Location: 220 N. Highland Ave., East Liberty. 412-661-7301
Hours: Tue.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday brunch from 11 a.m.
Fare: Country-style breakfast, BBQ & sides
Atmosphere: Bright and airy
Smoking: None permitted
Pittsburgh may not be renowned for its barbecue, but that doesn't mean we don't like to eat it. Rib joints are pretty thick on the ground around here. Unfortunately, most of them are fairly forgettable take-out operations serving ribs that are tender enough, but with all-important sauces and sides that leave us cold.
A new place in the heart of East Liberty bucks those trends. Steel City Rib House is a full-service restaurant with plenty of seating and a bright, spacious yet cozy feel. But what really caught Jason's eye when he stopped in to peek at the menu was the Signature Sunday Brunch. It's been years since any venue in town offered a “gospel brunch,” and it's been hard to find anything like that distinctive down-home cooking that goes beyond the short-order diner breakfast and deep into the traditions of the South.
Despite the steam tables left over from the former tenant (Steel City's owners plan to remodel soon), this is an a la carte brunch, not a stuff-your-gut Pittsburgh-platter special. But at just three dollars per item, and more than a dozen options, you'll push away from the table feeling plenty satisfied.
Angelique began by grappling with her usual brunch dilemma: sweet or savory? Steel City's affordable format encouraged her to just do both. Her savory choice, cheese eggs, featured a mild and creamy cheese perfectly integrated into beautifully scrambled, fluffy golden eggs. The result was a little rich and very, very satisfying.
Waffles were Belgian-style, crisp outside and slightly chewy inside, with big, deep wells to hold plenty of melted butter and syrup in each bite. Unfortunately, the butter was margarine -- it would have been nice to have had a choice between the two -- and the syrup, from those peel-top plastic capsules, tasted more of high-fructose corn syrup than maple. If the quality of the toppings had equaled that of the waffles themselves, this would have been a brunch to really sing about.
Jason left the breakfast half of brunch to Angelique and skipped straight to lunch: pork ribs, butter-fried corn and cheese grits. The corn was less exotic than it sounded, but featured bright, not canned, corn flavor seasoned with what appeared to be celery seeds. The grits were thick, smooth and creamy, with the cheese supporting, not dominating, the grains.
But of course the real meat of the matter was the ribs. Steel City's are thick and meaty, well-charred on the outside but juicy and tender within. The sauce -- served on the side, so that it complemented, rather than drowned, the meat -- was balanced between molassassy brown sugar and tart vinegar, with hardly a hint of spice. Overall, Jason judged the ribs to be very good, and a superb deal at brunch. Three meaty bones for three dollars simply can't be beat.
The brunch at Steel City betrayed a sure hand with a skillet and an experienced one with a grill. In addition, the menu is unique, the prices reasonable, and the service friendly. With just a few small upgrades, Steel City's good food could be truly and thoroughly transcendent.
- Heather Mull
- Barbecued pork and beef ribs, with an assortment of side dishes