Location: 424 Walnut St., Sewickley. 412-741-4944. www.sweetwatergrille.net
Hours: Winter hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 A.M.-9:30 P.M.
Prices: Appetizers, salads and sandwiches $3-16; entrees $18-33
Fare: Steak, seafood and pasta
Atmosphere: Business casual
Liquor: Full bar
In its handsome center of shopping streets, Sewickley offers a peculiar commingling of urban and suburban retail trends. It's the only local place we know of where you can stroll to the bookstore, café, clothing shop, housewares shop and toy boutique -- and the auto dealerships. Of course, some would say that an auto dealership is just another boutique, selling consumer goods merely somewhat larger than those at neighboring shops. Works for us, and it works for Sewickley.
The unlikely pairing of dining and driving merge under one roof at the Sweetwater Grille, a former auto repair shop transformed into a restaurant with the same polished but casual aura as the rest of the town.
With large windows where the garage doors once were, the brick building feels airy and open, with buff-colored walls lightening the interior during the day and a black ceiling dimming it in the more romantic evening hours. A busy bar on one side and a dining room on the other are divided by half-walls to create a couple of more intimate seating areas. The large space can get a bit noisy, but the table spacing is generous enough that you don't feel as if you're dining with the next table over.
The menu of steak, seafood, pasta and other Italian fare is classic but not fusty. Chicken and penne, for instance, may not be the most original dish, but updated with wild mushrooms, prosciutto and roasted tomato cream, it's not your Uncle Joe's old standby, either.
Pot-roast nachos are a recent cliché, but like most clichés, they are oft-repeated for a reason. At Sweetwater, they were served similar to an open-face quesadilla, on a large tortilla round baked for crispness and sliced into wedges like a pizza. Not only did this make for neater eating, but it also ensured that each section was well proportioned with cheese, a respectable out-of-season salsa fresca and meat. And oh, what meat it was: tender, as pot roast should be, each morsel infused with the seasoned braising liquid. In fact, we'd be interested in trying an entrée of this pot roast with a couple of distinctive sides. In the meantime, the pot-roast nachos are offered as a special, but we think they deserve a permanent spot on the menu.
Speaking of distinctive sides, we'd like to see them with the current entrees. On our visit, both steak and seafood dishes arrived with identical sides of whipped potatoes and planks of carrots. Both were quite good: The carrots were cooked to a pinnacle of tenderness neither crisp nor soft, with rosemary and oregano complementing their bold flavor; and the potatoes were swirled from a pastry bag, an old-fashioned but much-appreciated presentation. But they didn't harmonize with the stuffed shrimp nearly as well as they did with the Delmonico steak.
Before these arrived, Jason tried the crab bisque, which was well seasoned and packed with plenty of shredded crab. But, instead of tasting of the sea, it tasted of the garden -- not exactly like vegetable soup, but as if too many vegetables had been simmered in a stock which should have been briny, creamy and only vaguely suggestive of anything with roots or leaves.
We had no such complaints about the bone-in Delmonico, a large, beautifully medium-rare slab, seared without and lusciously juicy within. It would have been wonderful alone, but a margarita-chili glaze lifted it into the realm of extraordinary. We had anticipated something made with chili powder or ground chilies. Instead, the steak was slathered with strips of roasted green chili in a thick sauce, rich with lime and tequila flavors, but neither boozy nor overly sweet.
From this heavenly preparation, our other entrees brought us down to earth. The aforementioned stuffed shrimp were butterflied and topped with mounds of shredded crab. We're not jumbo-lump snobs -- we think that lesser forms of crab can be fine in some preparations -- but here the crabmeat lacked the salty-sweet succulence which has made jumbo lump the gold standard. Worse, this crab appeared to have encountered neither seasoning nor flame which might have brought its flavors to life, and the dish's white-wine pan sauce wasn't up to the task of flavoring so much meat. A squeeze of lemon helped a great deal, but lemon juice should be a finishing touch for a dish like this, not its slifeline.
On the other hand, the meat in the roasted-chicken risotto Rosso was beautifully browned and well seasoned on its savory exterior, if somewhat dry within. It was served on a bed of risotto given good, complex flavor by salty prosciutto, sweet shallots, mellow garlic and astringent tomato concasse, but weighed down by a gummy, sticky texture.
Finally, our server reeled off a half-dozen dessert choices, all made in house. Mascarpone cheesecake, complete with a thin layer of bittersweet chocolate on top, provided a happy ending to our meal: creamy, firm, rich, and served at the right temperature to bring out the flavors of the cheeses. We wished that every dish had lived up to Sweetwater Grille's best, but we were nonetheless left with a good taste in our mouths.