I had dinner plans with a friend on Friday, and of course being such a restaurant enthusiast (I’m about done with “foodie”), she let me pick the location. I fretted and hemmed and hawwed over this, because there are SO MANY factors to consider in deciding on a place for dinner out! Did I want to revisit an old favorite? Or try something new? Did I want something light? Or experimental? Or belly-warming comfort food? Was I thirsty for beer? Or wine? Or cocktails?
My decision ultimately came down to: 1. Beer and 2. Comfort food. So many people have said great things about The Independent Brewing Company in Squirrel Hill since its not so long ago opening, and this seemed like a prime night to try it out. The Independent’s mission and focus is local products. The beers, the wines, the liquors are all from producers in W. Pa., as well as a lot of their kitchen ingredients.
The best way to explain my experience at The Indepedent is this: when you sit down at the bar, before getting around to orders, the bartenders introduce themselves and shake your hand. It’s such a small thing, but speaks volumes about the establishment’s philosophy. The Independent is a place of relationships, neighbors, friendships. Also excellent food and drink.
I don’t consider myself a picky beer drinker, but I certainly have specific tastes. I do not like dark beers (stouts, porters, etc.) and I do not like very hoppy beers (in particular, IPAs). I do like wheat beers, Belgian ales, red ales, some pilsners, and often do like fruit infused beers. It’s not that I turn my nose up at most beer lists, just that it is very quick and easy for me to pare down a voluminous list. Even though The Independent’s list is not huge (they’ve got about 12 taps, all rotating various new and fresh kegs), there were several beers to my liking.
Also, being fairly familiar with the local breweries means that The Independent’s beer list was, for me, easily navigable. When I’ve got a long list of beers from breweries all over the place, sometimes I wind up just picking by name. Western PA has a good number of local breweries, so The Independent has plenty of options when shopping for its kegs, but familiarity with the breweries also means that I can make a knowledgeable selection for my drink.
The Independent opens at 5pm. We arrived at 6 and the place was bumpin’. We got the last 2 seats together at the bar, actually. For the best seating options, come early or be patient. I kicked things off with the Draai Laag Gerstelijke, similar to a farmhouse ale, and it was a sweet, full bodied thing of beauty. I had another beer also, but I can’t remember what it was. It was good, but not as lovely as the Gerstelijke.
We ordered plenty of food while we were there. We started off with the meat & cheese plate, which is accompanies by grilled bread instead of crackers or chips, making it hearty and satisfying. We also ordered the brussels sprouts with porter mustard and gorgonzola. Yeah, roasted sprouts are trendy, but they are so good so I can’t help myself. My pal and I both ordered the burger on special for the night– the “kafta burger” which is made of lamb and had lots of Middle Eastern inspired toppings. I was a vegetarian for over 10 years, and during that time, the only meat I missed was lamb and corn dogs. I love lamb, in all it’s greasy, shameful “I’m eating helpless Lamb Chop” goodness. And this burger, it hit the spot dead-on. I wasn’t the only one who thought that, they sold out of the burgers pretty early in the night.
When I got home, the first thing I told Mr. Beez was “YOU NEED TO GO TO THE INDEPENDENT WITH ME!” It’s like having our own little Big Pour whenever we want. Pittsburgh’s got lots of neat new little restaurants popping up, but there hasn’t been one that I’ve fallen for so unabashadly for a while. The food and the drink are spot on, and the bartenders were crazy friendly and attentive. Can we go back tomorrow?