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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sienna Mercato - Il Tetto

Caprese
Il Tetto is the fancy new roof top deck downtown. I'm pretty amazed at the number of roof top decks that have opened just within the last year.... Skybar, Carson City, Blue Line Grille, Steel Cactus, etc. Pittsburgh's new obsession with outdoor seating is fantastic.

Il Tetto offers a very limited menu that is completely different from the selections available downstairs at Emporio. (Emporio is the Sienna Mercato meatball restaurant. My review of Emporio is available here.) So be sure to grab your meatballs and discounted beers downstairs at Emprio before you take the elevator ride to Il Tetto as the rooftop bar does not offer meatballs or happy hour specials.

Some of the selections available at Il Tetto include fried head cheese, home made sausage, marinated olives and my delicious caprese salad which is pictured above.

My caprese salad was very good. It was made with extremely high quality olive oil from Lodi Olive Oil co, basil, fresh tomatoes, some remarkable mozzarella and some micro greens including cilantro. Someone did a fine job of selecting a delicious tomato for my salad. Great work Il Tetto! Although I found the addition of cilantro to a caprese salad to be rather odd, it seemed to work as it was used sparingly. My chief complaint about the salad, and about Il Tetto in general, was the pricing. The salad cost $14 and each drink ran somewhere between $7 and $15. I think this is very high for Pittsburgh, even with the beautiful view of the city.

It is my personal belief that if I'm paying $14 for a salad it should come with some type of protein or at least a lap dance. However, based on the size of the crowd the last two times I've visited Il Tetto, it would appear that the general public disagrees. It is true what they say, you pay for the view.


Il Tetto: Rooftop Beer Garden on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Over the Bar - Southside - OTB

Pierogies
I do not think it makes sense that there is a bar that caters specifically to people who ride bicycles. I've voiced this concern about OTB many times. I find it funny that bikers define themselves as a sub culture based on a mode of transportation. (I suppose they'd also spout off some nonsense about how I'm being superficial and there is so much more to the biker way of life.) Personally, I like to walk quite often. But I do not think a walking themed bar would be nearly as successful as OTB.

Everyone I know claims to love the food at OTB. My old neighbor used to say they had the best salads ever and this dude I know named Carl eats there religiously. Personally, I have very little interest in the food at OTB. I'm pretty sure my happy hour pierogies were made by Mrs. T.

The menu consists of some rather pedestrian food selections (this is a pun) and the food is just average at best. I'd say the menu selections and food quality are comparable to what is offered at Double Wide minus the bbq. However, the menu might totally be your thing if you are into normal food selections named after clever bike things. For example, punk bike pickles, the peddle paddle panini, the tandem or the big wheel.  (Yes these are all real things from the OTB menu.)

I don't want to come off as overly critical. I think OTB has some good beer specials and I certainly like the staff. ($3 Dales Pale Ale and our bartender looked like Miley Cyrus!) Also, the food is acceptable. I just don't understand the hype. Without the bicycle theme and the ample bike parking, I think this place would be out of business.

Seitan Wings
These wings were way better than they looked. They did a nice job of achieving the perfect texture with the seitan. If you've never had seitan wings, I recommend giving them a try. Although the chicken wing is the perfect vehicle to eat butter and buffalo sauce, crispy seitan can work quite well. Seitan should really just be called gluten, because that's what it is. A non-soy meat alternative made with wheat and often served as fake duck or tofurkey. Now get on your bike and ride!


OTB (Over The Bar) Bicycle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Salonika Gyros - Downtown.

Gyro Time
The American gyro always has been a total mystery to me. I find it very odd that Pittsburghers often argue over the merits of Mike and Tony's versus Lesvos in the Southside. I have a seriously difficult time discerning any difference between the meat used by any of the gyro places in Pittsburgh. Although gryos are considered a traditional Greek food, they are typically made with pork or chicken in Greece.

The stuff we get here in the U.S. is some strange combination of beef and lamb. The product you see on display at the gyro store is not an actual cut of meat, but rather a product most commonly referred to as, "gyro cone" or "gyro loaf." These cones or loaves are formed by pressing ground meat into a cylinder. According to the New York Times, every gyro cone in the U.S. is largely made by one distributor. http://www.nytimes.com/video/dining/1247463404006/the-making-of-a-gyro-cone.html

So next time your drunk friends argue over the merits of various gyro places and the quality of the meat, politely explain that they are stupid idiots whose preferences are based on neon signs.

