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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reyna's - Casa Reyna - Strip District

Casa Reyna is located below Reyna's Foods in the heart of the Strip district. It is a nice little wood paneled restaurant with lots of fun junk on the walls and a tiny bar where it looks like you could meet a recent divorcee interested in re-bound sex.

Pictured above is the tinga tostada. Shredded chicken and sauteed onions with lettuce, avocado, queso fresco and sour cream. It was a fantastic dish with a fine array of flavors. The chicken was well seasoned, perfectly cooked and fresh. Although fresh well seasoned chicken may sound like something all restaurants would strive to provide, this is not always the case. For example, I recently had some tacos from a different restaurant in the Southside that tasted like cardboard garbage. #sadmex

We liked every dish we tried at Reyna's. Everything was authentic, reasonably priced and delicious. PS: I hate calling things authentic. It feels disingenuous.


What the heck is a tostada you ask?  The word tostada is Spanish for, "toasted." Basically it is just a giant nacho. I guess it is probably a good way to use up the old tortillas that are starting to turn.

Although we loved the food, we had some trouble with the space worth mentioning. It was very hot. Like hotter than the devil's dick. Additionally, they started cleaning the grill with some type of caustic chemical as we were leaving. This made all of us cough and it was very unpleasant.  Somehow, I still feel that breathing toxic gas was probably less detrimental to my health than eating at Taco Bell. So all around, A-.

 Casa Reyna on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Dive - Lawrenceville

Sliders and Pork Pancakes
I don't follow the concept of creating a bar called Dive Bar that is not a dive bar. Here are some of the reasons Dive Bar & Grille in Lawrenceville is not a dive bar: their happy hour special features wine, you can't smoke inside, there are no pool tables, they have many fancy light fixtures on the walls, the bathroom was clean, nothing was broken, the bartenders were actually helpful and you can't spit on the floor. Like I said, not a dive bar.

There is a silent dignity to hanging out in a real dive bar. At a real dive bar no one will talk to you and everyone just enjoys their cheap drink in isolation. Co-mingling is not encouraged. Dive in Lawrenceville had a much more convivial atmosphere. People were telling jokes, taking selfies, enjoying Tinder dates and talking about their families. It was enough to make a real dive bar patron vomit. Again, vomiting is a behavior typically encouraged by real dive bars but not by Dive Bar and Grille of Lawrenceville.

Interestingly, Dive had a large number of appetizers that were discounted for happy hour. However, the discounted appetizers were not isolated from the non-discounted appetizers on the menu. I wonder if bars consider what a huge waste of time this is and how frustrating it can be to patrons. I watched the bartender explain the specials at least five times throughout the evening. Watching his finger bounce around the menu while explaining the specials was like watching someone explain potential nautical routes in the 16th century.

Pictured above are the cheesesteak sliders and the loaded croquettes. Priced for happy hour at $4.50 and $5 respectively. (Not bad price points!) The sliders could have benefited from the use of a more interesting and less stale bread option, and were otherwise bland but passable.

The croquettes could have been a knock-out, but the potato pancake was more like a hush puppy than a standard potato pancake. This greatly detracted from the dish as there was a certain mushy quality to the potatoes resulting in many plates of unfinished potatoes throughout the bar. The pulled pork on top of the mush was fresh, well seasoned and delicious. 

I have to say that I found my experience at Dive bar enjoyable and I'd recommend stopping by.  I'm still struggling with the concept though. Would it make sense if I opened a three star hotel and called it Rat Nest Motor Inn? Perhaps in the age of hipsterdom it is just cool to be considered a dive bar even if you have an extensive wine list and an attractive and helpful waitstaff.

 Dive Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Yard Gastropub - Shadyside - the good the bad and the juicy

The Good
Now, I can't prove this, but I'm pretty certain the Yard used to be a fancy Italian restaurant.  In the space currently occupied by Yard Gastropub at 736 Bellefonte I can vividly remember an anti-pasta bar, white tablecloths and ordering some type of clay pot chicken. This was over twenty years ago though, so I might just be remembering a trip to an Olive Garden. It is hard for me to say, but the memory of that delicious clay pot chicken remains.

The Yard is one of Shadyside's newest beer bars. There seems to be this basic recipe for commercial success in Shadyside. Large draft beer selection + big televisions + postmodern decor + lackluster craft cocktails + contemporary food options = GREAT SUCCESS!

