Location: 17 Ohio River Blvd., Sewickley. 412-741-1918
Hours: Wed.-Sat. 4-10:30 p.m.; Sun. 4-9 p.m.
Prices: Starters $6-13; entrées $16-27
Atmosphere: Old-fashioned tavern
Liquor: Full bar
Smoking: Designated sections
If you've ever driven down Ohio River Boulevard toward Sewickley, you've probably seen signs for the Sewickley Speakeasy -- it's hard to miss that big mural of Jazz Age characters looking very Nick and Nora. But it wouldn't be surprising if you've never seen the Speakeasy itself. Accessed by a steep driveway and hidden from the road -- apt for the covert nature of a speakeasy -- the establishment remained a mystery to us until we set out one recent evening to find out what, aside from bathtub gin, the Sewickley Speakeasy had to offer.
But even arriving at the restaurant did not resolve our impressions. The fact is, Sewickley Speakeasy doesn't fit any preconceived mold. Valet parking lends a certain cachet, but the small bar within the front door is bright, unpretentious and Cheers-friendly. And despite 1920s-themed wall art -- including a truly impressive collection of original sheet-music from that era -- the brick-lined walls and fireplaces evoke the cozy ambience of a Colonial tavern.
The experienced staff is warm; the atmosphere of the interconnected dining rooms spans casual comfort and elegance. It's the kind of place that works equally well for an extended family dinner or an intimate anniversary date. The Continental menu reminded us of occasional dress-up restaurant dinners from our childhoods, with chestnuts like duck á l'orange and Virginia spots. Along with comfort food for the swanky set, the Speakeasy's kitchen cooks up several more distinctive dishes, such as tournedos dijon bleu and French Acadian porterhouse, which is a pork steak.
We were thrilled to start with a special seafood platter that included bacon-wrapped scallops, shrimp scampi, calamari and crabcakes. The calamari consisted of tender strips in a dry, crispy, peppery breading. They were tender and tasty, completed with a spritz of lemon and a dip in their tangy remoulade. The tender scallops paired superbly with their just-crisp bacon belts, but for Jason at least, the hits of the plate were some of the best shrimp he's ever had. The little crustaceans themselves were superbly succulent, but it was the bright, lightly creamy lemon beurre blanc that created something truly special. The mini crabcakes were loosely packed, moist jumbo lumps topped with a velvety sour cream sauce. All in all, delicious.
After our appetizer, we were served warm, crusty, just-baked rolls. Though they were defrosted, not made, on the premises, we prefer this to a basket of local bakery bread that may be close to day-old by the time it is served for dinner.
Angelique's chicken Zurich was a layered preparation consisting of a lightly breaded chicken breast topped with sweet onion rings the size of doughnuts and plenty of nutty melted Gruyere cheese. Not rich enough for you? Tangy bordelaise and creamy buerre blanc sauces rounded out the balance of flavors. The preparation is also available with steak.
Continuing our culinary tour of Europe, Jason's veal di Paris utilized the same decadent pairing of sauces with veal cutlets wrapped around prosciutto and asparagus. Our first surprise was that these roulades were battered and deep-fried; the next surprise was how light the overall effect was, with the veal delicate and the fresh flavor of the asparagus coming through. Aside from too-salty garlic mashed potatoes, the dish was a success.
For dessert, we could not resist fried cheesecake. Served in scoops like ice cream rather than in the traditional wedge, the classic cream-cheese confection was the exact texture of warm Brie. Each scoop was coated in graham-cracker crumbs and lightly fried so that it was warm on the outside but still cold in the center. A pool of house-made raspberry sauce and piles of Reddi-Whip tipped the balance from dessert to decadence.
Despite the fact that everyone who's driven Ohio River Boulevard has seen the signs, stopping at the Sewickley Speakeasy felt like coming upon a hidden gem. Tucked on a wooded hillside above the traffic, this little restaurant has the charm of a bygone era and old-fashioned food whose pleasures are worth rediscovering.