Bill’s Bar & Burger: A Taste Test and Beer Pairing Guide

The Pittsburgher Photo by Heidi G. Balas/ LOCALpittsburgh

You might miss it if you didn’t know that it was there. Hell, you might skip it if you saw its name. And yet, it’s probable that if you indulged and imbibed at Bill’s Bar & Burger (1001 Liberty Avenue at Westin Convention Center), you would wonder why you hadn’t heard of it or even stopped in prior to that experience.

Despite a shaky start in its Pittsburgh location, Bill’s Bar & Burger has always had the best of intentions when it comes to bringing the quality and renowned service of BR Guest Hospitality. It’s no secret that with the consistently evolving and escalating restaurant scene here, setting one’s self apart from the juggernauts, the mainstays, and the next-big-things is critical.

Admittedly, when I first visited Bill’s, I too wondered if Pittsburgh needed another burger spot. I wasn’t alone. But a year later, with a fresh team including Chef Michael Vignola (best known for his brilliant work at Strip House), Bill’s Bar & Burger finally has some leverage on its end of the Cultural District. Vignola believes in taking the “long road to get an easily accessible product like a vinaigrette or chili,” and that it is his “duty to [cooks] craft to try [to] be better with fresher ingredients… doing [his] part and teaching the next generation of cooks how to roast a piece of fish or make a simple vinaigrette from scratch.”

Under his expertise, the entire menu has been revitalized and reaches far beyond the limitations of a bar with burgers. With selections that are fresh, from scratch, and local, Bill’s Bar & Burger is far from a typical casual food joint; not to mention the 124 different drafts and bottled beers available that make food and drink pairing reach entirely new levels of taste bud excellence. To truly test out this restaurant’s food renovation, I took it upon myself to sample as much as I could bare from this rich and delicious menu. Here’s what I learned:

Black Truffle Popcorn Photo by Heidi G. Balas
Black Truffle Popcorn
Photo by Heidi G. Balas

Pair shareable items like the warm Black Truffle Popcorn (truffle salt, Amish Swiss), the cold Spring Beans Almondine (haricots verts, yellow wax beans, onions, sherry vinaigrette), the Kobe Beef Pigs in a Blanket (crispy shallots, Heinz Mustard), or the Jalapeño Cheddar Bombs (black pepper ranch) with a Rivertowne Babbling Blonde. Compliment an Heirloom Beet Salad (whipped goat ricotta, baby arugula, and crispy quinoa) or the Crispy Black Pepper Bacon (shaved apple salad and mustard caviar) with Fat Head’s Bumble Berry Honey Ale. Wash down the Roasted Faroe Island Salmon (charred corn and farro salad with yellow tomato vinaigrette) with a Full Pint White Lightning.
Spice Crusted 30 oz. Short Rib (for two) Photo by Heidi G. Balas
Spice Crusted 30 oz. Short Rib (for two)
Photo by Heidi G. Balas

For a richer marriage of flavors, try the Spice Crusted 30 oz. Short Rib (for two) or the Pittsburgher (two 4 oz beef patties, coleslaw, fried egg, fries, pretzel or gluten-free bun) with the Church Brew Works Pious Monk Dunkel. And if there is any room left for a sweet treat, the Monster Shakes are the cream of the crop with options like the Peanut Butter Bomb (chocolate shake, Reese’s pieces, peanut butter cups, salted peanuts, chocolate sauce, whipped cream) or the Strawberry Dreams (fresh strawberry shake, rainbow marshmallows, cotton candy, pop rocks, gummy candy).

Bill’s is currently using the following local purveyors: Curtze for their proprietary blend, Mediterra Bakehouse and Potomac Bakery for their specialty buns and breads, Country Manor Farms for their bacon and pork belly, Turner Dairy for milk and cream, and Yarnick’s Farms for assorted produce; these local partnerships reflect their supportive approach to the Pittsburgh community of farmers and tradesmen.

Photo by Heidi G. Balas
Photo by Heidi G. Balas

Despite the fact that I needed a forklift to remove myself from the restaurant, I can attest to this menu’s commendable attributes. In addition to the diversity and creativity of the items, the textures, presentation, and flavors were exactly what Bill’s Bar & Burger needed to prove its relevancy in Pittsburgh. The Spring Beans Almondine were poached and fabulous; the Crispy Black Pepper Bacon was perfection, especially with the tartness of the apples; I was ready to drink the yellow tomato vinaigrette (maybe with some vodka?!), and the Strawberry Dreams Monster Shake is the best that I’ve ever had.

Bill’s Bar & Burger is open from Sunday – Thursday: 11am – 11pm and Friday – Saturday: 11am – 12am. Indoor and outdoor seating is available.