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Thursday, September 22, 2016

B52 Lawrenceville

I estimate that I probably eat a vegetarian diet about two times a week. Avoiding meat isn't just hypothetically better for your body, it's also better supposed to be better in terms of environmental sustainability. (There are great arguments on both sides of the fence. Vegetarians would probably like to crucify me for this statement but it would be counter-intuitive to their mission.)

That being said, I just can't get as excited to go out to vegetarian restaurants as I do for more specific dining experiences. If you tell me we are going for sushi, Tex-Mex, bbq or Thai, I begin to salivate. If you tell me we are going to a vegetarian restaurant, I lose my vigor.

The moussaka, pictured above, was absolutely beautiful, but underwhelming. The dish tasted as though it had been prepared well in advance of the evening and was likely re-heated. It was one of the few dishes I've seen returned in the history of happy hour. (The waitress asked, and the kind patron tried to refuse.)

Onion Flatbread
Some of our favorite dishes were the stewed tomatoes, the onion flatbread and the fried cauliflower. All were masterfully prepared with a fantastic array of middle-eastern spices. The flatbread came covered in sumac, pine nuts and caramelized onions. It is actually hard to imagine how they were able to sell if for $6 considering the amount of pine nuts heaped on the dang thing!   (At the time this article was published the average price of pine nuts was $18 per pound.)

One of the great options available at B52 is that they allow you to select a complimentary sauce with each order. Your choices include the harissa. which is a smoked hot pepper sauce,  the zhoug, which is a cilantro parsley hot sauce and of course, tahini. The harissa seemed to be the group favorite.

The staff was very accommodating, especially for putting up with the nightmare known as the Pittsburgh Happy Hour. They helped us take over most of the restaurant without much resistance and even managed to muster a few smiles.

Some great perks to keep in mind, B52 is BYOB, the space is gorgeous and you may even run into local celebrity Rick Sebak! He just happened to be dining there during our little soiree.


. B52 Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, June 10, 2016


"Apteka" is polish for drug dispensary. I guess people must be running out of restaurant names, but the establishment itself does have a sort of pharmacy-esq je ne sais quoi. The white cement block walls are largely barren and the decor is simple. A true reminder of what it must have been like to live in Eastern Europe during the cold war. The food, however, is very exotic.

Pictured above are three separate vegetable tartines and an apple tart featuring some sour cherries. The tartines provided a great array of fresh and flavorful ingredients and they were easily the best dish I tried during my visit. They are somewhat difficult to describe as each had a different type of bean or pesto spread, a different vegetable topping and very unique flavors. The apple tart was also quite delightful. You really can't go wrong with sour cherries. Overall, I would say that the food at Apteka could be one of the best pure vegetarian options available in Pittsburgh.

I generally find it very difficult to get excited by restaurants that don't serve meat as it always seems that many of the offerings attempt to mimic the flavor and texture of meat. (IE tofu scramble, seitan chicken wings or bean burgers.) Apteka on the other hand offers authentic old-world style dishes that really don't lack in any way from the exclusion of meat products.

Do you spell it pirogi, perogie, pierogi, pyrogy or perogy?
They offer two types of pierogi, a saurkraut and mushroom and a smoked potato with parsnip and turnip greens. I honestly thought I would prefer the saurkraut pierogi, but the smoked potato was so unique that it was absolutely may favorite. Homemade pierogis are always a treat and these are some of the best in the city.

On a Thursday night the line for Apteka was out the door. Additionally, their staff is still working out the kinks and service was not great. Soon it looks like they will be opening an outdoor patio and I can only imagine that the quality of the service improves as the restaurant finds its bearings. Give it a month or so. Also, be sure to try the tequila drink with wildflower, lime and orange.

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

Revel and Roost - Hilton Garden Inn (Market Square)

Royale Seafood Platter
My father is a real seafood man. I've seen the old-fatty order seafood platters at restaurants all over the country. I've witnessed him bask in delight while enjoying a $70 platter at an upscale restaurant in New York and wither in pain after consuming the $11 seafood platter from Eat n Park. I actually just had dinner with him this weekend and he was telling me about some seafood platter he ordered recently. The man is a machine.

It must be a Pittsburgh vernacular phenomenon. I'm accustomed to the phrase, "seafood platter" as well as the more formal, "plateaux de fruits de mer." However, I am not accustomed to the phrase, "seafood tower." It seems that in many parts of the country the dish is called a seafood tower. Revel and Roost offers three different sizes of towers, petite ($24), grande ($36) and royale ($55). Pictured above is the royale.

The shrimp and lobster were actually quite good, but the clams and oysters did not seem very fresh. Indeed, the quantity and quality of seafood was a bit disappointing for the price. Also noticeably missing were the uni (fish roe) that were promised by the menu.

My initial reaction was outrage, then I remembered that I ordered a seafood tower at a hotel bar with a poultry theme name that is over 350 miles from the ocean. Indeed, the poultry theme name is quite appropriate. (Albeit for no reason as the server told me the name had nothing to do with Pittsburgh history.)

Right next door to Revel and Roost was a restaurant called George Aiken's Chicken. Now, any old timey yinzer would know the place. But in this age of royale seafood towers, such treasures have been forgotten. The really interesting thing about George Aiken's Chicken is that they were the subject of a copyright lawsuit that went before the United States Supreme Court and forever changed the landscape of radio public broadcast royalties.

