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The Yard with Olivia Rauktis and Amber Smith

Who would have thought that Mondays were actually the best night of the week?  Well, the best night if you’re going to The Yard for half-priced grilled cheeses.  However, no matter which day of the week you go, you will certainly not be disappointed by what you find.  The best way to describe The Yard is to imagine your childhood diet but mixed with the vibe of your late teens and early twenties.  I’m talking about comfort food to the max: macaroni and cheese, French fries, and 26 of the most magnificent grilled cheeses ever created by humanity.  Beyond that, your childhood becomes slightly warped as you both throw back one of the many craft beers on tap and listen to “throwbacks” by Beyoncé and Matchbox Twenty.  It’s clear that this gastropub tries to create a unique destination in such subtle differences but the greatest thing about The Yard is that it works on so many levels.  I’ve been craving a return trip for some time, so when my two good friends Amber and Olivia invited me to tag along for “grilled cheese happy hour”, how could I refuse?

Atmosphere: The Yard is definitely your typical gastro pub, with fairly dark lighting, flat screen televisions surrounding us, and plenty of high bar stools to go around.  Even so, you could tell through subtle differences that The Yard was trying to be somewhat different, most notably through the choice of music.  There were numerous throwbacks to the 1990’s and early 2000’s that brought nostalgia on in full force, all upbeat songs that kept you engaged without making you want to get out of your seat to twerk.  The owners definitely know their clientele, a good thing too since you wouldn’t necessarily find your grandparents in here (unless they’re really cool).

Service: Nothing too out of the ordinary in this category, although this was my first time ordering beer at a restaurant so I asked for several drink recommendations, which I thought were expertly given based off the information I provided our waitress.  Other than that, I thought the service was prompt but not excessive, friendly without being creepy, and as genuine as one could be with three college students on a Monday night.

Food: There is much more to say about this category than the previous one, so I have to break it down into sections

  • Beer: I had two on tap that were at a reduced price on Monday nights: the White Lightning, a Witbier style which was light, slightly sweet but very refreshing, and the General Washington’s Tavern Porter, having a darker, more bitter taste and a woody finish that I really enjoyed.  The best part about all the beers on tap is that they are local to Pittsburgh whenever possible and the two I had were both from micro-breweries in Pennsylvania.  I wouldn’t consider myself a connoisseur of beer yet, but I still found the tastes very good so both of these have my stamp of approval.
  • Appetizer: The Pub Pretzels is what we had, but can I just first thank the gods for warm bread?  That alone would make these deep fried Bavarian pretzels simply divine.  Now add a homemade beer cheese and a spicy honey mustard sauce and we are breaking new ground.  If every restaurant served their bread with this much care I think we could end a lot of problems in this world.Bavarian Pretzels with Cheese
  • The grilled cheese:  If you’re a fan of grilled cheeses, this is the place for you.  With a grand total of 26, there is a grilled cheese to match every palate.  I was so devoted to making this review that I ordered two just for you guys: The Yeezy Cheezy is something I’ve ordered in the past, and while I love the cheddar and spicy chorizo, I will say that it is a filling if not incredibly over-stuffed sandwich that literally spills out its guts over the plate.  My other sandwich happened to be the Pierogies N’at, a tribute to the Steel City itself, complete with Pierogies, Sauerkraut, and heaps of cheddar and Gouda to soften the landing.  In my mind, this was the clear winner, with the cheese doing its best to hold the contents of the sandwich together and while appearing dense, it was actually quite light thanks to the space-filling pierogies (A+).  But with literally 24 more grilled cheeses to try, this is by no means an aggregate reflection of all the offerings.Grilled Cheese, Sweet Potato Fries and Tomato Soup
  • Sweet Potato Fries: Perfection in every bite, and with a cinnamon butter for dipping, these fries don’t hold back and are a great “in between” moment if you need a break from the sometimes overpowering grilled cheese.
  • Tomato Soup: Definitely the weakest part of the meal by far.  I don’t quite know if The Yard is using canned soup or if they’re just watering it down to save money but the reason that every grilled cheese comes with free tomato soup is clearer to me than ever.  Even if it is made for dipping (which I am not apt to do because of the spillages that will most definitely occur), why not put a little more flavor and effort into crafting a great tasting complimentary soup and then just up charge the sandwich?  The world may never know.Pierogies N'At Grilled Cheese
  • Dessert: One of my favorites, a crème brûlée with a berry compote.  I have to say that the berries turned this normal crème brûlée into something different.  Props to The Yard for trying something different.Creme Brulee with Berry Compote

Price: Because all the grilled cheeses were half price, my bill only amounted to $31, a savings of nearly $15 and I had a meal for the next day!  For a student on a budget, Mondays are definitely the best times to go but the food isn’t so terribly expensive that I would dismiss other dates and times.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

Translation: For a gastropub with such an interesting focus on grilled cheese, The Yard definitely takes the cake (or cheese in this case).  Improving the soup is the only major initiative these guys could undertake in the short term to bump themselves up to a 9+ but otherwise this is a solid establishment and a great place to reconnect with friends.

Amber and Olivia’s Take:  The best part of the restaurant experience was definitely the atmosphere. Although we said it looked a bit like a bachelor’s man cave, it was a really comfortable environment that served to augment conversation.  The service was also terrific, as the waitress was friendly, funny, and great at answering all of our questions.  The tomato soup is definitely the worst part of the restaurant. We know the restaurant is grill cheese centered but they cannot forget that they are, in fact, trying to give a immersive experience.  If their specialty dish is grilled cheese, then their tomato soups needs to have much more effort put into it, since grilled cheese and tomato soup are like best friends.  It seemed like the soup was almost an afterthought.  This restaurant is good for family, date night, casual, and friends and family. It has just enough glam to be good for people who want to dress up and enough comfort for families looking for a night out. I don’t think it’s too good of a celebration place.  Those are typically a bit fancier but The Yard is definitely geared toward the college age to younger adult, since it definitely had that bar feel to it.

Amber Smith is a Biological Sciences major with a minor in Spanish and Chemistry and a certificate in the Conceptual Foundations of Medicine from Overland Park, Kansas who will be a senior in the fall.  Olivia Rauktis is a Psychology and English Literature major from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who will be a junior in the fall.

The Yard is an upscale gastropub serving gourmet grilled cheeses, burgers, craft beer and other fare in two locations across Pittsburgh: Market Square in the downtown business district and in Shadyside off of Walnut Street.  You can find their full menu and contact information here: http://www.theyardpgh.com/


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