6-3-16 / Scratch Food & Beverage / Pittsburgh, PA

Last Friday night, my wife suggested we take a jaunt up Troy Hill over on the North Side of the City and check out a new place. I’m always game for new restaurants and this one had been on my list for a bit. Open for just a little over a year, Scratch F&B shows excellent promise and technical skill in the kitchen, but still has some room for improvement. It feels very much like a friendly, local kitchen, with more upscale offerings.

It’s a smaller restaurant, with a very open kitchen. It was enjoyable watching the two chefs prepare the dishes and seeing them come out directly.

Admittedly, we got aggressive with their small plates. Our waitress recommended 4-6 dishes to share between the two of us and of course we said, “7? Did you say 7 things? Perfect”. Unfortunately, each dish came out one right after the other at the same exact time. There was no pacing, there was no “coursing”. I would have served the soup first, then the tacos, then the vegetables, fries, and chicken as the final course. But that’s just me.

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I enjoyed a couple of the “Adult” Ecto Coolers, the featured off-menu cocktail of the night. It was heavy on the pineapple juice (which I love) and went down sugary sweet and sour, like a pineapple limeade sour. Exactly as I remember Ecto Cooler tasting. I also started with the soup of the day (no pic), an incredible New England Clam Chowder. The broth was creamy and thick, heavy with garlic and flavor. The big chunks of soft potato and huge clams, as well as the fatty pieces of bacon intermixed worked to make more of a meal than a starter. It was one of the best clam chowders I’ve ever had and absolutely a highlight of the night.

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The Halusky (smaller size) was far from the Pittsburgh traditional dish I’d grown up with and love. Far from the butter-drowned egg noodles, topped with steaming cabbage and onions, this was more of a spaetzle dish than anything. Squeaky and lovely, the large portion of spaetzle was topped with caramel brown onions, intermixed with small chunks of cabbage, and topped with a luxurious goat cheese mousse. The resulting dish was light, although that could have been due to the under developed flavors of cabbage and underseasoned spaetzle. I prefer a nice kick of black pepper or a lift of salty, buttery cabbage flavor, but overall it just blended together. A very mild, balanced dish, it was absolutely made with love and care, but handled with a little too much of soft touch for my taste. This ended up being a trend throughout the dishes.

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The Spring (?) Vegetables  was proclaimed as a “can’t miss” by our waitress, but I have to admit I couldn’t understand why. The mixture of zucchini, one pickled white asparagus stalk, charred english peas, a couple charred shishito peppers, and fingerling potatoes didn’t really do each other favors by being included in this garden plate. The star of the dish was absolutely the 60 minute egg in the center, which when burst and the yolk was able to mix with the ramp pesto below the vegetables, created a nice sauce that worked well with the fresh vegetables. Again, unfortunately, seasoning was the enemy, with the potatoes doing their part to stomp around the plate and suck up and flavor that may have been left by the pesto or egg. Another tasty dish, but far from a “must order”.

The Chicken and a biscuit was advertised as a chicken breast prepared confit style and then fried, which resulted in a tender and crispy piece of chicken. The strong, fresh chicken flavors stood up meekly against the heavy coating and brick of a biscuit. I would have loved to have seen bold spices, heavy use of vinegar and hot sauce with this chicken, something that would have stood up to the blanket that was this biscuit. It was as dense as a black hole, making it impossible for flavor or light to escape from. The green onions and maple syrup held up their end of the bargain, providing a nice oniony tang to the chicken and sweetness for the dish as a whole. Overall, I think they’re capable of so much more with this. The enormous bowl of fries were excellent, fresh, hot, crispy as fries should be. In their most brazen act of the night, the fries were served with a “homemade” ketchup that was more of an amazing dipping sauce than traditional tomato catsup. Strong notes of cranberry, garlic, pepper, and worcestershire worked well to make quite an addictive little dip. I would have loved these fries even more if there was an option to get them covered in cheese or poutine-style, something that would highlight them even more. Ironically, they were overly salted, but that just encouraged me to order another Ecto Cooler.

We ended our meal with the two taco offerings. The beef brisket taco was replaced with a pork belly taco, which is usually a welcome replacement for us. Unfortunately again, both tacos were lacking. The pork belly was flavorful and fatty, but the tacos needed to have far more spice and crunch. I would have liked to have seen a crusted pork belly with some crispy pickled onions, some sliced jalapenos, maybe a homemade hot sauce. The tofu suffered from the same fate, lovely crispy fried tofu, cilantro, and sliced jalapenos, but nowhere near enough carrots or jalapenos. Again, a habanero cilantro lime sauce would have raised this dish up to where it deserved to be. Also, maybe this is just extremely dense of me (but still not as dense as that biscuit), but each taco was served in a corn tortilla on top of another corn tortilla. Possibly the idea was to make 4 tacos out of each plate, but the tacos themselves weren’t overfilled or provided enough to make a whole other taco. What ended up happening was whatever fell out of our tacos as we were eating them made its way into the 3rd shell while the 4th shell on each plate sailed sadly back to the kitchen.

All in all, I don’t want to give the wrong idea or come across too harshly: I LIKED SCRATCH! They’re small, they’re local, they’ve only been open about a year. I want to see them grow, I want to see them succeed. Please go check them out, try something different than what I got or try what I got if I described something that sounded good to you. All that being said, they are far from perfect and can make some very simple changes to get just that much closer to outstanding.

One thought on “6-3-16 / Scratch Food & Beverage / Pittsburgh, PA

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