SO GOOD

Now that I've got my rant out of the way, I'd like to say that Salonika Gyro downtown on 6th ave is the best gyro place in Pittsburgh!!  In addition to boasting gyro loaf on a hot spit, they offer many homemade specialties such as hummus, grape leaves, stuffed peppers, baklava, loobi, and filo dough dishes made with chicken and fish. (If your favorite gyro store doesn't have any specialties other than  gyros made with mass produced meat loaf, you are uncouth and lacking in culture.)

Some of the great things about Salonika are the quality and the low prices. Not to mention the extremely ratty bar frequented by some of Pittsburgh's most likely small time crooks and child support dodgers. To give you an idea of the value you can expect for your dollar, all of the food pictured above cost roughly $13. Grape leaves, tzatziki, hummus, spanakopita, tons of extra bread and a HUGE gyro salad with cucumbers, peppers, onions, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese.

I dare you to find a better value in downtown Pittsburgh for dinner. (If you do, I'll take you out for a gyro on me.) Also, if you are stopping by for a drink, you can expect to pay about $2 per beer. They had $4 mojitos as well, but you don't want to go ordering your Cuban cocktails from a Greek restaurant.


Salonika Gyros on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Ave - Shadyside - Stack'd II

It was all downhill from here.
I think one of the main considerations when eating a cheese steak is the ability actually eat the sandwich without making a terrible mess that requires a fork. Although other factors such as the quality of the meat, the freshness of the bread and the overall flavor are very important, I believe it is instrumental that you should actually be able to eat the damn sandwich in the intended manner.

After the first bite of my Stack'd II cheese steak I was left with a disastrous puddle of meat and sauce. Now, this wasn't a huge issue for me as I was happy to shovel the pile of gross into my face. However, having to eat your cheese steak with a fork really detracts from the overall experience. Part of the art of the cheese steak is appropriately balancing the ingredients in a manner that allows for proper sandwich consumption.

The great thing about Stack'd II is that they allow you to design your own cheese steak with a wonderful little selection card. The bad thing about Stack'd II is that I'm apparently not very good at designing cheese steaks. I went with the Amoroso roll, grilled onions, mushrooms and peppers, steak sauce, provolone cheese, banana peppers, tomato, lettuce and pizza sauce.

I call my creation the, "garbage steak." Because that's what it tasted like. The entire thing was a sloppy disaster. I believe my hodge-podge ingredient selection could have been better executed, but in hindsight I probably should have made fewer selections.  (PS: If you don't know what an Amoroso roll is, you are not alone. I had to ask my friend Kevin from Philly. An Amoroso roll is the official Philadelphia roll used for cheese steaks. Which explains why it tasted like it was frozen.)


Score card for making sammies.
Although I love the concept behind Stack'd II, I think the execution needs some fine tuning. I would still recommend that you stop by for happy hour. They offer a HALF OFF EVERYTHING special! Yes, it includes shots.

Ave Aka Stackd II on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mario's Southside Pizza Party

Talk pizza to me!
As you can tell from the magical mist rising above this Mario's pizza buffet, Mario's makes magical pizza. I've been going to Mario's for many many years. So many in fact, that I'd written the food off entirely. I just never really considered going to Mario's for food as Mario's was always the place I went to try and meet beautiful women to take home and introduce to my parents. (This has been a massive failure.)

On Thursdays the pizzas at Mario's are half price! This is a very good deal as you can get a large specialty pie for a little over $9. I'm really not sure where Mario's got their pizza recipe, but it is outstanding. Easily one of the best items on their menu along with the ribs and beef nachos. In terms of a comparable Southside pies, I'd say their pizza is better than Sal's and Genaro's, but not as good as Michael's.  I typically find pizza to be one of the hardest foods to describe. From now on I'll be using the following matrix for my pizza reviews.


Although I realize this type of score card is typically reserved for pizza competitions, I look at life as one big pizza competition. You go around enjoying pizzas and then one day you die. I'm a modern optimist.

