There are some restaurants that you know the meal is going to be good from the very beginning, and within moments of entering Bar Marco in the Strip District I knew that this would be one of them.
While I was right on my hunch that the food and drinks would be fantastic, the portion sizes gave us reason to pause.
Bar Marco Has Some of the City's Best Bartenders
When you sit down at a table at Bar Marco, you'll notice something odd- there is no cocktail menu available. This is because the bartenders at Bar Marco do not have a pre-determined cocktail list outside of happy hour. All you have to do is simply tell them what spirit you like, what flavor profile you're looking for, and they'll take care of the rest.
We took this as an opportunity to challenge the bartender as when it comes to drinking unusual cocktails, we've been around the block a few times.
For my first drink I asked for a spicy bourbon cocktail, and after talking to our waiter some more we settled on one that was heavier on the spirit and about a 7 out of 10 on heat. When they returned the ingredients were explained (with Red Hot bitters providing the heat), I took my first sip, and was not disappointed. Although I would not call the heat a seven, a lingering burn on my tongue knew that I came to the right place. The drinks only got better from there.
Angie's first drink was a tequila based concoction more on the side of a mixed drink with cointreau, blueberry preserves, and simple syrup- quite possibly one of the best drinks of the night with strong fruit flavors and an ever present bite of tequila.
Our subsequent drinks included the challenge for something smoky- a tequila and mezcal Old Fashioned, as well as a drink with a base of St. Germain (elderflower liquor) which included Aperol and a few select fruits and syrups.
If I could go out for specialty cocktails every day of the week, Bar Marco would certainly be on my regular rotation.
The Food Is Just as Stunning
Normally when it comes to a bar serving incredible cocktails, I do not hold out much hope for the food also being delicious- but the offering at Bar Marco was among the best meals we've had since launching this website.
We settled on two of the more expensive food items, the pasta dish Bucatini all’Amatriciana- Angie's favorite from Italy, as well as the pork loin featuring sweet potato turnip and cherry puree for me.
These two dishes simply blew us away as they are both incredible iterations of two very popular meals. The pasta was full of strong pork flavors and an amazing sauce (albeit lacking on the actual pork), and the combination of the sweet potato and cherry puree worked so well with the pork loin that I'm not sure I'd ever want to eat it any other way.
Unfortunately for Bar Marco, we finished our dishes in an instant as the portions were very, very small. Considering the going rate for the items, the portion sizes gave us reason to pause. That is, until we returned for a second visit.
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The Portions Are Small, But Bigger Than Before
I was thoroughly prepared to call this as the best meal we've had in Pittsburgh to date, but one thing is holding me back from doing so: the price. Or, perhaps more importantly, the entree size at said price.
When it comes down to it, Bar Marco is one of the few restaurants in the city that pays its staff members a decent salary, and we can thoroughly get behind that- except that the prices of the menu items seem to be significantly inflated beyond even that for their size.
For craft cocktails from an incredible bartender, $13 to $14 each with gratuity factored in is reasonable. Considering we bought four, I'm not complaining. The more budget friendly items, priced around $13-$17 each, are getting high for the sizes we were given, but we'll tolerate that. Going to the more expensive end of the menu, like in the dishes we tried, $24 for what amounted to five or six pieces of pork was simply too much– especially when some of the more budget friendly dishes appeared to be similar in serving size.
In early 2018 we returned to Bar Marco with the fear that the portion sizes would be just as small as they were in our original review (mostly unchanged until this paragraph). While the portion sizes are still a bit small for the entrees at their price points above, we are happy to report that they are much larger than they were before.
In most cases this would result an entire re-write of our review on this site. But to be quite honest the size of the entrees for their price was the only complaint we had about the menu. Everything we had in our revisit was just as delicious as above, with only minor variations in style and flavor profile. In fact, we heard through many channels that Bar Marco even recognized the complaints on the small menu sizes and improved this specifically moving forward (although this was all from second hand sources so it is not 100% verified).
For this reason, we're deviating from our standard re-writes and instead are adding this addendum to the end of our original review.
No matter how you look at it, Bar Marco is working its way towards becoming one of the best restaurants in the city (and is really in the running for being the very best). The flavors are there. The execution is there. And the cocktails are all above and beyond what we would expect from a restaurant.
As Bar Marco works on tailoring its portion sizes to match the rest of their stellar offering, we simply have to say: we are excited for our next visit.
We just hope that it is sooner rather than later!
Bar Marco is located at 2216 Penn Avenue in the Strip District.
Check out more bars in Pittsburgh, such as Grapperia, The Summit, or Mixtape Pittsburgh! Or, for more reviews of Pittsburgh restaurants, click the previous link to be taken to our directory of every review on Discover the Burgh!