Location: 200 N. Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg. 724-746-1126. www.tablebarandgrill.com
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun. noon-9 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, sandwiches, and burgers $8-12; entrees $12-29
Fare: Casual American
Atmosphere: Dark and clubby inside, lakeside deck outside
Liquor: Full bar
It's a story as old as the American family farm. A hundred years ago, the countryside near the Allegheny-Washington county line was typical of what you'd see across much of Pennsylvania: fewer trees, more fields as small farms raised food for local consumption, and little villages clustered here and there among them. As the 20th century progressed, the landscape changed. Farm roads became automotive arterials, and the Pittsburgh-Washington road became U. S. Route 19, a broad and busy highway. Small, family-owned farms became less profitable, so they were sold to become suburban cul-de-sacs and strip malls.
Which brings us to the native habitat of most Americans today. To the extent that sophisticated dining has reached such exurban places as Donaldson's Crossroads in Canonsburg, and to the extent that many locally owned restaurants now try to use locally produced food, we have come full circle.
Exemplifying this trend is Table Lakeside, whose fraternal twin in Murrysville shares a similar history. Table Lakeside is located in a rambling structure perched up above Canonsburg Lake, a manmade slackwater along Little Chartiers Creek. It has a pair of decks bracketing a long wall of glass garage doors that open the somewhat dim dining room to a view of the lake, populated by herons and fishermen, as well as the suburban-strip development beyond.
Atop our table, the view was of a rather impressive menu, long enough to provide variety, but not so long that it might overextend the kitchen. Its descriptions were irreverent, but enticing: we groaned at "the pork shank redemption," but salivated at the evocation of "fork-tender, falling-off-the-bone braised osso bucco-style foreshank." And then teared up a bit when told that the one we saw served to the next table over was the last one.
Undaunted, we dove into the appetizers. Has squid-frying technology improved? Because it seems that every dish of calamari we order lately is more tender than the last. Table's was no exception, but the best part was that, when the menu promised a light breading of cornmeal, it delivered. Some of the rings were barely coated, and with such succulent flesh, we were happy for just that hint of crunchy contrast instead of a full jacket of breaded blandness.
Table, whose full name includes the phrase "brick oven," offers a variety of "phatbreads" which stand out in the ubiquitous arena of flatbreads and wood-fired pizzas. Toppings were creative, but best of all was the bread itself, which was slightly sweet, yeasty and chewy, yet crispy when it first met the teeth. It made a successful base for our "lawnboy," made with substantial slices of prosciutto, just-cooked Roma tomatoes and just-wilted arugula. This was all topped with a thick balsamic drizzle, resulting in a vibrant balance of savory, salty, vegetal and sweet flavor notes.
Table's cheeseburger was a big 10 ounces, but the patty was broad rather than unmanageably thick, and it was tender and beautifully cooked. It probably could have used a bit more char, but the flavor of the meat almost made up for this lack. The menu promised a soft pretzel bun, but it seemed more like a potato roll to us.
Jason also sampled a "humanely raised" veal chop. We can't vouch for its upbringing, but it was more tender and flavorful than most of the veal chops we've tried. The loin was as buttery as a beef tenderloin, but had a richness that evoked a milder version of a ribeye.
Meanwhile, Angelique dabbled in Southern cuisine with Charleston shrimp and grits. This worthwhile dish featured four plump, pink shrimp, strips of colorful sweet bell pepper, and just enough tiny fried pancetta "crumbles" atop velvety grits swirled with mild melted cheese. Just one pancetta morsel in each bite added a strong, salty-savory note that ramped up all the dish's flavors.
A special the night we were there was mascarpone-filled ravioli with leeks and peas in brown-butter sauce. The mild flavors of this dish added up to something greater than the sum of their parts, filling our mouths with the delicate taste of spring.
Our only real disappointment in Table was that -- although it brags about the house-made, non-cookie-cutter fare -- the menu didn't seem to offer any desserts that weren't from a food service. We're pretty leery of cakes with trademarked names, so we took our leave of the lovely lake ... and a genuinely impressive restaurant that needn't use its location to shore up any shortcomings.