 I suppose for the most part that these are basic bar amenities, but there is a peculiar quality to the bars of Shadyside. There's something a little too vanilla right beneath the surface that you can't adequately describe. The bars lack genuine character which they attempt to mask with a veneer of mojitos and hot waitresses.

The best dish I sampled at the Yard had to be the prosciutto wrapped shrimp. The shrimp were cooked perfectly and benefited greatly from the saltiness of the prosciutto. I think they could have used more prosciutto, but the dish was only about $5 for happy hour -  leaving no room for complaint.

The Bad
This was supposed to be poutine. Poutine is a Canadian dish that typically is made with a light brown gravy, a smaller sized french fry and cheese curds. This poutine was made with a burnt dark brown gravy, soggy potato wedges and what appeared to be shredded cheddar cheese. This was probably one of the worst things I've been served at a bar in the last several months. I couldn't even give this dish away, nor could I get the taste of the burnt gravy out of my mouth. I'm pretty sure this poutine, as prepared by the Yard, is responsible for the unrest that has been occurring in Canada.

On the menu the Yard claims that the cheese is made in-house. If that is really the case, they might as well just go buy the low fat cheddar cheese at Aldi and save a few bucks.

The Juicy Lucy
On Thursday the Yard offers a decent special. For $10 you get a Juicy Lucy burger and a beer. Considering some of the beers you are allowed to choose from are in the $7 to $8 range, this really is a bargain. I have to be honest, I could not bring myself to order anything else from the Yard after indulging in their gut busting craptastic poutine. However, I did try a bite of a friend's Juicy Lucy and it was not bad at all.

Go for happy hour and the Juicy Lucy, skip the poutine! 

 The Yard Gastropub on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 17, 2014

Southside BBQ Company

Brisket Nachos

Southside BBQ sits in the same location as the former 17th St. Cafe and is owned by the same folks. For years I've been saying that someone should bring basic BBQ to the Southside in a more accessible manner. Personally I find Doublewide overpriced, over-hyped and overextended in terms of menu selections. I'm a real stickler when it comes to BBQ.

When I left Cleveland in 2008 my little brother forced me to make a life altering decision. He was in a hurry to return to Pittsburgh and demanded I make an immediate choice as to whether I would move my barrel-drum smoker or my bed home to Pittsburgh. I threw my bed to the curb and returned to the Steel City with a giant smoker in tow. Every year I enjoy making ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, smoked game hen, Canadian bacon and basically anything else that can benefit from a thick smoke ring. BBQ is serious business. Serious as death.

Although I'm generally disappointed by the BBQ offerings in Pittsburgh, I was very pleased with the simplicity and quality of the food offered by Southside BBQ. Each dish I tried had a rich smoke flavor that paired well with their modest sauce selection. During their happy hour you can try chicken, brisket or pork nachos starting at $3.50 a plate. Sandwiches are not discounted for happy hour, but they start at $5 each. All of the meats we sampled were well prepared, fresh and very flavorful. When I go back I'll most likely skip the nachos and go straight for the meat. Why water down your BBQ?

Chicken wings are also discounted for happy hour.

By way of comparison, a pulled pork sandwich at Doublewide runs $10.19. In Doublewide's defense, that price also includes a side dish of your choice. However, I'd prefer to just have two sandwiches at Southside BBQ or order my sides a la carte. (Side dishes at Southside BBQ are $3 each or 2 for $5)

It ain't Memphis, Carolina or St. Louis. But it's nice to see some decent BBQ in Pittsburgh.

This is Pat, Pat is the man.
PS: There is also a Southside BBQ Co. food truck. If you see it out in the wild be sure to stop by and say hello to Pat.

South Side BBQ on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Five Best Pittsburgh Neighborhoods for Dining -

5 Pittsburgh Neighborhoods for Great Dining

Guest Post By Emily Creswick of Zillow

Happy hour on the North Shore.

When it comes to food in Pittsburgh, look beyond the famous Primanti Brothers. Pittsburgh offers an array of dining options sure to tantalize taste buds of any persuasion, celebrating the city’s local produce and multiculturalism.

Here are five Pittsburgh neighborhoods to visit for a great dining experience. These neighborhoods offer everything from fine dining to cheap and delicious late night bites.

1. Strip District

The Strip District is located just northeast of downtown Pittsburgh along the banks of the Allegheny River. The entire 1.5-mile neighborhood has an artisan feel with European cultural influences. The Strip District is home to produce and meat stands, ethnic grocers and an array of low-price restaurants, many catering to dietary restrictions such as gluten intolerance and veganism.

