Second Take: Over the Bar (OTB)

Some of you may remember my first trip to Over the Bar (OTB). I liked the experience, but have always felt like it wasn’t a very representative trip. I had gone out on a Sunday afternoon after working on projects around the house all morning. As you might expect, the restaurant was nearly empty at that point. I also branched out from my usual salad. I have long suspected that OTB would probably dish out some quality greens, and a second trip would let me test that theory.

OTB Bicycle Cafe

2518 Carson Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
(412) 381-3698

OTB (Over The Bar) Bicycle Cafe on Urbanspoon

For the second visit, I invited “the community;” this was the third outing of the FoodBurgh Meetup—my little experiment in reader participation. For the OTB trip, about 8 people made their way, and I’d say it went pretty well. The diversity of the group made for some interesting conversation, and one discussion even inspired another outing, to Las Velas (in Market Square).

If you don’t remember, OTB is a South Side bar with a definite bicycle theme. The interior artwork includes colorful murals, and dangling old-time bicycles (and bicycle parts). They serve a “relatively small” number of draft beer options, but take care to focus on some more worthwhile options than just macro-brews. For the veg heads in the crowd, the menu also does a pretty good job of offering up vegetarian version of several meals (thanks to seitan and tofu substitutes). For the more carnivorous crowd, I’m told they serve up a pretty good burger.

For this trip, the bar was definitely busier. The staff was more than willing to save us a large-ish table in the back, which is notable given the number of restaurants that refuse to accept a reservation for any group. A quick email to one of the owners (an earlier FoodBurgh connection), and a call to the restaurant the night before was really all it took.

Fun and knowledgeable server. In my original review, the service was effective but not very interactive. This time, the situation was far different: the bar was packed, and we had a far larger group. Despite the crowd, our server was attentive and friendly—she even knew something about the beer. That’s not to say she was a “beer person,” but at least she knew some basic styles. Actually, my second beer came as one of her recommendations: a Singletrack Ale from Boulder Beer.

Good ingredients, but way too much seitan. I discussed the menu in my previous post, so I’ll spare the details here. For my meal, I ordered an Allegheny Cycling Salad—with seitan, though chicken is also available. What came out of the kitchen was kind of a mixed bag. The ingredients were top notch: quality greens, tomato with some actual flavor, shredded carrot, and red onion. They top it with big pieces of seitan and will optionally present it ‘Burgh style with fries cheese for $1.50 more. The seitan, unfortunately, was the problem.

Allegheny Cycling Salad (w/ seitan)

I like seitan, and this seitan had great texture, but the pieces were far too big—really out of proportion with the rest of the salad. Smaller pieces would have offered up just enough flavor to complement the salad, but the big chunks drowned out the veggies and came across as bland.

Recovered by a great server. Being good at her job, our server noticed that I lacked enthusiasm in my consumption of the seitan. She suspected I was looking for more flavor and offered to bring out one of their wing sauce options, which are apparently available with really anything on the menu. I went for the standard wing sauce, which she explained is actually vegan, thanks to a kind of butter substitute. Granted, a lack of flavor wasn’t the whole problem, but the fact that the waitress took note and gave me a chance to effectively munch on a few “winged up” says to me that they’re trying.

From the rest of the table. I picked up photos of a few additional items around the table: mainly the Clipless Pedal (a crusted tuna appetizer) and the Granny Gear Salad. The clipless pedal looked outstanding (see below) and was complimented by a meetup-goer as having an excellent sauce. The Granny Gear was well received, but looked to me like it went a little overboard on the candied walnuts—a little reminiscent of my experience with the seitan.

The Clipless Pedal Appetizer

Granny Gear Salad

Getting past the winter beers. The beer list over at OTB isn’t huge, but they do lean almost entirely toward craft beer. They have a pretty good relationship with East End Brewing, and always have something from Scott on tap. In fact, this year’s keg ride (and reverse keg ride) ended (and started) at OTB.

