Hook ‘n the Mouth is located in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside district, nestled in among the salons and shops with a picturesque terrace opening out to the bustling summer night traffic. Inside, the decor is elegantly tasteful, with a small foyer buoyed with bouquets opening to the main dining room. Beige linens and fanned napkins in glistening glasses harken guests to the beautifully set tables, each centered with a lovely floral arrangement. The walls are decorated with watercolors of beach scenes alternating with nautical pieces of anchors and woodcuts of steamships. All of the artwork has been donated by local artists, a classy nod to a sense of community.
I find a table near the front windows and order a double scotch and water. The atmosphere is a bit disorienting at first, as my vision is whirling around erratically and there’s a high pitched buzz in my right ear. I slap my ear with my palm to try to stop the buzzing. The volume lowers slightly, but then I hear the distant singing of a flock of birds, then nothing, then the birds again. I cock my head this way and that, trying to discern some pattern to the bird sounds. I should note that in preparation for the restaurant review, I’d dropped two tabs of Obama acid, each perforated portion adorned with a side profile of his pensive visage. I wanted to be in a suitably heightened state of awareness, but the tingling in my neck and the way the lights are wavering with a slackening blur seem to portend some trouble.
The waitress arrives with my drink and dinner menus. I can’t speak so I just nod politely, motioning to the two empty seats across from me. I’ll be meeting my friend Bison and his girlfriend Cammy, whom he met on a recent business trip to Brazil. Cammy is a stunning woman, shapely and sexual, though she doesn’t speak any English. Or perhaps she’s just being coy – her eyes always glimmer with such mischief that one can’t be sure. Bison is a writer, producer, and director of mature pornography, recently specializing in latex domination for the over-eighty market. Needless to say, he’s a multimillionaire. He’s promised to meet me after his morning shoot, but his lifestyle and rapidly bottoming coke habit make punctuality somewhat difficult for him. But he’s a real culinary aesthete – you should see him attack a bucket of fried chicken in a hotel room full of strippers after a night of drug addled craziness.
I take a few sips of scotch through the tiny straw and glance down at the menu. Hook ‘n the Mouth offers a wide range of surf and turf with a separate menu of fresh daily specials. Or at least, one would assume – the formal font is spinning around before me in an illegible blur, so I just keep my head down as I feign perusal with a focused expression. I find then my sunglasses in the front pocket of my shirt and don them. Much better. I can make out, after some concentration, the word, “Salads.” Either that, or “Satan.” Though I would suspect the former.
Hook ‘n the Mouth is owned and operated by Joseph Brundruzzio, a former New Jersey port entrepreneur who has recently relocated to Pittsburgh after a short jail term. While inside, he studied the culinary arts, grilling steaks on the radiator, boiling cups of “soup” made of stray spices and condiment packets. His Jersey connections have served him well in his new endeavor, and the daily specials often depend on what items have been “appropriated” from various sources. He has also installed an interactive lobster tank at the far wall, which customers can use to control a small hook in an attempt to catch a free dinner. It’s a fun diversion, and in a nod to Brundruzzio’s Jersey roots, it is rigged and completely unwinnable.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” mumbles a voice. Here’s Bison: dressed in an open collared pastel suit, his thinning hair tousled, his bloodshot eyes wild and feral. He slumps down in his seat with such force that I can picture a cloud of dust settling around him. Camelia slinks up just behind him, her sultry frame barely concealed in a skin tight lime green mini-dress, her curly black hair tied up in bun. She sets her handbag on the table and smiles at me, blowing a bubble of grape purple gum.
“What’s happening,” I greet them.
Bison points to my face. “What’s with the shades?”
“I’m undercover. I’m doing a restaurant review.” Then, lowering my voice: “A little buzzed, too.”
Bison just shakes his head as he taps on his phone. His attention is frenetic, often trailing off mid-sentence, mid-thought. Irritating though it may be in social situations, this trait actually serves him well professionally, as he can direct multiple scenes simultaneously, shouting out orders to his trysting senior couples with his trademark bullhorn.
“What can I get for you folks to start?” asks the waitress. She has a vibrant, bubbly personality. The service at Hook ‘n the Mouth is exemplary all around, neat and attentive.
“Bloody mary, tall, extra celery,” says Bison. Then motioning to Cammy, “Apple juice, lots of ice.”
“Can I tell you about the specials?”
“Please don’t,” says Bison, smiling warmly. “Just get the drinks, hon.”
Then, after watching her disappear, he says in near whisper, “It’s a go on that thing.”
“Oh, good.” I nod and take another sip of scotch. I’d placed an order for some weaponry for something I’ve got coming up at PNC Bank. I won’t sully this restaurant review with any further details, but it could be a fairly lucrative endeavor. “You got guys too?”
Bison scratches his chin and points to Cammy. “Her cousins. Or that’s what she calls them. Everybody’s cousins down there. One big happy fucking family.”
I smile at Cammy. She’s examining her nails, each several inches long and painted exotic patterns of vivid colors. The Obama acid is really kicking in, so the nails flash about with sparkling radiance.
“I’m assuming they’re trustworthy,” I say as diplomatically as possible.
“Oh yeah, bro.” Bison whistles. “In and out.”
The waitress arrives with the drinks.
“So are you folks ready to order?”
“Gimme a steak, rare and bloody,” says Bison. “On the side, I want two baked potatoes, rare and bloody. Broccoli rabe. Disco fries. Onion soup, extra bread on top. I want the bread really soaked up, like a sponge. No, scratch that, gimme a real sponge on there, so I can just suck the soup out of it. Mussels, raw, don’t cook them….”
The waitress is nodding as she’s frantically writing all of this on her notepad. Bison continues on for several minutes, so that she has to actually fill multiple pads of scrawled script for his entire order.
Meanwhile, I muse: at what point does a man’s will break completely? That is, hypothetically, when faced with a life threatening situation, will an assistant manager at a PNC Bank recoil with properly subservient fear or will he attempt some ill-advised measure of heroism? That’s what the third man on my flank will be for, to keep a scope trained on him while we’re “negotiating.” To perhaps fire a warning shot above his head, smashing up some glass, just to show him that we mean business. We’re not there to hurt anybody, that’s what I tell my boys, what I always shout out in my opening announcement to the cowering employees as the doors are locked. I’ve already got my suit picked out too, a classy burnt grey affair that will subtly convey professionalism as well as a sense of style. Because one thing’s for sure: I’m not going back to jail, not now, not ever.
“And for you sir?”
“Another one of these,” I say, holding up my glass of ice. “That’s it.”
I don’t have much of an appetite. Besides, I have about six more hours of this acid to contend with and I suspect from these early stirrings that it’s going to be quite a ride. Bison is already starting in with his story of the morning’s shoot while I exchange a glance with Cammy that seems suffused with a winking invitation. Is she serious? What would Bison do if he found out? I would have to kill him and make it look like an accident. A lethal dose, something like that. There’s no honor among thieves, that’s for sure. This is the life we chose.
Overall, Hook ‘n the Mouth provides a wonderful dining experience. Even in the heart of Shadyside, this new restaurant stands out with its classy decor and attentive service. The warm ambience and sense of local community makes it a fine addition to the downtown area. There is also a breakfast buffet on Sunday, which includes an omlette and ice cream sundae bar. A fine destination for the whole family. Visa and Mastercard accepted, cash preferred.