Late Night Bites: Sidelines with the Ladies’ Beer Circle

Our second regular haunt for the Ladies’ Beer Circle is Sidelines Bar in Millvale on Monday Nights. Unlike our Wednesday night option, the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium in Friendship, you’ve probably never heard of Sidelines unless you live in Millvale or know somebody who is a regular there. Sidelines notoriety may be on the rise, now that they have added a location in Sewickley, but I have known about Sidelines for years precisely because the Spiher/Robinson household have been such dedicated regulars.

“Regulars” may be understating it.

One of the main features of Sidelines is its beer club. Upon joining the club, one gets a cardstock beer list, which is kept on file at the bar until it is filled out. The list contains various categories, such as domestic beers, European beers, draft beers and beers “from everywhere else.” All beers at Sidelines count for the list, but you can’t drink the same beer twice while working on one particular list (with the exception of using up your five “freebie” slots), and you have to fill up each category entirely for the list to be considered complete. I suspect the beer list choices become more challenging as the list narrows; I only started a list a few months ago, so pretty much everything and anything I want to drink counts.

Sabrina and Ted, however, are beer list veterans. I don’t even remember what list, precisely, Sabrina is on right now. 13? 15? Keep in mind that it takes 50 beers to fill each list. The bar offers a diminishing system of rewards for completing lists. The first list complete earns the patron a t-shirt commemorating the event. The second list garners the beer aficionado a personalized beer mug. This mug is kept at the bar and the patron is served drafts from it. The mug is a little bigger than the standard pint, so beer club accomplishment means heartier drafts. Ten lists in, the Sidelines bar fly gets the all-coveted black mug, which affords all the advantages of the first mug, but with the added status it conveys (and at this point the patron gets to take the first mug home).

Both Sabrina and Ted have black mugs and they are working toward a new reward at 20 lists (that’s 1000 beers, folks) that hasn’t entirely been determined because so few people ever make it that far.

And that is why we go to Sidelines on Monday for Ladies’ Beer Circle, because it’s beer club special night. Every beer we drink that counts for the list is $1 off. Now, this special might not be so great at a lot of bars. In fact, a $1 off beers as Sharp Edge wouldn’t be so impressive a special at all; but Sidelines has a ton of beers in the $3 to $4 range, as well as more expensive beers, and beers for $2.50 and $2.75. A dollar off makes a big difference on those cheap brews. Apparently there are also $2.50 well drinks on Monday nights, but we’ve been so dedicated to our beer lists we haven’t taken advantage, but there is also a 1/2 off appetizer special from 10 to midnight, and we frequently take advantage of that.

The appetizers at Sidelines definitely win out over the appetizers at Sharp Edge. For starters, the appetizer prices range from $3 to $6, so getting half off is an attractive special. The appetizers are also just better. The stuffed pretzel is a good one because it is hearty for sopping up beer in the belly, but also relatively cheap ($3.99, regular price); Dayle and I have enjoyed it on a few occasions. The provolone sticks are a favorite all around. I have enjoyed the fried zucchini on many occasions, and it’s always a generous portion (seriously, it may be a whole zucchini, or at least half of a large one). The beer cheese in bread bowl is fun and tasty. The only appetizer I’ve been a little disappointed in was the chicken strips, not because they weren’t tasty, but because it’s only four strips and they aren’t terribly large. I was hungrier at the end of my strips basket than when I walked in. On occasions past, Sabrina and Ted have enjoyed the quesadillas and give good credit to the tastiness of the wings. I’m not a wing person, myself, so I wouldn’t know.

When it comes right down to it, Sidelines is definitely a comparable spot to Sharp Edge in terms of beer value. The beer special on Mondays isn’t quite as good as the Sharp Edge half off drafts on Wednesdays, but the appetizers and wider selection of bargain beers makes up for it. The promise of beer club glory also adds a fun dimension to the bar, as it actively encourages us to try new beers at every turn. Admittedly, Sidelines may be a trek from points south, but for those living in northern areas of the city, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, East End, it may just be the best bar you’re completely unaware of!

Late Night Bites: Sharp Edge with the Ladies Beer Circle

Earlier this summer, while looking for a place where we could enjoy quality brews after work, our Ladies’ Beer Circle discovered Sharp Edge Wednesdays.

Of course, we all knew about the Sharp Edge previously; anyone who lives in the city and even remotely qualifies as an occasional beer aficionado has heard of the Sharp Edge. Known for its plethora of drafts, augmented by an extensive selection of bottles, the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium in Friendship has a long-standing reputation among beer lovers in the city.

What I didn’t realize was that since the last time I found my way to the Sharp Edge, they have since opened several additional locations throughout our metro area, and have instituted a half priced craft drafts special on Wednesdays.

That’s right, Wednesdays. Not happy hour on Wednesdays, or for some limited number of weird hours on Wednesdays, but all day Wednesdays. And that’s a full half price off every draft on their craft list. That makes it the single best beer special we’ve found.

The craft list features upwards of thirty beers (check out the current beer menu online); in the time since we’ve been going there it appears that some beers (perhaps the most popular) are kept on tap perennially, whereas other beers show up seasonally and/or occasionally and then are replaced by new selections when the keg runs out. The drafts on the craft list at regular price are not cheap, ranging from $4.50 (for Yuengling? That’s extortion) to $6.50 for the bulk of their selections, with some special beers being as much as $8, $9 or even over $10. Thus, one can see why half price nights are such a find. We can enjoy some pretty awesome craft brews at what is fundamentally 2 for 1 (and two is usually all I can drink since they close at midnight during the week)!

When we go to Sharp Edge on Wednesdays, we usually meet up when I get off work, which means around 10 or 10:30pm. This means that our meetings of the Ladies’ Beer Circle typically fall during the Sharp Edge’s nightly half priced food specials, including deals on wings, appetizers and pizzas. And a good thing, too, as many of their munchies are also pretty darn expensive at regular price.

As far as beer specials are concerned, the Sharp Edge wins hands down in terms of quality for the price. The food specials… well, it’s not quite as enthusiastic a recommendation. As I mentioned, the appetizer prices are rather expensive to begin with, so the half price special takes them down to what I consider ordinary prices for bar food.

Some of the appetizers we’ve found enjoyable, if nothing to write home about. The Mediterranean nachos (basically a spinach artichoke dip) and the Double Dipper plate have served us well, especially the later when ordered with the option of avocado salsa (which is fundamentally a tasty guacamole). The fried appetizers haven’t been as great. We’ve had bad experiences with the boneless chicken wings and the fried provolone wedges. Other fried items have been okay; the fried pita wedges that come with dips have never given us trouble, and I recently had an order of sweet potato fries with no ill consequences.. but we are left reluctant to order chicken bites or provolone again.

But our Ladies’ Beer Circle is looking for precisely that: beer, not dinner. We keep going back to enjoy the best beer special in town!

Sharp Edge Beer Emporium on Urbanspoon

The Ladies’ Beer Circle

Earlier this summer, an important cultural institution formed right under my nose. It was a balmy Thursday night in mid-May; accompanied by very little fanfare, I met up with Sabrina, one of my best friends from college, and Dayle, one of my best friends from high school, at Sidelines for a beer. Unbeknownst to any of the three of us, a tradition was born… thenceforward we would look back on that day as the very first meeting of the Ladies’ Beer Circle.

Except that Ted came along, too… and I drank whiskey and diet… but it was the first time the three of us met up for drinks…

And we vowed that night to meet up again at the Sharp Edge, and thus I count it as the snowball’s roll in the venerable tradition that is now the Ladies’ Beer Circle.

The mission of the Ladies’ Beer Circle is to cultivate among the three of us opportunities for the appreciation of good beer… hopefully at cheap prices. The Ladies’ Beer Circle, however, is not an exclusive organization, and we do not discriminate against men (whew! right?). Ted is a frequent attache to the Ladies’ Beer Circle, Nik has shown up on occasion, even Roger came along once (though, mostly against his will because circumstances of transportation required his presence). Other ladies are more than welcome to participate in the circle, and men are always welcome to show up and chime in their opinions on beer… though, they can never truly be part of the Ladies’ Beer Circle by virtue of its very nature and founding principles.

Well, okay… we don’t really have a mission statement, or any founding principles contingent on our being ladies… but we came up with a moderately cool name, right? And we’re not going to change it just because some men want to show up and drink with us sometimes; we’re certainly not going to discourage men from showing up, though, since in most documented cases the presence of men we know does not decrease our enjoyment of beer, and on select occasions has been known to increase our enjoyment of beer.

