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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Ponderosa Lives On in Beaver County

That's right, Ponderosa still exists.

The undeniable reason that Ponderosa is an outstanding restaurant is that just like all five star buffets, it is named after a fictional ranch from the television show Bonanza. In case you are wondering, Ponderosa/Bonanza are the same restaurant - they use the name interchangeably in order to really confuse potential visitors to the trough.

Naming your buffet after a fictional ranch is a sure fire way to convince consumers that you've really done your homework. I've never seen the show Bonanza and I would venture to say that the majority of Ponderosa's customers have not either. (It stopped running 45 years ago.) Presumably the show portrays America's working class eating themselves to death.

An entree and the buffet at Ponderosa will cost you roughly $20. I'll let you decide how you would like to tip at a buffet, I go with the standard 10%. Remarkably, there are still quite a few Ponderosa locations. The only two in Pennsylvania are located right outside of Pittsburgh in Beaver Falls and Butler. For the adventurous traveler there are also Ponderosa locations in Egypt, Taiwan, UAE and Qatar. The fuck? 

Now keep in mind that it is possible to just get the buffet when you visit Ponderosa, but you can add an entree for only a few additional dollars. Don't be a fool, get the entree. More on this later.

Any proper trip to Ponderosa starts with the salad bar. The options are really quite numerous and the combinations are endless. As you can see I went with the regal combination of iceberg with peppers, chickpeas, carrots, onions, and pickles. My tastes are so refined that sometimes I find it hard to believe that I am not the king of England or at least a social influencer on Insta.

After your salad you should have time for one more course before your entree is served. I recommend going with the chicken wing and meatball course. A plate that would surely satiate any appetite. The chicken wings are probably one of the better items on the Ponderosa menu. It is worth noting that Ponderosa now carries red-hot in addition to tobasco, this is essential for wing fans.

Just one important note on the chicken wing and meatball course - I'd recommend skipping the meatballs. They are awful.

Entrees and Tacos

Now, after your second course your entree is sure to arrive. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU EAT YOUR ENTREE.

While Ponderosa will not allow you to abscond with any of the 6,000 items from the buffet, you are free to take home your entree. Basically this means that you've paid about $3-$5 dollars for a fine cut of bottom round steak and some french fries that you may enjoy in the privacy of your own home.

Two of my dining companions ate their entrees despite my protests. Why oh why would you eat potential home-steak when you can get other versions of "beef" from the buffet? I was horrified. If they were my children I would have taken them outside to the Ponderosa parking lot for a Beaver County beating.

Also pictured above is my taco course. While the taco bar may look unappetizing, trust me, it is.

Since you are dining at Ponderosa, you are obviously a massive baller with unlimited funds and an even larger selection of potential mates. After your third course it is time to carbo-load for all of the unbridled sex you will likely be having in the very near future.

I recommend a classic plate of spaghetti, mashed potatoes, pizza, nondescript flavorless red sausage and cinnamon bread?  Oddly enough I was unable to find butter.

Time for dessert!
During our visit the chocolate soft serve machine was broken, so I couldn't go with my normal swirl soft-serve bowl. Ponderosa has an entire wall dedicated to dessert. Cookies, brownies, cakes, fruit inspired casseroles, etc. I like jamming cookies into a bowl and covering them in ice cream and chocolate sauce. It is basically the perfect way to ruin your self-esteem and cap off a night of gluttony.

While my review may be snarky, I like Ponderossa. If you go into the Ponderossa experience knowing that you are paying for quantity as opposed to quality - you should be able to find some food that you enjoy and have a nice evening. Also, you'll have a delicious home-steak for later and the memories of a meal inspired by a canceled television show from that was presumably inspired by the American west in the 1950's.

Ponderosa Steakhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Level 7 - AC Hotel Pittsburgh

Level 7

Hotel bars have an indescribable je ne sais quoi:

The lonely patrons drinking in silence. The pretty girls outrageously overdressed for a Thursday afternoon, raising implications left unsaid. The sad businessmen pretending that another glass of cabaret will fix their broken marriage. The sulking bartenders who seem almost interchangeable - totally devoid of emotion or personality, masters of small talk.

Level 7 presented all of these overused troupes during our visit in September. The highlight of the establishment is the very nice deck that overlooks the convention center and provides a unique view of downtown Pittsburgh.

The food was rather good. I enjoyed my Greek meatballs which were served with generous portions of homemade tzatziki sauce. I love tzatziki sauce.  The meat plate was just OK, but seemed reasonably priced for $7. (All small plates and a number of drinks are priced at $7 for happy hour.)
If I went on business trips or had a wife to cheat on, this would be my top prospect. Otherwise, I think you can find more personality at a number of hotel bars throughout our fine city.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Forbes Tavern

The brand new Forbes Tavern sits in the location of the very old Courthouse Tavern on Forbes Avenue. The Courthouse Tavern had a certain undeniable charm. It was a great place for casual day drinking, the food was cheap and the entire bar smelled of sewage.