TACO PIZZA
Last Sunday I was at Mario's with my boy Big R and I saw the waitress about to throw out someone's boxed leftovers. I asked if I could have them right before she heaved them in the trash like a bag of dead puppies, but she told me that I was being gross. She also said, "it wasn't even real pizza, it was taco pizza."

Then she threw the pizza in the trash, along with all of my dreams and hopes for a brighter tomorrow. Also, I feel this tragedy was somehow related to the unfortunate death of Robin Williams.


Mario's Southside Saloon/Blue Lou's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wigle Whiskey - Barrelhouse and Whiskey Garden

Wigle Wigle Wigle.
If you didn't know, Wigle Whiskey has opened a cute little whiskey complex nestled in between Troy Hill and the Northside. (Honestly, I'm not exactly sure what neighborhood it is, possibly Spring Hill, but it is  very close to Penn Brewery.) The real purpose of the establishment is to give Wigle a nice space in which to age their product, but under state law they are also allowed to operate a retail establishment in the same location. Neat!

Some of the fantastic benefits of the whiskey garden include outdoor seating, corn hole, a nice little garden for your aesthetic pleasure, barrel house tours and an assortment of snacks from the Thin Man Sandwich Shop. Cocktails are available for $6 and snacks are provided for a small fee. You can choose from hummus, pickled vegetables and chicken liver moose. Also, you can schedule private tours of the barrel house including a whiskey tasting for $20 per person.  

During our visit we received a nice explanation of why Wigle makes their own bitters. Because Wigle is operating under a peculiar liquor license exception related to their distillation activities, they are prohibited from selling third party spirits or alcoholic drinks on premises. As a result, if Wigle wants to make their cocktails with bitters, triple sec or any other alcoholic mixer, they just have to make it themselves. That's what I call American spirit!

Just a little bit of... swing.
I can make you famous on Instagram.

Go head, and go ham sandwich.
As a side note, if you end up at the Wigle whiskey garden and find yourself in need of a beer, you can travel right down the street to the quaint Bierhaus Tavern at 919 Spring Garden Ave. Bierhaus will let you order pizza from their box of menus and drinks are about as cheap as possible. Be warned though, only about six large beer glasses are available, so make sure to get a head start on your friends when en route from the whiskey garden.


Wigle Whiskey on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bobby Hendrix

Bob's Burgers

When I first met Bobby of Bobby Hendrix I could tell he was a guy who really knew how to make things happen in the kitchen. His new restaurant does some fantastic work and I think it could easily be considered one of the most underrated spots in the Southside. I'm usually pretty picky when it comes to burgers and I tend to order on the conservative side. I'm glad Bobby picked out a few different sliders for me as his choices were much more adventurous than anything I would have selected.

Pictured above are the Fat Elvis burger and the Bobby Hendrix burger. The Fat Elvis was the burger of my dreams. Blue cheese, peanut butter, extra bacon and bananas. I know that the toppings might not necessarily sound intuitive, but they worked beautifully. The bananas do a fantastic job of cutting the intense flavors from the blue cheese, peanut butter and bacon. Also, extra bacon?!?! What a great idea. 

The Bobby Hendrix burger is Bobby's take on the classic Big Mac. American cheese, bacon, pickles, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and special sauce.  It wasn't quite a Big Mac because the beef was of a better quality, but I'd say it was otherwise a great imitation. (There's just something special about the McDonald's Big Mac with the way it comes packaged, the toasted sesame seed bun and the way the meat is stacked. I really do love the Big Mac.)

Most true Pittsburghers know that the Big Mac was invented right here in the 'Burgh. What you may not know though is that one of the original names for the burger was "the aristocrat." The other thing you may not know is that The Economist has used the Big Mac as a reference point for comparing the cost of living in different countries – the Big Mac Index  sometimes referred to as Burgernomics.


Coincidence?

I seriously recommend you try some of Bobby's crazy hamburgers!  The style of burger is different than what you'll find at Winghart's, BRGR, Burgatory or Tesarro's and the quality is top notch. Next time I want to try the $50 burger. A half pound burger topped with crab, caviar, gouda and a truffle glaze. I'll have to find out if the damn thing is actually $50 though.


Bobby Hendrix on Urbanspoon