If you are a grad student or older undergrad in Pittsburgh, chances are you have been to the Harris Grill. This Ellsworth Avenue house, converted to a bar and restaurant, is headquarters for many a casual Pitt and CMU social gathering with its hip beer selection and creative pub food line-up.
As it turns out, the Harris Grill kitchen is also open late, until 1am, perfect for hungry second shift professionals like me. That means I have more than enough time to get there and more than enough time to peruse the menu and place my order… just like a real restaurant.
This was not my first visit to the Harris Grill, and despite my trepidation to the contrary, I found parking pretty easily on a residential side street nearby. The inside of the Harris Grill has an eclectic dark and lounge-y decor. Some tables are appointed with couches and leather chairs, playing on the converted house theme. The menu is filled with jokey and colloquial item names and descriptions, many steeped in pop culture references. Even the prices are pitched toward the menu’s funky feel, with items costing $5.81 or $9.03, rather than the usual $-.99.
I ordered a vodka tonic and made a selection from the appetizer menu, as Harris Grill makes the effort to pitch many of its menu items to the meat-eater hungry man (and, on balance, some to the white meat eater, and even to the vegetarian hungry man), and so I guessed that an entree or sandwich would be perhaps too filling and assuredly too caloric.
The two items I got to sample that night were the spinach artichoke dip and the black bean cakes; both were tasty and the black bean cakes struck me as something I ought to try making at home. While I had no complaints about the quality of the dip, I found the service of this dip a bit strange. Usually spinach artichoke dip comes—logically, one supposes—with stuff to dip into it. Perhaps pita wedges, crackers or tortilla chips. This spinach dip came in a bread bowl, like soup does at Panera. The only dip-ables were the top crust and bread pieces that had been removed when the bread bowl was hollowed out. After using up those scant few pieces of bread, one then had to tear the bread bowl apart in effort to consume the remainder of the dip. I probably would have done so at the end of the dip anyway, but I wish I had had more bread or some crackers to extend the actual dipping portion of the appetizer, rather than having to hasten to the tearing portion when there was still a lot of dip in the bowl.
This peculiar method of dip service, plus a nearly eight dollar price tag for the spinach artichoke dip left me lukewarm. The bean cakes, which were more in the neighborhood of six dollars, seemed fairly priced. My vodka tonic ended up being close to five dollars, and while that’s not uproariously expensive, it makes me feel like I would have been better off going to a different restaurant. I also could have easily gotten the same experience, much more cheaply, by making it all at home.
Overall, Harris has a pleasant atmosphere, good food and gets extra points for being open until 1am. The peculiar bread bowl dip service and the slight over-pricing makes me unenthusiastic about a return trip, and so my quest for the best late night bites in Pittsburgh continues.