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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