For those of you not familiar with Pittsburgh and it's many neighborhoods, there exists a land inhabited by a vast cocktail of characters. There are indie hipsters. There are drunken frat boys. There are Woo Girls. In the warm summer months, there are homeless Rastafarian teens with dogs living on the streets eating gyros. Welcome to the South Side.
The South Side is most well-known for East Carson Street, a stretch of restaurants, shops, and a few scattered boutiques... But most people come for the bars. It's dirty, loud and shameful, but sometimes, it just feels right. It seems that there is a bar for everyone, no matter their personality, whether they're seeking dance clubs, pool halls, or jungle-themed hot spots. Seemingly, the South Side has an offering for anyone... Until you go there with your parents.
When I was growing up, I was attached at the hip to a neighbor that we'll call Tata (a nickname she gave herself at the age of three). We were the same age (two months and three days apart), in the same class, and spent a huge chunk of our childhoods together. As we transitioned through high school, we found our own groups of friends, but attempted to maintain the obligatory friendship based on memories and my mom's wishes, despite having limited shared interests. During college, she found an internship in L.A. and decided to relocate there following her graduation. I haven't seen her in years.
Recently, however, Tata has decided to move back to Pennsylvania just in time for her mother's 60th birthday. When planning a party for one's 60-year-old mother, it only makes sense to do so in a rat den of a South Side bar like the Smiling Moose, right? (Commence eye rolls now)
My mother, sister and I decided to attend the party in the South Side; but as neither my mom nor my sister had ever stepped foot on East Carson, I was a bit concerned. To ease them into an evening on the South Side, I determined that we should have dinner beforehand and I asked Ginger Sister to choose between Urban Tap or Local Bar + Kitchen. She opted for Local.
I had been there before for brunch and experienced decent food and service with a relaxed Sunday vibe. I hadn't anticipated that a mid-day dinner vibe would be the polar opposite. Despite reserving a roof top table, my sister, parents and I were crammed into a corner table next to a group of rowdy day-drinkers cheering on the Penguins.
The server seemed confused by the fact that we weren't drinking alcohol, but was still curteous and initially attentive. We skipped on appetizers and shouted our orders to the server, trying to be heard over the roaring crowd at the bar. I blame myself for the noise factor, as I should have known not to base a restaurant environment on brunch experience alone. Brunch is a whole different animal.
While we waited for our food, we were able to watch the South Side passersby, which added an entertainment factor needed due to lack of conversation for want of a quiet environment. Dogs with Mohawks, women dressed like hookers and dudes in tank tops shuffled past the open window restaurant and on to their bars of choice.
Our food arrived within a reasonable timeframe and looked good. I ordered loaded pierogie, which sadly seemed to have been made directly from a Mrs. T's box. The subpar pierogie was topped with cheddar, bacon, green onions and sour cream. Had the pierogie been homemade, this meal would have been fantastic.
My parents and Ginger Sister ordered burgers. Dad ordered the Pittsburgher, topped with carmelised onions, a fried egg and cheese, while Momma ordered a basic cheeseburger. Ginger Sister was a bit more adventurous with the Mexican War Street Burger, topped with guacamole, pico de gallo and pepper jack cheese. Everyone who received a burger also ordered sweet potato fries and they all enjoyed their meals.
Mexican War Street Burger
It wasn't until after our food arrived that our server seemed to disappear. She returned a few times to take a plate or two, but must have thought that the family without alcoholic beverages was enjoying quality time with the cursing drunkards next door, because it took her ages to return with the check. When she did, we made our way out to the busy sidewalks before beginning our trek to the Smiling Moose for an anticipated awkward birthday party for a 60-year-old who refers to herself as a "Glitter Bitch" (and no, I don't know what that means either).
Needless to say, we didn't last long at the Smiling Moose, with its sticky floors, bearded doorman and the party crew that was 30 minutes late to their own party. Somethings will remain the same from childhood, like the fact that my family will always be early and Tata's family will always be inconsiderately late. I was home before dark and enjoyed dramatically regaling the tale to Boyfriend before hunkering down for an evening of Orange is the New Black on Netflix.
Contrary to my initial belief, the South Side is not for everyone, at least not on a beautiful spring day during an afternoon Penguins Day. For family outings, it's best to stick with South Side Works or Local brunch. Keep your parents away from the drunkards and keep the Rastafarian teens away from your parents.