Over The Bar Bicycle Cafe North Park Boathouse By: Rick Perrotta II
“We use fresh jalapenos; I leave the seeds in for the extra spice,” says North Park Boathouse chef Eric Strafalace. Mr. Strafalace is speaking of one of their signature appetizers, and our first of the night, the Old Firehouse Dip ($7.99). He’s right – the dip is much spicier than typical restaurant fare. Luckily, it’s also wonderfully balanced, the jalapenos being countered by other fresh ingredients such as diced tomatoes, green onions, crispy bacon, cream cheese and shredded cheddar. On the menu, OTB rightly boasts of working with PA farmers to provide fresh, local produce. The dip is also served with fresh tortillas; the difference between the fresh and the store-bought is evident.
The Old Firehouse Dip was just one of many dishes my party and I were treated to the night we visited Over The Bar Bicycle Cafe’s North Park Boathouse location. Mr. Strafalace describes more food as it is brought out. “The black bean cakes,” known as the 650 Bean Cakes ($7.99), “are thickened with corn starch rather than flour, adding corn starch instead of flour doesn’t interfere with the taste.” The cakes are tremendous, absolutely delicious served with sides of sour cream, guacamole, and homemade pineapple salsa, good enough to be its own appetizer. Then there’s the Spoke Junkie ($7.99), “made from freshly sliced zucchini, rolled up with 3 kinds of cheese, then hand battered.” The best zucchini we have ever sampled!
The attention to detail, creativity, and quality ingredients are just a few things that set Over The Bar Bicycle Cafe apart from other restaurants. There is also the friendly staff, led by manager Jerri Lauffer, and of course the setting and atmosphere. One can see the lake while dining and when the weather is nice, patrons can sit on the dock and more intimately appreciate the beautiful landscape. Owner Mike Kotyk and his partners have done North Park a true service by spending the last 3 years and half a million dollars renovating the Boathouse, which sat mostly undisturbed for some 30 years. Not only that, Mr. Kotyk has signed a five year lease with Allegheny County meaning taxpayers will be getting a new source of revenue and an absolutely fabulous place to dine, drink or simply relax.
Regardless of where one is seated, you are certain to enjoy your visit. Much like OTB’s original South Side location, the Boathouse has an extensive craft beer selection. Impressive brews such as the Southern Tier Krampus and the Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA are on tap plus over forty more beers can be ordered by the bottle including several from Oskar Blues Brewery and Pennsylvania’s own Troegs Brewing Company. My choice, the Krampus, was delivered in a chalice. When ordering by the bottle, glasses were brought without having to ask, this truly added to the overall experience of OTB. They have also added another nice touch by including the Beer Advocate score of each beer on the menu.
Adding to the overall experience, many of the dishes are named after local landmarks or Pennsylvania luminaries, such as the North Ridge Nachos ($7.99) and the Rachel Carson Wrap ($9.99). Others are named for biking references, as Mr. Kotyk is a well-known biking enthusiast, such as the Top Gear Tenders ($8.99) and the Dirt Rag Delight burger ($9.99). The Dirt Rag Delight is a must try. This juicy hamburger is served with American cheese, thick sliced dill pickles, and Wholey’s homemade peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter. This sandwich was inspired by the biker’s need for protein. The peanut butter adds a touch of sweetness while blending surprisingly well with the flavor the burger. You seriously “must try” this burger!
Mr. Strafalace says OTB also offers many selections for their “vegetarian and vegan friends,” which are marked with a ‘V.’ Any of the burgers can be made with a black bean burger instead of ground beef. The Iron City Bites ($7.99) are vegetarian wings made from seitan, which is made from wheat but has the texture of meat. In 2011 and 2012, OTB won an award for “Best Vegetarian Soup” at the South Side soup contest. In addition, we were fortunate enough to try the B.E.L.L.A. tacos (Biking Enthusiastic Ladies Loving Adventures, $9.99) which are stuffed with grilled balsamic marinated Portabella mushrooms, fresh avocado, Asian slaw, and homemade pico de gallo. Again, the jalapenos in the pico de gallo are evident but very nicely offset by the avocado. There are several more options, more than can be listed succinctly.
Toward the end, we were told they have one more dish they would like us to try and they bring out the Granny Gear Salad ($11.99). The Granny Gear Salad features char-grilled chicken over mixed greens, topped with Swiss, roasted red peppers (prepared in-house, of course), julienned apples, and craisins. This terrific salad was served with an outstanding homemade poppy seed dressing, though they were kind enough to offer us other options as well including their fantastic balsamic vinaigrette.
OTB Bicycle Café North Park Boathouse is located on Pierce Mill Run Road in McCandless. Between the service, the music, the setting, the beer, and the level of attention given to serving a quality product with a unique twist, we had a great time with seriously amazing food. They are open 7 days a week – Monday-Wednesday: 11AM-10PM, Thursday-Saturday: 11AM-11PM and Sunday: 11AM-9PM – For more information, including the menu and contact information, please visit www.otbbicyclecafe.com. Or for directions you can call 724.940.5000