The Eagle's fried chicken, soon to be available in Downtown Pittsburgh.

The first commercial tenant for the Eighth and Penn development in Downtown Pittsburgh has landed.

In an interview with NEXTpittsburgh, TREK Development Group Founder, President and CEO William Gatti revealed that Thunderdome restaurant group will bring its family-friendly eatery The Eagle to the building’s first floor.

“They specialize in fried chicken,” explained Gatti. “But the best fried chicken you’ve ever eaten in your life, they say.” The restaurant in Cincinnati has the highest Yelp ratings of any restaurant in that city, he added.

The full-service eatery will take up 6,000 square feet at the corner of 8th St. and Penn Ave. Along with fried chicken, The Eagle’s menu is focused on whole, half and quarter chickens along with items such as grilled cheese and Southern Chopped salad, brown sugar bacon, and fritters, and numerous craft beers and cocktails.

The Eagle’s signature chicken is brined overnight in a special sauce before being pressure fried and served with a spicy honey sauce.

Cincinnati Magazine calls it stellar. “Even the white meat was pull-apart steamy, with just enough peppery batter to pack a piquant punch,” they write. ” … whatever you do, don’t skimp on the sides. Caramelized onions add savory mystery to crisp corn, green beans, and cannellinis (not limas) in the succotash, and the crock of mac and cheese has the perfect proportion of sauce, noodle, and crumb topping.”

The restaurant will be the first of its kind in Downtown Pittsburgh.

“Fried chicken, I think, is an underserved category in polished, casual dining,” said Joe Lanni, co-founder and owner of Thunderdome, which also owns Bakersfield, just blocks from the future location of The Eagle.

Lanni credits his company’s success Downtown to the neighborhood’s strong base of office workers and a growing collection of nightlife options. “It’s got all the demand drivers that add up to a great location for us,” he said. “We think there’s a long future there.”

The view of the project from Eighth Avenue. Photo by TH Carlisle.

The Eighth and Penn project involved rehabilitating and connecting the McNally Building at 711 Penn and the Bonn Building at 713 Penn, both fixtures of Downtown Pittsburgh since the 1890s.

Gatti said the complex will open for occupancy in July, with The Eagle spreading its wings sometime in late fall.

Through a partnership with local firms Trek Development Group and Q Development, the two structures have been restored into a mix of studios and multi-bedroom apartments — 136 in all. The building will also include 10,000 square feet of street-level commercial space.

The developers, as well as supportive city agencies, hope the project will provide a much-needed economic boost to Downtown Pittsburgh.

“The restaurant should really activate that corner,” added Gatti, who notes that sliding glass doors in The Eagle will open to the street. “It hasn’t had real foot traffic in so long.”

This Pittsburgh outpost of The Eagle will be the fifth for Thunderdome. Others are in Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis and Louisville. Thunderdome’s chain Bakersfield has seven other locations in the Midwest and South.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.