One of the things I've really come to appreciate about Pittsburgh is the number of Hidden Gem restaurants there are, tucked away -- places that accel at something, but either the setting or location makes that unintuitive. I'm talking Zaws not China Palace, Aussom Aussie's in the midst of warehouses, Alexander's Pasta Express not Pi. Ray's Blue Marlin Grill is one of them.
It is situated on Butler Street in Lawrenceville... but not on the main strip of Butler. It is nested near a couple of other bars and the like, and from the outside one would not imagine much of the fine dining experience to be had. Frankly, the inside is great -- old-skool stylings with the big blue marlin on the wall -- but also not slick. The same goes for the waitstaff. You can tell these people are passionate, as much as you can tell they did not come from an Restaurant Management program. They probably did the renovations themselves... but they did it well.
We found it from a review in this week's City Paper (no permalink, yet). And most of what they said goes. The waitstaff was inept -- but in the sense of the waiter either being family or a local boy who was just getting up to speed. But again, they cared, and the woman who I can only presume was an owner made sure we were well taken care of.
The menu is eclectic -- conch chowder listed next to empanadas, with salads, kielbasa, and pot pies further on. But as far as we could tell they execute, at least for their special sounding entrees. I had the Chicken Pot Pie -- perfect for what it was going for, handmade in a pastry bowl, ideal comfort food. fws had their "Jacked Up Stuffed Meatloaf", which was also incredible, but in a different way. It was shredded sirloin with cheese and potatoes in a bourbon sauce, and cooked just right. It didn't taste like meatloaf but one had to concede it was slices from a loaf of meat. I pity fws, who didn't grow up with meatloaf, when she finally has an authentic one.
The portions were generous for the price -- not a cheap place (our entrees were $10-11) but a very satisfying quantity for what we ordered. The thing that did it for me was the "side salads". fws likes "caesar" dressing on her traditional salad and tried to order it... but the boss warned that that's not how they do caesars -- they were happy to make one for her, but the dressing was a part of the construction. I had a hunch -- born out when I ordered it -- that they make a real caesar salad... there was just too much
pride in how she described the salads. I'm only partial to artificial caesars (ie, premade dressing) but an in-situ-caesar can be excellent. fws's salad was also a rather appealing presentation.
And this from a place that had the look, and potential on the menu, of being just a gussed up bar-with-food place.