Review: The Sharp Edge

I am always surprised by the number of people who have never heard of or tried The Sharp Edge. Granted, I was one of those people at some point, but my introduction was years ago in grad school. Now, I’m definitely a fan of the atmosphere and what they seem to aspire to. The food, however: not so FoodBurgh friendly. I like to focus on food I don’t feel guilty about eating, and that can be a little hard to find at any of the Sharp Edge locations.

Fast forward several years out of grad school, and The Sharp Edge came up at a Birthday outing for one of my friends. She was interested in hitting it up in the next few weeks, so I took full advantage of the opportunity to assemble a FoodBurgh post (and hang out with an old friend). For the non-veggies in the audience, I even have some non-veggie coverage courtesy of said friend.

Sharp Edge Beer Emporium

302 S Saint Clair St
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
(412) 661-3537

Sharp Edge Beer Emporium on Urbanspoon

The Sharp Edge really falls into the category of “regional chain,” but the Shadyside/Friendship location that I went to this time is the original. They call it the “Beer Emporium.” Other instances are available throughout Pittsburgh—from Sewickley (“The Bistro”) all the way down to McMurray (“The Brasserie”). Each location takes on both it’s own tagline and it’s own distinct personality. Basically, they do a good job of keeping things interesting.

The “beer bling” decor. Being the original, the Beer Emporium that I hit up with this visit is a little bit homier, than the comparatively pristine Brasserie (located in a strip mall, of all places). Each location is decorated with its own mass of rustic “beer kitch” on the walls—though not nearly enough to overdo it to the boring extent of a big chain establishment. Applebees, anyone? Overall, the setting seems to match the restaurant.

About that winning atmosphere. I can’t remember ever going to the Sharp Edge and not feeling comfortable, welcome, and at ease. The wait staff is always friendly and outgoing: that all-important server rapport never fails to develop. That alone makes for a great place to hang out and have a beer with friends.

I don’t know if it’s due to good hiring practices, good training, or just providing the right atmosphere, but the servers never fail to be interesting and talkative. For this particular visit, my experience was no different. I showed up a little early, and developed a really nice back and forth with the waitress while I took way too long deciding on a beer. Even after being joined by my companion, the playful back and forth continued through all of our interactions.

Not my favorite menu. I’m certain to get some angry responses to this position, but I’ll come right down on it: the menu just isn’t what I’m looking for. That’s not to say it’s not good; it’s just not for me. Though they include a few veggie shout-outs, the trend is toward big and greasy—a far cry from healthy.

So what is on the menu? The more notable options include some rather eccentric burgers: ostrich, buffalo, Kobe beef. Other menu sections offer up the more traditional sandwiches, salads, and even pizza. On the veggie side of the fence, the options are really either a grilled veggie panini or veggie pizza—plus the obligatory field green and house salads. Of course, the mac and cheese entree is a non-meat option as well, but I wouldn’t call it veggie-focused (or healthy).

Like I said, my opinion isn’t universal. For some people, the Sharp Edge food is fantastic. My dining companion, for example, absolutely loves the ostrich burger. Another favorite: the pomme frittes with three different dipping sauces.

Beyond the salad: fish tacos. Knowing full well that the veggie items could very easily be a disappointment, I went crazy and ordered the fish tacos. As some readers have probably noticed, I’m a veg-head for the sake of general healthfulness, and have no problem hitting up seafood from time to time. I’m also particularly fascinated by the quest for quality fish tacos.

Well presented; lackluster flavor. Given the Sharp Edge’s good reputation with the stuff that is on their menu, I expected some high quality fish tacos. For $16, they prettymuch had to be. Sadly, they were only partway there: not $16 worth of good. The presentation was beautiful, but the quantity was excessive (perhaps explaining part of the $16). The lengthy wedge of grilled cod was well cooked, but could have used some additional seasoning. In many cases, a fish taco almost implies some sort of slaw to offer crunch and a little flavor, but this one didn’t: instead it came with a dose of “herbed aoili.” I found that it added very little other than excess calories. I would have preferred a sauce with a little more bite or acidity to accent the fish.

I still had an awesome salad. Turns out, when you order fish tacos (an entree), you get a salad as well. I opted for field greens variant, and can easily call it highlight of my visit—and not just by default. The “greens” (mostly spinach) were fresh, and the quantity of cranberry and nut was well in balance. The apple pieces were unnecessary, but good apple specimens: crunchy and tart.

That bottle you see in the background? It’s not my beer: it’s the dressing—the house balsamic vinaigrette. It had a great flavor, but I didn’t really even end up adding it to the salad proper: between the cheese, cranberries, and pecans, there really wasn’t a big need.

Remember how my companion ordered meat? Opting to branch out from ostrich, she hit up a meatloaf sandwich (a special for the night). Like the fish tacos, it looks well presented. In this case, however, I’ve been told it was quite good—though far too much food for one sitting. I think she ended up taking home half.

The beer? Lots of Belgians. The Sharp Edge is kind of a mixed bag when it comes to beer. Don’t get me wrong, the selection is fantastic—complete with some Belgian varieties you probably can’t find anywhere else. After all, Belgian is really the unifying theme. My issue: I sometimes wonder if they don’t lean too far in that direction.

