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Friday, March 24, 2017

Talia


When I get sad I drink Campari in my attic. Personally I love the stuff. Pictured above is a negroni - according to my awesome bartender at Talia they will have them on tap once they get settled. If you've never had a negroni they are made with gin, vermouth and Campari. If you want to get sexy with Campari at home, here's a great list of recipes. Personally I adore the boulevardier.


Have you ever had hot olives? Generally I have not been impressed by them in the past.  I've always had the dish served in some type of rosemary lemon dressing. The hot olives at Talia were served with a pork salumi sauce that really tied them together. A unique dish in my humble opinion. I'm really looking forward to going back so that I can check out the salumi board and cheese board on the menu. Based on what was offered at the tasting I'm certain they will be fantastic.


Out of the various samples we tried the beef tartare was probably my favorite. They did a great job, perfect texture and flavor with a nice balsamic tomato twist. On my next visit I'm really looking forward to sampling the spaghett and the Italiano pizza with speck, sopresetta and hen of the woods! I never see exotic mushrooms on menus, this is a very exciting development.

Also, if you are wondering if I spelled spaghetti incorrectly, I did not. That is how they have it on the menu, just like my favorite Tim and Eric character. http://www.taliapgh.com/dinner/


Talia Cucina & Roticceria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Social House 7



White Fish Carpaccio
The first thing that struck me about Social House 7 was the unique name. I found it intriguing and reminiscent of the Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse Five.

The next thing that stood out was the decor. It is immaculate. I really love how they've made the place up. (See if you can find the koi fish when you walk in.) I firmly believe that Social House 7 was created because someone at the AMPD Restaurant group said, "how can we capitalize on the success of Nakama in the Southside. "

Social House 7 has a more grandiose decor than Nakama and an overall better aesthetic, however, the food is roughly the same in terms of quality.  That is to say - it is not very good. You can check out my 2012 review of Nakama here. I honestly don't think I've been back to Nakama since that visit.

The AMPD group's Steel Cactus appears to be an attempt to similarly capitalize on the success of Mad Mex. When did ideas for restaurants become so scarce? I guess Pittsburgh restaurateurs are running out of steam like the 70's steel industry.

My first concern regarding the establishment was very grave. The girl next to me at the bar ordered a sake and they stated that it could not be done as the sake machine was broken. The bartender's explanation for the lack of sake made absolutely no sense and sent me into a tailspin of panic.

My concerns were confirmed by my $15 white fish carpaccio dish. (Pictured above.) The fish was not cut thin enough to be marketed as carpaccio and the plate was simply too barren for the price point. It is worth noting that I have also had the eel roll from Social House 7 twice and I thought it was perfectly acceptable. This is the nicest thing I have to say.

Previously I had used the spelling of carpaccio from the Social House 7 menu in this review, which turned out to be incorrect. A special thank you to my foodie friend Nik H. for pointing out the error of my ways. (You should be concerned about eating carpaccio at a restaurant that does not know how to spell carpaccio. You should be equally weary of any food blogger that also cannot spell carpaccio.)


This was my coconut fried rice with fish sauce, cilantro and coconut milk. For an up-charge they will also put some really bad chicken on top of your rice haphazardly. The rice itself was actually pretty good but the chicken was overcooked and tough. (Possibly definitely koi fish.) From my two very brief visits I have to say that the street food seems to outshine the sushi. I will be going back to confirm that this is the case and to see if the giant koi fish in the doorway live through the lingering winter.

. Social House 7 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Hop Farm Lawrenceville

Mac
It is basically impossible to believe the explosion of breweries throughout the Pittsburgh area over the last several years. For a city that had only two breweries for the last twenty years, I'd venture to say that we currently have more than ten. This is just wonderful. Additionally, the variety of beers now offered has grown exponentially. Growing up in Pittsburgh, your choices were lager, pilsner, or light. Hop Farm on the other hand offered a fantastic variety of beers including a nitro coffee stout and a black IPA. (I'm actually planning to go back and try all the beers I missed.)

