Acorn brings modern American cuisine with an inclination towards fine dining to the Shadyside neighborhood.
The menu focuses on seasonally inspired cuisine with dishes that are on the surface straightforward enough but with international flavors, interesting ingredients, and creative spins sneaking in to each dish to keep things interesting.
We had been eyeing this one for a while, and when the folks at Acorn invited us in to try out their winter menu, we were pretty excited to try some of their hearty dishes on one of the coldest days of the year.
Start off Dinner at Acorn Right with Drinks
First things first – the drink menu.
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It's simple but shows attention to detail with craft cocktails, an all-Pittsburgh draft beer list (breweries like Leaning Cask, Eleventh Hour, ShuBrew, and Hitchhiker making an appearance), and a variety of wines (many new world) available by the glass or bottle.
The cocktail menu was intriguing so we started with the “Arthur Fonzarelli” with quince, peated bourbon from Liberty Pole Spirits (Washington, PA), and blood orange.
The quince thickened the drink up a little bit while the citrus notes tamed yet complemented the smokiness.We love the peated bourbon from Liberty Pole and were excited to see it used (and used well) in a cocktail menu.
The “We're Going to Need a Bigger Boat” cocktail was perhaps even better with tequila, cinnamon honey, grapefruit, and blood orange. It was a really well-balanced drink with sweet, sour, spice, and alcohol flavors all playing together beautifully.
Small Plates, Large Plates, or a Bit of Both
Our server explained to us how the menu was set up, with small plates and vegetable dishes serving as appetizers, a range of traditional sized entrees, as well as two special dishes that are meant to be shared between two people (on our visit, the larger dishes were a steak and a seafood cassoulet).
We started with the salt cod appetizer. This was a creamy, garlicky warm dip where the cod was mixed with mashed potatoes and olive oil.
It was topped with a bubbly, browned layer of funky cheese that added even more deliciousness. Toasted house made sourdough bread was served along side for dipping which was buttery with an airy yet chewy crumb.
We also got to try a sneak peak of a new dish that should be on the menu soon- grilled king trumpet mushrooms on top of a squid ink vinaigrette, with radicchio and citrus to garnish.
The mushrooms were cooked in a Korean barbecue style that really complemented the meatiness of the mushrooms. The tangy squid ink vinaigrette helped balance out the hardiness of the mushrooms, along with the acidity and bitterness of the grapefruit and radicchio. This was one of those dishes where each bite brings new flavors and intrigues your whole palate.
For our entrees we chose the chicken fried rabbit and the pork loin.
The pork loin had Mexican inspired flavors with an achiote seasoning, a tamale on top, two mole sauces, turnips, and cotija cheese. The presentation was definitely impressive and beautiful with a several-inch-thick pork loin made even taller with the tamale resting on top.
The pork was juicy with some nice grill marks and grilled flavor. The mole verde was a bright, fresh, garlicky sauce perfect for dipping the pork in.
We had the Oaxacan mole omitted due to my nut allergy, but I bet that would help add some spiciness and even more flavor to this dish.
The chicken fried rabbit was our favorite entree of the two with chow chow (pickled veggies), pate, and milk gravy complementing the two cuts of rabbit- loin and fried legs.
The fried legs tasted like a better, richer fried chicken while the loin was melt in your mouth tender. This is for sure an indulgent dish that's well worth it!
A Few Pros and Cons with the Service
Although the service was generally good, there were a few things to note. The pace and timing of the meal seemed a little bit off with our server taking our entree orders as our appetizer was being served to us.
Additionally, we noted my nut allergy but didn't get confirmation of whether or not the chicken fried rabbit contained nuts, so I ended up steering clear of the dish to be safe (much to Jeremy's delight as he said the dish was delicious and ate it all himself).
There were many good points in the service, too. We appreciated our server's detailed descriptions of the menu items along with her help in deciding what to order. We also liked how genuinely friendly all the staff were, with the chef and the bar manager coming around and speaking with several different tables throughout the night.
We would definitely return to try more of the small plates and the shareable entrees – and also the baked Alaska dessert which we've heard has an impressive presentation involving fire.
Overall we felt the menu and the experience at Acorn balanced creativity with simplicity really well. If you're looking for a seasonally inspired modern American restaurant, Acorn for sure fits the bill.
Acorn is located at 5528 Walnut Street in Shadyside. We'd like to thank Acorn for inviting us in for this meal. As always, all opinions are our own.