Bar Marco is better described as a community gathering place than as just a “bar” or “restaurant.” Its proprietors are incredibly invested in not only making Pittsburgh a better place, but also in helping other Pittsburghers make the whole world a better place. The No Menu Monday dinner series has been a raging hit over the last few months. No Menu Monday involves a partnership between Bar Marco, organizations advancing good causes in various forms and guest chefs. Like the name, there’s no menu. Basically you pay them, they give you food, and part of the money goes to the organization. This ain’t no church basement spaghetti dinner, they take their food seriously.
I’ve been meaning to make my way to these events, and with Haitian Families First as the featured organization this week, it was time to stop by for a meal, no ifs ands or buts about it. Ali and Jamie are both in town right now, and were both there to share news of the great work they’ve been doing. To make the event extra-special, the meals prepared for the event were from recipes they brought back from Haiti. The idea was “everyday food,” so we got to sample a bit of the kinds of meals that are common in Haitian homes. Like most Caribbean cuisine, this means rice, beans, plantains, meat and spices. These are basic, hearty and flavorful ingredients and made for a tasty meal.
No Menu Monday means, seriously, NO MENU. So when I asked for the bar menu, the waitress said “Nope, sorry, no menu. But if you tell us what you like, we can put something together for you!” My instructions were: citrusy, a little sweet (but not overly so), with a vodka base. This drink had those components, there was also absinthe involved, but only in a small quantity so that you could taste a tiny hint of it, but it didn’t overpower. This was quite a good cocktail, whatever it is they should make it more often.
I attended the event with my foodie buddie Christine. In an ironic turn to the tables, I ordered the chicken (despite having been a vegetarian for years and years and years of our friendship) and she ordered the vegetable fritters (despite practically being a carnivore). Both dishes came with rice, beans and a small side of slaw. The slaw was too spicy for me on its own, but mixed with the rice and beans balanced out to a perfect kick. I found that the best taste came together when I heaped the chicken, rice, beans and slaw onto my fork all at once and took a huge bite in one gluttonous demonstration. The chicken was great but the fritters were even better. I didn’t order the fritters because I assumed they’d be more fried than vegetable (think: latkes). These were more like heaps of mashed sweet potatoes with a fried crust on the outside. The inside was creamy and not fried through. I could get used to fritters like these.
The final course was a surefire winner– rum ice cream and fried plantains. Rum flavored desserts are usually too overpowering with the rum flavor for my taste. The rum in this ice cream was certainly strong, but was a good match for the plantains and did not overpower my palate. I was happy to support HFF in their amazing work and even more happy to fill my belly with these flavorful dishes. Although the $30 price tag is steep for me to make my attendance a weekly happening, the cause was worthwhile and the food satisfying. I’ll be sure to swing by again to support my other favorite organizations.