So when you dine at Revel and Roost, you are really participating in the great history of American jurisprudence. However, I recommend avoiding the seafood tower and enjoying some fried cheese curds.

Revel + Roost Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Muddy Waters Oyster Bar

When I approach a new bar, I generally have three major concerns. Where will I sit, what shall I eat and what do I drink?

So here is the straight up dope on Muddy Waters Oyster Bar. For happy hour you can get $1 east coast oysters or $2 west coast oysters. The $2 oysters were noticeably better, however, they were not an entire $1 better. How would I quantify such a thing you might ask?

 It was easy, I simply made an off-the-cuff determination that I would rather have spent my $1 on an extra oyster as opposed to a marginally better oyster. The oysters were fresh, flavorful and presented in a lovely manner. A vast improvement over Revel and Roost. Keep in mind that the raw bar menu changes daily, but always come prepared with a solid game plan. Now that you have a dining strategy, let's talk drinks.

During happy hour, you can get $10 off any selection under "Bubbles" on the menu. Your selection is a no brainer. You're going to go with the Lamberti Prosecco which comes to roughly $18 a bottle after the happy hour discount. Not only is it entirely acceptable, it is also the cheapest bottle on the menu. Here's why you are better off ordering the cheapest bottle of wine on a menu as opposed to the second cheapest:

"Avoid the second cheapest bottle on a wine list as, in most restaurants, this is the one the restaurateur pays the least for. Safe in the knowledge that customers don’t want to appear tight, owners tend to put the cheapest wine at a price slightly higher than the house wine – thus making the most profit. In most cases, the house wine will be better and cheaper."

If you aren't the sea-faring type, go with the hot chicken. You will be treated to some delightfully succulent chicken served with collard greens, sweet pickles, dirty rice and white bread. It didn't pair particularly well with the prosecco, but who cares. Pictured above was my small taste of a happy hour guest's half chicken, it was remarkable. A perfect amount of heat and oh oh so moist.

So now we have just one last inquiry: where should you sit?

Outside Seating
You will, of course, be arriving early to snag the outside seating. In addition to the excellent service you will receive as the coveted face of the bar, you will be the talk of the town as you slam Prosecco and oysters with your friends. Happy hunting restaurant-goer! 

Muddy Waters Oyster Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

SCRATCH - Troy Hill

Mushroom Crostini
Scratch is one of the newer Pittsburgh restaurants that I've seen mentioned as an up and comer time and time again. I've probably dined with them about half a dozen times now and the most impressive aspect of the bar has to be the owner's commitment to using locally sourced ingredients. The menu changes routinely and I've even seen it change multiple times in the same week. 

On my last visit Scratch had decided to go vegetarian for Earth Day. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed as I had a craving for a greasy burger. (Earth day be damned. Sometimes I just want a burger.) The mushroom crostini was my consolation prize. I thought that the goat cheese and mushrooms were excellent, but I was a little surprised by the amount of parsley. (The easy fix was to throw that parsley in the garbage.)

Leek and Potato
 The leek and potato appetizer has a base of pureed purple potatoes and it is topped with sauteed leeks, crispy fingerling potatoes and a healthy serving of brie cheese. This was absolutely without a doubt one of the best dishes I've tried this year. The picture simply cannot do this creation justice. The combination of flavors and textures was simply outstanding.

Also, I should mention that Scratch has some great beer specials and a wonderful staff. Overall, I think it is one of the best bars to open in Pittsburgh in the last year.

Scratch Food & Beverage Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, April 22, 2016

Poros - Market Square

Lamb Kibbeh
Poros is a newer addition to Market Square that you basically can't miss. The glamorous facade and beautiful restaurant interior bring a certain elegance to Market Square -- an elegance that was certainly lacking back in the 90's when Market Square was a haven for drug addicts, miscreants and women of the night. The new Market Square has become a family friendly playground boasting public art installations, fun activities, a number of bars and fine restaurants and of course, Poros.

Poros will break your wallet. Their only happy hour special is on Wednesday, fish is literally sold by the ounce and the prices are comparable to restaurants found in much larger cities. That being said, I believe the food is worth every penny.

Pictured above is the raw lamb kibbeh ($11) which is served with egg yolk, fennel, onion, farro and capers. The only place that I have ever seen raw kibbeh is at the mercy meals held by my Lebanese family after funerals. As a child I was totally put off by the dish, as an adult I wish I could indulge in raw kibbeh every night. The Kibbeh from poros had a magnificent texture and the various flavors and ingredients created a memorable dining experience. I'm certain that I will order this dish every time I visit. It was really that good.

Poros Chips
I think my server was much more excited about the Poros chips ($12) than I was. She was essentially bursting with glee when I ordered them and then came back twice to see if I liked them as much as she did.  They consisted of crispy zucchini and eggplant plastered with tzatziki sauce and mint. They were quite light in texture and perfect companion for a nice bottle of white wine. I would recommend sharing though, eating the entire plate by myself was literally a tall order.

Pro tips: Poros is expensive. An entree is going to run you upwards of $30 and don't expect any free bread or discounted drinks. (Also, don't bother with the hummus, I didn't think it was that great.) Skip dinner, go for lunch and get the $18 fixed price meal. The salmon I ordered on a previous visit ranks among the best fish I've been served in this fine city. 

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