Location: 2240 Babcock Blvd., Ross Township. 412-821-1606
Hours: Sun.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Prices: Starters $4-7; sandwiches $5-9; entrees $10-15
Fare: Pub grub and family restaurant fare
Atmosphere: Casual, warm and welcoming
Liquor: Full bar
There are those nights, especially at busy (not to say stressfully hectic) times of year, when you feel neither like cooking in nor like eating out. Each is too much trouble. Furthermore, when the 800,000th rendition of "Jingle Bells" is jangling your nerves, what you may feel you need more than anything is a beer.
That, dear friends, is where the tavern comes in. It may not be where everybody knows your name, but it should be where no one minds if you're having a bad hair day.
The name of Kretzler's Tavern evokes Germany, as does the Gothic typeface on its sign, its beer-stein logo and its faux-half-timbered building. It's not actually a German restaurant, but we were certainly ready for some Old World gemütlichkeit -- comfort and friendliness. Our first impressions were encouraging. Though large, the dining room had a cozy, family-friendly vibe with warm wood accents and a terra-cotta-and-mustard color scheme that was more sophisticated than the standard décor at most bring-the-kids restaurants. The tables were filled with young families, couples and holiday parties whose collective good mood was infectious despite a slushy weeknight outside.
Kretzler's menu spans the comfort-food range from pub grub -- subdivided into categories for Appetizers and Munchies -- to what Grandma used to make. We were especially enticed by the promise of homemade spinach-artichoke dip, a tasty treat more often made by factories than by hand. Kretzler's served up a hot-from-the-oven crock of cheesy spinach -- if artichokes were present, their distinctive tang was subtle to nonexistent -- with excellent pita crisps, lightly seasoned and dusted with finely grated parmesan.
A stuffed pretzel, one of the few menu items to follow through on the Teutonic promise of Kretzler's name and signage, did so in a peculiarly American way. It was really more of a pretzel sandwich: a large, doughy (in a good way) soft pretzel split through the middle and filled with two kinds of melted cheese (and, in our case, bacon), then deep-fried. The combination of Swiss and cheddar cheeses was bitter and sharp, the bacon meaty, and the frying yielded a delicately crispy crust. The whole thing was dusted with sea salt and coarse ground pepper and served with mustard on the side. Toothsome and savory, this was tavern food at its best.
The fish sandwich was the Pittsburgh standard, batter-dipped cod (also available broiled), and demonstrated the very good reasons why this has become standard in the first place. Specifically, the fish was crisp without, moist within, and fresh -- not fishy -- flavored.
Jason's beef-and-cheddar melt was far less successful. The crusty bun was respectable, but the meat looked and tasted microwaved, gray and devoid of beefy flavor. There was plenty of melty cheddar sauce, but it hardly mattered when every bite reminded Jason of school-cafeteria fare.
Angelique's chicken cordon bleu featured moist but bland chicken and a ham-and cheese filling that was savory and satisfying when it was there. When it wasn't, the chicken was distinguished mainly by its sauce-logged breading and a sludgy, pasty "supreme" sauce it would have been better off without.
Our advice: Belly up to the bar, have that beer and order from the munchies menu. They're what Kretzler's does best.