PARK HOUSE IN THE STRIP | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


The neon martini glass in the window signals that this Park House in the Strip hopes to be a little classier than its peanut-shell-strewn older brother on the North Side. It's certainly brighter and shinier: While you might be inclined to take your brother on a bender to the North Side joint, you could bring your sainted mother to the Strip spinoff. (In fact, my seat faced a television tuned to domestically oriented The Food Network, a channel generally not observed in watering holes.)

An attractive bar runs down one wall (even though it's across the river, the North Side beer from the Penn Brewery is thankfully still on tap here), flanked by a row of wooden booths beyond which there's open seating for another couple of dozen diners. Lest one forget the joint's provenance, the wall near the door sports a painting of the North Side Park House -- but the other walls are decorated with black-and-white photographs of the Strip District.

They're still geared up for the Pittsburgh faithful here with large portions. I'd ordered the cup of soup ($2.99) for an appetizer, and if indeed this was the cup, then the bowl must be a meal-sized serving. The night's flavor was ham-and-beer-cheese, which had a sweet creamy base, which harbored morsels of ham, celery and carrots topped with fresh parsley. It was a trifle too salty for my tastes -- though whether from added salt, or from a particularly salty cut of ham, I couldn't tell.

A basket of soft Italian bread arrived with an interesting, and tasty, dip in lieu of butter -- a bowl of lemon oil (not simply lemon-infused, but seriously "lemon," with chunks of the fruit suspended in olive oil). We also ordered as an appetizer the grilled banana peppers ($5.99) stuffed with seasoned cream cheese. There was a lot of spicy, zingy cream cheese here -- enough that I tried it out as another spread for the bread with happy results.

My companion went for the big New York strip steak ($16.99) with whipped red potatoes. The steak showed up Dr. Atkins-style with disks of herbed butter melting atop it. Now, the nutritionists are still arguing over the purported benefits of a butter-covered steak, but it really does taste great. The steak itself was cooked as ordered to medium-rare, and was flavorful and juicy (that extra butter never hurts).

I debated getting a big, giant burger or the grilled salmon, but settled for the odder-named fish, tilapia ($14.99). This was served filleted and lightly breaded (crispy but not greasy), with lemon and a creamy sauce (on the side). The lemon had been attractively cut so it appeared to have jagged teeth. In this respect, it matched the baked potato which -- in addition to having its skin salt-encrusted -- had also been cut open in a similar zig-zag fashion. The night's vegetable was candied carrots, which were hot but still crunchy, the way I prefer my cooked vegetables.

One odd thing: I don't expect to get a fish knife these days, but the only knife on the table was a big manly serrated number. Perfect for steak, but a bit overwhelming for fish or some of the menu's offered pasta dishes.

Leaving, I noticed that the restaurant had also set up a few outdoor tables, and though it wasn't open, I was intrigued by a take-away window. Take-away beer would be great, though of course laws and common sense prevent it. The two big meals we'd just eaten seemed awkward take-away choices, but perhaps as Park House in the Strip gears up, they'll offer easy grub-to-go.

Weather permitting, of course. The addendum on my charge receipt that read "Go Steelers" reminded me that the season for huddling in bars -- fortified with cold beer and big plates of food beneath the glow of a television -- has only just begun. * * 1/2