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Best Polish Food: Bloomfield Bridge Tavern

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Serving a dual purpose as the unofficial welcome sign to Bloomfield and, as it proudly boasts, "The only Polish restaurant in li'l Italy," the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern and its busy exterior of self-promotion and Polish history (Madam Curie and Casimir Pulaski can be found on the colorful facade) has become both a recognizable landmark and a Pittsburgh institution since its inception in 1985.

The BBT is as charming as it is timeless. Upon seating oneself in the establishment, one's eyes almost immediately fall upon a sign admonishing the use of profanity while in this "family neighborhood tavern." And, according to lore from some of the regulars, the management often exercises its right to ask patrons to leave for disregarding the cardinal rule.

But don't let the sign fool you. This isn't another TGI Fridays and you won't find the proprietors making balloon animals for the kiddies. Sure, you might not be able to drop the f-bomb, but where else can you buy your chips, pretzels and tissues from the same vending machine as your Marlboro Lights and Pall Malls?

Nary a space on the wall is undecorated. The interior is plastered with Pittsburgh memorabilia, beer advertisements and an assortment of Polish and American flags. There are not one, but two pictures of the Polish Pope John Paul II presiding over the establishment. There's even a cigar-shop Indian and bear welcoming patrons to the back dining room, which also serves as a stage during the rock shows held frequently at night.

Forget about current culinary trends here. Serving up authentic Polish food, the BBT is a refuge from the deluge of Atkins and South Beach Diet converts who have taken over the outside world. The offerings, heavy with butter and loaded with carbs, keep true to the Polish tradition, in which more calories and fat means better taste. And the food can prove to be a quite convincing argument in support of the theory. The Polish Platter, for example, is an ample heap of pierogie, kielbasa and golabki (stuffed cabbage), and two noodle dishes, haluski and kluski. The hefty serving of Polish home-cooking was better than my own babushka-clad grandma's -- but I won't be telling her that.

But if noodles and cabbage aren't going to do it for you, there's always the decidedly vegetarian-unfriendly half-pound kielbasa sandwich. This is one place where you can forget the salads and quiche -- for as long as you're in here you're in the old country, where the food sticks to your ribs and meat isn't a foul four-letter word.

A visit to the BBT on a Thursday evening will not only get you a dose of old-world charm and cheap pierogi, but also a choice selection of buck-a-beers, affordable enough for even the most cash-strapped college student.

There's a distinct no-frills vibe at the BBT. The tables and chairs are less than sturdy and the service isn't overly formal, but with the onslaught of themed chain restaurants, it's comforting to know there's a place where the locals still sit at the bar talking about the day's events, and where the food -- much like the outdated Christmas decorations that still adorn the bar -- hasn't changed in years. Grandma would be proud.

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