The district offers international flavor such as Caribbean, Thai and Middle Eastern from Kaya, Little Bangkok in the Strip and Salem’s Market & Grill. Chicken Latino is known for its friendly staff and bold Latin American flavor, while Gaucho Parrilla Argentina offers unique wood-fired barbeque. Even food trucks have loyal patrons, especially Edgar’s Tacos and Lucy’s – which serves seasonal banh mi sandwiches. Visit Colangelo's Bakery for Italian pastries, pizza and pasta, Enrico Biscotti for breakfast and sweets or Mancini's Bakery for fresh bread.

2. Lawrenceville

Lawrenceville is located four miles northeast of downtown Pittsburgh and is known as the city’s biggest hipster hub. For a unique dining experience, enjoy a meal at one of the dual restaurant/art galleries. Sip trendy beverages and snack on dessert at Arsenal Cider House and Wine Cellar and The Allegheny Wine Mixer.

After dusk, Lawrenceville offers a multitude of bars and bites. Grab an old-fashioned burger at Nied's Hotel or pub food at Gooski's Bar. Kaleidoscope Café serves eclectic salads, pasta and sandwiches while Pusadee's Garden is a hotspot for Thai food in a chic, garden setting. If breakfast is preferred, nibble on quiche from Lili Café or pop by La Gourmandine Bakery.

3. Downtown

Downtown, the heart of Pittsburgh, is at the intersection of three meandering rivers and offers diverse cuisine. City dwellers gravitate toward quick, affordable lunch stops such as Bob's Sub, Zorba's Gyros, Burgatory, Madonna's Mediterranean Cuisine, Nicky's Thai and Hanlon's Café. Verde Good Beans is a coffee shop and eatery bound to please lunch goers’ appetites. The family-run restaurant’s name is a play on a classic Pittsburgh dish, beans and greens, serving good food with eco-friendly business practices.

Enjoy American eats at Meat & Potatoes or Italian at Stone Neapolitan Pizzeria at River Vue. If ambiance is the attraction, try Butcher and the Rye or Il Tetto: Rooftop Beer Garden. For a more sophisticated dining experience, enjoy Nine on Nine or head to the Terrace Room in the Omni William Penn Hotel.

4. Oakland
Oakland is located three miles east of downtown. It’s also home to the University of Pittsburgh and considered the academic, medical and cultural hub of the city. The neighborhood has a lively college atmosphere, filled with coffee shops and nearly 100 restaurants within walking distance of the city center.

Choose from authentic Asian dishes at Spice Island Tea House, Taiwan Café or Oishii Bento. Legume Bistro in North Oakland manages an evolving menu based on seasonal crops and Red Oak Café serves vegetarian cuisine.  Mouthwatering brunch is served at Pamela's P & G Diner or Crepes Parisiennes. Stop for dessert at Dave & Andy's Homemade Ice Cream. When feeling indecisive in the evenings, walk along the sidewalks of Atwood Street to see the posted menus.

5. Squirrel Hill
Squirrel Hill is located about five miles east of downtown Pittsburgh. The neighborhood’s central district is known as “upstreet,” the thoroughfare along Murray and Forbes Avenues. In the early 20th century, many Jewish immigrants populated Squirrel Hill resulting in kosher menus at local restaurants; NU Jewish Bistro still serves authentic Jewish cuisine. The neighborhood also includes Schenley Park, ideal for family picnics followed by a brief walk to Razzy Fresh Frozen Yogurt.

In Squirrel Hill, pizza lovers battle over Aiello’s Pizza and Mineo’s Pizza House on Murray Avenue. Waffallonia is the hotspot for brunch and Allegro Hearth Bakery offers fresh pastries and breads. On Forbes Avenue, foodies frequent Bangkok Balcony or Silk Elephant when craving Thai. Nearby, Mediterranean fare is served at The Mediterranean Grill or Aladdin’s Eatery on the cheap.

Finding the right community to rent or relocate to is a tough task influenced by community safety, great schools, affordability and cultural fit. Local restaurant owners set the beat at the heart of neighborhoods, making them great sources for information and prime examples of community. Whether visiting, considering moving to Pittsburgh or a longtime local, enjoy the unique flavors of the dining scene. Check out Zillow for more information about Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Independent - Squirrel Hill

I could eat you for days.
The Independent, also known as Independent Brewing Company, is an upscale new beer bar that opened in the old space occupied by Fanattics in Squirrel Hill. (Don't be fooled, it is not an actual brewery.) The Independent specializes in local beers, but they also offer a fully stocked bar for your consumption pleasures. There were some noticeable renovations to the space, mainly a nice patio, an updated bar, and a more open feel to the entire floor plan.

