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Friday, February 24, 2017

Umami - Lawrenceville

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 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

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 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 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
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
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

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Uubu 6 - South Side Slopes

Uubu 6 is easily one of the strangest places I've dined in the last year. Upon arrival the restaurant was nearly empty with the exception of the bar. The front door opens to a large hallway and a tantalizing bowl of candy. Centralized within the space is an amazing wine closet, but upon request, no wine list was available.

The price points at Uubu 6 are remarkable and as Munch from the Post-Gazette notes, the portion sizes are intimidating. During our visit they were featuring a number of different pumpkin flavored beers for $3. Entrees range from $8 - $12.

A cup of soup will only run you $2. I dare you to find me a restaurant with tablecloths where you can get a cup of soup for $2. By way of comparison, a small chili at Wendy's will cost you $2.09. I'd like to point out that I'm not knocking on Wendy's chili. I happen to think their chili is awesome even if it is made with old hamburgers.

Roasted Pork
The nightly special was roasted pork with broccoli, shiitake mushrooms and fried rice in a teriyaki sauce. It also included a side salad. The picture and presentation do not do the dish justice. The portion size was enormous, the pork tenderloin was cooked flawlessly and the flavors were quite good. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I was unable to finish my dinner. A real tribute to Uubu 6.

I would describe the food at Uubu as contemporary American style cuisine. The menu features several different sandwiches and sides you would expect to see in most common diners. A few tips to keep in mind: they have variable hours and although it did not seem as though they were expecting any guests when we arrived, service was slow and spotty at best. However, Uubu 6 simply cannot be beat in terms of value.

Restaurant UUBU 6 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Scratch Insect Dinner

Earlier this year Scratch Food and Beverage hosted an insect dinner that was among one of the most interesting meals I've seen offered around Pittsburgh in a long time. I cannot say that I am very well versed in the world of entomophagy. I've never found eating insects to be particularly offensive or strange, I've just never had the opportunity to indulge. For anyone who is nervous about trying new foods, I recommend the book, "Strange Foods" by Jerry Hopkins. It provides a wonderful introduction to expanding your palette.

The meatloaf was made with a blend of lamb, pork and cricket and it was one of the most robust and flavorful courses of the evening. Served on a bed of purple potatoes and black garlic, I honestly could not even notice how the crickets were incorporated. While this speaks to the versatility of crickets, I believe this also diminishes their inclusion as well. It's always a great idea to focus on sustainable food practices - but the best part of dining is savoring unique flavors and textures. Although this dish was fantastic, the crickets could have been replaced with almost any type of foodstuff.

The tostada was also excellent and did a better job of featuring the insects. The crispy crickets paired perfectly with the mole sauce and chorizo. They added a much needed crunch to this wonderful dish. As I finished my tostada a small gnat found its way onto my plate. As I shooed him away from my dinner I found myself having quite the existential moment. 

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