I've been to Hop Farm a number of times, but I had no idea that they served food. Pictured above is the gouda mac and cheese. It was actually penne and cheese and it was basically an entire bowl of cheese soup. It was delicious and quite indulgent. I would not recommend trying to eat an order of this by yourself.


Taco
Although Hop Farm has a regular menu, Thursday is their taco night. They serve goat, pork and tofu tacos as well as a pork burrito. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the tacos. A nice sized portion of meat, a decent tortilla and pretty good toppings. The goat was significantly better than the pork. Much juicer and better flavored. I was shocked when I noticed that no one else from my party had ordered the goat.

I think goat gets a bad rap. It seems entirely overlooked in the American diet along with mutton and hogget. Be adventurous! Try the goat and Apis mead and lose those inhibitions when visiting Hop Farm.


Hop Farm Brewing Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, February 24, 2017

Umami - Lawrenceville

Sunomono
u·ma·mi
o͞oˈmämē/
noun: umami
  1. a category of taste in food (besides sweet, sour, salt, and bitter), corresponding to the flavor of glutamates, especially monosodium glutamate.
If you aren't familiar with how to describe the umami flavor, you are not alone. It's very difficult to discern. I would describe it as that salty sensation you experience when drinking really good Japanese green tea despite the absence of actual sodium. To a finely trained palate the same sensation can be experienced when eating all sorts of meats and vegetables, but is likely often confused with saltiness.

Umami was kind enough to provide us with a private room for our happy hour but the tables in Umami's party room are just awful. They are situated below the floor and getting into the both is intimidating for a rickety old man like myself. I'm always inclined to lean on the table as I bend down to enter the booth and this creates a sensation of absolute terror as the tables are not bolted to the floor.

The food is worth the visit, even if the seating is uncomfortable. During my two trips to Umami I've tried every item on Robatayaki menu.  The chicken thigh is a steal for $2.5 and some of my other favorites were the shrimp ($2.5), chicken skin ($2.5) and king trumpet mushroom ($3).

On my first visit I sampled the chirasi, this time I ordered the Sunomono. A raw fish salad with cucumber, rice vinegar, shrimp, striped bass, wakame, salmon, octopus. It was absolutely lovely, I only wish it had been a little larger. However, I thought it was appropriately portioned for the price ($12). 

The only real disappointment during my visit was the gemimacha tea. I love green tea, but I just can't make myself like gemimacha no matter how hard I try.  The crisped rice adds an astringency that I do not enjoy. I certainly can't blame the restaurant though as I ordered green tea without properly inspecting the menu.


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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ranking Every Chicken Wing in the Southside of Pittsburgh


We had some very basic ground rules for our competition. A standard hot wing needed to be ordered from each restaurant we visited. This was our attempt at standardizing our approach. (We also asked for house specialty wings in addition to most of the hot wings we tried.) We narrowed our selections down to ten restaurants in the Southside**.  It would easily be possible to do a wing crawl with closer to twenty stops, but ten was aggressive for one night. Here are the final rankings. A description of each location is listed below.

1. Birmingham Bridge Tavern
2. Rugger's Pub
3. Archies
4. Mario's Southside
5. Winghart's
6. The Library
7. Smoking Joes
8. Doublewide
9. Fat Head's
10. Wings Over Pittsburgh



BBT

BBT serves some of the best wings in the entire city. They are without a doubt some of the best in the Southside. The number one factor is their nearly flawless consistency in their wing preparation. The wings are perfectly crispy every time without having to request extra crispy wings. The sauce selections are fantastic - for my money you cannot beat the golden boy sauce which has a little heat and some honey mustard. Their wing night is every Wednesday when they feature 50 cent wings. Normally an order of 10 will cost you $10. Also, keep in mind that they will charge you 50 cents to use a credit card!

