The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Bar Marco.

This week, I stepped foot in Bar Marco, an incredibly unique restaurant in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. The eatery lives in an old 1860s firehouse, which has been turned all around and upside down in an effort to restore some of its finest original features, like a crisp tin ceiling, subway tiled walls and a cold, concrete floor. The menu is minimal. The restaurant offers 10ish options on a daily basis, including small appetizers, main dishes and desserts, all made from locally sourced ever-changing ingredients. The cocktail menu, on the other hand, is endless. Actually, there isn’t one. Each drink is handcrafted specifically to the taste of the customer using Bar Marco’s made from scratch ingredients. (I’ve also heard they have a killer collection of unique, hard to find and “natural” wines, but we’ve always opted for the cocktails. And on Mondays, Bar Marco doesn’t have a menu. A guest chef, typically for charity, will reinvent the restaurant in their own way.)

All of these details — the historic building, dark atmosphere, inventive and/or non-existent menu and made-to-order cocktails — make me feel like I’m part of secret society every time I step foot inside. When  I arrived last Wednesday, we were greeted by a familiar face: the brother of a friend’s business partner. Within moments, I had passed on my cocktail wishes. I wanted gin, savory.

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We were quickly handed two plates, compliments of the chef, each with a thin slice of radish, topped with sweet pineapple chutney and few crunchy pistachios. In just one bite, sweet and tangy and earthy flavors hit my tastebuds. So good.

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After I looked over the menu, I decided to try the arancini as an appetizer. But before I could even place my order, two arrived at the table. Two fried rice balls, stuffed with mozzarella, pork ragu and sage. If you’ve never had fried mac and cheese, you should, because it’s as delicious as it sounds, and it’s exactly what Bar Marco’s arancini tastes like. Heaven.

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My drink arrived shortly thereafter. A gin cocktail with yellow chartreuse, dill and lemon. Then, the main course. I ordered the braised lamb, which was juicy and tender and sat atop a moist polenta cake, perfectly roasted carrots and a flavor-packed mint gremolata. For the first time in quite a long time, I was genuinely silent as I ate dinner.

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On top of all the things we already love about Bar Marco, beginning this April, they will eliminate tips and instead offer all employees a full-time salary. Check out more details here, and don’t forget to check them out the next time you’re in the Strip!

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