I ran into Jim at WhiskyFest this week, praised Chowhound, and he made me promise to post about the great meal I had at Pittsburgh's Pleasure Bar, which had evidently suffered a dip in quality at some point in the past 20 years... so here I am.
I used to go to the Pleasure Bar in the early 1980s when I was a grad student at Carnegie-Mellon--whenever someone else was paying. I was living on pasta, potatoes, and occasional trips to a cheap all-you-can-stuff salad bar to keep from getting nutritional diseases. But every now and then the professors would drag us out to the Pleasure Bar, and I could pretend to be normal for a while as we passed around pitchers of beer and big plates of cheese-draped baked pastas and steaming sausages. It is a memory that makes me drool even now.
So when I managed to talk my wife's family into making their annual baseball outing to the spectacular new PNC Park (the Pirates might suck, but that ballpark is the BEST, complete with Primanti Bros. and Benkowitz food and lots of good Penn Brewing beer), the Pleasure Bar was in the back of my mind. We came in from Swissvale, through all my old haunts, and as we were coming down Liberty Ave, my God, there it was. I almost ran into the guy in front of me. We had planned lunch at the Church Brew Works, and we did that (good pierogie pizza, excellent bison burgers, and blow-away amazing beer), but...
So after the Pirates had lost the next day, and we were wondering what to do for dinner before streaking eastward for home in Bucks County, I caught my mother-in-law looking at me somewhat slyly. "What was that place you saw yesterday, Lew?" she asks. Hey, she and I don't always see eye-to-eye, but the woman's got a taste for good food!
The Pleasure Bar was not everything I remembered, but only because we ate in the front room because there were 12 of us. The food, dang, it was great. Mind, I'm hardly an expert. I'll pick and niggle over sauerbraten and kasseler rippchen, and I'm an awfully picky sausage eater, but Italian, as long as it's good and not insipid or overdone or greasier than blazes, is not my area. I just like it a lot, and this was a great stuffing feed. I had a trio with eggplant parm, baked ziti, and spinach ravioli, and it was top-notch. The thing we all kept exclaiming over was the house sauce, which was rich in flavor and light without being watery.
As we drove away, stuffed to the gills and me feeling only a little guilty about the one disappointment of the evening (I evidently got the last cup of one pot of coffee, which was great, and everyone else, who finished later than me, got another pot, which was decidedly inferior), I relished the longevity of memory, and the pleasure of returning home again.