Last Saturday, I invited a bunch of my friends out to Max’s Allegheny Tavern on the North Side. As it turns out, the event was extremely well attended–better than anything I’ve planned in the past. We nearly filled up half a room of tables (over the course of two hours), and from what I could tell, everyone enjoyed themselves. Good food, different beer, but somewhat grumpy wait staff.
Max’s Allegheny Tavern ($$ / 3.5)
537 Suismon St
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
My quick take. Max’s was definitely a worthwhile destination. The menu offers up a lengthy list of German dishes, and they even had some German Beer on tap. The food was decent but didn’t look very pretty. If they were aiming for home-cooked, no-frills meals from a 1970′s kitchen, they hit their target. I’m biased by virtue of being a health-tard, but I would have liked to see more fresh vegetables. Then again, that might just mean that I like my German food in moderation.
The place. I’m assuming many readers have never heard of Max’s (I hadn’t). I only found it when I was digging around on Urbanspoon and found a list of the best rated restaurants in Pittsburgh. The actual rank was 15, which is pretty high for a place I had never heard of. The restaurant is situated on the North Side, and it felt a bit small and crowded. Most of the other patrons were on the quiet side–despite the fact that the first half of the restaurant is basically a bar area. Actually, I would be interested to stop by at night to see if the atmosphere is dramatically different. I wonder if the place is ever just a little bit more lively.
The waitstaff was…frustrated? If it weren’t for my friends, I think I would have been disappointed with this place. In my mind, atmosphere is probably more important than the quality of the food. I can cook great food at home; I go out to have a fun experience with fun people. For a restaurant, the wait staff can make or break that goal. I get the feeling that our waitress wasn’t too happy about a large group of 20- and 30-somethings waltzing in (many from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade). Even if that was the case, she really could have done more to help us enjoy ourselves. Instead, she made me worry about whether or not we were getting on her nerves–not what a waitress really want to do.
The food was…homley. I don’t know about you guys, but the food reminded me of visiting my (hereditarily German) grandmother. It wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t very modern. Even for authentic German cuisine, I very much believe it’s possible to prepare German food that sit within the context of modern trends in food presentation. Even traditional cuisine must exist in a modern context. Prime example: the vast majority of the color in my dish came from a small sprinkling of peas. There was a bit of flair introduced by an apple that had been dyed beet read. The apple raises the question of why the beet red garnish wasn’t actually a beet? Even my grandmother would have done that.
I ordered the goulash. When I think goulash, I think Hungary. I actually ordered it thinking it was a vegetarian entry, but judging from Wikipedia, that’s really just North American goulash. The goulash at max’s consisted of two layers: a pulled meat sitting on top of a layer of spätzel.
The goulash actually tasted a lot better than it looked. The spätzel had a nice texture to it, which made it both enjoyable to eat and a nice compliment to the topping. The topping was along the lines of pulled pork with a thicker, les tangy sauce. The meat layer was topped with a sprinkling of carrots and peas, which looked like they were probably out of a freezer bag. There was definitely some flavor in the meat layer, and it’s soft chewy texture played well with the noodle (spätzel). If I went again, I’d probably try something different, but this dish certainly didn’t push me away. It gave me some confidence in Max’s as a destination for food.
The beer. Max’s serves up a number of German beers on tap, and they were all solid session beers. German beer after the St. Patrick’s Day parade is not very Irish, I know, but it was good to see something different. The options fell far outside of the standard microbrews and big labels (mostly). Quite honestly, none of them were really exceptional–although they did receive high marks on Beeradvocate. I started with a German ale from a brewery whose name escapes me. I think I would categorize this one as an alt beer. Two other friends both ordered what was termed the German Dark Lager (a bock?) from the same brewery. This one was also a solid session beer–no complaints from me, which I like to think says something. The best part, there’s an option to order a Geman Beer sampler tray so you can try them all and get a feel for the options.
Should you go there? Yes. This is definitely a Pittsburgh establishment that everyone living in the city should visit at least once.
Will I go back? Probably somewhat infrequently. I approve of what they’re aiming for but should just come to terms with the fact that any German food I enjoy will carry a more modern Fusion-type flare.