Murray Avenue Grill

By | May 22, 2006

Murray Avenue Grill
1720 Murray Ave
Squirrel Hill, 15217
Lunch: M-Sat 11:30-4; Brunch: Sun: 11:30-2:30
Dinner: M-Sat: 4-11; Sun: 3-11

Every town in America has its Grill, and in the case of Pittsburgh, every part of town.  We’ve got Union Grill in Oakland, Hot Metal Grille in South Side, Walnut Grill in Shadyside, and Murray Avenue Grill in Squirrel Hill, and that’s just in the East neck of Pittsburgh.  I’d say, across the board, all Grill-style restaurants serve mediocre food.  Each one certainly has its star dishes, but I theorize that people go because it’s easy and in their neighborhood.  I live in Squirrel Hill, and so my Grill is the Murray Avenue Grill, which I cordially invite you to ‘get all up in’.

A Grill-style restaurant is American food in a Bar – a bar where more people are there to eat than to just drink.  The food they serve is essentially bar food, but classed up.  Take a burger and gourmet-ify it by enlarging it, putting it on a more substantial bun, listing 25 or 30 toppings that include stuff like buffalo wing sauce and roasted red peppers, giving a choice of sides, and putting the whole dinner on a real, ceramic plate.  It is also classed up by adding items to the menu like grilled chicken sandwiches and entrees of grilled salmon and elaborate pasta creations – stuff like that.

Murray Avenue Grill’s strengths lie in their create-a-pasta and their burgers and sandwiches.  Personally, I am stuck on pasta!  I want to specify, before I get too far, that from the pasta menu I only find the create-a-pasta and stuffed pasta with marinara-based sauces worthwhile.  The cooks aren’t too good with the oil and butter based sauces, and the alfredo is bit too boring.  But, the marinara and the tomato-cream sauces are slurp-worthy on any kind of pasta.  The create-your-own pasta gives you your choice of noodle: penne, fettuccine, tortellini; and your choice of sauce: marinara, tomato-cream, alfredo, herb butter.  They used to have a pesto-cream too, but I think they discontinued it.  That was probably around the time they changed their recipe for the tomato-cream sauce, about 3 or 4 years ago.

I have to tell you, the old tomato-cream sauce was better.  I cannot lie.  I would obsess over the old sauce.  Dream about it.  Make excuses to go into Squirrel Hill just to get it.  I’d go on my own sometimes.  I even worked in the flower shop next door for a while, where they exchanged little floral arrangements for pasta out the back door.  Man, did I eat a lot of pasta for lunch working there!  It was the best ever!

Then they changed the recipe.  Oh, sad, sad day!  It was slimy and tasted like Chef Boyardee.  I’d have preferred to eat sieved Spaghetti-O sauce (not a Chef Boyardee product), which is at least cheesy.  But, now that old amazing sauce is becoming but a distant memory, and over the past few years they’ve managed to remove that Boyardee-flavor.  Lo and behold, I am obsessed with it again!  I know it isn’t the same sauce it was before, but it has markedly improved since the initial recipe change.  It is worthy of my dreams yet again.

That being said, it really isn’t some amazing pasta dish.  I want to be very clear that this is more on the comfort-food end of things.  If I had a migraine all day and don’t feel like cooking, nothing is better than Fettuccine with Tomato-Cream.  It comes with a salad and roll, which I always get with 1000 Island dressing.  Their 1000 Island is really good, so I love to tear up the roll and scoop the remains with it.  This little ritual – the 1000 Island, the roll, the Fettuccine with Tomato-Cream – is one of my ways to turn a day from glum to perfect.

But that is particular to my habits.  The truth is that just about any tomato-cream will brighten my day, but I like to go to Murray Ave Grill because I can sit in a darkened atmosphere in a booth which is relatively private.  Murray Ave Grill is also one of a small number of Squirrel Hill restaurants with sidewalk seating.  It isn’t a lot of sidewalk seating, and the view is basically just Barnes and Noble, but it is something!  I love eating outside, and if I am in the mood for running into people then their sidewalk is just right because it is a Fact O’ the Hill that you will undoubtedly see someone you know on any given night on Murray Ave.

Just like I said, I go because it is easy and in my neighborhood.  Fortunately for me, there is a dish I really like there.  As far as other menu items, I must say that, by and large, their entrees are uninspired and overpriced.  Their appetizers are typical of this kind of restaurant, and are nothing above-and-beyond.  Their salads and sandwiches are a better choice, and in particular, their burger is A-OK.  I have a one-burger-every-couple-of-months-when-I-really-have-a-craving kind of habit, so I save all my burger bites for Tessaro’s, where I think the best burger in the world resides.  However, I realize there are other kinds of burger eaters.  On the other end of the spectrum from myself is the person who gets a burger everywhere they go, either because they are into finding the best burgers or because they are afraid to order anything out of the ordinary.  Then there are the people in the middle, who like a burger with some frequency, but don’t want to waste their time with something sub-par.  For those people, I am happy to say that Murray Ave’s burger passes the test.  The burger is juicy and thick and actually cooked the way you ordered it, medium rare and all that.  It is actually a lot like the Tessaro’s burger, except that Tessaro’s uses multiple cuts of meat in their burger grind including filet mignon, whereas Murray Ave’s is simply angus ground chuck.  It does, most assuredly, make a difference.  But Murray Ave’s burger is alright!

So I know this isn’t some rave review.  It really doesn’t deserve a rave review.  But every neighborhood has its Grill, and this is Squirrel Hill’s.  It does some things very nicely, but by and large is nothing special.  They do have fancy pants website, where you can check out the menu for yourself.  They also list their brunch menu on the site.  I’ve never been there for brunch, but some of those items sound mighty tasty.  In particular, the Breakfast Reuban served between two potato pancakes sounds intriguing to me.  Of course, that would be my secret lust for 1000 Island dressing popping up again.  They’ve got me hooked there!

Pasta and Sauce (marinara and tomato-cream)
Big Salad

If smoke bothers you, be aware that this is one rather smoky restaurant.  There is a non-smoking section in back, but the smoke has really permeated the whole place.  If you sit in non-smoking, you may not leave smelling like smoke, but you will be smelling smoke during your meal.  You could also opt for the outdoor seating if it is available.

Need a beer on a Sunday evening?  The Cage may be closed, but Murray Avenue Grill isn’t!  Their beer selection isn’t too bad either – you can get a Pilsner Urquell, for instance.

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