Though they’ve picked up ever so slightly on the recent explosion of high quality craft beer, they still focus primarily on Belgians—plus all kinds of other imports. If that’s what you’re looking for, you want to be there. My biggest problem: on the draft side of the menu, it can sometimes be difficult to land on more than a handful of sessionable options: Belgians tend to be big beers. Of course, the recent trend in American craft beer seems to be toward pretty big styles anyway, so I may not even have a solid complaint.

Keep an eye on your wallet. The Sharp Edge can be damn expensive. I’ve heard horror stories of guys going there for drinks and dinner after work and ending up with a $100+ bill for two people. Somewhat hard-to-find imports drive part of that equation, but the food also tends to reach into the upper limits of the casual dining spectrum. Order an entree and a few of the more interesting beers, and things quickly add up. My advice: pay attention to what you order, and you should be fine.

Overall, a solid hang-out. I like supporting the Sharp Edge (any location), but I can’t say I’m universally a fan. The atmosphere and waitstaff are alway fantastic, and that alone makes it one of my favorite places to hang out over a beer. The food, on the other hand, really doesn’t fall into the category I’m aiming for. The beer selection, though extensive, can often been expensive and focussed on some rather big styles. For a beer with a friend, the Sharp Edge does the trick quite nicely. For a full dinner, it’s not my destination of choice.

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9 Responses to “Review: The Sharp Edge”

  1. christina Says:
    January 15th, 2010 at 10:20 am

    hey there… saw you had fish tacos, and I had to let you know about the best fish tacos I’ve ever eaten in the burgh. Union Grill 413 South Craig Street in Oakland makes em. I crave them sometimes, so I thought I’d share.

  2. Swoosh Says:
    January 15th, 2010 at 11:20 am

    I too am a big fan of Union Grill. Mike, you should do a review there sometime.

  3. Susan Says:
    January 15th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    I’ve been to the Sharp Edge in Sewickley. Great brew selection, but you’re right about there only being a few good menu options. But I do loveeee their salads. Even their house salad is amazing, it has a “marinated carrot” in it!

  4. Joseph Thibault Says:
    January 15th, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    my wife and I lived around the corner from the Sharp Edge (on Negley). There’s 1 very important lesson that we learned about the place, which we often visited.

    Only go during happy hour and for food, the pizza is the only way to go. We often would go at 4:30 (or whenever we could), ordered a few 1/2 price belgians (AWESOME) and then ordered a few 3 dollar pies. It was the best possible deal. 2-3 drinks later we were buzzing and stuffed. bills were always less than 40 bucks and we always left happy. I think that’s the only way to enjoy the SE in Friendship…

  5. mike Says:
    January 15th, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Wow. Lots of feedback on this one…

    For Christina/Swoosh: I’m familiar with Union Grill but have a particular distaste for them after an exceptionally bad experience years ago. I’ve been boycotting them and telling friends of my experience ever since.

    For Susan: I didn’t realize the house salad was so exciting! I seem to remember being burned by a less than stellar salad there in the past. That’s actually why I didn’t get an entree salad in this trip. That said, the field green salad was really quite good. Based on that and your comments, it sounds like I need to give their salads another try.

    For Joseph: I only wish I could get there in time for Happy Hour! If I ever have a chance during the week, I’ll have to give it a try! Is the pizza good?

  6. SM Says:
    January 17th, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I have a Sharp edge close to my house so I often go just out of convenience. You cannot argue with the beer selection and Thursdays Hop infused offering is often very good though they use the same hops every week which is getting old and boring. As for the food…Bar food that is hit and miss at best, the Pizza is ok when you’ve had a few drinks, the frozen cardboard crust sort of ruins it. But this after all is a beer joint and as that it serves well. But be warned about one insidious fact…Do not drink the Wine, they pour a miniscule thimble full for nearly $9.00 out of a bottle that costs us mere mortals $6.99 at the state store, I figure they are making about $90.00 per bottle..yeh I know..Free enterprise..blah blah blah

  7. Brian C Says:
    January 27th, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    As a long time patron at the SE, I find the food prices to be a tad high for the quality/quantity, and in general do not ever order anything other than a burger. The “eccentric” meat options sound tasty, but are much pricier, and the “regular” Sharp burger is pretty good all on it’s own. That, and a few Leffe brown drafts… yum.

  8. Dave Says:
    February 12th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I second Joseph’s comments wholeheartedly, and would like to add that in addition to a regular “happy hour”, they also have daily specials (I think Monday is 1/2 price pizza and Tuesday is cheap buffalo bites), as well as a pretty cheap late night menu from 10-? which includes a personal cheese pizza for 6 bucks (I think). Plus, they always have a “mystery beer” draft which is $3 and some change and I have never been disappointed by it. Of course, I am an avid beer drinker who usually isn’t picky about which style of beer I drink. I live just 5 blocks from Sharp Edge Emporium so it is pretty much my go-to bar if I don’t feel like venturing very far. I understand your comments about how it can be pricey, but I just wanted to point out all the different ways you can make it a pretty cheap outing if you plan ahead and aren’t too picky.

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