"7/10 heat, medium size." - Mark Bucklaw

Birmingham Bridge Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato




Rugger's
I've been eating wings at Rugger's for at least 10 years. Their melting pot sauce is a little different every time you visit, but it is one of my absolute favorites in the Southside. I'd describe it as a garlic, buffalo, black pepper, mustard combination - but I'm probably missing a few ingredients. We also  had the opportunity to try their signature habanero wings which were just fantastic. The intense heat built slowly and had a great flavor. What makes Rugger's stand out is that their sauces are unique and the texture is usually spot on. Also, they offer 1/2 price wings every night of the week during their happy hour which starts at 6pm.


Ruggers Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Archie's

Archie's has absolutely been killing it with their wing game in recent years. While I feel that some Southside restaurants have declined, Archie's has just gotten better. It was really difficult to place them behind Rugger's and BBT. Their wings are 40 cents every Monday through Thursday. I think their best sauce is the hot ranch which has a delightful flavor. Personally I felt that they could have been a little crispier. However, it is worth noting that their wings are larger than Rugger's and BBT.

 "Medium to large in size, perfect sauce coverage." - Eric Giles

Archies Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Mario's
Mario's is where the trouble started. It was one of our final stops and we ordered two extra orders of wings by accident as the smoking people didn't want to go visit the non-smokers. (Blue Lou's is smoking, Mario's is not - they both offer the same menu.)

Mario's never ceases to amaze me. Although I've been drinking there since my early 20's, I've  overlooked the food until recently. Their wings are very good. They offer some interesting flavors such as General Tso's and honey garlic habanero. I have to say though, the honey garlic habanero did not have much heat and the wings were a bit dry. 12 wings will cost you $10.

Eric didn't like the sauce coverage at all and this time I agreed. Mark was also unhappy in general. His singular response when asked for comment was, "no." If you haven't read about the history of General Tso's Chicken in America, you should

Mario's Southside Saloon/Blue Lou's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Winghart's
By the time we got to Winghart's I had the wingfarts. Additionally, Winghart's was so late in the night that it became difficult to accurately compare the various wings. However, Winghart's really stood out. They had a great texture and a very nice size, comparable to Archie's. The texture was extremely unique compared to our other stops - almost as though the wings were coated and fried at a higher temperature. They were remarkably juicy. Winghart's would have ranked higher except I had to dock them for the price. 8 wings at Winghart's will run you $14.95.

"Too much salt." -Matt DeNardo
"Almost breaded." -Carl Michael Kraus III 



Winghart's Southside Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


The Library

I recently wrote a review of The Library. We managed to hit them up during their fantastic happy hour. Although their wings are normally 12 for $12 - they were $6 for happy hour. Other than Archie's giving us free wings, this was the best special of the evening.

The wings were underwhelming. They were lacking in sauce coverage and overcooked. Also, the buffalo sauce was fairly mild. My favorite treat at the Library was an order of the fried ice cream. It really served as wonderful intermezzo for our group. For $12 you can get all you can eat wings on Sundays.

"Have you ever tried eating a spoonful of cinnamon" -Carl Kraus
 "They fucked us on flavor." -Mark Bucklaw


Library Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Smoking Bro's
Hot garlic parm is the go-to wing at Smoking Joe's. Unfortunately I believe the quality of the wings has gone down significantly over the last few years. Also, I've always found their consistency to be lacking. The wings had a great heat level, but the oil seemed dirty and the texture was rubbery. We all agreed that Smoking Joe's had the best blue cheese of all the restaurants we visited. 12 wings will run you $11.95. On Wednesday you can get 40 cent wings.


Smokin' Joe's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Doublewide
The Doublewide used to be one of my absolute favorite restaurants in the Southside. When I moved here I would regularly take out of town guests to their lovely patio. The food has gone downhill immensely over the last several years. My expectations were so low that I was actually surprised by how good the wings were.

They had a pretty good texture but were lacking in flavor. The honey garlic had almost no flavor at all. 10 wings will cost you $10.99. The high point of Doublewide was the wet naps. By the time we got there we really needed them.

"Suburbs wings." -Ben Kroeck
"Low spice." -Mark Bucklaw

Double Wide Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Fat Heads
I've always said that Fathead's is one of the most overrated restaurants in the city. I believe that Pittsburghers love the place because of the large menu and the large portions. I've simply never understood the appeal. We ordered our Fathead's wings for takeout so as to keep to our outrageous wing schedule.

