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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sienna Sulla Piazza - Market Square Downtown Pittsburgh

The food at Sienna Sulla is really very good. I would not recommend dropping by for happy hour with more than four guests unless you have a reservation. The bar is small, the bartenders don't like flash photography and being rowdy is generally discouraged.

The crowd tends to be a little older and the atmosphere isn't encouraging for slamming Miller Lites, but the food stands out. The mozzarella stuffed giant veal meatball pictured above is fantastic. Well seasoned, well textured, perfectly paired with toasted pine nuts and entirely delicious. I personally think that pine nuts are one of the most underutilized ingredients. Although the meatball is a rather simple creation, I find other restaurants have no problem finding some clever way to ruin it.

This was the absolute best thing ever.

Chicken liver mousse is always good, but Sienna prepared it flawlessly. Adorned with crushed pistachios and honey, I think I could enjoy this dish everyday for the rest of my life. It had a wonderful sticky texture and a delicate sweetness. Be careful though, I totally covered my tie in honey. (There must be some way to make this sexual. Please indulge in the comments below.)

The second best thing ever.
If you aren't going to order the veal stuffed meatball, I recommend going with the meatball flat bread. Sienna serves the sucker covered in fresh basil,  san marzano tomato sauce, provolone and one of the most perfect ricotta cheeses I've ever tried. I don't even like ricotta cheese, but whatever variety was heaped on this meatball flat bread was very good. They must have gotten it from the fancy Giant Eagle in Shadyside.

The quality of the food and the ingredients used at Sienna Sulla are easily some of the best you can get in Market Square.  Again though, don't try going here for happy hour with your sorority sisters. Although the drinks are reasonably priced, the bar frowns on shenanigans. The bartender wouldn't take a second picture of our happy hour crew because he said we were disturbing the other patrons. Slag off other patrons! No one tells us how to act after consuming most of the wine at the bar and half of the meatballs in the greater Pittsburgh area.

Sienna Sulla Piazza on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pittsburgh Pizza - A Year in Review (Part I)

In 2013 I set out to hit as many of the pizza restaurants as possible on the Pittsburgh Magazine list of 25 Superb Pittsburgh Pizzas. Despite my love of pizza, this was a surprisingly difficult challenge. Out of twenty-five pizza joints I only made it to seven and I only had the opportunity to seriously review four. This gave me a new found respect for the folks at 101 Achievements Blog who attempt to complete 101 activities every year. Cheers to you Jen and Mike!

Here are my thoughts on four of the delicious pies I tried this year. They are listed from best to worst. Honestly, I was pretty shocked at the stark contrast in terms of quality and deliciousness.

Beto's - South Hills 

This is what I see when I dream.

The South Hills area seems to have some super secret lock-down on high quality pizza. For whatever reason the majority of the best pizza restaurants in Pittsburgh are located somewhere in the Dormont/Mt. Lebo/Brookline area. Is this where all the Italians hang out or something?

Beto's was the best new pizza I tried in 2013. I'd compare it to Police Station Pizza in Ambridge. Thick square cut Sicilian style pizza with the toppings heaped on while the pie is still hot. Many people prefer to have their toppings baked on, but I think they are incredible when thrown on fresh from the oven with this style of pizza.

The remarkable thing about Beto's is that your order is up in about 3-5 minutes. Our pizza arrived before we even finished sharing a side salad. I went with extra cheese, pepperonni, mushrooms, bannana peppers and tomato. I honestly can't rave enough about how fresh, crisp, delicious and flavorful Beto's pizza is. Despite being thick, the crust is super crunchy and it requires some real stamina to consume. It was really fun watching my pizza-partner, Lauren, try to chew her pie. I think she only got through about two slices before the restaurant was closing.

PRO TIP: get extra napkins at Beto's you'll need them when trying to eat your pizza.

Beto's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Slice - South Hills

The Big Louie
Slice stood out among the pizza I consumed in 2013. This incredible pie was baked for us in about ten minutes while we hung out in Slice's pleasant dining room. The Big Louie pie consisted of mushrooms, pepperoni and hot sausage. One of the first things I noticed was that the hot sausage was fresh and delicious, possibly even from a local butcher. There's nothing I hate more than when a pizza place uses frozen super processed sausage that ends up tasting like it came out of a soup can. Well done old chaps at Slice!

I thought the pie was a bit salty and the crust was a little too thin for my taste. I really liked how well done the pie was and I thought it was an excellent value for the money. I believe Slice is trying to emulate a New York style pizza, but hey, this is Pittsburgh. While I believe New York style pizza is some of the best in the world, I say go wild and create a style of your own.