So far, we have two regular haunts for meetings of the Ladies’ Beer Circle: The Sharp Edge on Wednesdays and Sidelines on Mondays. Each week, a consensus of us three core members determines where we will meet. Why, then, is there a particular day associated with a particular location? Because that’s when the bar has discounts and specials enabling us to enjoy great beer at a reasonable price (we aren’t wealthy Ladies of Leisure, after all). Such things are easy enough to find around happy hour, but all three of us work odd hours and often aren’t able to get to the bar early enough for happy hour specials. Most other beer appreciation societies we’ve found schedule their outings during hours when at least one of us is at work. And so our remedy has been the de facto founding our illustrious Ladies’ Beer Circle.

Stay tuned for more details on our adventures in beer!

Late Night Bites: Harris Grill

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.

Harris GrillAs 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.

Late Night Bites: The Pleasure Bar

The Pleasure BarI’ve always done my best to avoid the nine-to-five, and after a brief stint as a legal secretary in 2003, I’ve been largely successful. For the most part, I enjoy doing things at off hours; being at work or asleep during both sessions of rush hour traffic has undeniable appeal; grocery shopping is a breeze at 11pm. However, the one persistent difficulty I’ve found since the advent of a 10pm quittin’ time is restaurant patronage.

Sure, most bars are open and welcoming when I get out of work, but even those with restaurants attached stop offering food past a certain time. Too often kitchens close at 10pm, sometimes at 11pm (which is doable but can be a tight squeeze), and more rarely at midnight or 1am. I understand that it ceases to be advantageous for most restaurants to offer food after popular dinner times, and that a small number of restaurants will cater to the late night crowd, but finding those restaurants has proven more difficult than I expected.

A couple weeks ago I went to the Pleasure Bar after work on a Friday night. The Pleasure Bar is a venerable Pittsburgh institution located in the heart of the Liberty Avenue business district in Bloomfield. I’ve often dined there and drank there in the past, and it’s one of the few places in the city where I’ll go for Italian food (most Italian restaurants violate my primary law of eating out: Don’t eat food at a restaurant if I can made it better, easier and/or cheaper at home). It had been a couple years, however, since I’d eaten at the Pleasure Bar, and I had never attempted to grab a late night bite there, so I did some research ahead of time.

Inside the Pleasure BarDespite being a venerable Pittsburgh institution in business for over three decades, the Pleasure Bar does not have a website, so I had to pester their hard-working staff with a call to ask how late the kitchen would be open. I was told “Probably until 11:00″… which might help explain the lack of website, probablys being difficult to express in print.

And so, I made a point to leave work at ten on the dot, and put the pedal a little closer to the metal than usual in effort to arrive in Bloomfield by 10:30. On street parking was a breeze, and I was sitting at the bar asking if the kitchen was still open by 10:31. I was told: “For about two minutes.” Luckily, I had found amidst my research earlier that day a menu of their pub food on and so I was able to squeak my order in under the wire.

While I did not receive my order in the aforetold two minutes, service was swift and I quickly found myself with two piping hot appetizer plates and a chilly beverage. First up was an order of fried provolone that exemplified everything a gal could ask for in a plate of fried cheese: crisp breading, gooey center, hearty marinara on the side, a dusting of parmesan. The provolone wedges more than met my criteria for restaurant food, as I would never attempt to make fried cheese at home when such an ideal specimen is readily available at the Pleasure Bar for under five bucks.

My second appetizer was tasty, but mildly disappointing. The crab stuffed mushrooms came full of promise; sizable mushroom caps filled with quality lump crabmeat, baked in alfredo sauce and bubbling with baked cheese. How can you go wrong, right? While I was duly impressed with the quality of the crabmeat, I found that it lacked any sort of zip. A squeeze of lemon, a whisper of garlic, a dash of spice would have gone a long way to making these stuffed mushrooms delectable, but as it was, I found the dish a bit lackluster. Would I be able to make it better myself at home? Maybe. But would I have been able to make it cheaper? Definitely not. At $7.50 for a dish teeming with sweet lump crabmeat, these mushrooms are a great deal.

In fact, the Pleasure Bar proved to be an excellent bargain. Two quality appetizers and a couple of well drinks came to a total of $18, showing the Pleasure Bar to be a great option for starving creative types like me to find after work refreshment. Now, if only I had a better idea of how long the kitchen would “probably” be open, I would name the Pleasure Bar a prime spot for late night eating. As it is, this restaurant is a great spot for inexpensive Italian food, provided that you don’t incur any speeding tickets on your way to place the last order of the night.

Pleasure Bar on Urbanspoon