Well, it's only taken a few decades of telling the world that Pittsburgh is not the Smoky City, nor really the Steel City anymore either, but the word has finally, mostly, gotten out. Just log onto your social-media channel of choice and prepare to be inundated with links to articles about how livable and beautiful and hip the city has "become."
Even so, nobody seems quite willing to let the old Pittsburgh go, whether it's peppering one's conversation (ironically) with "yinz" or ready references to the city's industrial past. This can amount to not much more than decoration; wherever you find young butchers and knitters, you're sure to find Edison light bulbs and cast-iron gears. And here, the final whistle at a lot of iconic mills isn't that far distant, making it easy to invite the past into the present.
But romancing the mills — it's complicated. So much was lost, one can understand the temptation to wipe the slate clean. That's what Homestead did when it erased its old mill site and replaced it with modern retail. Meanwhile, the town's historic main street, Eighth Avenue, has revived in fits and starts.
Dorothy Six Blast Furnace Café is the avenue's latest outreach to diners willing to drive past the Waterfront's chains and experience something like the Homestead of yore. Owner Tom Kazar is not invoking the mills just as window-dressing, either. With relatives at five different steel and machinery companies, he's deeply tied to the area's industrial past. But the vibe he's created at the café bypasses simple nostalgia for a stylish blend of workaday artifacts including the J&L safety-whistle sign and newly wrought decor, like the steel-rail bar edge that curves as if bent by Joe Magarac himself.
The menu is short and simple, fearlessly blending homey mill-hunk foods like pierogis and meatloaf with more gastro-pubby fare, such as salmon croquettes and a beet-arugula salad with orange-mint dressing.
Dorothy's pierogis — actually made by Kazar's sister Bernadette — were an obvious, and marvelous, place to start. Fried in butter, their bottoms were crisp, their wrappers tender, and their filling creamy with mashed, if not whipped, potato sharpened by a shot of cheddar. In a city where, all too often, restaurants fail to best church kitchens in the pierogi department, Bernadette shows how it's done.
We don't know who gets credit for the stuffed meatballs, but let's hear two blows of the steam whistle for them. Putting cheese in the middle of a meatball sounds like a natural progression of the concept, but all too readily leads to leaking cheese, tough meat and imbalanced flavor.
These stuffed meatballs, however, managed a tasty, tender mantle of meat around a core of smoky mozzarella that stayed in place while adding gooey texture and creamy richness to every bite. The side of marinara was almost superfluous, but acquitted itself well by being bold and just slightly sweet.
The meatloaf, alas, failed to uphold this high blended-meat standard. It wasn't bad as such, but the texture was a bit coarse and the beef flavor too stark, without apparent influence from other meats, herbs or seasonings.
Beef flavor in the French onion soup was deep and dark, as it should be, with dense umami notes accentuated by the salty, nutty melted-Swiss crostini. Together with the beet-arugula salad, a generous portion with balanced sweet, citrusy and garden-green flavors, this would be a wonderfully satisfying meal to touch virtually every taste receptor.
Salmon croquettes, seasoned with Old Bay, met our expectations of mild seafood patties encased in a light, crispy crust. What really set this dish apart was the fall-vegetable hash on which the croquettes were served. A hearty mix of root vegetables and Brussels sprouts, each cut bite-sized and cooked just so, this was simply seasoned with salt and pepper to let the earthy sweetness of the vegetables shine through. The croquettes are also available with red-cabbage slaw as an appetizer, but we can't recommend the entrée's vegetable hash highly enough.
Once, Dorothy 6 was the name of a blast furnace. Today, the moniker belongs to a bar that deserves to be known as much, if not more, for its food: straightforward but not dumbed-down, superlatively satisfying and skillfully prepared.