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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. Have a look at my article on Yahoo about how food trends are b*#(shit.



Uptown - Blue Line Grill

Pittsburgh has gone deck crazy.

Uptown is the newest of the Pittsburgh roof top deck bars. They have a friendly and helpful staff, a great view of the city and a really neat space! There is both indoor and outdoor seating as well as a bunch of fancy roof couches. (I bet West Virginia can't brag about any establishments with roof couches.)

This is why they can't have nice things in West Virginia.

I found the menu at Uptown a little odd. Their roof-top menu is different than the downstairs menu and it features seafood, sushi, charcuterie and bruschetta. (Maybe that doesn't sound weird to you , but I think it is a strange selection!)

I highly recommend visiting Uptown to give everything a try and have a few drinks. It is also a fantastic location to host large events such as fundraisers, hootenannies, box socials and couch burnings. 

Anyhow, my favorites were the seafood cocktail with shrimp, lobster, crab, mango and pico de gallo as well as the lobster slider with lemon aioli. I'm typically not a huge lobster dude, but I'll always eat it when it is put in front of me. (Kind of like basically every other food ever.)

Now, if you've ever had doubts that popular foods are anything more than current trends based on hype and market demand, consider this. Lobster was so abundant in colonial America that it was considered a poor-man's food. According to History.com, "Dirt-cheap because they were so copious, lobsters were routinely fed to prisoners, apprentices, slaves and children during the colonial era and beyond. In Massachusetts, some servants allegedly sought to avoid lobster-heavy diets by including stipulations in their contracts that they would only be served the shellfish twice a week."

I also would like a stipulation in my employment contract that I will be served shellfish twice a week.


Uptown Pittsburgh's Premier Rooftop Lounge on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tavern 245 - Reprise

Such a Sad Pizza
This is easily one of the saddest pizzas in all the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. Last time we visited Tavern 245 in 2011 I was really impressed by the quality of the food. I still think they offer some pretty decent selections, but I think they missed the mark with the pizza pictured above. Some of the dishes I've enjoyed in the past include the Italian egg rolls, the chicken wings and the trio of sliders. I cannot say the same about the pizza of the day.

This "pizza" is what would happen if you took a piece of bread, some mediocre cheese, an unripe tomato and some unseasoned chicken and put it in your toaster oven. Yes, this concoction might sustain you, but it is hardly worth sacrificing several bud lights for in a bar setting. In theory I think this dish could have been fine. However, the execution was poor at best.

Despite this sad pizza I still highly recommend visiting Tavern 245 for their awesome roof top deck, reasonable drink prices and other acceptable food selections.

CHEESE
Fried cheese is one of those dishes I almost never comment on as I feel that I am served generic Sysco brand frozen cheese sticks about ninety-five percent of the time. Tavern 245 is part of the five percent exception! These hand breaded cheese sticks were fantastic.They were further bolstered with a nice serving of vodka sauce. I love vodka sauce and I'm honestly sad that it isn't served more often.

When I was studying for the bar exam some nice lady on a video tape named Paula Franzese claimed her father was the dude who invented vodka sauce while working at a restaurant in New York. However, according to www.thekitchn.com, many food historians credit chef James Doty with the invention of the sauce. In the end it really doesn't matter who invented vodka sauce as long as I start seeing it appear more regularly on my dinner plate.


Tavern 245 on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bulldog Pub - Morningside

Sharing is Caring
I don't usually drink at family bars. I like to smoke and I have a strong aversion to children who aren't related to me. I think it has something to do with my biological clock. The Bulldog Pub is a good exception to my rule on family bars. It is a real neighborhood bar. (It is actually the only bar in Morningside with the exception of the VFW which is next door.)  When a little town only has one bar, everyone comes out to play.

The age range in the small main bar room was roughly seven to seventy and everyone we encountered was very friendly with a middle-American vibe. It seemed like we could have been drinking in Beaver County. (One of the nice parts.)

My friends in Morningside were really excited for me to come sample the fine food of their favorite neighborhood bar. I tried the fried cheese, the sweet potato fries and the steak wrap. I thought everything was surprisingly good! I don't think I'd make the trip just for the food, but it is easily some of the better bar food in our fine city.

I ate this in secret while Matt wasn't looking.
The steak wrap was my favorite. I'd say the most memorable aspect of the wrap was that it was obviously made with fresh tender steak as opposed to the frozen heavily processed junk you can expect to find in many steak wraps.

I have a confession to make. I'm not a wrap guy. With all of the assholes going around trying to avoid carbs, I've made it my personal mission to help the grain farmers of the United States. I want bread. Thick soft full-gluten un-enriched bread. All the time. Everyday.


Bulldog Pub on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 6, 2014

Sake Sushi - Southside

$5 Sashimi
Everyone loves a new sushi restaurant. Sake in the Southside is the sushi-only component of the larger restaurant chain Saga. The main difference is that Sake does not offer hibachi, but they do offer a variety of hot dishes in addition to sushi.

The main selling point of Sake is the pricing. On Mondays they offer a variety of discounted specialty roles for $7.50. (Please note that they advertise Monday as a half off special, but it is really more of a 32% off special based on the normal pricing.) However, everyday of the week they offer a specialty happy hour menu featuring various appetizers in the $5 range.  I tried the sashimi appetizer (pictured above) in addition to the octopus salad, house special tuna jalapeno sashimi and fried tofu.




The house special jalapeno sashimi is honestly where it's at. Thinly sliced tuna topped with jalapeno and some siricha. I also really enjoyed the octopus salad. Some items I think you can skip on the happy hour menu are the coconut shrimp, fried tofu and edamame. I'll never ever understand why people go out and order edamame. I just can't grasp why anyone would pay to be served a bowl of steamed soy beans. If you just make the damn things at home you can save the 900% markup you pay to have the restaurant throw beans in a steamer and put them in a bowl.


SAKE BOMBS
The high point of happy hour was learning how to take sake bombs, compliments of the house. (Thanks Calven!) I'm honestly embarrassed to admit that I was never taught how to properly do a sake bomb. Here's how it works. You place a shot of sake on chopsticks placed on top of a glass of beer. Someone yells, "sake sake sake" and then you yell, "bomb bomb bomb." After that everyone pounds on the table like an angry samurai and it makes the sake fall into the beer! Amazing, yeah?


SAKE Asian Cuisine & Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon