8-27-16 / Butterjoint / Pittsburgh, PA

The last Saturday in August, a friend of ours was in town from Los Angeles, so we arranged to meet him for some late night dinner and drinks at pretty much the best spot in the entire city for late night dinner and drinks, Butterjoint.

Unfortunately, I didn’t capture our libations, but what we had were excellent cocktails prepared by an excellent bar staff. My favorite drink to order there (pretty much my favorite thing to do anywhere) is the Mercy of the Bartender. It is exactly that, whatever strikes the fancy of the bartender at that exact moment. The first drink was a nice apertif, bitter and sharp, lots of lemon and bite, and worked wonderfully to open up my palate. My second MotB was far more laidback: smokey mezcal, sweetness, heat, a peppery finish. It paired perfectly with the rich, luxurious food we enjoyed.

We shared a few appetizers amongst the table, a mixture of fried, heavy, and light dishes which worked nicely with the balanced cocktails and lively conversation. The pickles, served in a cast-iron skillet over the traditional wax paper in a mesh basket, were beer-battered sour dills, cut into spears. The beer-batter was far preferable over the traditional cornmeal coating which tends to crack and break off after one bite. The batter clung to the pickles and provided a nice lightly fried crunch with each bite. The Morita-Sungold aioli, a wonderful combination of morita chile peppers and sungold tomatoes provided a wonderful thick, slightly sour/slightly sweet dipping sauce that added a smooth finish to the acidic pickles.

The grass-fed beef tartare, one of my favorites in the entire city, is prepared simply and with the traditional adornments of an egg yolk and chives. It’s the seasoning that really takes it over the edge: garlic, sea salt, fresh ground tellicherry peppercorns, soy, worcestershire, and a whole host of other seasonings made each bite a burst of that incredible real, raw, beef flavor, elevated and put onto a pedestal made of a whole array of varied, dancing flavors. It’s such a complex bite, prepared so simply, it truly captures the heart of what a good tartare (or ceviche) is supposed to be.

The baba ghanoush with kalamata olives and pickled cucamelons were a nice, light break from the other heavier dishes. The garlicky eggplant dip was rough-blended, and not pureed, to allow it to retain some of that smooth vegetal texture without becoming like a sauce. The pita slices were warmed and nicely finished with a dusting of paprika. The cucamelons were a fascinating first for me. Tiny little grape-like orbs, tasting intensely of cucumber, but bursting like grape tomatoes with a cucumber rind, pickled with garlic and dill. They were lovely to snack on in between bites of all of the appetizers.

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A vice of mine, I cannot leave Butterjoint without ordering their fancy burger. It’s a masterpiece, easily in my top 5 burgers in the entire city of Pittsburgh. Their perfect, house-ground patty is an incredibly flavorful and juicy mix, balanced wonderfully between meat and fat, to allow that crispy sear outside and retain all of the flavor and juices within. Their homemade brioche buns are always wonderfully buttery, but with a substantial enough crust to hold the inventive combination of toppings together without falling apart. High quality cheeses, homemade sauces and spreads, and the freshest vegetables always work in beautiful symphony of their spectacular burger patty. I’ve never been disappointed by a fancy burger of the day and I cannot foresee that happening any time soon. The house-cut fresh french fries are always hot, crispy, wonderfully salty, and delicious with ketchup or their housemade garlic aioli.

 

Butterjoint, attached to the equally delicious Legume, continues to be a incredible bastion for quality late-night (or anytime) food. In a part of Oakland oft-overlooked, I hope through local support of their continued high-quality offerings of both food and drink, Legume and Butterjoint will succeed for many more years down the road.

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