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Dining with Woodene Merriman


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On a weekday evening, Silky's Crow's Nest is quiet. Most diners are eating their steak salads or burgers on the deck, watching boaters on the Allegheny.

On the weekends, it's craziness. Loud music and a jammed bar, overflowing onto the deck and into the dining room.

It's hard to tell which is the real Silky's. The restaurant seems to be trying to be all things to all the people, and it's a little schizophrenic as a result.

Happy hour was well under way when we stopped at Silky's Crow's Nest on a Friday night. All the tables on the deck were taken and we had to eat in the dining room, which seems dark and dreary when you're wishing you were outside watching the sun go down.

A look at the wine list perks His Honor up. It's a small list, but well chosen - Clos du Bois chardonnay for $26, and Columbia Crest merlot for $25, for example. Wines by the bottle are $15 to $26, unless you want to splurge and have a Pol Roger brut champagne for $45. For those wines, the prices are reasonable, says He Who Knows All.

The weekend menu has lots of munchies, salads and sandwiches. But we're serious eaters. So H.H. has the prime rib dinner (queen size, $13.95), and I have the New York strip with jumbo crabmeat in a garlic butter sauce ($14.95).

Soup or salad, potato or pasta and a vegetable are included. No complaints about the prime rib. It's a thick slice, with enough fat to give it good flavor and make H.H. feel guilty for enjoying it.

The strip steak is puzzling. It's rare, as ordered, tender, and has perfect grill marks on the outside. But it lacks the crusty, crisp exterior that gives good flavor to a piece of beef that has been quickly grilled at high heat.

By the time we are ready for dessert, a table has opened up on the deck.

That's a good enough reason to linger a little longer, watch people arriving and heading down to drink the night away at the Dockside Bar on Silky's floating barge.

It's also an excuse to indulge in a brownie sundae, one of the biggest desserts anywhere. It's a brownie in a big serving bowl, scoops of ice cream on either side, chocolate sauce covering everything, and whipped cream piled high. It should be marked ``family size.''

Well, perhaps this restaurant is worth another visit after all.

Returning on a week night, we have our choice of tables under the umbrellas on the sunny deck. Three men sweating in suits at one table, two other men in shorts and bare feet at another table, three carefully coiffed women at the table in front of us, and that's it.

The salad is better than average, with a variety of greens, tomato that's actually ripe and cucumber slices that are only a little dry. Nice with the restaurant's creamy peppercorn dressing. French onion soup, served in a crock, has a nice-enough flavor, but is only lukewarm. Soup has to be hot, or forget it.

The bread has a tough crust, as though it had been warmed in the microwave.

The bread basket has only packages of margarine. ``I swear they had butter, too, the last time we were here,'' H.H. complains.

Five big garlicky shrimp, cooked so they are still firm, are atop the delicate angel hair in the shrimp scampi dish ($14.95). The serving isn't big, but it's plenty. That's quite a change from the usual gargantuan pasta servings in Pittsburgh restaurants. Garlic bread served with it is actually a split hoagie roll, topped with grated cheese and toasted.

A thin slice of swordfish ($14.95) has been grilled a minute too long and is dry; the lime ginger sauce makes it palatable, though. Tonight the vegetable is sliced squash in marinara sauce, and the sour cream for the baked potato comes in a package that you have to tear open and squirt onto your spud.

Nothing fancy, but it seems appropriate for eating on an outdoor deck along the river on a summer evening. Silky's Crow's Nest is not much to look at. Rooms have been added on and changed as different restaurants occupied the space. The Lampenfeld family has owned Silky's Crow's Nest for the last 5 1/2 years. Dave Lampenfeld is the manager and Dave Markunas is the chef.

When Misty Harbour restaurant next door closed last year, Silky's took over the marina and floating barge.

It's a bit tacky looking as you drive in from Main Street in Sharpsburg, passing under the railroad bridge and following the Silky's Crow's Nest signs everywhere.

But if you like to relax over a simple, uncomplicated dinner, or maybe just a sandwich, watching boats in the river and birds flying in a V-formation overhead, Silky's is worth a visit. On a week night.

Silky's Crow's Nest
19th St. and River Road

Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Friday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. to midnight

Cuisine: American

Atmosphere: Bar, dining room and deck, overlooking the Allegheny River

The basics: Appetizers range from fried zucchini at $4.95 to shrimp cocktail, $8.50; entrees from chicken marsala, $12.95, to land and sea platter, $20.95; pasta, from pasta marinara, $7.95, to seafood scoglio, $14.95; munchies, salads, and sandwiches; full bar, small wine list with reasonable prices, and wines by the glass; parking lot; not wheelchair accessible (steps at entry); seats 75 in dining room, 80 on deck, 50 in bar;

Dockside Bar open on Friday and Saturday evenings through the middle of September; one small section of dining room is no-smoking; all major credit cards; reservations only for six or more.

The last word: View of the river is the big attraction

-- Review by Woodene Merriman, Post-Gazette Dining Critic
-- August 15, 1997

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