I feel a rant coming on.
I’ve been doing these Craft Beer Spotlights since I launched Breaking Brews in early 2014. From Day One, the idea has been to zero in on bars, restaurants, breweries, and other libations-centric entities in Pittsburgh and emphasize the positives they bring to the table. Diverse beer selection, unique cocktails, killer food menus, overall ambiance, general concept, staff’s knowledge and friendliness, dedication to local products, delivering the best experience to guests every visit…it’s all fair game. In order to accomplish this, I feel it’s only appropriate to perform my due diligence by researching each venue to learn their plight, then go straight to the source – ownership, management, brewers, etc. – to learn more. And in doing that, I’m able to experience each venue first-hand equipped with the background of said venue’s philosophies.
My mission is to deliver a report accentuating the positives. Because, after all, it’s factual information about business practices juxtaposed with my personal opinion. And as strongly as I may embrace my opinion, I know full well it’s simply that: an opinion. It’s why I don’t spend a lot of time reading or writing reviews. Actually, that’s not accurate. I’ll take in a review, but I won’t let it dictate what I choose to experience.
For example, my absolutely, positively, balls-out favorite beer in the world might be the one you’d choose slamming your hand in the car door over drinking. But until you actually try that beer for yourself, you’ll never know if it’s for you. My opinion should be a guide, but never the singular determining factor on what you enjoy.
So you can understand my dismay, after choosing The Fire Side Public House in East Liberty as this month’s Craft Beer Spotlight destination, when the authors responsible for the information I discovered (in reputable Pittsburgh publications, mind you) had taken the opposite disposition. One mourned the fact that Station Street Hot Dogs no longer occupied the Broad Street building so strongly, it’s hard to believe any aspect of their report outside of the reference to 40 beers on tap was submitted without any bias. I’m sure there are a number of reasons Station Street no longer operates from this locale, but it’s gone and has been renovated into the shape and vision of new ownership. To be upset because they didn’t keep the same aesthetics is as ludicrous as being upset that Grist House Craft Brewery didn’t embrace a slaughterhouse concept since that’s what their building housed decades ago.
The authors of the other feature tore the food apart. Weeks after Fire Side opened. WEEKS. Maybe I’m jaded, but not many players outside of Mario Lemieux scored a goal on their first shot in their first shift in their first game. But that didn’t mean they didn’t go on to lead incredible NHL careers. There are many factors that go into nailing down the direction of cuisine, time being one of those factors. And no, I’m not making an excuse for perceived poorly-executed entrees. What I’m wondering is if any in-person feedback was provided prior to this publication going live.
New restaurants, brewers, etc. WANT that feedback so they can improve where necessary and within reason. But not from behind a computer screen. In person. Not from your platform, but from a real-human-interaction, real-human-emotion perspective…as hard as that may seem to be in this digital culture. We should be out to help each other grow, not look for the first opportunity to tear each other down.
In both these cases, do you think these subpar offerings were mentioned to the server and/or management while “in the moment” so feedback could be absorbed and improvements could be made or was it simply stored up as fodder for literary blast cannons that could potentially damage the reputation of the establishment going forward? I’ll take ‘the latter’ for 200, Alex.
In a world where each and every one of us has a platform, it’s easy to criticize. Statistics and the majority of online reviews will tell us it’s twice as hard to write something nice about a beer, a cocktail, or a venue than it is something critical. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t mention these authors used their platform to express their opinions, to which, for better or for worse, they are entitled. But perhaps something more could’ve resulted had a conversation with the proper personnel taken place. A comped meal. Hell, an invitation to come back and let them try again.
This is why you can’t let reviews, positive or negative, be your absolute driving force.
Me? I choose to use my platform to speak positively. I’ll give you my side of the story, you process the info any way you desire…then go patronize the locale and formulate an opinion for yourself. You may just find a beer, a cocktail, a meal, or a destination you love. Or, you may not. Either way, at least you made the decision on your own.
Good talk. See you out there.
Now, let’s check out The Fire Side…
The Fire Side Public House first opened its doors in November of 2015 and brought a new vibe to the East Liberty neighborhood. As I mentioned before, their destination rests inside the four walls that formerly contained Station Street Hot Dogs and offers a laid-back, relaxing atmosphere. I attended their grand opening and was equally drawn to both the vast selection of local craft beers and the heat radiating from Fire Side’s wood-fire grill, the focal point of a concept that brings the kitchen from the back of the house and puts it center stage. The cool nip in the near-winter air outside created a bonfire-esque feeling as I walked in and pulled up a stool for the first time.
The inspiration behind Fire Side was born when Co-Owner Bob Miller and his wife Gail were dining in Las Vegas. They were set up with reservations at a unique French restaurant featuring 4-star cuisine known as L’atelier De Joel Robuchon, which translates to Studio by Joel Robuchon. However, different than most high-end dining establishments, the kitchen was in the open, surrounded by a circular counter where guests sat and experienced the preparation of their food first-hand. This enabled enhanced interaction with their server, the chefs, sommeliers, and cicerones. Bob defines the evening as the best dining experience he and his wife have ever had and both knew they wanted to create a similar concept in Pittsburgh.
