Location: 1828 East Carson St., South Side. 412-381-3977
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
Prices: Starters $4-8, sandwiches $7-9, entrees $14-18
Fare: British and American pub grub
Atmosphere: Bar with a British accent
Liquor: Full bar
Smoking: None permitted
Spring is in the air, or so we think in our most optimistic moments. The snow has melted (for now), robin sightings have been reported (if not substantiated), and the temperatures are, well, above freezing. It's been a long winter, and we can't say we'll miss it. But before the season snaps permanently to spring, we decided to have one last fling with heavy, hearty, wintry food.
Where better than at Piper's Pub, a fairly authentic British-style bar and restaurant on East Carson Street where "bangers" (English sausages) feature as prominently on the menu as burgers? In front is a wood-paneled pub, while in the dining room in the rear, enlarged framed photographs of the British countryside vie with wall-mounted flat screen TVs (tuned to basketball, not football -- er, soccer) for visual diversion. It's a comfortable, casual, convivial atmosphere, made more so by the friendly, highly competent staff.
Our waiter, for instance, was very knowledgeable about the mysterious, mottled purple and green cheeses that came on our ploughman's platter, a heavy wooden board crowded with hunks of bread, cheese, apples, apple chutney and gherkins. The purple specimen was Guinness cheddar, its color -- and flavor -- deepened by the famous Irish stout. This cheese is a mainstay of the platter, while the green one, sage derby, rotates with a number of distinctively British cheeses. While the other components of the platter were unremarkable, we appreciated the opportunity to taste these unique yet accessible cheeses from across the pond, and we liked knowing that we'll get some variety if we order the ploughman's platter again in the future.
Gaelic onion soup featured the blended flavor of four onions -- caramelized reds, whites, leeks and scallions -- simmered in a pan deglazed with Bass Ale. A crouton crusted with melted Stilton cheese disintegrated pleasantly in the savory, beefy broth, adding nutty tang to the hearty yet subtle balance of flavors.
Scotch eggs, a heart-stopping dish of hard-boiled eggs encased in sausage then deep-fried, is a favorite of Jason's, but Piper's rendition left him wanting. Simply put, the things had been fried too long, and the charred flavor of the sausage crust overwhelmed any other aspect of the dish.
Stilton and rasher salad is a slight variation on the familiar American pairing of bleu cheese and bacon. Indeed, Jason was a bit disappointed to see that the rasher had been fried to an utter crisp and then crumbled, thus rendered almost indistinguishable from bacon bits. On the other hand, Stilton being a bit drier than the most common bleus we see around here, it held up better to the dressing, a respectable balsamic. A heavy sprinkling of capers was a surprisingly welcome addition, undetectable except for the briny brightness they added to the blend of mixed greens and iceberg.
Angelique elected to order a salmon club and fries. It seemed like that old British standard, fish and chips, updated for the omega-3-conscious customer. (You can get the original version at Piper's Pub too, though neither comes wrapped traditionally in the newspaper.) The sandwich, filled with a nicely grilled piece of salmon, smoky bacon, wan tomato and lettuce, was substantial but disappointingly bland, even with a liberal schmear of the dill mayonnaise dressing served alongside. The fries also looked better than they were. Their beautiful golden-brown color belied a chewy, not crispy-creamy, texture.
Jason was uninterested in fancy updates, and sought out something old-fashioned and with an appealingly quirky British name: toad in the hole. Consisting of bangers baked in Yorkshire pudding and topped with onion gravy (which makes a number of appearances on the menu), it's a heavy-duty classic. Alas, it's one that Piper's has, intentionally or not, failed to replicate faithfully. The magic of Yorkshire pudding is that it's a thin batter that, upon contact with smoking fat in a hot pan, puffs up into a sort of rich popover. But Jason's four bangers -- mildly spiced, finely ground sausages with a pleasant flavor -- sat in a puddle of pudding with a texture more like a thick crepe, brown and crisp only at the edges. To be fair, it tasted delicious, and the onion gravy was excellent. But as authentic toad in the hole, it merited an asterisk.
As a Brit-pub, even removed from the native soil, Piper's needs to live up to the legendary standards of British cuisine. We don't think that hurdle should prove too high.