steak frites

Carmella’s Plates & Pints will open November 15
Though Carmella Salem and business partner Mike Alberter opened the bar at Carmella’s Plates & Pints on East Carson Street a little over a year ago, the entire project will come together when the restaurant opens for dinner service on Friday, November 15.

The dining room will sport a cozy and rustic aesthetic which executive chef David Murphy has helped design. Salem plucked Murphy from acclaimed Austin restaurant Uchi, where he had been working as the sous chef under James Beard Award-winner Tyson Cole. In addition to using handcrafted dishware from a potter in Lawrenceville, Murphy has been hand-cutting flats of slate to use as serving pieces and he built “chip trees” for chips and dip service—small log rounds with lengths of wire protruding up and out which will present chips as leaves.

“Right in there in that crate is a giant effing moose head,” Murphy says. “We’ve got a big bison head going up in the back.”

Now, he’s putting together an ambitious and inventive menu to go with the dining room’s rustic aesthetic.

On top of a meat-forward menu which includes a vinegar program (he plans to have at least 10, including bourbon vinegars) and influences of molecular gastronomy, Murphy is planning on serving soup in flights.

“Each one is its own element, but they’ll all play together,” he says. “One could be aerated corn with corn ash, another could be roasted tomatillo with chorizo oil, and a third might be cilantro puree with Serrano peppers, so you’ve got some elements of spice there, acidity, and something from the creamier side, but however you want to experience it, it’s your own journey.”

Murphy’s take on steak frites (pictured above) will put a South American spin on the dish, including fried yucca and minced tongue jerky.

“A lot of these things will be hearth-driven, but everything here is going to be just a little different,” he says.

Carmella’s bar program has been almost as long in the making. In addition to a fine selection of draft and bottled beers, wines and craft cocktails from bar manager Justin Dickson and master cocktologist Sean Enright (the two were once co-workers at Sienna Sulla Piazza), Carmella’s will sport one of the city’s finest scotch selections.

Speaking of which…

Pittsburgh’s best scotch spots
You’re seated in an armchair in front of a roaring fire. On the wall above the mantle, an oil-on-canvass portrait of Andrew Mellon stares knowingly down at you. You swirl a heavy-bottomed glass in your left hand, brushing the brown liquor up against the sides, where it sticks momentarily—this drink, as your grandfather used to say, has legs.

When drinking scotch, ambience is half the experience. And during an informal survey we did to try and assess the best places in Pittsburgh to sit and enjoy a glass of scotch, nine out of 10 people appropriately responded “The Duquesne Club.”

But not everyone can sip single malts in the same comfort captains of industry and robber barons enjoyed a century ago. That said, here are a few of our favorite places to enjoy a few fingers of Scotland’s greatest gift to the world.

“Scotch is something people like to talk about, but it’s tough to break into,” says Acacia’s Luc Felak. “Prices get high pretty quickly and there’s a whole distinct language that goes with it.”

Acacia stocks more than 40 different varieties of scotch, emphasizing quality over quantity. And few bartenders in town are better equipped to guide the scotch-curious than Felak.

“People are more afraid of appearing stupid when they order scotch as opposed to other spirits. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions,” he says. “Some of the younger people who come in here, like college kids, are really eager to learn so they ask a lot of questions right off the bat, and that’s how you learn things. Put some trust in your bartender and they’ll guide you to something you’ll like.”

Acacia’s dim lighting and homey interior make it an ideal setting to nurse a glass of the good stuff and the roster offers varieties that even the more experienced scotch enthusiast will find interesting.

Piper’s Pub
Just a few blocks down Carson Street, Piper’s Pub offers what might be the largest scotch selection in the area. They stock 86 varieties single malt scotches, and between blends and international single malts, the total approaches 100.

If you’re an eager scotch novice, this is the place for you. In addition to knowledgeable bartenders, Pipers offers several different flights of three scotches apiece, each demonstrating the difference between various regions, styles and distilleries. And because they’re true professionals, every pour comes with a small bottle of water, allowing drinkers to take a little bit of the bite out in the name of opening up the spirit’s flavors and aromas.

What Piper’s lacks in ambiance  it more than makes up for with selection and knowledge. In our precocious post-college days, a trip to Piper’s with friends was called for whenever someone got a paycheck with a comma in it. That said, it’s not all about price—pours at this Scottish-style pub run between $9 and $80, with plenty of options for every budget.

Altius, which opened earlier this year in the Mt. Washington space formerly held by the Georgetowne Inn, doesn’t have a selection on par with Piper’s or Acacia, but at 16 different varieties, it’s certainly a well-curated selection.

That, plus its dining room’s stunning panoramic view of the city, makes this first in a new generation of Mt. Washington restaurants an interesting stop on the Pittsburgh scotch trail.

Carmella’s Plates & Pints
Yes, we just got done talking about how excited we are to see this place start cranking out food, but the bar is open now and it has 74 different kinds of scotch, plus bartenders with the know-how to guide you through the selection.

That the dining room isn’t finished yet is a nice bonus, as the place still smells of fresh lumber and is littered with taxidermied animal heads which await mounting. We’re sure this will be a great place to drink scotch once it opens, but that shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying a scotch there while the place still feels like Bo Jackson’s basement.

The Oak Room
Throw out all your preconceived notions about the words “hotel bar.” Though it’s located in the Mansions on Fifth, The Oak Room is open every day at 4 p.m., and practically defines the ambiance of a great scotch-drinking setting. From the oak paneling on the walls and the opulent, old leaden stained glass to chairs so comfortable you’ll melt right into them, the Oak Room is perhaps the coziest Pittsburgh lounge you’ve never heard of, right down to the roaring fireplace kept going during the cold-weather months.

Order yourself a glass of Lagavulin and spend an evening sitting by the fire. Scientists say it eases the mind and balances the humors.

It’s Franksgiving time!
For a small but dedicated group of Pittsburghers, November 1 means one thing: the return of the Franksgiving Dog at D’s in Regent Square.

Hear us out on this—it’s a turkey hot dog on a steamed bun, topped with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce. Contrary to whatever adverse visceral reaction you may have had to that description, it’s hauntingly delicious.

Some swear by Mad Mex’s Gobblerito, which has been back on the menu since late September. We’re cool with that, but when the revolution comes, expect to see Eat/Drink fiercely defending the Franksgiving Dog.

Matthew Wein is a local writer, editor, blogger, storyteller and proud native Pittsburgher. Once described as "a man of things," he covers city design, spirits and craft beer for NEXT, where he keeps all of the editorial meetings light-hearted and interesting. His interests include sorting books, looking at old things and candles which smell like old-growth pine forests.