drinkPGH: Salt of the Earth
Salt of the Earth needs very little introduction to anyone even slightly familiar with the Pittsburgh dining scene. Located in Garfield, they have a rotating food and drink menu, based around what is fresh, delicious, inspiring, available, and local. The beverage program manager is Maggie Meskey (@BaconBra), who also manages the bar program at Harvard & Highland in East Liberty. She is a unique talent in cocktail-making, often listing ingredients in surprising combinations.
I visited Salt of the Earth on a Tuesday night around 11:00 PM for a drink or two, but mostly for the late-night raw oyster special. Along with raw oysters ($1 each), the specials included a cheeseburger ($10), Korean fried chicken ($6), chicken confit sandwich ($8), popcorn ($5), and, for a beverage, a Lavender Lemon Drop ($6). The bartender, Adam Huzaya, was very attentive, answering all my questions, and prompt in supplying me with my first round: an East End Big Hop IPA along with a half-dozen oysters. My order included three Delaware Bay oysters and three Blue Point oysters, and they came with slices of lemon, barrel-aged bourbon hot sauce, and mignonette. The hoppy, citrusy IPA was perfectly paired with the briny, rich oysters.
What’s on tap?
The beer selection at Salt of the Earth is limited to four draft choices, mostly local and consistently rotating, as per the majority of offerings at NaCl. Tonight there were three options from East End Brewery and one from Philadelphia’s 21st Amendment, all listed at $5. The wine list included ten different red and ten different white varietals. The wines choices were offered at prices ranging from $10 to $15 and included off-beat options of an Albariño and a Carménère. The wine list is also subject to change, but will assuredly keep the consumer interested.
How about a cocktail?
As winner of Pittsburgh City Paper’s 2012 Best Cocktail List and Best Place To Try Something New, Salt of the Earth has been recognized for what it produces from the bar. Cocktails are based on a spirit type; options currently being gin, vodka, vermouth, genever, tequila, bourbon, and cognac. The cocktails are constructed and presented in unique ways, with standouts including the vodka cocktail: Boyd & Blair, cinnamon, papaya, and lime, as well as the gin cocktail: Bluecoat, yellow chartreuse, watermelon, jalapeño, and lime.
The spirits collection is small, but obviously purposeful. To my peeking eye, it offered several amaros, rye whiskey, scotch, Japanese whiskey, bourbon, local Wigle ginever and aged rye, and mezcal, among others. NaCl also always offers and nonalcoholic cocktail and, during my visit, included a nearly nonalcoholic cocktail in a Lacto-Fermented Soda. Blueberries, ginger, and sugar are combined with lactic acid to start fermentation. After reaching a similar alcohol level to Kombucha, it is combined with soda water for effervescence. While their cocktail offerings are unique and stimulating, a patron can occasionally run into problems attempting to order an off-the-menu classic cocktail, as the bar stocks products mostly for their immediate offerings.
After finishing my beer and oysters, I asked my faithful bartender to prepare me a cocktail of his choice. After asking me a few questions as to what I prefer, I was presented with a Boulevardier, the bourbon cousin to the Negroni. Adam combined Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon, Campari, Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, added some orange bitters (as his preference), and twisted a lemon peel over the top. It was dark and bitter to start, but as soon as that seemed to be too much, the sweetness of the vermouth and the vanilla flavors of the bourbon came through. Finishing was the citrus notes of the orange bitters and lemon peel, providing just enough dryness to prepare my palate for the next sip. Before I knew it, my cocktail was nearly empty.
While Salt of the Earth does not offer Happy Hour specials, they do have regular late-night specials (information best acquired @saltpgh). The drinks will probably not be the same when you go, but that is part of the appeal of Salt of the Earth — each visit provides a unique experience.