One thing I’ll note about the beer: this time around, I ran into an overwhelming number of big heavy beers. Given the season, that kind of spread is fairly standard. The problem? Winter beers tend to be big beers—delicious, but also high in both alcohol and calories. This time I was aiming for something a little “smaller” and more sessionable (lower in alcohol and caloric content). With guidance from our server, I found something, but could have used a few more options from the category.

Good for a drink, okay for dinner. It’s not a must visit, but you can certainly find good beer and a place to hang out with friends. I tend to appreciate the less noisy, less crowded scene than what you might find at the South Side’s far western bars, but that comes at the expense of a smaller beer list. On the food side, the ingredients are fresh, and they make a strong effort to please a veggie (and even vegan) diet. Even if you’re not a health nut, they actually offer up a few rather interesting burger options. All that aside, I wish the execution was a little more reliable, and others in the group seemed to echo much the same. Even so, it’s at least worth a shot.

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7 Responses to “Second Take: Over the Bar (OTB)”

  1. Megan Says:
    March 7th, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Good follow up! I’m looking forward to trying OTB when the offermint deal comes through.

  2. Steve H. Says:
    March 8th, 2010 at 1:09 am

    Dude, as a vegetarian-leaning eater, you’re going to have to learn to spell SEITAN. Not Sietan. It’s even in the picture you posted of the menu.

    Sorry, I’m picky about this sort of thing, because I love Seitan and I DON’T lean vegetarian. And plus I was initially confused when you got to that part. I wasn’t sure if you were talking about the same foodstuff.

    Though I agree that it needs to be cooked properly to taste good. It’s also tricky as most of the ways to give it good flavor are pretty unhealthy.

  3. mike Says:
    March 8th, 2010 at 5:43 am

    Fixed. I also love seitan, and made a point to look up the correct spelling the last time if found it’s way into a FoodBurgh review. This time, it seems I remembered it exactly backwards: I was actually remarkably consistent in my inaccuracy.

    Sorry to rush out the post without double checking something like that!

    Regarding flavor, I’m with you there as well. This preparation was actually flavored reasonably well. With a such a great texture, actual flavor becomes less important–to a point. It was just so out of proportion to the actual veggies, that reasonably well went downhill quickly.

    I ended up leaving much of it on my plate even with the wing sauce, because that’s probably one of the less healthy ways to season it up.

  4. Julie Says:
    March 8th, 2010 at 8:40 am

    Finally made it here over the weekend…I was pleased with the atmosphere. I would not mind trying the food but doing so at 7:30PM on a saturday night was nearly impossible – the whole place was overflowing with bar-goers with not many tables to be had. I had a beer here but ended up going elsewhere for dinner. If you want to try the food I would suggest going earlier on a weekend or on a weeknight.

  5. Mike Says:
    March 8th, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Hi Mike – Thanks for coming out to OTB again. We really appreciate the business and the free press. I feel terribly that you had some disappointments in your visit, but was delighted to hear the service was so good.

  6. Mike Says:
    March 8th, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Oops… posted too soon… I’m shocked to hear you didn’t like our seitan. It’s rapidly becoming our most popular food option and we’ve been getting rave reviews from our customers. In addition we’ve had several requests for more seitan loaded items on our menu. So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard your comments.

    We have addressed our fans call for more seitan options with the release of our new menu this past Friday (3-5-2010).

    Point taken that we should lighten up on the amount or seitan and walnuts in the salads, or conversely offer up more greens. We’ll address this immediately. Thanks!

    Also, I would like to note for all readers of these posts that in addition to the six craft beers we always offer on tap we also feature more than 40 craft and specialty beers in bottles, in addition to your standard domestic brews.

    Thanks again for bringing your meetup group to OTB. We hope to see you all peddling in again soon.

  7. mike Says:
    March 8th, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Mike: It sounds like I just missed the menu!

    Glad you accept the press regardless of the fact that it’s a little balanced this time. I’m a big fan of seitan in general, and am glad to hear that it will be better balanced with the actual salad in the future. More greens (and other veggies) are always welcome!

    If you have a current beer list, I would be happy to post it here.

    …now I need to plan another trip to check out the new menu.

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