“We’ve never experienced anything like L’atelier and felt the idea of an open kitchen combined with the ability to increase interaction between guests and staff would be incredible,” Bob said. “We wanted to create the concept, but on a more approachable level with an emphasis on local products at affordable prices.”
As with any craft beer destination, selection is key. The Fire Side delivers in that their 40 offerings are not only diverse, but many of them are born and brewed right here in Pittsburgh. Hashtag local. As of publication of this Spotlight, 17 of the 40 selections in Fire Side’s lineup came from Pittsburgh or within the Pennsylvania border. The rest of the lineup consists of beers from renowned breweries across the country, rounding out an impressive rotation guaranteed to deliver a beer you’ll enjoy. If craft beer isn’t your thing, Fire Side offers a wide variety of wines, spirits, and cocktails for your enjoyment.
Get to know Fire Side’s beer and cocktail menu by clicking here.
In regards to food, Fire Side strives to deliver entrees comprised of the freshest ingredients possible. The aforementioned wood-fire grill is the breakout star, giving them the ability to create unique spins on classic offerings such as savory chicken wings. They source locally as much as possible and even have their own garden behind the building (pictured right) with peppers, onions, tomatoes, fresh spices, and more. Doesn’t get much fresher than a 10-foot journey from the earth to the kitchen.
It’s important to note: The Fire Side has a wood-fire GRILL, not a wood-fire OVEN. This means you won’t be able to enjoy a wood-fired pizza when dining at The Fire Side. However, everything on the menu besides fried chicken wings and the hush puppies appetizer are prepared on the grill, a custom-made product created by Grillworks in New York. The Infierno Large Format Pro was 100% customized to The Fire Side’s desires by a single designer and, should they ever have any issues, that designer can be contacted for assistance.
Personally, I dove into the hush puppies and the Siracha Maple Bacon smoked wings on my last visit. The hush puppies are a must-try and the smokiness of the wings combined with the ‘sweet heat’ from the siracha maple sauce made for a spicy, enjoyable meal.
“Our whole concept starts with the grill,” Co-Owner Jessica Adams declared. “As we moved forward, things evolved to an open kitchen that showcases the grill. We figured since it was such a focal point of our business, we should put it center stage. This brought the whole concept of the kitchen out into the open and brings our guests directly into our world.”
The menu Fire Side presents has grown and evolved since its debut in November. Take a look at the full menu here.
The Fire Side has implemented a series of daily specials in both the drink and food departments:
- Happy Hour runs seven days a week from 5pm-7pm with $4 Pints under 7% ABV and all small plates just $5
- Every Monday is Wing Night! Half-priced wings from 6pm – 10pm and Yuengling Pint Specials til 10pm
- Taco Tuesday starts at 5pm every Tuesday and also features $4 Penn Brewery Pints til 10pm. Click Here to check out the taco menu
- Wine Wednesday starts at 5pm every week and features red and white wine for only $5/glass until 10pm
- Thursday Flight Night & Burger Night: Fire Side designs a special flight menu each week. Try one or try them all paired with your favorite burger
With several months under their belts, The Fire Side is beginning to come into their own in regards to special events. Breaking free from simply holding pint glass giveaways, they’ve hosted several unique events including Boilermaker Night with Wigle Whiskey and Flying Dog Brewery. Going forward, they hope to deliver more exciting happenings that will continue to make their craft beer destination stand out.
“Hosting unique events is what we are all about,” Jessica stated. “We are going to keep our creative minds open and hope to join forces with some local breweries to host intriguing events in the near future.”
The Fire Side is also an active participant in Explore East Liberty, an initiative designed to showcase businesses in the East Liberty neighborhood. First Fridays, conveniently taking place tonight and on the first Friday of every month, brings you the best of food, festivities, and shopping in the area, with several businesses staying open late and activities planned neighborhood-wide to shine the spotlight on this bustling area of town. Tonight, The Fire Side will be grilling dinner on Penn Avenue in front of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater alongside Everyday’s a Sundae Cafe, who will be bringing snow cones, cupcakes, and lemonade to the party.
“We love being part of Explore East Liberty and what it does to put the spotlight on our business and our neighborhood,” Bob said. “We encourage everyone to come see what all the businesses in the area are doing during First Fridays and beyond.”
Click Here to learn more about First Fridays and Explore East Liberty.
The Fire Side Public House has a good thing going in East Liberty and is worth a visit for lunch, dinner, or a casual drink or two. With nearly a year under their belts, their menu has evolved and their dedication to local and regional craft beer has remained constant. In a moving-and-shaking area of the ‘Burgh, The Fire Side is a welcome craft beer destination ready to deliver a unique experience to all its guests.