The Independent partnering with Juice UP 412, launching healthy lunch menu
Squirrel Hill is getting a new lunch spot, but in what residents (read: me) are calling a tremendous shock to the hegemony of the area’s noodle-based economy, this one’s a little different.

Starting in February, the Independent Brewing Company in Squirrel Hill will expand its hours to include lunch service. But instead of cooking up more of the tavern-style comfort food which makes up the bar’s dinner menu, the Independent will focus on selling healthy food and fresh juice.

Joining the Independent in this endeavor will be Juice UP 412, which also operates out of The Livermore.

“The JuiceUP 412 guys have been friends of ours for a long time and it seemed like a natural fit,” Independent owner Pete Kurzweg says. While Squirrel Hill has a plethora of great dining options, Kurzweg thinks it could use a healthy lunch and fresh juice option. “We’d like to branch into a more European café model. During the day, we’ll be a café, but at night, we can maintain our tavern environment.”

Independent Executive Chef Monique Ruvolo plans to offer a menu of salads, dips and sandwiches, as well as an array of hot take-out options, all using locally sourced meats, breads and vegetables.

“The menu will emphasize white meats, vegetarian options and some vegan fare. It’s not just going to be food you can eat for lunch,” Ruvolo says. “The hot options could also serve as take-home dinners. We’ve always talked about opening up a space where we can offer healthy food which people can afford, rather than the garbage you get at national chains.”

The Independent will still offer bar service during its lunch hours.

Senti opening in Lawrenceville
Senti, a restaurant and wine bar from the husband-and-wife team of Franco Braccia and Annette Ishida, will hold a soft opening today in its Doughboy Square space, offering lunch and dinner service.

The restaurant is offering a 25 percent discount to diners in exchange for their feedback on food and service, so expect some extra buzz on top of the new restaurant frenzy.

Shawn Carlson, whose Pittsburgh resume includes stops at Verde Mexican Kitchen, Bridge Ten Brasserie and Baum Vivant—the latter two of which are no longer open—will serve as Senti’s executive chef.

Senti will also have an Enomatic wine system, allowing diners to sample wines. When the restaurant begins normal business hours, a pre-paid card program will allow diners to serve themselves wines by the glass—a dangerously intriguing concept.

Trackside open in Station Square
The Sheraton at Station Square just finished a $15 million renovation project which includes a new restaurant called Trackside (which we assume refers to the building’s proximity to the railroad, and not some fly-by-night horse racing operation which takes place after hours at Highmark Stadium.)

Trackside takes over the space formerly occupied by Pittsburgh Rare, a steakhouse famous for cooking its cuts at super-high temperatures for short amounts of time, leaving them charred beyond recognition on the outside and ultra-rare on the inside—a style referred to as Pittsburgh rare. While Trackside’s menu won’t feature anything of that nature, there is a special category of offerings called “Nutrient-Rich Color Your Plate™ Items.” I’m not really sure what this means, but I really hope it entails eating said items off of freshly-fired ceramic plates you’re allowed to design and glaze during the cocktail hour.

Capps leaving Brew Gents
Brandon Capps, the wonder boy brewer from Georgia whose beers helped make The Brew Gentlemen Beer Company’s first year a major success in Braddock, will leave the brewery at the end of the month.

“Ultimately, I knew that I needed to be somewhere else, and I’d put together a pretty solid idea of what I would want to do if I put together my own place,” says Capps, who will relocate Fort Collins, Colorado. “I really feel like I’ve got a good focus and idea of how to attack every aspect of starting my own place.”

Assistant brewer Zach Gordon, who cut his teeth at Akron’s Thirsty Dog Brewing before joining the Gents late last year, will take over as the head brewer. Gordon’s contributions to the Gents’ lineup include their American Bitter, New World Saison and a Simcoe-forward overhaul of their flagship General Braddock’s IPA.

Though he’s moving on, Capps says he learned a lot during his year in Braddock.

“A year ago, my focus would just have been on doing certain beers. Now I’m more focused on developing a mission and an ethos and having beer serve as a component of that,” Capps says. “It’s about having something that supercedes sugar and alcohol in a glass that’s driving the momentum of the company itself.”