Eat: Wood-grilled burgers at Fire Side Public House

Just how special is a Grillworks grill? According to legendary Spanish American chef José Andrés, “Until you work with something like this, you cannot know what a grill is.” The Argentinian-style wood-fired grills are coveted by top chefs all around the world, and Grillworks was whole-heartedly endorsed by respected epicure James Beard. And now, at East Liberty’s new Fire Side Public House, Pittsburgh has its first one.

Occupying the former home of Station Street Hot Dog Shop, Fire Side Public House has indeed made the fire the focal point. Placed right in the center of a large open kitchen and encircled by a beautiful bar, that top-of-the-line grill is set to crank out a menu of “classic American gastropub” fare. Most of that menu will come right off the grill, from shrimp and grits to an array of gourmet burgers. All of the 75 seats provide a good view of the crackling fire, offering Pittsburghers a delightfully cozy retreat just in time for the winter.

Fire Side Public House has been a long-time dream for Bob Miller, who also owns Sidelines Beer House in Sewickley and Sidelines Bar & Grill in Millvale. Like his other properties, Fire Side will boast an impressive beer list. “We knew we really wanted to focus on local,” explains Jessica Martin Adams, who is coordinating the forty-tap selection. In addition to a number of Pennsylvania favorites, the list features brews from smaller and newer local breweries, including Spoonwood, Hop Farm and Arsenal Cider.

Fire Side Public House held their grand opening this past Friday. They are open seven days a week for dinner, with plans to add a lunch service once things get rolling. Keep an eye on their website for details on hours, menu and more.

Drink: Absinthe from Wigle Whiskey

At the start of one of my last semesters in college, a friend threw a party to celebrate her return from a semester abroad. The party’s showstopper was to be a bottle of absinthe she had smuggled home from Prague. After a clumsy ceremony of fire and sugar, everyone drank a bit and, before long, agreed that things were getting weird. I just watched: I was (and still am) a scaredy-cat.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned I had nothing to fear. The reports of absinthe’s hallucinatory effects were, as it turned out, greatly exaggerated. Though absinthe does not make you see little fairies (at least no more than any other high-proof spirit), an air of mystery and danger continues to swirl around it. And the fact that it was banned in this country for nearly a century—absinthe has only been legal here since 2007—only adds to the intrigue. Now Wigle Whiskey is bringing the favorite drink of artists and eccentrics to Pittsburgh.

On December 16th, Wigle will release Absint Minded. Like all absinthe, anise dominates. But thanks to other botanicals like mint and roasted orange peel, this is a spirit with nuance. While some absinthes are nearly unpalatable on their own, Wigle’s is amazingly sippable, a feat considering it clocks in at a whopping 124.1 proof.

In addition to Absint Minded, Wigle is rolling out a ton of other spirits and events this holiday season, including a grappa made in partnership with Grapperia and a Christmas tree sale at their Barrelhouse. Check out their website for details on all of their holiday festivities and releases.

And while absinthe may not make you see green fairies, a nip with the milk and cookies just might bring some visions of sugarplums this year.

Do: Shop local on Small Business Saturday

I’m hardly the first person to point out the irony of Small Business Saturday. The “holiday,” which is meant to function as a foil to the insanity of Black Friday, encourages shoppers to support small and local businesses instead of big box stores running trumped-up specials. The ironic part, however, is that Small Business Saturday is the invention of American Express, one of the largest companies in the world.

Nevertheless, any event that gets people into independent, locally owned stores is a good one. This Saturday, take the opportunity to check out some of the small businesses throughout the Pittsburgh area.

Stop by the Pittsburgh Public Market to check out offerings from more than two dozen small businesses, from baked goods to beer to butcher blocks. The market is celebrating Small Business Saturday with live music, a cooking demo and Santa himself. Or head to Sewickley, where you can peruse the array of shops and boutiques to the sounds of the Ambridge Steel Drum Band. Or just pick a neighborhood and explore! From Shadyside to Lawrenceville to Brookline, there are plenty of places to find great local gifts—and charging them to your Amex is optional.

Drew Cranisky

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.