The most standout non-aesthetic changes to the bar include the fantastic selection of local beers (they seemingly had at least one beer from most breweries in the area) as well as the new menu. Fanattics specialized in nachos, pizza and chicken wings. The Independent offers artisanal cheese plates, curry beef satay, expensive tacos and fancy sandwiches. They appear to have followed the popular trend of offering locally sourced food.  Many of the dishes on the menu also incorporate the beers you can purchase behind the bar. (IE pork shoulder cooked in East End Brewing Co. porter.)

My sandwich, pictured above, contained veal sausage, roasted peppers, onions caramelized in cider from Aersenal Cider in Lawrenceville, spinach pesto and smoked gouda on a ciabatta bun. It was a knock out sandwich. Great textures and flavors with the perfect amount of bite from the pesto. The veal sausage was optional, but I found it mandatory. The sausage paired quite well with the onions and peppers and it really made for a fantastic experience.

My main complaint about the Independent is that the food seemed expensive in regards to the portion size. While I'm not against the local food movement, I still prefer half priced chicken wings to a discounted sandwich that ends up being over $12 once you add meat. I suppose I have some growing up to do. Or maybe I don't. Is it a crime to prefer steroid laden chicken wings to local artisanal cheeses and fancy sandwiches?


Overall the Independent was a great experience and I'd recommend stopping by to check out their daily $4 beer special. If you want to eat and drink locally sourced food and drink, the price points are in line with what you would expect.

Independent Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 26, 2014

Allegheny Wine Mixer - Lawrenceville

The Cheese Stands Alone
I can only assume that the Allegheny Wine Mixer took its name from the film, "Step Brothers" which featured an event known as the Catalina Wine Mixer. I judge bars by their name. I know this is bigoted and small minded, but I really do. I will admit that I had a bad attitude as I approached the bar at Allegheny Wine Mixer.

In my opinion, whenever a bar self identifies as a wine bar it generally means that everything is going to be very expensive, my abhorrent behavior won't be blissfully tolerated and the house music will likely consist of flamenco music and/or adult contemporary top 40.

My preconceptions of Allegheny Wine Mixer turned out to be entirely unfounded. For starters, the bar was surprisingly welcoming. The bartenders were very helpful and polite and I even enjoyed the music. They made a number of interesting drink suggestions to patrons throughout the night and mixed up a few cool grapefruit cocktails I'd never heard of before.

Drink and food prices were spot on. The delicious cheese plate which is pictured above was $5 during happy hour (5-7). I found the fruit arrangement to be rather strange, but I loved the copious amount of bread and flavorful cheese selections. The two cheeses were adelegger and chiriboga blue. The blue smelled of old socks and gym bags and tasted marvelous.

This is what they will serve at my wedding.
For dessert I had nutella and goat cheese on crusty bread paired with one of my favorite libations, Old German. I had no idea there could be such a thing as a perfect evening, but Adam Scott put it best.

The Allegheny Wine Mixer on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sienna Mercato - Il Tetto

Il Tetto is the fancy new roof top deck downtown. I'm pretty amazed at the number of roof top decks that have opened just within the last year.... Skybar, Carson City, Blue Line Grille, Steel Cactus, etc. Pittsburgh's new obsession with outdoor seating is fantastic.

Il Tetto offers a very limited menu that is completely different from the selections available downstairs at Emporio. (Emporio is the Sienna Mercato meatball restaurant. My review of Emporio is available here.) So be sure to grab your meatballs and discounted beers downstairs at Emprio before you take the elevator ride to Il Tetto as the rooftop bar does not offer meatballs or happy hour specials.

Some of the selections available at Il Tetto include fried head cheese, home made sausage, marinated olives and my delicious caprese salad which is pictured above.

My caprese salad was very good. It was made with extremely high quality olive oil from Lodi Olive Oil co, basil, fresh tomatoes, some remarkable mozzarella and some micro greens including cilantro. Someone did a fine job of selecting a delicious tomato for my salad. Great work Il Tetto! Although I found the addition of cilantro to a caprese salad to be rather odd, it seemed to work as it was used sparingly. My chief complaint about the salad, and about Il Tetto in general, was the pricing. The salad cost $14 and each drink ran somewhere between $7 and $15. I think this is very high for Pittsburgh, even with the beautiful view of the city.

