Friday, November 9, 2012

Union Pig and Chicken

I was meeting a friend in East Liberty on Wednesday night to attend the MovePGH Transportation workshop meeting.  It started at 6 pm, so originally he and I were going to meet at 5 pm at Kevin Sousa's Union Pig and Chicken just a couple of blocks away from the Carnegie Library.  Turned out he couldn't make it, so I went solo.

The place opened at 5 pm and I got there at 5:05 pm, so needless to say I was the first customer in the door.  It's on the corner of Harvard and Highland (more on that later) in an "economically challenged" section of East Liberty.  Yeah, the easy joke is that all of East Liberty is economically challenged, but South Highland/Centre Avenue with BRGR/Spoon/Abay/Plum, Eastside with Dinette and Whole Foods down the street are decent little zones.

The floor to ceiling glass windows at the front of the house give it a fishbowl type feel and must be unnerving for the hostess to stand there at times.  The inside of the place is a contrast between Scandanavian sweat lodge (replete with dark wood floors and dark wood walls) and preppy funhouse (with the red and pick argyle pattern on one wall to break up the dark tones).  Either way, I didn't mind the interior.

The seating is similar to Sousa's flagship restaurant, Salt of the Earth, in that it is all communal bench style seating.  The benches are broken up in such a manner that 2 people can share one sector of the bench, then there's a gap for leg room, etc.

For my dinner, I had looked online before I went, so I knew I was going for the Beef Brisket ($13).  I wanted something to go with it, so I chose the cornbread ($3) as my side.  Didn't feel like cole slaw or baked beans and wanted something unfussy.

The portion of the brisket was extremely generous.  At least 6 slabs of the meat piled in a haphazard fashion.  It reminded me of my mom's ham loaf recipe that we had a lot as kids.  There are 3 different BBQ sauces at your table -- a standard tomato-based sweet sauce, a liquidy vinegar and chile sauce, and a habanero-infused BBQ.  I tried the first 2, as I didn't want my digestive system to revolt in the middle of a workshop meeting.

I don't know why they bothered to bring a knife out with the brisket.  There is no need as the fork easily made the meat fall apart with little effort.  The char (or "bark") on the brisket was about a 1/4" and was the shield for a small layer of fat that, literally, dissolved in my mouth without chewing it.  I liked the standard BBQ sauce, but found the vinegar chile sauce to be too "liquidy" and tart.  Just my preference, though.

The cornbread was decent, especially in size, but pretty dry.  It had some char on it so it was probably baked at a very high temp (or even put in the same smoker that did the meats?).  Here's where the vinegar BBQ sauce helped out a little bit.

By the time I walked out there were 5 separate groups in the restaurant at 5:45, so that's pretty good for an early Wednesday night.  My waitress said the wait is long on the weekends.  The way to handle the overflow has been solved by Sousa adding a cocktail lounge upstairs called Harvard and Highland (the intersection of the restaurant).  It focused on handmade cocktails with fresh ingredients and house made bitters, similar to the exceptional cocktails at Salt.  Wish I had sometime to pop up for one before the meeting, but maybe DB~ and I can check it out.

Between Salt, Union Pig and Chicken, Station Street Hotdogs, Harvard and Highland, and his under-development restaurant in Braddock called Magarac, I'm getting concerned that Sousa is going to stretch himself too thin and the quality is going to suffer.  I could see Station Street going first by being sold off, if that were the case.

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