The wings had a gummy texture and tasted of dirty oil. The flavor was acceptable but overall the wings were extremely lackluster. The top selling point was that these takeout wings were served with a very healthy portion of celery and carrots. 10 wings will run you $11.79.

"These taste like corporate wings." -Ben Kroeck
"Bland sauce." -Klaus

Fat Head's Saloon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Wings Over Pittsburgh
Worst wing award goes to Wings Over Pittsburgh! Boy were these bad. They were under cooked and had a rubber-like texture. The sauce was vinegary and generally lacking in flavor. If they had been ordered extra crispy, perhaps they would have been edible. On the plus side, they were some of the largest wings we were served. 15 of these BAD boys will run you $13.99.

"6/10 heat"   -Mark Bucklaw

Wings Over Pittsburgh Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


I've included a list of restaurants in the Southside that we did not visit below. I really regret missing Carson City. Please be sure to leave a comment if you know of any others that we missed and what you thought of our rankings.


**Known exclusions include: Wing Stop, Excuses, South Paw, Local, Carson City Saloon, 12, streets on carson, cupkas, Walker's.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Library - Southside

Food Models Jon and Tina
The Library in Southside hosts a very special happy hour that holds a dear place in my heart. Twice a day they offer half off craft beers and half off appetizers. The happy hour beer special runs from 5-7 pm and then again from 10-12. Doesn't it sound too good to be true?

When you run an entrenched happy hour for several years, you start to slip. We call this, "happy hour creep." Gradually the bar starts to realize that people are only coming around for the happy hour special and the various price points begin to reflect the behavior of the patrons.

For example, the chicken tenders on the happy hour menu are priced at $10.50 and the nachos are priced at $12.50. While these items are a steal when they are half-off, they are a little overpriced otherwise. By way of comparison, an order of chicken tenders will cost you $8 and an order of chicken nachos will cost you $10 at Carson City Saloon.

The ribs (pictured above) were surprisingly good. Fall off the bone tender and well portioned.  I'd have to say that the ribs are one of the best deals for happy hour. ($8.25)

Billy Goat
The Billy Goat's Gruff has always been one of my favorite dishes at the Library. Stuffed poblano peppers with goat cheese and a choice of meat for $12.50 or $6.25 during happy hour. However, they were remarkably disappointing on this visit. The peppers themselves were basically raw and hastily stuffed with what seemed like mostly cream cheese and some overcooked chicken. I will not be ordering them again.

A few additional warnings. The draft list is extremely confusing, the website is often incorrect about specials and pricing and the menu pictured on Zomato is very outdated. It's unfortunate to watch a fantastic happy hour fall from grace. But perhaps god needed another happy hour in heaven.


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

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Fire Side Public House - East Liberty



The Fire Side Public House is located at the old site of Station Street Hot Dogs in a part of town I like to call, "the end of the world." Honestly, it is just the edge of East Liberty, but the spot is somewhat isolated. On the bright side the location has a parking lot which is sort of like finding a magical unicorn in Shadyside/East Liberty.

Fire Side is owned by the folks who own Sidelines Bar and Grill. Sidelines has locations in Sewickley and Millvalle and is absolutely worth a visit. One thing I found interesting about Fire Side is that none of my friends from the Shadyside area were familiar with the restaurant although it has been open for quite some time.

The space itself is very open and welcoming. The large bar encircles a fantastic wood fired grill and Fire Side offers a number of daily specials. (Thursday night is $10 beer and flight night.)

The wings at Fire Side are fantastic! They are very similar to the high quality wings I've come to expect from Sidelines. Unlike Sidelines, you can order your wings grilled or fried. I always get fried wings, I find them vastly superior to their grilled brethren.

On my two visits to Fire Side I've only tried the wings. They are always great - a nice size, a decent crisp and well sauced. Be sure to check out their extensive craft beer list if that's your thing. I usually have one and switch to Bud Light.

The Fire Side Public House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato