Hours: Mon.-Fri. 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
Prices: Appetizers $3-8, pizza $6-9, sandwiches $6-8
Fare: Pub grub that's a cut above
Atmosphere: Sponge-painted sports bar
Liquor: Full bar
Remember Trivial Pursuit? How, in the '80s, you would go to a dinner party and inevitably find yourself sitting around a game board, answering trivia questions in color-coded categories in order to earn plastic wedges to complete your "pie"? There was a strategy to the game, of course, and one important point was knowing your strength. Were you most likely to know the answer to a question about Geography, Literature or Sports and Leisure -- or, as some insisted the category should really be called, "Sports and Alcohol"?
Sports and alcohol is the apparent specialty of Fanattics (why the double T, we can't say), a small bar and grill on Shady Avenue just off the Forbes Avenue leg of Squirrel Hill's lively commercial district. Fanattics knows that when fans settle in to watch the game, they want a beer in one hand and any number of salty, fatty snacks in the other. Knife and fork? Nah -- those require a level of manual dexterity that would just distract from the game. Thus, pizza, burgers and wings are the order of the day, joined on the menu by such well-assimilated Mexican favorites as burritos, quesadillas and fajitas.
Sounds like a sports bar, right? Wrong. Well, sort of. The décor does consist mostly of television screens, and they are all tuned to sporting events, though the walls are stylishly sponged with amber-colored paint. And Fanattics sets itself apart from standard-issue sports bars that are content to thaw frozen foods and call it good enough. Fanattics' pizza, for instance, features homemade crust sprinkled with crunchy cornmeal and grilled over a live flame. It's a thin-crust-lover's pizza, ultra-crispy even under the weight of a generous allowance of toppings.
In addition to pick-your-own toppings, Fanattics offers almost a dozen pre-designed pizza styles, and we tried two. The Margherita was not what we expected. Instead of plenty of ripe tomatoes and basil, we were served essentially a white pizza with a scant few slices of Roma tomato decorating the top. However, the thick blanket of cheese, a blend of mozzarella and provolone, was good, and the crust tasted as if it had been brushed with garlic olive oil, elevating the overall flavor considerably. The "steak deluxe" pizza was the real standout, loaded with savory slices of marinated grilled steak, plenteous peppers, mushrooms and sweet sautéed onions, and a slightly spicy tomato sauce underlying it all.
We had a split opinion on the Southwestern potato skins, topped with chicken, peppers and cheese. Jason especially appreciated the thick fluffy portion of potato still attached to the skins, while Angelique found them mealy and bland. She had no such qualms about her grilled chicken quesadilla, though, which was fat with fillings -- tender white meat, refried beans, onion, roasted red peppers and well-distributed melted cheddar -- all folded in a lightly browned, slightly crispy tortilla with sour cream and chunky house-made salsa fresca on the side.
We say "sports bar," you say "wings." Fanattics offers its breaded or not in a variety of sauces. Our garlic-Romano wings were plump, crisp-skinned and dusted -- not caked -- with enough grated cheese to impart a nutty, creamy flavor. Although not especially garlicky, they were otherwise exactly what we look for in wings.
We like sports and alcohol as much as the next person -- well, unless that person is a tailgater at a Steelers game. But as a category of eatery, the sports bar usually holds limited appeal to us due to its tendency to treat the food as a mere aside. Not so Fanattics, which largely follows through on its promise of fresh ingredients and homemade preparations. We appreciated such innovations as the grilled pizza, even while eating off of plastic plates averted any possible perceptions of pretension. Fanattics is a sports bar with food we wouldn't mind eating with the TV turned off. And that's no trivial matter.
Jason: 2.5 stars
Angelique: 2 stars