The Summit, on Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington, hews to the gastropub spirit | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Summit, on Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington, hews to the gastropub spirit

Expect comfort food that taps American roots and roams the world a bit

Ramen with pork belly, kimchi, bok choy, quail egg and shiitake broth
Ramen with pork belly, kimchi, bok choy, quail egg and shiitake broth

Mount Washington’s Shiloh Street has always had a mixed character. It’s close enough to the view that it strives for tourist dollars, but at heart it’s the neighborhood main street, with a venerable sports bar and unabashedly old-school Chinese-American restaurant.

The Summit opened in the wake of a Cuban place that closed before we could even get there. Its view-evoking name and cocktail-forward menu led us to believe it was aimed more at visitors to the Mount than at locals. But we were wrong.

First, what The Summit isn’t. It isn’t for those who want to watch the game while they’re eating; its one TV is usually off, a rare blessing if you want eye contact with your companions. Nor does it suffer from trendy affectations. Despite Edison light bulbs in the fixtures, the decor’s main attraction is the well-preserved bones of the old space: brick walls, high ceilings and tin-covered beams. In warm weather, garage doors open to the sidewalk, but on a chilly spring night, it felt cozy and almost quaint.

But our favorite things about The Summit — aside from the excellent food — was the hospitality. Tuesday is Bingo Night, and when we walked in with our kids, local comedian Ed Bailey instantly shifted modes, playfully interacting with them even as he kept up his patter with the tables that had already been playing. Our server was equally welcoming and attentive and delivered the happy news that Tuesday is also taco night.

This gave us good reason to try a couple of brisket tacos on the cheap. Like the smoked-lamb taco on the regular menu, these were topped with salsa verde, queso blanco, pickled onion, lettuce and creme fraiche, all nestled in fresh, light flour tortillas. If they were lacking a certain zest — perhaps the salsa was too mild, or the onions scarcely pickled — they were solid for a non-Mexican restaurant.

Hummus also took on a Southwestern flavor with black beans, not garbanzos, as its main ingredient, sprinkled with crumbly, tangy cotija cheese and topped with a juicy relish of cactus paddle. But it was served with warm, pillowy pita wedges, not chips. The Mexican-Mediterranean fusion worked deliciously.

Another simple success was the popcorn with browned butter and smoked salt. The difference between this and ordinary salted-and-buttered popcorn was nothing short of revelatory. Browned butter has been an underappreciated star of current cuisine, adding depth of flavor to sweet and savory dishes alike. Here, it evoked subtle sweetness without pushing into kettle-corn territory, while the smoked salt gave this fluffy food a depth we didn’t know it had. 

Wings at The Summit come in one flavor — Thai green curry — and the preparation is braised, not fried or baked. As a result, the tender meat melted off the bones and into the puddle of spicy, richly flavored sauce, thickened by the collagen from the joints. Accompanying mango tzatziki and a baton of pickled daikon were fine, but the chicken itself was addictive.

The roasted-meat platter is on the menu under Light Fare, but we found it a pretty substantial meal for one, with a couple of small but thick slices of pork belly, three rounds of a blood sausage and two lollipop lamb chops, plus condiments and bread. Frankly, the dish would be worth it for the chops alone: perfectly tender, beautifully medium rare, and tasting of flame and mild lamb. The sausage was rich but not too intense, while the pork belly had a meltingly rich center but with faintly crisp edges.

The burger featured a well-seasoned, juicy patty and a suite of bold toppings: funky manchego cheese, peppery arugula, smoky bacon and charred but sweet red onion rounded out the flavor profile in an extraordinary way. Fries were also superb. Hand-cut thin, they were a deep russet but not overdone, and the texture was neither greasy nor typically dry and fluffy, but somehow … juicy? Angelique couldn’t stop grabbing them and dipping them in the tomato-chipotle aioli, whose fruity smokiness made an appreciable upgrade from ketchup.

Where other dishes went bold, the smoked-gouda mac-and-cheese — which, according to the menu, included four additional cheeses — was a fairly restrained example of its type. Beautifully toasted panko crumbs lay atop ditali noodles (short tubes), which were thoroughly suffused with the mild yet creamy mixture of cheese.

Spring-vegetable risotto may have also been mild, but it wasn’t boring by a long shot. Sweet red pepper, zingy green onions, enoki mushrooms and slivers of fried garlic that had an almost bacony savor enlivened every bite of this perfectly creamy dish.

The Summit hews to the gastropub spirit while avoiding most of its clichés by departing from the American-comfort-food theme and roaming the world a bit. But the best thing about the food is that it is, quite simply, great.