Location: 5840 Forward Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412-422-5027
Hours: Tue.-Sun. 4-10 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $5-9; entrees $15-20
Fare: Burgers and upscale American
Atmosphere: California formal
Liquor: Full bar
P.D.'s Pub, in the shadow of the Forward Bowling Lanes at the foot of Squirrel Hill, never made much of an impression on us. It seemed like a vast number of neighborhood bars: a favorite hangout of locals, perhaps, but offering little to entice newcomers. Our impression changed when it annexed an adjacent restaurant space and dubbed it 4 Wood Grille.
At first, we thought the name was a reference to a unique blend of aromatic tinder; then, with simultaneous slaps to the forehead, we realized it was simply a play on "forward," as in the name of the street. No matter: The promise of a full-service restaurant with grilled goodies had already cast the establishment in an attractive new light.
The fact that it billed itself a grill -- a "grille," even -- also led us to arrive in jeans, nursing a thirst for beer. But 4 Wood's white tablecloths and wine list quickly communicated aspirations to more serious dining. So as we unfolded our linen napkins, we took a moment to adjust our expectations.
The menu featured burgers, yes, but also pastas, seafood, steak ... all the standbys of traditional American upscale dining, lightly seasoned with old-school Italian favorites. This was a menu untouched by trends dictating that nouveau French, pan-Asian and Southwestern American cuisines must enliven every plate, often at the same time. Diners suspicious of such fusionist folderol -- and the occasionally outrageous collages it can lead to -- will find a safe haven at 4 Wood Grille.
From artichoke dip to zucchini (fried), the appetizer list did not miss a familiar note, except for one starter that stood out: Italian eggroll, filled with "Mom's special mixture." We put our faith in Mom, and she came through with a savory, well-balanced combination of sausage, peppers, onions and melted cheese. The oversized roll had a crisp, deep-fried wrapper and was sauced with an above-average marinara.
The menu included many tempting gourmet burgers, but we went elemental with a plain and simple cheeseburger. This showed high quality, with a tenderness that chuck rarely achieves. The patty was thick but manageable and blanketed with a good, creamy floe of provolone.
Intent on testing the grill, Jason ordered the special, a New York strip steak with caramelized onions and Guinness butter. It was a disappointment. The steak was inadequately charred and indifferently cooked within, the onions were neither bright and crisp nor sweet and tender, and the Guinness butter only added an off-putting flavor.
In contrast, a dining companion's stuffed trout was merely uninspired. Butterflied and topped with a mushroom-spinach mixture, this dish was competent, though not exactly bursting with the tantalizing tastes of summer.
Angelique normally prefers pasta dishes with more ... how shall we say? ... zip than fettucine alfredo, but found this the most appealing preparation on 4 Wood's list. Attempting to spice it up, she went for the version with chicken and broccoli. She received a veritable mountain of pasta tossed in a creamy sauce which held together, a sign that it was served without delay; moist strips of grilled (of course) chicken; and tender broccoli florets. It was as good as fettucine alfredo gets.
While the kitchen at 4 Wood proved itself capable with burgers and the hoary chestnuts of American upscale dining, its failure with its most exciting specials was glaring. If only Mom, of the Italian eggroll filling, could have designed more dishes. Sometimes she does know best.