Whet the Appetite

Thursday, May 21st, 2009, 9:34 pm

The “Munch” column is one of my favorite columns in the Post-Gazette. It’s made up of semi-irreverent reviews of local restaurants, but not the sit-down, fine china, white tablecloth kind. No, the anonymous Munch goes to pubs and taverns and lunch counters and similarly-minded joints, of the sort where you often eat with your hands and drink beer instead of wine. Right up my alley.

I’m not a big fan of the Post-Gazette’s regular restaurant reviews, and here let me pause a moment. Last year I wrote a post about the P-G’s review of a place called Geno’s, a review I thought made both restaurant and reviewer look bad. The photo that showed a sample dish was worse than something I’d cook up, and after a middling report the reviewer gave Geno’s one star out of four–one star meaning it was “Good”. Which makes you wonder how many stars a real slopfactory would get–half a star? A third?

Anyway, about two months ago I went to Geno’s with a big group of friends before a night of bowling. I’d half-forgotten about that review and post and so I was curious to see how the food was. And it was pretty good. Had chicken Parmesan, something I was in the mood for, and it was good. Big portions, pasta was good, maybe the breading was a bit slippy but I was happy with it. Service was a tad slow but we had a big (and thirsty) group, and our waitress was prettty. It was Good–maybe even better than Good. I’d go back, sure.

My meal there didn’t do much to improve my impression of the Post-Gazette’s food criticism. Today, however, delivered a more serious affront to my discerning palate. Today Munch went to J.D’s Pub, which I’ve written about a lot because that’s where I play beach volleyball and where I spend a lot of the summer lounging out at their Cabana bar drinking and admiring the stars. We also used to go there every Thursday after our indoor pickup league to drink many a beer and eat many a wing. The place has no small place in my heart and it’s also responsible for a share of my bloated waistline.

So Munch goes to J.D.’s, writes a 700-word review…and I have some trouble believing he/she/it actually ate there. For one thing, most of the review is about…Scrubs. The TV show. Seriously, Munch spends more intellectual energy discussing the show than J.D.’s (the pub, not Zack Branff’s) grub. At a restaurant with dozens of offerings, Munch bases his entire review on two dishes–marinated mushrooms (kind of an odd choice for a pub, but OK) and a pulled-pork sandwich, which he didn’t like.

It’s a motif of the Munch reviews that he/she/it brings along a companion and gives them a funny acronymic name. It used to be Friend of Munch (FOM) and expanded from there. On this occasion Munch brought no wingman and so took the advice of the bartender at J.D.’s, whom he nicknamed Bonecrusher Barmaid of Munch (BBOM). The BBOM told him that he’d “missed the boat by not trying one of the pizzas.” I dunno, if I was going to review a joint I’d never been to, and I was only gonna eat two things, might I not ask, “Hey, what’s really good here?” If I place is known for a killer fish sandwich and you order the pad thai, you might walk away disappointed for more reasons than one.

The strange thing is, Munch inexplicably describes the pizza’s on J.D.’s menus and says they look good. Uh, what? They LOOK good? On the menu?  How do they frickin’ taste?Hell, if you’re too full to eat a pizza now order one and take it home. And eat it later! Don’t frickin’ tell me that the pictures on the menu look good! Jesus. How the hell does that help me?

In fact, how does anything in this review help me, besides clue me in that Scrubs was renewed? OK, maybe I know that the mushrooms there are too cheesy and the pulled-pork too bland. And Munch does mention the Cabana and the beach courts and that stuff. Still, is it really worth passing that sparse information on to the P-G’s readers?

I can’t say that I’ve eaten my way up and down J.D.’s menu but I’ve sampled a fair few of their offerings. Yes, the pizza there is pretty doggone good, there’s a solid choice right there. One odd thing is the pricing, at least of the thick-crust Sicilian pizza–an eight-cut is a prohibitive eleven bucks, a sixteen-cut is $16. Never understood that pricing decision, and oftentimes I’d argue that we should get the bigger pie and have someone take it home rather than get soaked on the smaller one.

If you go to J.D.’s, you get the wings. They give you the whole wing, drum and thigh still attached with that crispy little tail at the end. When they’re on, J.D.’s makes a fantastic wing. Crispy skin, plump drums, outstanding sauces. They had this run back in January or so, the Spicy Garlic Parmesan wings were just ridiculous. A truly legendary wing. Reporting THAT would’ve been doing the Post-Gazette’s readers a real favor.

They make a really good burger at J.D.’s, all different ways. Fries aren’t the hand-cut sort but they arrive hot outta the fryer and crisp. They serve “Pub” sandwiches there, which is J.D.’s take on your classic Primanti’s-style–they come with fries and cole slaw piled between the slices. I had a Fish Sandwich Pub a year or so ago and, mercy. Two huge pieces of fish, two heaping piles of fries, two haystacks of slaw. All of it really, really good. Asked for both tartar and cocktail sauces, both were terrific and, I learned, both are home-made. Here’s the menu, by the way.

So that’s my slightly-more descriptive review of J.D.’s Pub. Go with the wings, pizza, burgers, fish sammich, you won’t go wrong. And my friends who have explored the menu more thoroughly have said just about everything they’ve had has been good. One thing to avoid–the nachos. I’ve always found it inexplicable that their nachos are so lousy, but they are. You get a bunch of store-bought chips around a low, long bowl of…well, it’s not salsa, it’s this thick, goopy tomato stew. Looks gross, is gross. You will choose elsewhere.

I was hoping to visit J.D.’s before I leave for Vegas, as the Cabana is open. But I’ve been too sick and totally without appetite. I’m slowly starting to get my feet underneath me, still haven’t felt truly hungry in over a week. But when I do, and if (God willing) that happens when I’m still in Pittsburgh, I’ll go to J.D.’s and have myself a Fish Pub. Or maybe Spicy Garlic Parm wings. Or, maybe, both.

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