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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Lamb Fest - Top Picks 2018





I tried explaining to a dear friend last week that Church Food Festivals are no longer really all that interesting to me. While they serve a great cause, and some of them may serve great food - there are just so many more robust options for people who actually like to eat.

For example, the Western Pennsylvania Lamb Cook Off this year hosted 34 well known chefs including guest chefs from Vegas and New York. I don't care how sentimental and nostalgic you may be for the church festivals of 'ole. There's just no way that nana and her church pals are up to the task of making better food than the professionals.

The first thing I noticed upon entering this years festival was the protestors! There were a number of folks very peacefully protesting the consumption of meat. I have to give them credit for just how polite they were, I didn't see a single one of them try to knock a kebab on the ground or snatch up any grape leaves.



Here are my top picks for this years festival in no particular order:

Team 9 with their szechuan style lamb served with snap peas and tofu. (Their pressed lamb was almost reminiscent of a terrine or rillettes.)

Team 4 with their multiple courses including a remarkable lamb tallow blueberry parfait. (I know what you are thinking, lamb tallow and desert just don't quite mix - but they do! The lamb fat added a wonderful umami sensation to the dish.)

Team 6 with their trio of homemade lamb sausages. (This was a crowd favorite and the line was long for almost the entire festival.)

Team 8 with their amazing grape leaves, kebabs and hummus. (This team also brought a wonderful exuberance to the festival and made you feel right at home. The grape leaves were almost as good as the ones my mother makes.)

I'd also like to give a shout-out to the folks from Scratch Food and Beverage who put together a very nice lamb dish atop dirty rice. It tasted just like something my family would make.

Overall this is a really great event that is well worth the $65 ticket price. Unlike similar events there is no need to be intimidated by the long lines. Even after hours of slinging lamb not a single one of the vendors had stopped serving food. Be prepared to immediately retire to your couch if you attempt to sample each dish. This is a true lamb feast.



Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Big Jim's


Big Jim's Calzone
I know what you are thinking, Big Jim sure has a beautiful smile. But you are incorrect, that is just my friend Michael. Michael made the fantastic decision to order Big Jim's Calzone. The menu actually suggests that you call ahead as it takes them 45 minutes to bake this big daddy.

The Big Jim comes with ham, salami, capicola, onions, pepperoni, green peps, mushrooms and provolone. The size of the beast reminded me of a terrible Moby Dick themed opera I saw earlier this year. At $13.99, the Big Jim could be one of the best deals in the city.

The humongous calzone comes absolutely packed with provisions and the above photo barely does justice to the scale of the beast. About seven different people shared the calzone and many of those individuals didn't bother to order anything else. One suggestion, next time I order the Big Jim I will probably order a bowl of marinara for dipping.


Chicken Parmesan

Chicken parmesan is one of my favorite dishes. I had a law school roommate who cooked chicken parm almost every week  - he nearly ruined the dish for me. Nice try Dave. The chicken parm at Big Jim's was remarkable. Perfectly crisp with an outrageous portion size, a fantastic amount of cheese and a generous portion of spaghet. 

The chicken parm is also a steal at $12.99 and it comes with a salad and garlic toast. As a matter of fact, the chicken parm was so good and I had so much left over that I ate the remaining piece of chicken and the spaghetti in a public park with my hands, sans utensils around midnight. My only regret was waking up with indigestion and sauce covered pants the next morning.

Big Jim's is a must-visit Pittsburgh establishment. Do not expect a rowdy bar crowd, Big Jim's draws in more of a neighborhood dinner crowd. I should also mention that the staff was very welcoming and did a great job taking care of our large bar group.


Big Jim's Restaurant & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Limoncello Fest - Vallozzi's


Christy loves his 'cello

If you've been following my posts, you know that I love Vallozzi's. They offer excellent food, a wonderful atmosphere, and just once a year a totally banging limoncello festival! Included in the price of your  festival ticket you can expect to receive one cocktail, access to a fantastic buffet and unlimited limoncello.

Before discussing the 'cello I would be remiss if I did not mention that the food offered by Vallozzi's for the festival was outstanding. Hand breaded chicken, pizza, salads, cheese, and a ton of other options. Vallozzi's pizza is fantastic. I do not believe it would be an exaggeration to say that I had close to eight slices while sipping on some 'cello. My only regret was missing the ice cream/gellato ladies as they were walking out the door. (These are the things that keep me up at night.)

Now, to the 'cello. By my count Vallozzi's had at least fifteen different varieties available to try. Some of the flavors I can recall are cherry, kumquat, apple, lemon, blueberry, strawberry, grape, orange, mixed berry and my favorite, the HOT Fresno chili.



Boy did this stuff pack a punch. In fact, it was so potent that representatives were on hand to warn folks before having a taste. I loved the spiciness of the chilies coupled with the sweet sweet 'cello. The heat added a level of complexity that went well beyond your classic limoncello.

If you are curious about the origins of limoncello, you are not alone. Like all things Italian, they aren't sure if it dates back to the early 1900's or the middle ages. Classic Italians! All we know for sure is that the trademark for limoncello was registered in 1988. At it's most basic level limoncello is just lemon, alcohol and sugar. You can even make it at home if you feel like it.



In addition to offering an outrageous amount of 'cello samples, Vallozzi's opened their back alley where they hosted a DJ, more tastings, a prosecco tent and pop-up cocktail offerings from Mr. Spencer Warren, the proprietor of our new favorite bar, the Warren. Mr. Warren was on hand making these fantastic grapefruit drinks we simply adored. (Also, he agreed with my assessment of his restaurant's chimichurri sauce which brought me great joy.)



This is what you might look like before or during the festival.



This is probably what you can expect to look like after the festival. With so many varieties to sample this festival will wear you down! For the price point, Vallozzi's Festa di Limoncello is a real knockout. It is a really great event that I believe will only continue to thrive. This was only the second year and I cannot wait to see what they come up with next year. (Personally, I plan to rock one of these sick lemon-print male rompers next year.)

Vallozzi's Pittsburgh Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 
 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Carlton Rosé Dinner



Tuna Poke

This summer Lee Keuhn of Vintage Imports treated me to a five course summer rosé dinner featuring five rosés from all over the world. Rosé has made a serious comeback and until I met Lee several weeks ago at The Warren, I honestly had no idea just how much I liked rosé.

I have always thought of rosé as a sweet wine comparable to to a fruity white zinfandel. I was really surprised to find out that rosé  offers a wide range of flavors, many of which are dry and quite complex. Rosé is all the rage right now according to The Guardian  - I have to say that I totally agree. In the last two weeks I've noticed a bottle of rosé at almost every summer party I've been to and I even happen to currently have a bottle in my fridge as a friend left it here on the 4th of July.

When I mentioned the rosé dinner to my parents they explained that pink wine was real hip in the 70's. I suppose it is true, all things come back into style.

Pictured above was my favorite course of the evening, Tuna Tartare, Bamboo Rice, Pickled Red Cabbage, Papaya Slaw, Ginger Wakimi Salad, Honey-Sesame Miso Glaze. It was a great start to a wonderful night of fun and it matched perfectly with the escudoreal vinho verde from Portugal. (That wine was the favorite of one of my dining partners.)

Our Gracious Host Lee

Lee from Vintage Imports is the man. He can tell you basically anything that you need to know about rosé. During our dinner he gave a five minute lecture on the wine making process and some notes on what to expect from our wine samples throughout the evening. After attending both a tasting and a wine dinner with Lee, I basically feel like a rosé pro.  (Please note that I am actually a blithering idiot who is not a real rosé  pro.)

Burrata Caprese


Sea Salted Burrata Cheese with Heirloom Tomato Medley, Hydroponic Greens, Ice Wine Vinaigrette, Spicy Pesto, Savory Biscotti Croutons. - You cannot go wrong with burrata, that's what my Italian grandpa always used to say! This was a great salad, save the croutons and it was served with a cielo rosé from Italy.



Surf and Turf Trio


Lamb & Swordfish Skewer with Bloody Mary Glaze, Scallop Rumaki Bruschetta with Apple-Avocado Salsa, Feta Chicken Stuffed Shrimp with Cauliflower Puree & Mediterranean Vegetable Salad.

This was my second favorite dish of the night. The lamb in particular was so tender that I had to go get lamb again the following week. The dish was called "surf and turf three ways" and it sure did not disappoint. It was paired with a delicious Domaine Petronivin de Corse rosé from France - my favorite wine of the evening. 

Beef Char Siu

Pictured above is the Hoisin Glazed Teres Major (Petite Tenderloin) with Caramelized Yam Spätzle,
Grilled Fennel, Coriander Crème, Cilantro-Lime Oil paired with a wonderful Domaine Maby Primadonna rosé from France.

Not pictured was our awesome pear torte which was served with some great rosé from the state of Oregon.  The Carlton is always a great time, and it really can't be beat when their amazing food is paired with some fine wine. (I intentionally rhymed.) Special thanks to Vintage Wines, Lee and the Carlton for a great time!



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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Four New North Shore Bars and Restaurants


Guest Post by Pittsburgh Limousine Bus

Southern Tier

Pittsburgh is always evolving with new businesses, events, and community celebrations. It makes it a perfect destination for those who enjoy exploring the night life! There are plenty of opportunities to have fun regardless of what your interests are. If you're looking for a fresh spot to check out, here is some information for you to consider. These are four of the newest restaurants and bars in the North Shore and surrounding area. For a transportation solution that makes sure you're not in charge of traffic and dealing with parking, check out Party Bus in Pittsburgh.

Brugge on North
40 W North Avenue
You can find this restaurant attached to the City of Asylum bookstore. There's a stage for live entertainment and a center area that functions as a reading lounge. It's quite an interesting space! If you enjoy cocktails, you'll love browsing their extensive list of creative concoctions. Some of the menu highlights include their artisan cheese plate, poutine, chevre fritters, and tomato based mussels.

Molinaro Ristorante
2 PPG Pl
This new Italian eatery is closer to downtown, but it's worth the trek! Everything is made fresh in house, including the bread and the pasta. The wait is known to be a bit long, but that just testifies to the quality of the food and service here. All of the favorites are served here including margherita pizza, pomodoro, filetto, gnocchi, and more. We love their outdoor seating options.

Southern Tier Brewing
316 N Shore Drive
This brewery focuses on delicious craft beer with over thirty drafts available at any given time. There's also a full wine menu and cocktails made with their own spirits. You can purchase growlers that you can refill at their taproom, or you can mix and match your own six pack. They have the ability to host small events here which would be perfect for a bachelor or bachelorette party. The food menu is a lot more complex than your usual bar food, as is made to pair with their selection of beer.

Tequila Cowboy Bar & Grill
380 N Shore Drive
This bar gets pretty busy on the weekend! There's an outdoor bar and a wide range of music played here. It's a fitting spot to catch a sports game or catch some live local music. You can expect a standard menu of bar appetizers and entrees to choose from as well as daily specials on food and drink. Don't leave without trying their amazing chicken and waffle sliders.


For transportation solutions be sure to contact:


Pittsburgh Limousine Bus
232 Taylor Street #2
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
(412) 385-4412

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Coughlin's Law Kitchen and Ale House



Crispy Chicken BLT

The phrase, "Coughlin's Law" refers to some of the sayings from the 1988 classic film, Cocktail. Here is a list of Coughlin's various laws from the film:

“Drink or be gone.”
“Anything else is always something better.”
“Never show surprise, never lose your cool.”
“Never tell tales about a woman. No matter how far she is, she’ll hear you.”
“Bury the dead, they stink up the joint. As for the rest of Coughlin’s laws, ignore them. The guy was always full of shit.”

Coughlin's Law is just about the coolest spot to open in Pittsburgh within the last year. The space itself has a very modern feel and almost seems out of place in Mt. Washington as it is probably the only piece of new construction in the neighborhood since the 1950's. 

The best item I tried was the kung pao shrimp, freshly breaded and fried with a spicy sauce and a nice portion of hot chiles and peanuts. As the appetizers are $2 off during happy hour, this dish will be my go-to for my next visit to Coughlin's Law.

I enjoyed my crispy chicken BLT, but it was just a little underwhelming. The beer batter style breading was too heavy and I was not a fan of the brioche bun. Brioche buns do not hold up well when they are used with greasy sandwiches. The bread deteriorates and you are left with a bit of a soggy mess. Leave the brioche to the French, Coughlin!

"...brioche is simply too delicate to support a half-pound puck of griddled ground beef. It's not structurally built to encase a burger; it's by definition light and airy. Burgers release a large amount of juice and fat (at least the good ones do anyway), and a brioche bun will completely sog through and fall apart before you're even halfway through it." -LA Times Food Writer, Dan Myers, "Putting your burger on a brioche bun is a terrible idea."

I have to add that the vinegar based cucumber salad that accompanied my sandwich was amazing. Nice and light and packed with flavor - a perfect summertime treat.

Happy Hour Menu



Two items that you can't beat at Coughlin's, the view from the back deck and the happy hour menu. Nothing says happy hour like $3 well drinks, discounted appetizers and cheap cocktails. (Also, on Thursday you can enjoy $5 mules!)

I'm very excited to see how these guys progress as they work on the new establishment. The folks running Coughlin's Law are some of the nicest in the city and I'm certain that Coughlin's Law will be a huge success.

Coughlin's law kitchen and ale house Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Warren

The Warren
Let's talk about downtown drink prices. THEY ARE TOO DAMN HIGH. Much like the rent in New York, drink prices in downtown Pittsburgh are out of control. They've steadily climbed over the last several years and these days it is hard to find a decent pint for under $5.

Enter The Warren. Cocktails are affordable and many beers are in the $2-$5 dollar range. The Warren is apparently the creation of Spencer Warren and the folks from Penn Ave Fish Co. I'm told that Mr. Warren is relatively well known throughout the city, but I've personally never met the man. However, I've certainly enjoyed his work over the years. He's the mastermind behind some of the happenings at Butcher and The Rye, Firehouse Lounge, Round Corner Cantina, täkō and Meat & Potatoes and also he's apparently Pittsburgh's Busiest Bartender. Considering how often I frequent Meat & Potatoes it is remarkable that we have not crossed paths.

You can even read this great profile of him in Next Pittsburgh where they run through his typical week. He sounds very important. 




The frog legs weren't bad, but the chimichurri was severely lacking in garlic and tasted like urine. Mr. Warren should go meet with Tony Falcon from Gaucho Parrilla - that dude knows his chimichurri.

It was great to see frog legs on a Pittsburgh menu! Some of my dining partners were apprehensive, but they all agreed that frog legs just taste like fishy chicken.


The sushi was the best part of our visit. According to our server they offer discounted sushi from the cooler after 3 pm and then again later in the evening. All of the rolls that we tried were fantastic and also well priced. This is a very welcome addition to downtown Pittsburgh as the closing of the downtown Penn Avenue Fish Company location has created a sushi desert of sorts within the golden triangle. Thanks Penn Avenue Fish Co! You've totally redeemed yourself with this wonderful new bar.


One of the nicest additions to the evening was a free rose tasting nextdoor at Penn Cove Eatery. (The establishments are connected and Penn Cove sells the same sushi boxed for takeout as well as a great selection of wine and beer.) I honestly am not sure that I knew just how much I enjoyed rose until I took the time to sample a few with our awesome host, Lee.

The Warren should basically be your go-to spot in downtown Pittsburgh. It's hip, affordable and totally approachable in a casual sort of manner. I wouldn't suggest going with a large group - I'm pretty sure our server was ready to strangle us.