sit back and watch. But what happens when you put an icon of corporate conformity in an urban historic district?
The first thing you get is a Holiday Inn in a very sweet setting: practically on the landing of the Tenth Street Bridge, next door to the Oliver Bath House and around the corner from the Civil War-era Bedford School.
With its traditional brick design, the hotel plays well with its historic neighbors, but it's the front patio -- brick-paved and iron-fenced, with views of Downtown, the river and the occasional passing train -- that really sets this hotel's restaurant, Patio 10, apart, especially on a spring evening that was way too beautiful for sitting indoors.
So what if traffic could be a bit heavy coming over the bridge, and a good portion of the porch was out of sight of Downtown and the sunset? The landscaping was pleasant, passing trains were close enough for atmosphere yet distant enough for conversation, and a steady stream of Duquesne students and walking commuters made for more lively viewing than a parking lot.
As for the menu, it bore the distinctive signatures of corporate construction: pub-grub appetizers, standard sandwiches, and a couple steaks and chops for the expense-account crowd. But even against this bland background, we detected a few distinctive flourishes. Local creation turkey Devonshire was on offer, as were three different gravies for the fries. We wondered at finding local clichés a welcome sight -- crab cakes again? -- but in this context, it showed that somebody was paying attention to the expectations of the local clientele (or, more likely, trying to offer travelers a taste of local fare). Either way, we followed the scent of promise in these dishes in our ordering.
This meant skipping the appetizer list, which was especially uninspired, and trying, instead, the pizza. To the kitchen's credit, our server warned us this was not a quick-cook item. It was, in fact, a step up from the now-ubiquitous conveyor-belt style, with a thin but chewy crust that actually varied from puffy in spots to crispy in others, and a good balance of molten cheese and tangy sauce.
Then there was the meatball sub, which was good enough to make hot-sub lovers into regulars. Here it was small, thoughtful touches that took this sandwich from by-the-book to noteworthy. The first was slicing the mid-sized meatballs in half, leading to a much more manageable handful (and mouthful). The second was the quality of the roll, with a taste and texture more suggestive of a local bakery than a food-service delivery and enhanced by light toasting. Finally, the portion of cheese was somewhere between generous and decadent. Melted cheese is such a slam-dunk of textural and flavor success that we're surprised more sub-makers don't lean on it.
Bread turned out to be a theme of our evening, for better and for worse. A grilled cheese had a mediocre main ingredient but came on slightly crusty, nicely grilled bread, and Jason's open-face hot turkey was highlighted by (presumably) the same good-quality white loaf. Jason also appreciated the gravy, which was thankfully brown, not yellow, and tasted, if not like Thanksgiving, at least like a turkey was involved in the process. Jason's a sucker for hot sandwiches with fries in place of mashed potatoes, and Patio 10's were a cut above: pub style, but on the thinner side for more crispness and a fluffier interior.
Unfortunately, bread played more than a cameo in Angelique's crab cakes, which were nicely seasoned but had the taste and texture of filling augmented with crab rather than the other way around. The saving grace was a remoulade, spicy with brown mustard and sweet with red peppers, that -- while not enough to justify the price -- at least provided a tasty condiment for the bread-cakes.
Our dining companion at Patio 10 has made it her mission to sample turkey Devonshire throughout the city. Sadly, her quest brought her only regret this night. She didn't appreciate the deli-grade turkey which Jason found acceptable, if not exceptional, on his sandwich; more troublingly, the cheddar sauce tasted of little but salt. A suitable portion of pretty good bacon could not redeem this sauce.
Finally, we commend Patio 10 for perhaps its best-executed local touch: the artwork on the walls of the dining room and bar. We found it remarkable that a Holiday Inn has locally produced art for sale that's more sophisticated than watercolors of the Duquesne Incline.
A business traveler might find Patio 10 a slight upgrade from dreary travel fare. But for locals who aren't afraid to venture down East Carson's array of delights, it offers little -- except its alluring patio.