Wine bar Eighth & Hays believes in Homestead (and wood-fired pies)
March 22, 2017
If you haven’t been paying attention, or don’t care to, you’re likely unfamiliar with Homestead’s continually redeveloping communities; its many longstanding, family-owned businesses; and the newest establishments to grace Eighth Avenue. A lack of interest is understandable: Just beyond city limits, the borough lacks the convenience — and until recently, the draw — of Pittsburgh’s more frequented neighborhoods. Surrounded by retired steel mills and dilapidated properties, Homestead is the kind of place you’d never expect to find a cozy, contemporary wine bar.
Yet, we’ve found ourselves at Eighth & Hays: a cozy, contemporary wine bar. It opened in November, barely four months ago; but it has the panache of a place decades older. The space is an inviting addition to Hays Street and the popular, aforementioned Eighth Avenue, warm lights and earthy tones visible from the sidewalk. Inside, the vibe is casual, the servers are what your mother would call “rays of sunshine,” and the menu plentifully contains all of our favorite things: cocktails, wine, cheese.
Founded by Karen and Joe Ducar — who have owned the sports pub next door, Duke’s Upper Deck Cafe, since 1988 — and operated by their daughter, Pamela Wantland, Eighth & Hays boasts not only the wholesomeness of a family-run business, but the vibrancy that Homestead has been lacking.
Upon hearing the local buzz, we moseyed across the Homestead Grays Bridge to scope out the scene. OK, fine: And the wine list.
Wielding a bachelor’s degree in supply chain management, Wantland traded a corporate career for a stake in her parents’ business. Following months of learning, reading, and talking about wine, the general manager and self-taught sommelier is now the sole organizer of the bar’s extensive wine menu.
Its premium and house wine offerings are so modestly priced, they could be mistaken for typos. Wantland says the selection took her “about a year” to finalize, adding, “You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a great bottle of wine. It just takes some research.” Wait — this girl gets us. And not only on the wine front.
Incorporating homemade simple syrup and fresh herbs, Eighth & Hays’ cocktails are yet another product of Wantland’s creative genius. We’d describe most as modified classics; the Mexican Mule is made with either mezcal or tequila, for example; while the Cosmopolitan features fig-infused vodka and elderflower liqueur. As a nightcap, opt for the Tiramisu Martini: freshly brewed espresso, tiramisu liqueur, and vanilla vodka, also known as YOLO in a glass.
After two-ish rounds of drinks, food is imperative. Luckily, Eighth & Hays has this thing for wood-fired pizzas. We ordered several for our group, then shared an awkward 5-minute silence as we stuffed our faces. Those heavenly slices came to us fresh from the brick oven, charred in all of the right ways.
The guy behind the pie is executive chef Kevin Harris, who’s been on board from day one. He specializes in pizza, obviously, but has also developed a selection of equally enticing plates: paninis, cured meats, and even homemade desserts.
“We’re so lucky to have found such an amazing staff,” Wantland says. We’d bet that her employees knew this place would succeed from the get-go. It’s homey, sophisticated, and walkable from the Waterfront, for one. But it’s also one of few independent eateries in Homestead — a quality that Wantland believes the borough is beginning to appreciate.
“[The area’s residents] want something new, fresh, locally owned,” she says. “And Eighth Avenue is starting to become just that.”
If a rising restaurant landscape is any indication, Homestead looks to be morphing into more of a destination than a wrong turn. This side of the Monongahela may never be as family-oriented as Highland Park, or as millennial-driven as the South Side. It does not offer Shadyside’s walkability, Regent Square’s greenery, or Mount Washington’s photo opps. But Homestead has always done things its own way — and that’s exactly what we love about it.