Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Nibbles & Bites: Ray’s Steel City Saloon

In the building that once housed a Godfather’s Pizza (high school years) and a Mexican restaurant (college years) now exists a bit of Pittsburgh transplanted to the South. Or at least that’s what the inside cover of the menu says.

One Friday night Todd & I decided to give them a try and while we expected a little bit of a wait (it was 7pm on a Friday night, after all) we didn’t expect to stand in the entry for fifteen minutes with hostess and waitstaff passing us by, refusing to even make eye contact and acknowledge our, or anyone else’s, presence. Not the best introduction.

Eventually we were seated and presented with the drink menu which comes in the form of a very busy paper place mat. One of the selling points of Ray’s is the extensive beer selection featuring all sorts of micro brews and specialty beers. I’m not a beer aficionado but I do enjoy a good brew so I wanted to try something interesting. Unfortunately, the menu leaves a lot to be desired unless you know your way around IPAs, Ales, Lagers and Stouts. The beers are arranged by price and could benefit, at the very least, with some sort of legend or key for the uninitiated. Better yet, if they were arranged by style, people might have a better chance of picking something new to try but in a category they know they’re familiar with. Something like a “If you like ______, you might like these.” Help your customers broaden their horizons, don’t overwhelm them or make them feel cheap by choosing something from the $4 category.

For the record, I ordered a Honey Weiss something, it was okay, but still not what I was really looking for.

Then we got into the main menu. Which is 16 pages long. Half pages, sure, but even full-size, 8 pages worth of menu is WAY too long. Again, we’re back to too much, poorly organized and potentially overwhelming to the clientele. Also included in the story section of the menu is a bit about their French bread being flown in a baked fresh daily. Really? Flown in? Considering it’s not an integral part of their menu, nor do they serve bread and butter with every entree, what’s the big deal about flown-in bread dough? It’s sounds like a lot of hype and even if it’s true, it just makes me think that they’re paying extra for an unnecessary perk. Plus, while some vegetarians do include eggs and dairy in their diet, it’s probably not the best move to mark the Coral Gables Crab Burger or Asian Tuna & Calamari as vegetarian entrees.

We ordered the Key West “Konk” Fritters as an appetizer and were a little surprised to be served something that more resembled hush puppies. The texture was somewhat dry and mealy with an aftertaste that we couldn’t quite place. Moving on to entrees, my Chesapeake Chicken Pot Pie came topped with a tower of puff pastry that had slumped over and eclipsed the dish it was in (one word: docking). The “grilled chicken” showed no sign, or flavor, of ever seeing a grill and the entire thing needed something akin to a flavor. The next day, warmed up, with salt and pepper it was decent, but not worth $16 and the “made to order” wait entailed. Todd’s Open Faced Jacked-Up Stuffed Meatloaf was more of a mouthful on the menu than on the plate. Certain bites had flavor but it was a rather confusing entree. At least the onion rings were decent.

In the spirit of fairness, we did go back at the request of Mom, who wanted to give it a try and, well, it was Mother’s Day weekend and her choice.  We were seated much faster but not served any quicker (mid-afternoon it was a few 4-or-under-tops and 2 larger parties). In addition, the waitress spilled water on the floor while refilling our glasses (non-carpeted, so very slip-prone) and no one cleaned it up until I snagged another passing waitress to point it out. Oblivion rules, so be forewarned.

At least the food was better, this time, of course we were given the dinner menus and Mom happened to pick the one thing that wasn’t really served until dinner (Pittsburgh Steak Salad), but they ended up letting her order it anyway. It was a good thing, too, since (even with fries on the salad) the New York Strip slices were very tender and probably the highlight of the lunch. My Yenta Yacht Club was passable (it’s tough to screw up a club, though I do prefer mine with a tad more schmear) and Todd’s Grandma Dulin’s Dog looked absolutely atrocious on the plate but was, apparently, tasty.

Overall, I think it they dropped a bit of the hype (ditch the fly-in and understand that we EXPECT things to be homemade without being told every other entree), streamlined their menu and expected more from their servers, it might be worth going back. Until then, I’ll keep missing the Mexican place that once was (they had the _best_ Taco Salad).

Jennifer Walker
Jennifer Walker

  1. Not having been there, but I can picture the menu now – probably full of writing in the margins and cutsie art to give a happy / with-it / hip tone to the restaurant.

    My summer job after college (1979) was at TGI Fridays and their menu was notoriously large also – way too much to digest at once. I can’t say it has changed much in 30 years although they have scrapped the wire-bound college spiral notebook look.

  2. Hype is right.

    Pittsburgh is famous for Primanti Brothers sandwiches. I heard that one migrated to Florida. Is there one near you? I wish one would migrate to Arizona.

    If I ever lived in the Midwest again, it would be Pittsburgh. I hate Youngstown (where I grew up). While Cleveland is much improved, Pitt would be the place for me. Two friends and I were just talking about how much we like Pittsburgh and how much it had going on in a good way.

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