Location: 500 Washington Pike, Bridgeville 412-221-2300
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sat.-Sun. 8 a.m.-2 a.m.
Prices: Starters $3-7; sandwiches $7-9; dinners $10-12
Fare: Nouvelle diner
Atmosphere: Bar and diner in one
Liquor: Full bar
Smoking: Permitted throughout
Love the 'burbs or hate 'em, they're not just strip malls and chain stores anymore, and that includes the restaurant scene. Where once we would have expected to find little more than Chinese, Italian and family-style chains along a typical suburban strip, the dining scene now is a lot more appetizing, thanks to the welcome trend of better restaurants opening outposts -- or even first-time locations -- outside the city limits. After all, why should city slickers get all the good eats? But even this expanding suburban restaurant scene has mostly focused on fine dining and better ethnic foods; hipness, it seems, is still an urban factor.
Bridgeville, near the Washington County border off I-79, does in fact have an urban character of sorts, with a traditional downtown shopping district running along Route 50. So perhaps it's a logical location for Sauce, a hip little diner and bar that trades on a few different trends: the simple, brand-able name, complete with witty "splat" logo; a wood-fired oven in the kitchen and a long drinks list at the bar; and a simple menu that distinguishes itself through a few signature tricks rather than a kitchen-sink approach.
At times, Sauce seems to be trying to decide if it wants to be a diner or a bar. The interior of the long, narrow space is half-and-half, with the bar and two huge flat-screen TVs dominating one side and the other furnished with spacious yet cozy semicircular booths. The fact that the menu extends to weekend breakfasts, though, seems to put it firmly in the diner camp. Tempting as Bridgeville beignets and biscuits with sausage gravy were, we went for Friday-night dinner, and found the place plenty busy -- and plenty loud. The level of crowd noise was manageable, but the soundtrack of Pittsburgh-style classic rock made ordering a challenge, while conversation became a tiresome ritual of ever-louder repetition.
The chief menu gimmick is the cast-iron skillet -- in fact, we wondered that "skillet" wasn't the one-word name chosen for the place. Most items are cooked and served in one, including the Get 'Em Loaded Fries a la Sauce. We chose sweet-potato fries over Idaho, and though they were not as crispy as their browned exteriors led us to believe, their fluffy interiors were full of sweet, starchy flavor. A little too sweet, according to Jason, beneath a weighty load of crumbled bacon, melted Jack cheese, sour cream and onions. We found this dish too heavy and in want of a contrasting note of brightness. A simple substitution of fresh green onions for the cooked white ones would have made a world of difference.
Wings, served by the pound rather than the count, are spared the skillet, and offered with mostly familiar sauces plus a few twists, such as garlic-asiago and wet ranch. Jason chose Bourbon Street, but should have remembered that most kitchens treat bourbon as a sweet ingredient. The chicken was good and moist, but might have been cupcakes, so cloying -- like icing -- was the sauce.
Aside from some "not your soccer mom's" salads and a few entrees, the bulk of the menu is sandwiches, with a focus on "burgers and chickens"; that is, a half-dozen preparations offered with either a hamburger or a chicken breast. Jason selected pancetta and gorgonzola, which generously topped a good, beefy patty with their irresistible mix of salty, smoky and tangy flavors. Only problem was, the whole thing was a bit dry -- until he remembered the sundried-tomato mayonnaise, which our server had forgotten to leave.
The oversight was remedied, and Jason properly finished his burger. A companion's chicken with wild mushroom, bourbon and aged Swiss was also excellent, the poultry well cooked and the various savories balancing out the bourbon sweetness.
Angelique was intrigued by a ham-and-cheese sandwich served on a pretzel roll with honey-mustard dipping sauce, but on our server's recommendation, veered at the last minute to the grilled Cheese Nouvelle. Served on soft garlic-herbed flatbread with two kinds of cheese oozing out the sides, the sandwich had more of the character of a quesadilla (not that there's anything wrong with that). Her one objection: The menu description for this item read, "served [...] with sundried-tomato mayonnaise with a cup of soup," but when Angelique inquired after said soup, our server replied that this was just a suggestion. We weren't going to argue with her, but we certainly think this is misleading.
A side of mac and cheese offered overcooked soft elbow macaroni in a bland, creamy sauce with cheddar cheese melted on top. It was atypical of Sauce's offerings, most of which had more character and kick than typical bar or diner fare.