Stonepepper’s Grill – Upper Saint Clair Township
“How ‘bout we go to Stonepepper’s?”
“But you hate Stonepepper’s!”
The above exchange occurred between my wife and I on a recent Sunday afternoon. We were open house trolling in Upper Saint Clair and my stomach was starting to rumble something fierce. Our favorite dining options in the area – Pepperoni’s and Chick Fil-A – are closed on Sundays so the next best suggestion I could come up with was the South Hills Village mall food court. I instantly recanted this proposal since I realized that I wouldn’t be able to get a beer at South Philly Steaks & Fries or Flamers*. That left Stonepepper’s Grill as the most attractive option.
We had gotten dinner at the establishment once before when it first opened and I was rather underwhelmed with the food. More importantly I was viscerally pained by the clichéd décor that was peppered with framed Rolling Stone magazine covers and the worst design elements of T.G.I. Fridays and the Oliver Garden. But since Stonepepper’s has a bar and the food court does not, I figured that it was worth giving them another try. It was late afternoon when we arrived, and despite being the slow period between lunch and dinner, the restaurant had a good amount of patronage. The customers consisted mostly of parents and kids who looked like they had just finished a sports practice/game of some sort. The exasperated look on most of the parents faces led me to believe that they were there due to a desire for libations just like me.
We were seated near the bar area at a booth next to the large front windows. It was nice to see the sun shining outside although our vantage point granted us just a view of the parking lot. Not exactly Mount Washington, but I guess it could be worse**. Stonepepper’s purports to be a sports bar and I was happy to find that the flat screens above the bar were broadcasting an NBA game. My line of sight was perpendicular to the screens so I couldn’t straight out watch, but I was able to sneak some peaks away from gazing at my beautiful wife to satisfy my thirst for Linsanity.
Our waitress was very friendly and had a constant look of excitement due to her vast amount of eye make-up. I actually found this look quite reassuring for some reason. Wanting to show my wife how serious I was about saving money for our new house, I deigned to go with the drink special which was Duquesne Pilsener 16oz drafts for $2.50. The beer (5% ABV - American Pale Lager) had a straightforward barley and hops taste profile with a hint of citrus. Though somewhat light and watery, its uncomplicated smoothness gave it an easy finish that I think would pair well with sunny afternoons by the pool or as beer pong stock.
My initial Stonepepper’s experience involved a lackluster margherita pizza, but the allure of brick oven goodness persuaded me to try my luck again. This time I went with the less conventional (and less artisanal) BBQ Chicken pizza. Before I even finished guzzling my beer, a hot mess of white gobs and barbeque sauce was laid out in front of me. Pizza doesn’t need to look good, just taste good, so I did not hesitate to grab a slice and start chowing down. The pie shell was crispy and a bit thin, albeit substantial enough to hold the conservative toppings of cheese and chicken. The menu purported smoked Gouda as an ingredient and evidence of the cheese’s pungent caramel sweetness was sparse but fantastic when tasted. The tangy barbeque sauce was more mild than wild but was helped by the bite of roasted red onions. Though I vowed to only eat half and save the rest for later, I actually almost devoured the whole thing. I left but one lone survivor slice that I later heated up and consumed that evening.
Final Call: There’s a perception that there aren’t any culinary destinations offering innovative food and singular dining experiences in the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Stonepepper’s Grill doesn’t do anything to change that. But it doesn’t try to. It’s like NCIS: Los Angeles or The Voice. Nothing innovative, challenging or overtly special. However it’s aim to embrace familiarity is somewhat mollifying and even enjoyable if accompanied with alcohol.
* Do you think Flamers knows that their business name predominantly brings to mind the image of a group of flamboyant homosexuals, not charbroiled burgers? Then again, the 5801 Lounge in Shadyside frequently serves flamboyant homosexuals and its name makes me think of the protein tyrosine phosphatase so go figure.
** Actually, I’m not sure it could be worse so I take that back.