Sunday, March 9, 2014

Flashbacks

When I was in seventh grade, I played the clarinet and was selected to participate in an honors band comprised of students from neighboring school districts.  The performance was cause for a new outfit worthy of a star clarinet player, so one Saturday, my mom and I went shopping.  We stopped first at Monroeville's Park Diner, owned by Eat 'n Park, and enjoyed bacon cheese burgers, fries and cherry cokes.

Approximately 30 minutes later, I was doubled over in a JC Penney dressing room with pain in my stomach similar to what I can only assume being stabbed repeatedly with a samurai sword feels like.  My mom and I hurriedly found the nearest restroom, where I threw up everything that I had eaten since the age of three.  At the time, it was horrifying, but the tale eventually became just another anecdote in the series of inappropriate places that I've vomited.  

I vowed never to return to Park Diner and managed to avoid those stomach pains for the next 13 years... Until last night.

As I mentioned previously, Boyfriend and I are obsessed with O'Fallon Brewery's Cherry Chocolate beer.  Unfortunately, it is seasonal and most distributors in Pittsburgh no longer carry it; however, we found the last two remaining cases being held at a distributor in the Squirrell Hill/Homestead area.  We decided that since we were going to be in the area, it would be a good evening to stop for dinner and beer at Hough's, a bar-restaurant in Pittsburgh's Greenfield neighborhood with an amazing beer selection.  Hough's features 70 beers on draft and has even more bottled offerings, plus your typical bar food.  I'd been there once before, but only had drinks, while Boyfriend had never been there before.  We were feeling some burgers, so Boyfriend and I made it our mission to enjoy some great burgers and plentiful beer.

We came upon Greenfield Avenue and saw Hough's.... But absolutely no parking.  We circled for seemingly ages until we finally found a spot a few blocks away.  It's hard to imagine living in an area with such limited parking.

We walked into noisy Hough's, which was surprisingly bustling for 7:30 p.m. We expected that the crowds wouldn't build until later and there wasn't a vacant tabletop in sight.  It was not clear if we were to seat ourselves or wait for a hostess, so Boyfriend circled the place for a free table, while I creepily mean-mugged a nearby table full of people who gave the illusion of leaving soon, but to no avail.

We eventually gave in to sitting at the packed bar and reviewed the extensive draft list.  My eyes immediately zeroed in on Southern Tier's Creme Brûlée milk stout, which I hadn't had since fall and have been missing.  I ordered that, while boyfriend ordered two sample sizes of a chocolate stout and a pineapple wheat beer.  Before our beers arrived, a table cleared and Boyfriend pushed and shoved his way over to claim it as our own.  We set up there and put in an order of soft pretzels while we scoured the menu.  



Our server seemed a bit frenzied, and honestly, I couldn't blame her, as the bar was packed; however, I won't accept that as an excuse to offer shoddy service.  She never introduced herself, so I have no clue what her name was, and she had a habit of rapidly taking empty glasses without bothering to ask if we wanted another, then just disappearing.  We had to be the ones to ask her for another beer, which I found obnoxious.  

The soft pretzels were crispy and served with beer cheese and ground mustard.  I liked the pretzels and we had no problem polishing off the cup of beer cheese.  For dinner, both Boyfriend and I settled on bacon cheeseburgers and opted for tator tots, rather than standard fries.  I ordered another Creme Brûlée, feeling hopeful that things would get better as dinner continued.




At this point, Boyfriend was ready for two more sample beers and flagged down our server to put in his request.  She was carrying a stack of dirty plates, so Boyfriend politely said "when you have a moment, I'd like to order more beer." She then PUT THE DIRTY PLATES ON OUR TABLE to take his order.  My eyes must have bulged out of my head as she said "no, no, I can get them now," and put the remnants of other people's dinner next to my water glass.  I bit my tongue while Boyfriend placed his order, but he could feel the repulsion that was emanating from my every pore.  He tried to find positive aspects of our server, but as far as I could tell, Boyfriend only liked her because she was very smiley ONLY when she talked to him.

Eventually, our food was delivered and we eagerly began to devour our burgers and tots.  



The burger and tots looked good.  They really did.  I hadn't had tots in such a long time, so I was pleased with the crispy little bits of potatoes from childhood and the kitchen gave us a hefty amount.  Then I tried my burger.  The menu-promoted "secret sauce" tasted like thousand island dressing poured from an economy sized tub and the meat had absolutely no seasoning.  It was a bland hunk of cow on a semi-decent bun with chewy bacon.  

Both Boyfriend and I ordered our burgers cooked medium, but we both received well-done, which I honestly didn't even notice until Boyfriend pointed it out.  I was too distracted by everything else wrong about this burger.  I choked down half of it and was slowly turning nauseated.  I kept noticing other upsetting things about the restaurant, like the fact that I could see into the kitchen from our table and it looked filthy, and how every time our server wanted to take a plate or refill a glass, she reached right across my face to the point that I could have bitten her elbow.  

Boyfriend ate most of his burger, but wasn't impressed with the lack of flavor. He was just hungry.  My food was boxed up, even though I knew that I'd never eat it again and wouldn't even offer it to my dogs.  We left and had plans to meet up for a friend's birthday party closer to home, but as we drove through Pittsburgh, I knew we wouldn't be making the party.  The stabbing pain from seventh grade returned and it was pissed.  I sat in silence with a grimace on my face while boyfriend drove as quickly as possible without crashing.  We pulled in the driveway, I got out and walked quickly to the bathroom, where I proceded to vomit everything I've eaten since seventh grade after the Park Diner incident.  

In each of these instances, I was the only one nauseated by the food, so perhaps my digestive system is especially sensitive. Or perhaps my digestive system is just especially sensitive to crappy burgers.  Either way, I can say with confidence that Hough's has earned itself a spot right next to Park Diner on my list of places never to eat again.  I'd go back for drinks only, but will favor restaurants that take more pride in their cuisine instead of focusing solely on their beer selection.  

So, Hough's, kudos to you for your beer selection, but for the love of everything that is holy... Call Chef Irvine, get yourselves on Restaurant Impossible, and let him hire you a new cook.

Hough's on Urbanspoon 

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