Hours: Sun., Tue.-Thu., 5-9 p.m.; Fri-Sat, 5-10 p.m.; daylight marina dining, weather permitting
Prices: Appetizers, $5-12; entrees, $20-30
Fare: From Continental classics to fusion cuisine
Atmosphere: Recycled industrial elegance
Liquor: Full bar
Understandably, Pittsburghers have mixed feelings about industry. Sure, we all miss the steady hum of Big Steel's economic engine, but we don't exactly mind being able to breathe fresh air, and the prospect of the rivers being transformed from refuse receptacles to recreational amenities is thrilling. Of course, we still have a long way to go. For instance, we know of not a single restaurant within the city limits where you can actually eat along, as opposed to above, the water. For this you have to drive down the Ohio, way past the old airport, back into a landscape of oil tanks and working plants still exhaling smoke into the sky. Here, in a town called Industry (what else?), a former lockhouse is bringing diners down to the river.
Lock 6 Landing is a restaurant housed in the remains of a lock and dam built 100 years ago. After the dam came down in the '30s, the building -- originally used to generate steam power to open and close the lock gates -- languished, obsolete and abandoned, until an ambitious renovation in the late '90s gave new purpose to its river's-edge location. Indoors, a black-and-white color scheme plus fresh flowers, linens and candlelight contribute to a simple, almost starkly elegant ambience, while the memorabilia on the exposed-brick walls recalls the site's utilitarian past. Large windows frame views across the river to the zinc plant on the opposite bank, which glows like a ghostly old riverboat at night. Outside, a duplex of decks provides ample riverside seating. On the upper level, an old boat has been cleverly converted into a bar, while on the lower, you are so close to the water that catfish actually cavort at your feet.
To be honest, our main aim was to enjoy a summer evening along the river, and for this privilege we were prepared to eat whatever was offered. So we were most pleasantly surprised to find the food at Lock 6 to be as original and outstanding as the setting. Of course there are crab cakes here, but there are also peppered sea scallops with miso beurre blanc sauce and baby bok choy. In other words, this is not your traditional Western Pennsylvania river restaurant menu.
The crab soup was our first indication of the menu's promise. Thoroughly suffused with fine shreds of sweet crabmeat in a creamy base seasoned with sherry and nutmeg, this soup would be at home on the shore or at a fine seafood house. An entirely different milieu pertains to the ahi tataki, a variation on a Japanese-inspired dish that is becoming more and more popular at American tables, with seared tuna on a bed of translucent bean-thread noodles, shredded cucumber and scallions. The tuna was only just whitened at the edges -- no blackening here -- and the salty, citrusy ponzu sauce complemented its buttery softness to perfection.
Goat cheese flatbread and mushroom bruschetta looked impressive, but both suffered from too many toppings where a simpler approach would have produced a more directly delicious flavor. Spinach salad consisted of a substantial portion of tender greens garnished with wedges of ripe red tomato and hard-boiled egg. The creamy bacon dressing was too sweet for our tastes, but we acknowledge our partiality to tartness isn't shared by everyone, and the chunks of bacon were good and meaty.
Pork is usually Jason's province, but this night he broke rank by ordering the chicken, leaving the pork to Angelique. The tenderest cut of meat is not always the most flavorful, but the pork loins at Lock 6 were savory and juicy even before being smothered in an apple-brandy sauce rich with cinnamon, cardamom and other warm spices. All this was served over a slab of southern-style cornbread -- dry and crumbly, unsweetened -- which was an ideal ballast for the sauce's strong flavors, then strewn with fresh corn kernels. Sweet, buttery green beans rounded out this supremely satisfying meal.
The poultry dish that won Jason's pork-lovin' heart was garlic roasted chicken breasts, crispy skins still on, with a buttery, herbal paste beneath them. Although the chicken was good, the star of the plate was mashed potatoes, cooked with skins still on, then broiled, creating a crisp, richly-flavored crust.
Our only real regret about our evening at Lock 6 Landing is that the kitchen closed before we could order dessert. Given the quality of the rest of our meal, we're sure the cheesecake and chocolate tower would have been delightful. As it was, we left with a newfound respect for Industry.
Jason: 3 stars
Angelique: 3 stars