Social | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


A new casual eatery at Larimer's Bakery Square offers upscale pub grub

Ahi tuna nachos
Ahi tuna nachos

A double entendre can be witty, but sometimes a single dose is enough. Opening a restaurant/bar downstairs from the Google offices and calling it Social, for instance, is a move far more "duh" than double.

Social's logo is a cartoon speech bubble which instantly recalls the ubiquitous iconography of text messaging. We wondered if texting might actually be the only conversational medium possible inside Social, where the volume is as loud as at many live-music venues. We enabled old-fashioned conversation by sitting outside on the spacious patio, which, despite being bordered by Penn Avenue and the Bakery Square parking lot, was pleasantly appointed with light strings, planters and an energetic, but not raucous, crowd of people meeting up after work or exercising at the nearby gym.

Once you're in the door, the establishment does not work the social-media theme quite as hard. You don't have to tweet your order to the kitchen, thankfully, and the menu isn't full of cute social-media puns. The fare (or "grub," as per the menu heading) is what you'd expect for a restaurant practically captive to a worldly, but determinedly casual, workforce. Pizzas, sandwiches and salads have ingredients that wouldn't be out of place at the trendiest restaurants, but preparations are un-fussy and there is little of the precious procurement name-dropping that marks menus eager to tout their sustainability credentials.

In addition to several menu salads, Social offers a checklist-style, build-your-own-salad option. The selection of greens, toppings, meats, garnishes and dressings was broad, almost to the point of overwhelming. This is great for people who know exactly what they want, but even so, the proportions and presentation are still left to the discretion of a kitchen that can read your checklist, but not your mind. We're pleased to report that our custom salad was to our liking.

An appetizer order of fries spared us from having to make any choice at all. They're served with three sauces: sour cream and onion, sriracha ketchup and truffle aioli. Each offered a different complement to the excellent, shoestring-style potatoes. The sauces also helped dilute the fries' saltiness, which was through the roof.

Too much salt was a problem that recurred in the otherwise delicious soups, a classic, sweet-tart tomato and a velvety potato-leek, the latter topped with a few strands of fried leek for texture. Each soup had wonderful, intense even, depth of flavor that vied with its saltiness to make a dominant impression.

Pizzas come in two sizes and a wide range of toppings, but don't expect to order a bunch of small pies to share around: One small is ample for two people if there is also a salad or appetizer on the table. Not appreciating this, we ordered both a classic pepperoni pizza and the "Green Eggs and Ham," topped with garlic sauce, prosciutto, asparagus, red onion, fresh mozzarella, shaved parmesan and a sunny-side-up egg. All the toppings were pretty good (except for the asparagus, which was wan, approaching army green, and didn't add much flavor while distracting with too much fiber). But it was Social's crust that really stood out. It was thin and cracker-crisp without sacrificing hints of satisfying chew. 

Chicken and steak sandwiches were both highlighted by extraordinary meat. The chicken breast was moist, meaty and flavorful, while the skirt steak, a cut always full of beefy flavor, was also incredibly tender. The rolls were Italian-style braided, but agreeably yeastier than most, and the toppings lived up to the meat. Blue cheese and mushrooms were rich enough to complement the beef, while fontina, prosciutto, asparagus pesto and roasted tomatoes provided a sophisticated range of flavors that still deferred to the chicken.

Finally, custom ice-cream sandwiches (chocolate or vanilla served between either chocolate-chip or Reese's-peanut-butter-chunk cookies) were a dessert in the kid-food-all-grown-up style. The cookies were good enough to eat on their own, and had the right, resilient texture for holding the ice cream.

Salt aside — and we do hope the kitchen will set the salt aside — Social is a casual, convenient gathering place for those who enjoy upscale pub grub in an environment likely not too far, in terms of distance or design, from where they spent their workdays. Spread the word, by whatever medium you prefer.

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