Legume is a new bistro-style restaurant in that increasingly glorious food corridor of Braddock avenue between the Regent Square theaters and the entrance to the Parkway East. I was suspicious of the place because the name conjures up images of a prison run by terminally smug pot-smoking NPR-listening hippy types whose mission in life is to convince me that quinoa (it’s pronounced “keen-waaah”, apparently) is a reasonable substitute for Japanese short-grain white rice. Happily this is not the case. Despite the name, the thing to get at Legume is the meat. The vegetables are OK too, but the thing is the meat.
Legume is a small place with a small menu. The menu changes every night, and every night they upload the current one to the web site. Unlike a lot of Pittsburgh places which are big and have big menus, everything here is a winner. Over the past few months, we have been back three or four times and ordered a large range of different dishes and none have registered any of my normal complaints about fancier food in Pittsburgh. Salads are not overdressed. There are no pretentious but ultimately shallow appetizers. There are no entrees that are too ambitious for the kitchen to actually prepare. Even the baguette are baguette-like with a crunchy crust and airy, but not doughy, inside.
But as I said above, my favorites here are all meat all the time. They’ve made me a perfectly medium rare hanger-steak on top of risotto that for once wasn’t undercooked. There was that cassoulet with duck confit and pork sausage. There is almost nothing better than food cooked in duck fat. They also make a pork terrine which is a rich and fatty treat that would not be out of place in your favorite Paris bistro.
But when we went this past week we had a veritable carnivorous feast. First, we had the lamb’s tongue on top of a potato salad dressed in a light vinaigrette. It was tender and yummy and again, not too much dressing. The second starter was roasted beef marrow bones. You scoop the marrow out of the bone and spread it on toast with salt. This is more a texture than taste sensation. Between the starters and the main course we had what I think is the best thing I’ve eaten in a restaurant in the past six months: a perfectly braised piece of veal cheek on top of polenta. The meat was tender, rich, and buttery smooth. I can’t remember what the sauce was, some kind of red wine and veal stock reduction I would assume. I was too busy trying to keep the stupid grin off my face every time I had another bite. It was like eating warm meat ice cream.
The main course was chicken roasted under a cast iron pan with mashed potatoes, or something much like mashed potatoes. I’m not usually much for chicken in a fancy restaurant, but what they do here is take half a bird and roast it all in one piece so you get to tear into the seasoned crispy skin before enjoying the meat underneath. Again, a winner.
By this time I was in a good enough mood that it didn’t even bother me that the chocolate truffle “cake” was a bit more like one of those stupid flourless monstrosities than real cake. I would rather have had the caramel pots de créme that we got the first time we went. But, the truffle cake had a light fluffy texture and nice whipped cream, so I could not complain.
So, in conclusion, get your veggie friends here by fooling them with the name, then make them eat meat. This place joins Point Brugge and DISH as fabulous neighborhood eateries with distinctive style and excellent execution.