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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.

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.


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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Steel Cactus - Shadyside

Ceviche and taquitos, are coming out of my speedo.

I'd heard a lot of negative buzz surrounding the food at Steel Cactus. Naturally, I was very skeptical about the cuisine but nonetheless excited to hang out on a roof in Shadyside and drink $3 glasses of wine. (Shrimp and wine are the focal points of what I define as summertime.)

The Steel Cactus is the Amp'd restaurant group's attempt to capitalize on the success of Mad Mex which is run by the Big Burrito restaurant group. There is actually another Steel Cactus that is currently being built in the Southside. I'd imagine that the Amp'd group would be thrilled if they could achieve even a quarter of the success Big Burrito has seen with Mad Mex. (Over ten locations throughout Pennsylvania with one in Ohio.)

Pictured above are the ceviche with pico de gallo and mango and the pulled chicken taquitos, priced at $5 and $4 respectively during happy hour.  The ceviche was a little on the bitter side but otherwise quite flavorful and delicious with a good amount of shrimp. I thought the taquitos were great, very crispy with well seasoned meat. Also, a very good portion for the price point. I certainly wouldn't consider either of the two dishes I sampled to be authentic or particularly masterful (ceviche is Peruvian and taquitos are quintessential Mex-American) However, I think the complaints about Steel Cactus are largely unwarranted.

They are serving $4 appetizers and $3 glasses of wine on a beautiful rooftop deck. What do you expect? If you want authentic Mexican in Pittsburgh I suggest Las Palmas street tacos. I get them almost every week. Then I eat my tacos on a dirty street corner in Oakland next to piles of broken glass undoubtedly discarded  by the outstanding students of the University of Pittsburgh.

Future Batman villain?
This guy is enjoying the dessert chimichanga, a sweet flour tortilla with a hint of cinnamon, cheesecake filling and caramel deep fried with whipped cream and raspberry puree. I explained to him that I needed to sample the dish for the purposes of science. He was surprisingly accommodating. I'd say the dish was pretty similar to the dessert chimichanga that was originally offered by Chi-Chi's, minus the chocolate syrup. I'd actually love to see the emergence of some new Mex-American inspired desserts such as avocado cheesecake, tres de leches bon bons or caramel chocolate empanadas.

In order to thrive I believe the Steel Cactus should focus on finding some interesting ways to differentiate themselves from Mad Mex. Although emulation is flattery, it isn't always a recipe for success.

Steel Cactus Mexican Restaurant & Cantina on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 11, 2014

Penn Brewery - Troy Hill

Crazytown Burger

German food has never been my cup of tea. As a matter of fact, tea is actually my cup of tea. It's not that I don't like thinly sliced fried pork or sausage, it's just that I don't like how the German's go about it. Their dishes are too hearty for my simple tastes. 

If you are familiar with Penn Brewery, you know there have been an awful lot of changes over the years. The most recent change is the new menu. Pictured above is the Deutschtaun burger: a beef patty layered with muenster cheese, potato pierogi, sliced kielbasa, fried egg, slaw, lettuce, tomato, onion, and fries. Although, it sounded like awful lot of toppings for one hamburger, it was a natural choice for me as my family was living in Deutschtaun well over one hundred years ago.

 I was very surprised at how good the burger was. I wasn't impressed by the quality of the beef, but the toppings really worked quite well and made for a well textured and full flavored sandwich. The fried kielbasa added a nice salty zing while the potato and egg gave the burger a certain stick-to-your-gut goodness.

Some of the other notable selections on the menu include the braised rabbit, the buffalo chicken pierogies and the German style pot roast. As far as German food in Pittsburgh goes, I'd say Penn Brewery is easily one of your top choices. (I have never been to Max's Allegheny Tavern so I can't call Penn Brewery the best.)

Now for your Penn Brewery history lesson. Penn Brewery sits on the site of the Eberhardt and Ober Brewery which was founded in 1848. Penn Brewery has played an important part in the history of the Pittsburgh beer and food scene. As of 1987 it was illegal to have a brewing facility connected to a restaurant. Owner, Tom Pastorius, successfully lobbied to change the laws and now you can brew beer and serve wienershnitzel all under the same roof.

These ratty little breweries popping up in Lawrenceville better thank old Tom when they serve their patrons substandard hot dogs at exorbitant rates.

Penn Brewery on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 27, 2014

Food Trends Are a Bunch of Crap

I personally think food trend lists are pretentious nonsense. Every year I read them expecting to see something that makes sense and every year I'm severely disappointed. These lists are totally arbitrary. Here's my food trend prediction: people will continue to consumer beef, poultry and snacks at alarming rates. Taco Bell will also continue to be delicious. I'd say that prediction is better than anything you'll find out there in the food trend world. Although the food experts occasionally get things right, sometimes they miss the mark all together.

Here are a few food trends from over the last few years that never really made it:

1.  In 2007 Epicurious predicted that farmers would become the new celebrity chefs.
Epicurious decided that in 2008 we would be seeing the rise of the celebrity farmer due to the plethora of celebrity chefs already on the landscape and the public's desire to know the source of their food. Sorry Epicurious! While celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain are still household names, the television show America's Next Top Farmer is not exactly a concept that ever came to fruition. Our favorite celebrity farmer is still Taylor Swift, who actually grew up on a Christmas tree farm in Pennsylvania.

2. In 2008 SF Weekly said that we'd all be enjoying Mexican-Italian hybrid dishes.
Just imagine the possibilities. Lasagna tacos, spaghetti ranchero or even red wine flavored horchata!  Does all of that sound disgusting?  The general public feels the same way and this is why taco pizza is the only Mexican-Italian dish that continues to reign supreme. Maybe Mexican-Italian caught on briefly in San Francisco, but the rest of us still prefer to eat our Taco Bell on the way to Pizza Hut.

3. 2012: the year of home sous vide?
Have your friends just been dying to have you over to their place to try out their new sous vide machine? Huffington Post says that they were supposed to, back in 2012. Although the prices of sous vide machines may have come down over the last few years, we don't think this appliance will ever reach the popularity achieved by the George Forman Grill. Better luck next year Huffington Post.

4. The Food Channel said we would all have outdoor kitchens in 2012!
The Food Channel claimed that full outdoor kitchens were becoming the new food trend in 2012 and that people were justifying the expense by staying home to entertain more often. Wow! I guess the Food Channel didn't hear that the economy was still hurting back in 2012. Although an outdoor kitchen sounds amazing, most of us are probably just wishing we could scrape together the cash to purchase a non-teflon frying pan that didn't come from the Dollar Store.

5. In 2010 you likely indulged in a ton of New Austrian cuisine according to Bon Appetit.
"Want to go to Olive Garden?" "Why no thank you. I only dine at restaurants that carry a variety of new Austrian cuisine to go with my fancy craft beers!" Although it sounds crazy, you have to give Bon Appetit partial credit. The emergence of the pretzel roll within the last few years validates their off the wall prediction that we'd be chomping down on spaetzle every time we decided to order a Miller Lite draft.