When Dunning’s Grill first opened in 1984 as Dunning McNair’s, it was something of an anomaly, a neighborhood pub where you could bring your babies, get a high chair, eat a good burger with a frosty draught. It was”the neighborhood bar” updated for that decade; we used to call them “fern bars” with dark paneling, sports trophies, good brews on tap. Named for Col. Dunning McNair, who acquired the land between what is now both sides of Braddock Avenue and the Parkway East (I-376) in the late 18th century. The garden suburb, with its leafy streets, grand park, and “Tween-Wars” architecture, including thick-pillared front porches set close to sidewalks, promotes a distinct type of community that in Pittsburgh, we’re fond of. The business district is free from chains, a nice touch anywhere.
Now Dunning’s Grill in Regent Square, it is still a solid neighborhood pub. When my grown son Ben moved back to Pittsburgh recently, he stopped with his family and was treated with a free dinner (shhh) in what he refers to as his “welcome to Pittsburgh” moment. There are always tables available, it seems, though the place is generally pretty lively. Sports reign, as in any Pittsburgh pub,and the prices won’t kill ya.
When we sat down with a big group of family the other evening, both locals and out-of-towners, servers pushed together a bunch of tables, and we felt like we were at home. The wait staff is particularly friendly here, unjaded. And the menu reads like an unfussy compendia of burgers and sandwiches perfect for wolfing down after a flick at the Regent Theater.
“There are no surprises here” said our server. “You will get exactly what you order.” And we did. The bar nibbles are good, fresh cut fried zucchini, salty potato skins loaded with bacon and cheddar. It’s a neighborhood bar, and around here, these are indispensable players. “Just sqeeze in, eat and drink, because it’s a pub, not a restaurant,” laughed our now- favorite server. There are some dinners, lemon scrod, chicken parm over pasta, but we stuck with the tavern agenda and ordered a chicken sandwich, fish sandwich, burgers of all sorts, hot dogs and buffalo chicken for the kids. Thumbs up to the homemade chips served on the side. Everything was good, albeit nothing special, though Dunning’s still carries a reputation for great French onion soup. I tried some, and it reminded me of a favorite from the “Balcony” days, when you waded through gooey cheese (this was provolone) to get to the aromatic broth.
We scurried back to Ben’s place for dessert, which meant dragging the kids from the pinball machine. In this era of dot coms and cyberspace, it’s still sort of nice to see that there are things that never change.
For more info: Dunning’s Grill 1100 Braddock Ave., Regent Square, 412-243-3900
Hours: Mon.-Thu., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.