Photo by Kristy Locklin.

While Covid restrictions discourage hugs, The Eagle Food & Beer Hall delivers the culinary equivalent to a warm embrace.

The restaurant will take flight May 11 for indoor and outdoor seating, carryout and delivery. Hours will be 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Located Downtown on the ground floor of the new Eighth & Penn apartment building at 737 Penn Ave., the 6,000-square-foot restaurant serves up down-home Southern dishes with style and substance.

Photo courtesy of The Eagle Food & Beer Hall.

The Eagle knows a lot about poultry. Its fried chicken has been featured in HuffPost and The Chicago Tribune, and was named one of the 10 Most Hype-worthy Fried Chicken Restaurants by the Travel Channel.

The free-range, hormone-free bird is house-brined for 24 to 48 hours and then hand-dredged. You can order a whole or a half chicken or one-fourth white or dark meat. There’s also a fried chicken sandwich topped with coleslaw, spicy mayo and house pickles. Pair it with homemade hot honey and a side of hush puppies packed with corn, jalapeno and cheddar. The stick-to-your-ribs sides feel more like entrees. Choose from sides such as collard greens, succotash, spoonbread (iron skillet cornbread with maple butter), sweet potatoes, white cheddar grits or gooey mac and cheese made with five cheeses and garlic breadcrumbs.

Photo courtesy of The Eagle Food & Beer Hall.

On the veggie-forward front, there’s the kale salad with Tuscan kale, bourbon-soaked raisins, cornbread croutons, sharp cheddar and cider vinaigrette.

Can’t decide what to order? Spring for The Eagle Family Meal, a selection of salad, sides and fried chicken that serves six people.

The Eagle has 16 taps serving a wide range of local and national brews. Tony Dornbusch, food and beverage director for Thunderdome Restaurant Group, the company behind The Eagle and other Midwestern eateries, mixes a mean cocktail.

The bourbon punch, which comes in a glass chalice, combines Old Forester, ginger liqueur, cranberry and white grape juices and a house-made sour mix. Like the food, it’s available in a shareable size.

Natural light fills The Eagle. It seats 150, yet the place feels warm and cozy. The space boasts high ceilings and a mezzanine level for private functions. There’s a large eagle mural painted on exposed brick and décor accents that give the walls the look of a weatherworn barn.

Photo by Kristy Locklin.

Reclaimed wood is used throughout the restaurant, including in the large island bar.

Joe Lanni, co-founder of Thunderdome Restaurant Group, says he and his partners would like to open more restaurants in Pittsburgh. The Eagle concept has been in development since 2019. While Covid delayed the grand opening a year, he thinks it was worth the wait.

“Southern fried chicken is quintessentially American food,” Lanni says. “We focus on that and we do it really well.”

The Penn Avenue spot is The Eagle’s sixth U.S. location. The first one opened in a former post office (hence the name) in Cincinnati in 2014. The Eagle is Thunderdome Restaurant Group’s second brand in the local market; Bakersfield opened on Penn Avenue in 2016. Alex Blust, co-founder of Thunderdome, graduated from the Pittsburgh-based Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts in 1999.

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.