Bonfire Food & Drink is new to Pittsburgh, but its chef is not. Head chef/owner Chris Bonfili is known (and loved) for Avenue B, a now-retired Shadyside restaurant. And, it’s clear from the expert craftsmanship behind Bonfire’s dishes why Avenue B is sorely missed.
Heading into Bonfili’s new South Side digs, my eyeroll was almost audible. It was one more eatery boasting a “wood-fired oven,” and I was sure Bonfili’s fresh take on fire wasn’t anything new. I expected more of the same tasteless, charred, gimmicky food. But from my first bite, it was clear that Bonfire was nothing of novelty. Bonfire isn’t just another wood oven, it has a menu bursting with originality.
Part of a two-floor concept, the first floor hit the perfect middle ground between upscale and casual. (Bonfili plans on opening a reservation-based, elevated dining room on the second floor.) Groovy patterns adorn the booths, accented by muted blue walls. The open kitchen, a counter barely dividing Bonfili and his team from diners, fits in seamlessly with the decor, stacked stones neatly outlining the oven.
Everything on Bonfili’s menu, from salmon to s’mores, was touched by fire. I chose to play the field, based on server endorsed dishes. I started with a few of Bonfili’s snacks — pork belly lettuce wraps, Brussels sprouts, the cheesesteak flatbread — and finished with the wood-fired salmon.
The Brussels sprouts were ridiculously tasty, dressed with a brown butter aioli, smoked grapes, and hazelnuts. Juicy, tender pieces mixed with tinged, toasty leaves while the tang-less grapes added a subtle sweetness. The aioli added a rich, nutty layer, rounding out the veggie flavor from the Brussels.
The wraps were DIY, a mountain of ginger barbequed meat smothered in kimchi mayo plated alongside idle cups of iceberg lettuce. It missed a spicy zing from the ginger, relying on two heavy sauces — mayo and bbq — to carry the flavor.
Bonfili’s flatbread was genuinely flat. Philly’s signature cheesesteak got an upgrade, the spongy crust covered in cheddar, shredded lamb shoulder, and decorated with peppers, onions, and greens. I was enamored with the vibrant, down-to-earth-flavor, a simple boost for the everyday cheesesteak.
My salmon arrived beautifully perched on a bed of quinoa and cauliflower, emblazoned with a streak of curry hollandaise. The fish was gorgeous — not a char mark to be seen — flaking apart at each touch of a fork. Hollandaise brought a lush, creamy hit to its light components, subtly spiced with toasted curry.
Dessert was more play than substance, my deconstructed s’mores featuring chocolate cream, marshmallow fluff, and house-made graham crackers. It was a fun end, toying with the true notion of fire.
Bonfire Food & Drink is more than just a wood oven. Plates are masterpieces, flirting with innovation, flavor, and flame.
1. Bathroom Wallpaper
Bonfire stays groovy, even in the bathroom. The wallpaper, a perfect backdrop for Instagram selfies (I totally took one), shimmers with metallic gold ferns.
2. Happy Hour
There’s nothing better than an actually good happy hour. Stop by during the week for $2 off all drinks and $3 off appetizers.
Why settle for a big-screen TV when you can watch the game on an even bigger screen? Bonfire uses a whole wall to cheer on ‘Burgh favorites.