Willow is one of those restaurants that consistently makes all the “best of” Pittsburgh lists year after year. We visited a few months ago to celebrate our anniversary and have to agree that if you're looking for a reliable nice dinner out, this spot fits the bill.
An Upscale Ambiance North of Pittsburgh
Located inside a house-like building on Camp Horne Rd., the decor is modern but perhaps a touch more casual than you might expect from the menu style and price point.
For drinks we started with cocktails but weren't too impressed – wine and beer are the better options here. We tried a red wine-based cocktail that was similar to a sangria and the Breakfast in Manhattan with rye whiskey, coffee-infused amaro, maraschino liqueur, and mole bitters that had quite a strong coffee flavor but was watered down by the copious amount of ice.
We were given focaccia style bread to start with a sweet butter as we decided on starters from the mix of charcuterie boards, salads, flatbreads, and small plates.
Make it a Night Out Here
The hot chicken and panzanella salad were calling our names. With a super crispy fried coating, a mouth-warming hot sauce, and a buttermilk biscuit that soaked up some honey-thyme butter for a hint of sweetness, the hot chicken sandwich was definitely a good option.
The panzanella salad wasn't quite what we were expecting – it was more of a regular style lettuce salad with some focaccia croutons – but it was still good. It hit all the right notes with a well-seasoned lemon-basil vinaigrette, capers, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and cubes of focaccia on top of a nice mix of hardy and tender salad greens.
As always, Jeremy homed in on the burger for his entree choice. This one had a patty made with a blend of chuck and short rib and was served on a brioche bun. Gruyere cheese, bacon whiskey jam, grilled onions, and crispy pork belly rounded out the list of over-the-top toppings.
The short rib flavor wasn't really there as it has been in other short rib mixed patties that we've had in the city, but the burger was cooked to the exact temperature we ordered – quite a rarity for Pittsburgh. Fries were plentiful and were not anything to write home about.
After cocktails and appetizers I was looking for something a bit more virtuous and ordered the Scottish salmon. It was cooked medium and was pretty tender and moist.
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The skin was served on top as if it was meant to be crispy, but it wasn't quite crispy enough to cut. There was a small dabble of a green herb sauce on the plate but it could have used more.
A quinoa salad on the side had an interesting mix of radishes, carrots, and apricots in a vinaigrette dressing and was a good blend of sweet and savory with a vinegary punch.
At this point we were so full but I'm a sucker for celebratory desserts: the rhubarb crostata was calling our names. This dessert was like a galette or a free-form open face pie with a cornmeal crust and a berry-rhubarb filling. Although the berry flavor overpowered the rhubarb flavor a bit, the flaky, tender crust and the juicy, just-sweet-enough fruit filling won us over when it came to the table bubbling and fresh from the oven!
Throughout the meal the service was relaxed and friendly, complementing the composed but slightly casual vibe of the menu and space.
We should note that the chef and menu have changed considerably since our visit; now the food seems to skew a bit fancier and a little more interesting – all the more reason to return soon!
Willow is located at 634 Camp Horne Road in Ben Avon, PA just north of the city.
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