Winghart’s Burger & Whiskey Bar - Downtown and South Side
My wife loves meat. Specifically beef. Whenever we go out to eat, she almost always selects the hamburger or steak option off of the menu. Being the pretentious food-blogger that I am, I conversely look to order the most adventurous and esoteric meal I can find. Though this bold route often leads me to discover new-fangled flavors and interesting delicacies, I also end up with a significantly less delicious meal than my wife. Sweetbreads, even at their most expertly prepared, don’t really come close to matching a big, juicy hamburger when it comes to mouth-watering goodness. Fortunately, a place like Winghart’s doesn’t allow me to make anything but the right choice since they’re all about the meat as well.
The first time my wife and I went to the Winghart’s in Market Square, we had just returned from a trip overseas to Europe. After a few weeks of chowing down on schnitzel, mussels and heavily-battered fried fish, our stomachs were pleading for some good ol’ American food. Upon arrival we found that the restaurant was quite cramped and somewhat uninviting. However, the friendly hostess quickly greeted us and made us feel comforted as she stuck us in the back to wait until some seats opened up. There were a couple of small tables in this rear area, but the majority of seating was at the bar counter. Those stools sat in front of the open kitchen and allowed the inhabitants a prime view to watch the cooking action take place.
Unlike the other hip gourmet burgers spots in Pittsburgh, the décor of Winghart’s lacked any pretension whatsoever. The look is reminiscent of a dive bar or bomb shelter with the major decorative element being rows of liquor bottles. There wasn’t any music, the lighting was dim, and the flat screen televisions were tuned to what I think was the Syfy channel. This simplicity appealed to me since it sent a clear message that Winghart’s was a no-frills booze and burger joint whose only goals were to get people drunk and fill them with meat.
After just a few minutes of standing around, a couple sitting nearby invited us to take a load off and join them. These friendly patrons were just finishing up their meals and didn’t mind the company. We were really in the mode of social eating after visiting a host of beer halls in Germany, and still somewhat jetlagged, so it was an easy decision to sit-down and share their wobbly table. We were also chock-full of stories since we were fresh off our travels after landing back in the states no more than eight hours earlier that day. After some enjoyable conversation and a couple of strong but smooth Yeti Imperial Stouts (Russian Imperial Stout - 9.50% ABV), the friendly couple left and my wife and I got down to business. The Denny Double Blue Burger jumped out to me. I ordered one medium-rare topped with bacon per the waitress’ emphatic suggestion. Fries weren’t included, but I added them anyway to help maximize the amount of artery-blockage I could cause during this visit.
At this point I could just delve into a series of gastronomic superlatives, but I think I’ll just give it to you straight – the burger was f*ckin’ wonderful. The ground chuck, blue cheese, bacon and big bun all joined forces to deliver the definition of a truly great burger. As if this wasn’t enough deliciousness, the fries remarkably scored even higher. They were the best fries I’ve ever eaten. They were hand-cut and fried in peanut oil, which has a higher smoke point and therefore can be heated to higher temperatures to obtain maximum fry crispiness. The fries had a yummy, sugary-sweet taste to them that combined with the inherent saltiness to pull-off potato perfection.
After having such a wonderful experience downtown, I was rather excited to try out Winghart’s location on the Southside. We had some friends in from out-of-town and thought that a summer Sunday stroll along Carson Street paired with a delicious burger would make for the perfect afternoon activity. This new spot had a polished look that was markedly different than the downtown destination. Though not exactly trendy, the décor was more intentionally stylized with a goth-industrial feel to it. Though my personal tastes are a bit more urbane, the look really reminded me of the place that the bad guys hung out in The Crow* so that made it ok. I did miss the open view to the kitchen and the chance to watch real-life BurgerTime, but this subtraction was more than made up for by the ample seating.
My double blue burger was as delicious as always, but two details of the Southside experience left a bad taste in my mouth. First of all, the service was awful. The place was fairly empty but our waitress kept disappearing for long stretches. Her passive-aggressive pièce de résistance was when she brought our fries out TEN MINUTES after she delivered our burgers. She didn’t even apologize or make up an excuse. I would have much rather had her never bring them at all and tell me the fryer exploded than to bring them late. They were cold so obviously they were just served up and waiting on her but I guess she had better things to do than take care of us paying customers. My second complaint is that the jukebox was way too loud. I realize that Winghart’s is going for a dive-bar atmosphere, but it was a Sunday afternoon and I could have used a lot less volume. Wait a sec…am I complaining about cold food and loud music?! Jeez, I’m getting old…
Final Call: There is no greater honor that I could bestow upon Lord Winghart than proclaiming the Shipwrecked as my wife’s new number one burger. I put the Denny Double Blue Burger firmly in as my number two, just a slight notch below the legendary Tessaro’s in Bloomfield. Now for some slight negative criticism. The Market Square location is rather compact and lacks the seating necessary for large groups to dine together. The Southside spot is much more suitable for groups and generally looks “nicer”, but unfortunately the service left a lot to be desired.
* The Crow was an awesome movie and the soundtrack still can kick the sh*t out of just about everything that is being put out today.