I'm delighted to say that the new owner of Forbes Tavern has done a wonderful job with the renovations! The new space has a very clean and modern feel. When I asked about the smell of the previous establishment the new owner, Chris, mentioned that he had spent countless hours personally scrubbing the basement in order to remedy the issue. How quaint.

In addition to some marvelous renovations, all of the food we tried was remarkable. The happy hour options were very well priced and the smoked chicken wings I tried were quite good. A lovely crisp texture with great flavor and a generous amount of smoke. The flank steak, pictured below, was also very well prepared. (Served with chimichurri, corn salad and some grilled veggies.)

Specials run from 4:00 to 6:00 pm with appetizers priced from $5 to $9.

We had great food and some very good service at Forbes Tavern, our only complaint is that as the bar reached capacity it was a little loud, but the owner told us he was working to find a solution.

Courthouse Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Lamb Fest - Top Picks 2018

I tried explaining to a dear friend last week that Church Food Festivals are no longer really all that interesting to me. While they serve a great cause, and some of them may serve great food - there are just so many more robust options for people who actually like to eat.

For example, the Western Pennsylvania Lamb Cook Off this year hosted 34 well known chefs including guest chefs from Vegas and New York. I don't care how sentimental and nostalgic you may be for the church festivals of 'ole. There's just no way that nana and her church pals are up to the task of making better food than the professionals.

The first thing I noticed upon entering this years festival was the protestors! There were a number of folks very peacefully protesting the consumption of meat. I have to give them credit for just how polite they were, I didn't see a single one of them try to knock a kebab on the ground or snatch up any grape leaves.

Here are my top picks for this years festival in no particular order:

Team 9 with their szechuan style lamb served with snap peas and tofu. (Their pressed lamb was almost reminiscent of a terrine or rillettes.)

Team 4 with their multiple courses including a remarkable lamb tallow blueberry parfait. (I know what you are thinking, lamb tallow and desert just don't quite mix - but they do! The lamb fat added a wonderful umami sensation to the dish.)

Team 6 with their trio of homemade lamb sausages. (This was a crowd favorite and the line was long for almost the entire festival.)

Team 8 with their amazing grape leaves, kebabs and hummus. (This team also brought a wonderful exuberance to the festival and made you feel right at home. The grape leaves were almost as good as the ones my mother makes.)

I'd also like to give a shout-out to the folks from Scratch Food and Beverage who put together a very nice lamb dish atop dirty rice. It tasted just like something my family would make.

Overall this is a really great event that is well worth the $65 ticket price. Unlike similar events there is no need to be intimidated by the long lines. Even after hours of slinging lamb not a single one of the vendors had stopped serving food. Be prepared to immediately retire to your couch if you attempt to sample each dish. This is a true lamb feast.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Big Jim's

Big Jim's Calzone
I know what you are thinking, Big Jim sure has a beautiful smile. But you are incorrect, that is just my friend Michael. Michael made the fantastic decision to order Big Jim's Calzone. The menu actually suggests that you call ahead as it takes them 45 minutes to bake this big daddy.

The Big Jim comes with ham, salami, capicola, onions, pepperoni, green peps, mushrooms and provolone. The size of the beast reminded me of a terrible Moby Dick themed opera I saw earlier this year. At $13.99, the Big Jim could be one of the best deals in the city.

The humongous calzone comes absolutely packed with provisions and the above photo barely does justice to the scale of the beast. About seven different people shared the calzone and many of those individuals didn't bother to order anything else. One suggestion, next time I order the Big Jim I will probably order a bowl of marinara for dipping.

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken parmesan is one of my favorite dishes. I had a law school roommate who cooked chicken parm almost every week  - he nearly ruined the dish for me. Nice try Dave. The chicken parm at Big Jim's was remarkable. Perfectly crisp with an outrageous portion size, a fantastic amount of cheese and a generous portion of spaghet. 

The chicken parm is also a steal at $12.99 and it comes with a salad and garlic toast. As a matter of fact, the chicken parm was so good and I had so much left over that I ate the remaining piece of chicken and the spaghetti in a public park with my hands, sans utensils around midnight. My only regret was waking up with indigestion and sauce covered pants the next morning.

Big Jim's is a must-visit Pittsburgh establishment. Do not expect a rowdy bar crowd, Big Jim's draws in more of a neighborhood dinner crowd. I should also mention that the staff was very welcoming and did a great job taking care of our large bar group.

Big Jim's Restaurant & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Limoncello Fest - Vallozzi's

Christy loves his 'cello

If you've been following my posts, you know that I love Vallozzi's. They offer excellent food, a wonderful atmosphere, and just once a year a totally banging limoncello festival! Included in the price of your  festival ticket you can expect to receive one cocktail, access to a fantastic buffet and unlimited limoncello.