PRO TIP: The friendly staff at Slice sells pizza by the slice daily. If you are feeling non-committal you can drop in for just a slice (dad jokes).

SLICE on Broadway on Urbanspoon

Nappoli - Squirrel Hill 

Cook me more!

I was a little surprised that Nappoli in Squirrel Hill made the list of Pittsburgh's finest. It was totally acceptable pizza, but I wouldn't rank it in the top tier. Napoli features a thicker crust, in particular I thought the dough and toppings were high quality. The sauce could have used a little work in my professional pizza opinion.

We ordered this pie with mushrooms, pepperoni and feta.  It was one of those obvious jobs where they threw our toppings on an already made pie, but didn't let it bake enough when it went back in the oven. Unlike Beto's this strategy didn't work as well because the pie was most likely intentionally under-baked the first time around and wasn't fresh when it was prepared to our specification. It just wasn't as ewww-gewwwwy delicious as I would have liked, but it was absolutely superior to any pie from one of the large commercial outfits, EG Domino's, Pizza Slut or Papa John's.

PRO TIP: Go here if there is a long wait at Aiello's or Mineo's, it is right up the street!

Napoli Pizza on Urbanspoon


Giovanni's - Dormont 

Giovanni's has a number of locations throughout the city, but I wouldn't particularly reccomend you go out of your way to visit any of them. The location in Dormont gave me the creeps. The dining room is also a chocolate store. Do you guys specialize in pizza or chocolates?

We ordered the neapolitan margarita pizza with bacon. It was entirely underwhelming. The sauce had a bit of a pleasant kick, but it ran rather thin. The toppings seemed haphazardly strewn across the pie and the whole thing just seemed overly salty but still flavorless in my opinion. This was the only pizza we tried where me and my pizza-partner argued over who was going to take the leftovers home because nobody wanted them. The stuffed pepperoni roll cheese bread was far superior to the pizza. The cheese bread featured a very yeasty thick crust with a generous amount of cheese and pepperoni.

I believe Giovanni's must have been a better pizzeria some time ago in the distant past. Their inclusion on the list of Pittsburgh's finest is a mystery to say the least. I think I could name at least five or ten more deserving candidates.

PRO TIP: Try the chocolate and send me an email to let me know if it is any good. 

Giovanni's Pizza & Pasta Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Stack'd - Shadyside

The Johnny Jakes Special Fire Burger

Before I come across as a negative jerk, I want to say that I really liked Stack'd. The staff was awesome, I really liked the upstairs bar and the drink specials were incredible! Discounted yuengling pitchers throughout the evening and two dollar well drinks later in the night. That is honestly about as good as drink specials get, especially for Shadyside. One point of interest, they were willing to serve their well drinks as shots for two bucks. I've found that most bars aren't willing to do this for a well drink special. Mad props Stack'd.

It looks better than it was.

Here is my burger, I named him wimpy because he looked so small compared to the Johnny Jakes Special Burger, pictured above, and because he was a particularly sad burger. The nice thing about Stack'd is that they allow you to fill out a worksheet when ordering your burger, similar to a sushi restaurant or the pizza worksheet provided by Bites N' Brews on Elwood Street. I thought this concept was remarkable. Before visiting Stack'd I probably spent about twenty-five excruciating minutes carefully designing my dream burger. You can find a copy of the menu worksheet here.

After extreme deliberation I went with the double stack with provolone cheese, spicy ketchup and mustard, bacon, egg, banana peppers, extra pickles and slammin' bbq sauce on the side. Although the toppings were great, the burger itself was particularly dry and lifeless. Stack'd claims that they grind their own meat in house, but if they do I'd agree with my friend Dave that they are probably wasting their time.

I believe that a similar result could be achieved from a frozen store-bought patty. In terms of just the meat, I've had better burgers from Wendy's. Additionally, the bun tasted like it was at least a couple of days old. Kind of like a hamburger bun you might expect from a cookout at the soup kitchen. It seems very unfortunate that they take so much care in providing such a large variety of incredible toppings and so little care in the preparation and freshness of the meat and bun.

Deep fried Mac n Cheese!
Early in the evening I asked the staff what I should try other than a burger. They readily suggested the deep fried mac n cheese. It was particularly bomb and I was appreciative of the recommendation. A wonderfully crispy exterior with delicious gooey mac n cheese on the inside. I loved the sauce they served with the mac n cheese bites as well. Until Stack'd gets their burger situation worked out I'd recommend sticking with the mac n cheese bites and the outrageous drink specials.  Additionally, it is worth noting that they've also opened a cheesesteak restaurant that operates with the same made to order strategy. Hopefully they get their beef from a different supplier.

Stack'd Burgers and Beer on Urbanspoon