“It might take them a while to hunt it down and lure it in.”
The first time comedian Amanda Averell got up on stage at an open mic, she needed some encouragement. She found that encouragement in one supportive friend and several boozy mojitos. It’s been four years since she performed that first set and now she can’t stop.
“I’ve just been doing it ever since, all the time,” Averell says. “I’ve done it when I had pneumonia and a 104 degree fever. I’ve driven hours [to a gig] and hours back to do it. I love it.”
I invited Averell to check out Hidden Harbor in Squirrel Hill with me before I’d heard the mojito story, and also before I knew she had a thing for sharks. More on that later.
Hidden Harbor has a “modern tiki” motif. The menu is mostly cocktails with laundry lists of fruity ingredients mixed together and served in ornate island drinkware. If there’s a shark fin next to the name of the drink it means it’s pretty strong. If there are two shark fins, the drink is very strong.
For our first round, because Hidden Harbor isn’t the kind of place where you only get one round, we both go for rum based drinks. Averell orders the Golden Girl and I the Rum Cannonball. Mine comes out as a slushie in a glass that looks like it was stolen from a chemistry lab. Hers comes out in a tall glass with a blue tiki head etched on the side, a blue crazy straw, a pink carnation, and a star fruit slice on the rim. She removes the carnation and places it behind her ear.
“Look at this drink, this looks like my own personal little topiary,” Averell says. “Couldn’t you just imagine like the most tropical of gnomes living there and he just wears the hat and board shorts?”
The drinks are tasty, as we expected. The food we feel less certain about. The menu is considerably more sparse on that front, but the Caribbean offerings sound surprisingly authentic and much more interesting than the cliché coconut shrimp you’d expect from a tiki joint. We order the watermelon ceviche, which is a great vegan alternative to traditional seafood ceviches. But we’re not vegan; we just like watermelon. It takes a long time to get to us.
“They probably have to actually go kill the watermelon to do it,” Averell jests. “So it might take them a while to hunt it down and lure it in.”
Averell’s stand up involves a lot of stories about odd things that have actually happened in her life. Like the time she got a lip tattoo inspired by her love of pro wrestling. The tattoo reads “hardcore.”
“It was my third tattoo, because I’m that kind of white trash where as soon as I turned 18 on my birthday I got one tattoo, I got another one the day after prom, and then I got a third one like three days after I graduated.”
When it’s time to order our entrees, I go for a rice and bean bowl with chicken and Averell gets a dish called “mofongo.” Mofongo, we learn, is plantain smashed together with pork belly and garlic. Best of all, it’s served in a wooden chalice. Averell even gets another flower to add to her hair. We’re both happy with our choices and our second round of drinks.
The food and cocktails are pricey because you’re paying for the decor—both the stuff that’s on the walls and the stuff that’s in your cup. But under all of the tropical trinkets, it tastes good. We decide to keep it going and order tres leches for dessert. It’s a beautiful little slice of cake soaked with sweetened condensed milk and topped with whipped cream.
Averell goes to show me a photo of food on her phone, and in doing so scrolls past a few featuring a toy shark.
“His name is Bruce,” she says. The namesake of the iconic beast in Jaws, Averell received the small shark in a drink she ordered at a Joe’s Crab Shack. She held onto him. Now, the whole thing has spiralled into Averell owning a collection with about fifteen sharks, most of them gifts from friends. She once tore apart one of Liberace’s former mansions, now an Airbnb, looking for a shark she had brought along on a trip to Vegas. But no dice.
“It was like we lost a child,” Averall says. “My boyfriend and I grieved.”
Averell’s latest comedic project brings together the three forms she loves: stand up, improv, and sketch comedy. It’s a show she’s co-producing with Sarah Wojdylak called “That Time of the Month” on September 14 at Arcade Comedy Theater. Those who attend the show are asked to bring a cash donation or individually wrapped menstrual products for collection by the charity Sisterfriend.
“We wanted to avoid marketing it as an all women show,” Averell says. ”It’s a variety show—it just so happens that we cast a lot of really talented people and most of those people have vaginas.”