It is my personal belief that if I'm paying $14 for a salad it should come with some type of protein or at least a lap dance. However, based on the size of the crowd the last two times I've visited Il Tetto, it would appear that the general public disagrees. It is true what they say, you pay for the view.

Il Tetto: Rooftop Beer Garden on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Over the Bar - Southside - OTB

I do not think it makes sense that there is a bar that caters specifically to people who ride bicycles. I've voiced this concern about OTB many times. I find it funny that bikers define themselves as a sub culture based on a mode of transportation. (I suppose they'd also spout off some nonsense about how I'm being superficial and there is so much more to the biker way of life.) Personally, I like to walk quite often. But I do not think a walking themed bar would be nearly as successful as OTB.

Everyone I know claims to love the food at OTB. My old neighbor used to say they had the best salads ever and this dude I know named Carl eats there religiously. Personally, I have very little interest in the food at OTB. I'm pretty sure my happy hour pierogies were made by Mrs. T.

The menu consists of some rather pedestrian food selections (this is a pun) and the food is just average at best. I'd say the menu selections and food quality are comparable to what is offered at Double Wide minus the bbq. However, the menu might totally be your thing if you are into normal food selections named after clever bike things. For example, punk bike pickles, the peddle paddle panini, the tandem or the big wheel.  (Yes these are all real things from the OTB menu.)

I don't want to come off as overly critical. I think OTB has some good beer specials and I certainly like the staff. ($3 Dales Pale Ale and our bartender looked like Miley Cyrus!) Also, the food is acceptable. I just don't understand the hype. Without the bicycle theme and the ample bike parking, I think this place would be out of business.

Seitan Wings
These wings were way better than they looked. They did a nice job of achieving the perfect texture with the seitan. If you've never had seitan wings, I recommend giving them a try. Although the chicken wing is the perfect vehicle to eat butter and buffalo sauce, crispy seitan can work quite well. Seitan should really just be called gluten, because that's what it is. A non-soy meat alternative made with wheat and often served as fake duck or tofurkey. Now get on your bike and ride!

OTB (Over The Bar) Bicycle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Salonika Gyros - Downtown.

Gyro Time
The American gyro always has been a total mystery to me. I find it very odd that Pittsburghers often argue over the merits of Mike and Tony's versus Lesvos in the Southside. I have a seriously difficult time discerning any difference between the meat used by any of the gyro places in Pittsburgh. Although gryos are considered a traditional Greek food, they are typically made with pork or chicken in Greece.

The stuff we get here in the U.S. is some strange combination of beef and lamb. The product you see on display at the gyro store is not an actual cut of meat, but rather a product most commonly referred to as, "gyro cone" or "gyro loaf." These cones or loaves are formed by pressing ground meat into a cylinder. According to the New York Times, every gyro cone in the U.S. is largely made by one distributor.

So next time your drunk friends argue over the merits of various gyro places and the quality of the meat, politely explain that they are stupid idiots whose preferences are based on neon signs.


Now that I've got my rant out of the way, I'd like to say that Salonika Gyro downtown on 6th ave is the best gyro place in Pittsburgh!!  In addition to boasting gyro loaf on a hot spit, they offer many homemade specialties such as hummus, grape leaves, stuffed peppers, baklava, loobi, and filo dough dishes made with chicken and fish. (If your favorite gyro store doesn't have any specialties other than  gyros made with mass produced meat loaf, you are uncouth and lacking in culture.)

Some of the great things about Salonika are the quality and the low prices. Not to mention the extremely ratty bar frequented by some of Pittsburgh's most likely small time crooks and child support dodgers. To give you an idea of the value you can expect for your dollar, all of the food pictured above cost roughly $13. Grape leaves, tzatziki, hummus, spanakopita, tons of extra bread and a HUGE gyro salad with cucumbers, peppers, onions, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese.

I dare you to find a better value in downtown Pittsburgh for dinner. (If you do, I'll take you out for a gyro on me.) Also, if you are stopping by for a drink, you can expect to pay about $2 per beer. They had $4 mojitos as well, but you don't want to go ordering your Cuban cocktails from a Greek restaurant.

Salonika Gyros on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Ave - Shadyside - Stack'd II

The picture was the best part.

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!

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.

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, "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.


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, 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