Eat Unique

By | August 12, 2009

Eat Unique
305 South Craig St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
M-F, 7:30am-8pm; Sat, 10am-5:30pm

In Pittsburgh we have no shortage of delicious, locally owned restaurants, as you can see from the loads of reviews posted here.  But, these are mostly sit-down with entrées and service, best for dinner.  When it comes to lunchtime, ‘burghers are often at the mercy of national chains like Subway, Quizno’s, McDonald’s, Qdoba, Chipotle, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, those chains have a place and a time (maybe), but I want more from my lunch.  Where’s all the delis in this town anyway?  I’m on the hunt, and my first stops are naturally emanating outwards from my location of actual employment (no, I do not get paid one iota for this website, whatever an iota is).  First stop, for no other reason reason, is Eat Unique.  It may not be fast, or particularly cheap, but their sandwiches are eponymously creative, and when they are good they are eminently satisfying.

Actually, Eat Unique is a new name for an old place.  Before its most recent name change, it was Craig St. Coffee, and it served almost identical food.  In fact, I’m not sure if Eat Unique saw a change in ownership at all.  If it is just a name change, I’d be curious to know just what the reason was.  The only thing I can think of, which is very unlikely, is that there exists a small segment of aging hipsters who I happen to know refused to go to Craig St. Coffee because when it moved into town and replaced the previous restaurant in that location, Buns & Udders, the Craig St Coffee people painted over what was apparently the awesomest cow mural ever.  Now, I can see their point – cow murals are totally awesome – but refusing to eat Tomato Soup with Feta Cheese?  Sounds like a case of ‘overprincipled’ to me (although, to be fair, I never did see this mural with my own eyes).

The food here is by and large tasty.  They’ve got all the standard lunch fair: soups, salads, cold sandwiches, hot sandwiches, coffee, tea, and bakery items.  These offerings are sometimes just straight up classics, like a Reuben or BLT, but often there is a slight twist.  So… tomato soup with feta.  Or a chicken sandwich, Hawaiian style.  Or a meatloaf melt with blue cheese and BBQ sauce.  This is the kind of place where you’ll find golden raisins instead of regular, lots of different kinds of bread (toasted and grilled),  and spring greens, balsamic vinaigrette, pesto, and banana peppers as regular toppings.  Oh, and of course they have wraps.  In this century, everyone has to sell a wrap, lest they be mistaken for an old-person restaurant or someplace located in a state like Arkansas or Idaho.

So they get bonus points for their consistent attempts at sandwich originality.  I have to warn you, though, sometimes the sandwich does not quite pull together like you’d imagine.  For example, the day I noticed the Hawaiian style chicken sandwich I immediately had all sorts of hopes and dreams for how it would solve many of my lunch, life, and also the world’s problems.  I thought, based on the description it must be the most amazing delightful sandwich in history. C’mon: Chicken salad topped with crushed pineapple, roasted red peppers, and shredded provolone cheese; baked in a sour dough sub roll, garnished with field greens and balsamic vinaigrette?  Sounds frickin’ awesome, right?  Sadly, it just doesn’t live up.  For me.  Especially for $7.  Something about the sourdough-provolone interaction, or the pineapple-balsamic combo…

But that’s just me. Mostly you have to try a lot of different things to find what appeals to you here.  And you should definitely give it more than one chance because there are loads of really delicious things.  I lovvvvve the fresh mozzerella baguette.  It reminds me of this Bread Salad stuff I make at home sometimes, and also is reminiscent of the best bruschetta of my life, at a dinky pizza place called Gigi’s in Jensen Beach, FL, where ostensibly the owner has three balls (note: I have not fact-checked this piece of info yet).  At Eat Unique, I also love that if I just want a little soup, I can get a cheap hunk of baguette to eat it with.  I also love that they have the most AMAZING herbal iced tea ever, only one available at a time, on rotation (currently a delicious Blood Orange, but it used to be the most amazing Peppermint).  And I love that they have Chocolate Chip and Sea Salt cookies.  People definitely do not appreciate this sweet and salty combination of flavors nearly enough.  You gotta dip your fries in your Frosty, guys!

So Eat Unique is going to stay put, for a while I am sure.  It doesn’t always live up, but it does most of the time, and for that reason I will always be their customer.  Plus they have a really giant eating area now, which is much improved from the early years (though I wish they’d fix the ordering and pick-up area, which is annoyingly cramped and confusing for everyone involved).  Moreover, this place is excellent for vegetarians, who can find the same sandwich creativity extended towards all-veg fare.  If you are in Oakland on the CMU end of things, or are planning a trip to the Carnegie, and want an interesting and probably pretty good lunch in the ‘deli’ category, you should definitely try this place.  It all around qualifies as good.

Iced tea
Fresh Mozz Baguette is my current pick

Hawaiian Chicken Sub
Sweet Bean Hummus Sandwich      (I was very sad about this; I really wanted this to be the best ever!!)

The lunch hours are ridiculously slow here, and to be honest, the non-lunch hours are still ridiculously slow.  If you are at all pressed for time, do NOT order something from the grill.  In fact you may be best off not ‘ordering’ anything at all and instead getting one of their pre-packed things to go, like a salad, or phoning in your order ahead of time.  But then at lunchtime, you’ll still have to wait in line.  If you have the flexibility, I’d say just don’t go until after about 1:30 or 2pm.