Before discussing the 'cello I would be remiss if I did not mention that the food offered by Vallozzi's for the festival was outstanding. Hand breaded chicken, pizza, salads, cheese, and a ton of other options. Vallozzi's pizza is fantastic. I do not believe it would be an exaggeration to say that I had close to eight slices while sipping on some 'cello. My only regret was missing the ice cream/gellato ladies as they were walking out the door. (These are the things that keep me up at night.)

Now, to the 'cello. By my count Vallozzi's had at least fifteen different varieties available to try. Some of the flavors I can recall are cherry, kumquat, apple, lemon, blueberry, strawberry, grape, orange, mixed berry and my favorite, the HOT Fresno chili.

Boy did this stuff pack a punch. In fact, it was so potent that representatives were on hand to warn folks before having a taste. I loved the spiciness of the chilies coupled with the sweet sweet 'cello. The heat added a level of complexity that went well beyond your classic limoncello.

If you are curious about the origins of limoncello, you are not alone. Like all things Italian, they aren't sure if it dates back to the early 1900's or the middle ages. Classic Italians! All we know for sure is that the trademark for limoncello was registered in 1988. At it's most basic level limoncello is just lemon, alcohol and sugar. You can even make it at home if you feel like it.

In addition to offering an outrageous amount of 'cello samples, Vallozzi's opened their back alley where they hosted a DJ, more tastings, a prosecco tent and pop-up cocktail offerings from Mr. Spencer Warren, the proprietor of our new favorite bar, the Warren. Mr. Warren was on hand making these fantastic grapefruit drinks we simply adored. (Also, he agreed with my assessment of his restaurant's chimichurri sauce which brought me great joy.)

This is what you might look like before or during the festival.

This is probably what you can expect to look like after the festival. With so many varieties to sample this festival will wear you down! For the price point, Vallozzi's Festa di Limoncello is a real knockout. It is a really great event that I believe will only continue to thrive. This was only the second year and I cannot wait to see what they come up with next year. (Personally, I plan to rock one of these sick lemon-print male rompers next year.)

Vallozzi's Pittsburgh Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Carlton Rosé Dinner

Tuna Poke

This summer Lee Keuhn of Vintage Imports treated me to a five course summer rosé dinner featuring five rosés from all over the world. Rosé has made a serious comeback and until I met Lee several weeks ago at The Warren, I honestly had no idea just how much I liked rosé.

I have always thought of rosé as a sweet wine comparable to to a fruity white zinfandel. I was really surprised to find out that rosé  offers a wide range of flavors, many of which are dry and quite complex. Rosé is all the rage right now according to The Guardian  - I have to say that I totally agree. In the last two weeks I've noticed a bottle of rosé at almost every summer party I've been to and I even happen to currently have a bottle in my fridge as a friend left it here on the 4th of July.

When I mentioned the rosé dinner to my parents they explained that pink wine was real hip in the 70's. I suppose it is true, all things come back into style.

Pictured above was my favorite course of the evening, Tuna Tartare, Bamboo Rice, Pickled Red Cabbage, Papaya Slaw, Ginger Wakimi Salad, Honey-Sesame Miso Glaze. It was a great start to a wonderful night of fun and it matched perfectly with the escudoreal vinho verde from Portugal. (That wine was the favorite of one of my dining partners.)

Our Gracious Host Lee

Lee from Vintage Imports is the man. He can tell you basically anything that you need to know about rosé. During our dinner he gave a five minute lecture on the wine making process and some notes on what to expect from our wine samples throughout the evening. After attending both a tasting and a wine dinner with Lee, I basically feel like a rosé pro.  (Please note that I am actually a blithering idiot who is not a real rosé  pro.)

Burrata Caprese

Sea Salted Burrata Cheese with Heirloom Tomato Medley, Hydroponic Greens, Ice Wine Vinaigrette, Spicy Pesto, Savory Biscotti Croutons. - You cannot go wrong with burrata, that's what my Italian grandpa always used to say! This was a great salad, save the croutons and it was served with a cielo rosé from Italy.

Surf and Turf Trio

Lamb & Swordfish Skewer with Bloody Mary Glaze, Scallop Rumaki Bruschetta with Apple-Avocado Salsa, Feta Chicken Stuffed Shrimp with Cauliflower Puree & Mediterranean Vegetable Salad.

This was my second favorite dish of the night. The lamb in particular was so tender that I had to go get lamb again the following week. The dish was called "surf and turf three ways" and it sure did not disappoint. It was paired with a delicious Domaine Petronivin de Corse rosé from France - my favorite wine of the evening. 

Beef Char Siu

Pictured above is the Hoisin Glazed Teres Major (Petite Tenderloin) with Caramelized Yam Spätzle,
Grilled Fennel, Coriander Crème, Cilantro-Lime Oil paired with a wonderful Domaine Maby Primadonna rosé from France.

Not pictured was our awesome pear torte which was served with some great rosé from the state of Oregon.  The Carlton is always a great time, and it really can't be beat when their amazing food is paired with some fine wine. (I intentionally rhymed.) Special thanks to Vintage Wines, Lee and the Carlton for a great time!

Carlton Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato