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Monday, March 18, 2019

Kingfly Spirits

Wow, Kingfly Spirits  - talk about a hip little spot! In the beautifully renovated brick building that used to be home to the Spaghetti Warehouse you will now find mood lighting, jazz, and pure romance.

Before we can discuss Kingfly, I actually need to talk about Spaghetti Warehouse for just a minute. The chain restaurant is the proud owner of top notch domain likely coveted by cousins Vinny everywhere - I feel like they either employed some internet wiz-kid in 1996 or they paid some serious gabagool to snag such a magnificent domain name. Domain names are in short supply for restaurants these days. Also, check out this wonderful review of the now closed Spaghetti Warehouse from Gabriel P. of Yelp.

"This place is a disaster. First, the decor in reminiscent of some sort of condemned fun-house.  The lighting is dark and dank, kind of like a dungeon or a serial killer's basement. The floors and booths all kind of tilt downward to the east, just ever so perceptibly, so you're not really sure if it's real or if you're just imagining it. Maybe the whole place is built on top of an old graveyard full of Italian Grandmas that roll over every time someone sits down for dinner there. The service is really spotty too. The receptionists seem a bit befuddled. The servers seem miserable and exhausted, like they work about 48 hour straight shifts. Or they're just high. Not that I blame them. If I worked there, I'd probably want to get high before I came in to work too."

That's possibly one of the best written Yelp reviews of all time. I don't understand how being seated to the east creates the perception of nothingness, but hey, great job Gabriel! Someone get old Gabriel a nice plate of the gabagool.

Now, back to Kingfly. They really had some great spiced rum, some of the best I've had. I also particularly enjoyed my rickey (bourbon highball with lime and soda), they even make their own soda water.

I would not recommend showing up hungry.  We visited only shortly after the grand opening but the only real options were some nuts and a few dips. I did in fact enjoy the smoked eggplant dip, but then I nearly starved to death after a few cocktails. Overall a great date spot - a bit expensive - but worth it for the ambiance.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Pierogie Fest

The Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival sure has grown up in the last several years. From humble beginnings this festival has turned into what is probably one of the top Pierogi Festivals in the world! (I really have no point of reference to base this on, so let's just say one of the top Pierogi Festivals in the United States.)

I'll never forget my first Pierogi Festival. The event was so well received that they ran out of Pierogi within the first couple of hours. The location was basically, "a van down by the river" in the South Side Works. Boy has this festival grown  - you can now try pierogi from almost all of the major players in Pittsburgh.

I wanted to drop some serious pierogi knowledge on my readers. Did you know that "pierogi" is already the plural of the word? So if you are stealing one dumping from a friedn be sure to ask for a "pierog." You can learn a number of other wonderful facts about pierogi here! 

In no particular order, our favorite pierogi were: S&D Polish Deli, Holy Ghost and Michelle's Mobile. All vendors we were able to sample did a wonderful job of getting the pierogies to the people! Lines were long at times but moved very fast. I'd say that the one item you simply cannot miss is the Polish platter from S&D Deli.

Also pictured below, a delicious crepe from the Pgh Crepes Truck and a guest appearance by Kenny!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Ponderosa Lives On in Beaver County

That's right, Ponderosa still exists.

The undeniable reason that Ponderosa is an outstanding restaurant is that just like all five star buffets, it is named after a fictional ranch from the television show Bonanza. In case you are wondering, Ponderosa/Bonanza are the same restaurant - they use the name interchangeably in order to really confuse potential visitors to the trough.

Naming your buffet after a fictional ranch is a sure fire way to convince consumers that you've really done your homework. I've never seen the show Bonanza and I would venture to say that the majority of Ponderosa's customers have not either. (It stopped running 45 years ago.) Presumably the show portrays America's working class eating themselves to death.

An entree and the buffet at Ponderosa will cost you roughly $20. I'll let you decide how you would like to tip at a buffet, I go with the standard 10%. Remarkably, there are still quite a few Ponderosa locations. The only two in Pennsylvania are located right outside of Pittsburgh in Beaver Falls and Butler. For the adventurous traveler there are also Ponderosa locations in Egypt, Taiwan, UAE and Qatar. The fuck? 

Now keep in mind that it is possible to just get the buffet when you visit Ponderosa, but you can add an entree for only a few additional dollars. Don't be a fool, get the entree. More on this later.

Any proper trip to Ponderosa starts with the salad bar. The options are really quite numerous and the combinations are endless. As you can see I went with the regal combination of iceberg with peppers, chickpeas, carrots, onions, and pickles. My tastes are so refined that sometimes I find it hard to believe that I am not the king of England or at least a social influencer on Insta.

After your salad you should have time for one more course before your entree is served. I recommend going with the chicken wing and meatball course. A plate that would surely satiate any appetite. The chicken wings are probably one of the better items on the Ponderosa menu. It is worth noting that Ponderosa now carries red-hot in addition to tobasco, this is essential for wing fans.

Just one important note on the chicken wing and meatball course - I'd recommend skipping the meatballs. They are awful.

Entrees and Tacos

Now, after your second course your entree is sure to arrive. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU EAT YOUR ENTREE.

While Ponderosa will not allow you to abscond with any of the 6,000 items from the buffet, you are free to take home your entree. Basically this means that you've paid about $3-$5 dollars for a fine cut of bottom round steak and some french fries that you may enjoy in the privacy of your own home.

Two of my dining companions ate their entrees despite my protests. Why oh why would you eat potential home-steak when you can get other versions of "beef" from the buffet? I was horrified. If they were my children I would have taken them outside to the Ponderosa parking lot for a Beaver County beating.

Also pictured above is my taco course. While the taco bar may look unappetizing, trust me, it is.

Since you are dining at Ponderosa, you are obviously a massive baller with unlimited funds and an even larger selection of potential mates. After your third course it is time to carbo-load for all of the unbridled sex you will likely be having in the very near future.

I recommend a classic plate of spaghetti, mashed potatoes, pizza, nondescript flavorless red sausage and cinnamon bread?  Oddly enough I was unable to find butter.

Time for dessert!
During our visit the chocolate soft serve machine was broken, so I couldn't go with my normal swirl soft-serve bowl. Ponderosa has an entire wall dedicated to dessert. Cookies, brownies, cakes, fruit inspired casseroles, etc. I like jamming cookies into a bowl and covering them in ice cream and chocolate sauce. It is basically the perfect way to ruin your self-esteem and cap off a night of gluttony.

While my review may be snarky, I like Ponderossa. If you go into the Ponderossa experience knowing that you are paying for quantity as opposed to quality - you should be able to find some food that you enjoy and have a nice evening. Also, you'll have a delicious home-steak for later and the memories of a meal inspired by a canceled television show from that was presumably inspired by the American west in the 1950's.

Ponderosa Steakhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Level 7 - AC Hotel Pittsburgh

Level 7

Hotel bars have an indescribable je ne sais quoi:

The lonely patrons drinking in silence. The pretty girls outrageously overdressed for a Thursday afternoon, raising implications left unsaid. The sad businessmen pretending that another glass of cabaret will fix their broken marriage. The sulking bartenders who seem almost interchangeable - totally devoid of emotion or personality, masters of small talk.

Level 7 presented all of these overused troupes during our visit in September. The highlight of the establishment is the very nice deck that overlooks the convention center and provides a unique view of downtown Pittsburgh.

The food was rather good. I enjoyed my Greek meatballs which were served with generous portions of homemade tzatziki sauce. I love tzatziki sauce.  The meat plate was just OK, but seemed reasonably priced for $7. (All small plates and a number of drinks are priced at $7 for happy hour.)
If I went on business trips or had a wife to cheat on, this would be my top prospect. Otherwise, I think you can find more personality at a number of hotel bars throughout our fine city.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Forbes Tavern

The brand new Forbes Tavern sits in the location of the very old Courthouse Tavern on Forbes Avenue. The Courthouse Tavern had a certain undeniable charm. It was a great place for casual day drinking, the food was cheap and the entire bar smelled of sewage.

I'm delighted to say that the new owner of Forbes Tavern has done a wonderful job with the renovations! The new space has a very clean and modern feel. When I asked about the smell of the previous establishment the new owner, Chris, mentioned that he had spent countless hours personally scrubbing the basement in order to remedy the issue. How quaint.

In addition to some marvelous renovations, all of the food we tried was remarkable. The happy hour options were very well priced and the smoked chicken wings I tried were quite good. A lovely crisp texture with great flavor and a generous amount of smoke. The flank steak, pictured below, was also very well prepared. (Served with chimichurri, corn salad and some grilled veggies.)

Specials run from 4:00 to 6:00 pm with appetizers priced from $5 to $9.

We had great food and some very good service at Forbes Tavern, our only complaint is that as the bar reached capacity it was a little loud, but the owner told us he was working to find a solution.

Courthouse Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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