- Heather Mull
- Sesame seed-crusted Ahi tuna "stack," atop risotto with zucchini and a balsamic sauce
Location: 6347 Library Road, Library; 412-831-2070
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat. 4-10 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, sandwiches and salads $6-11; entrees $11-21
Fare: Steak, seafood, pastas and sandwiches
Atmosphere: Steakhouse meets diner
Liquor: Full bar
Your friendly neighborhood restaurant comes in all shapes and sizes, from barely-more-than-a-bar to European-themed bistro. The only indispensable ingredients seem to be adult-friendly beverages and family-friendly food.
Sometimes, even the actual neighborhood is optional. Such is the case at Toci's Black Diamond Grill, located on Route 88 between the last two T stops at the southern Allegheny border. There are residential streets nearby, but to call this part of Library Road a neighborhood business district would be a serious stretch.
Yet we've rarely experienced such a clear sense of community at a restaurant. Our fellow diners seemed comfortable -- at home, even -- and, instead of the canned chumminess you get at corporate chains, we witnessed servers who were actually friends with customers, slipping into booths with them to catch up as the owner smiled approvingly. All of this took place in a large, open dining room whose exposed brick walls and keystone-shaped windows might also look familiar: in its previous incarnation, it was -- speaking of corporate chains -- a Pizza Hut.
How much luckier for Library to have the Black Diamond Grill. The menu is broad, and we wondered at first if it could cover all its bases, from wings and panko-breaded fried zucchini to pasta primavera and bacon-wrapped filet mignon. There were sandwiches, too, that looked pretty good, such as flat bread filled with cheese, spinach, peppers and onions.
But we focused on dinner, ordering first the Diamond Chips Grande. Essentially, this was a platter of nachos made with Toci's outstanding homemade potato chips, light and crisp yet sturdy enough to support a whole mess of toppings: real cheddar, melted and browned to occasional delectable crispness under the broiler; fresh tomatoes; meaty bacon; and just enough diced red onion to lend pungency. There were no peppers, and canned sliced black olives were the odd man out, but that didn't stop us from demolishing the platter, despite what our mothers would say about saving room.
Toci's takes pride in its steaks, and we ordered two of them. A New York strip, simply grilled, showed both the strengths and limitations of the grill. The cut itself was of good, not great, quality, with typical flavor and not quite the rich mouthfeel that well-marbled beef can give. Yet the cooking was just right, and big, black grill marks translated to bites with excellent seared flavor. The garnish of onion rings was crisp and also well cooked.
The grilled sirloin stuffed with bleu cheese and spinach was superb. The tender yet hearty steak was folded around the tangy cheese, which melted in the meat's heat, mingling creamily with a layer of wilted spinach. There was plenty of this delicious filling in every bite, and it was a little like eating steak and salad in one, if only salad were so decadent. From the list of side-dish options, we highly recommend the caramelized onions with this or any steak. Their soft sweetness offered the perfect accompaniment to the red meat's assertive beefitude.
Jason's feelings about his shrimp scampi pasta evolved from initial disappointment to an "a-ha!" moment of appreciating what sets this dish apart. First, he felt it was somewhat misnamed, as there were relatively few shrimp swimming in the linguini, with numerous little bay scallops and pervasive crabmeat. The shrimp were big and succulent, the scallops small and unremarkable. But it was the crab that made a success of the dish in the end. In addition to a few jumbo lumps, there was so much shredded crab that every bite contained some, and the sweet, light meat provided a welcome foil to the too-buttery -- if, indeed, such a state is possible -- sauce.
Some neighborhoods have a neighborhood restaurant; others are made by them. If you ever find yourself wondering just where that 47L ends up, you'll discover a warm welcome and good meal at the end of the line.