Category Archives: restaurant REVIEWS

Spoonwood – Bethel Park Suburb

Restaurant: Spoonwood Brewing Company

Location: On Baptist Road right past where Hills used to be.

Atmosphere: Hipster warehouse-chic with exposed HVAC, industrial lighting, gray walls and big ol’ metal vats of beer.


Menu: Salads, sandwiches, soups and, ummm, let me see if I can remember, what was that again…um…oh yeah…WOOD-FIRED PIZZAS!!!!!

Food (and Beer): Let’s start with the beer since that’s Spoonwood’s core competency. I sampled an assortment of their rotating selections and below are my actor-inspired assessments:

Stunt Double Kölsch – refreshingly solid and straightforward with an abundance of malty musk. Basically the Bill Paxton of beers.

O’vermillion Irish Red Ale – an easy-to-drink beer with some light herbal/grassy notes. Basically the Bill Pullman of beers.

In The Black Stout – its subtle flavoring of roasted coffee and chocolate reminded me of the late 90s work of Larenz Tate.

Marmalade Wheat – analogous to how I’ve felt about Katherine Heigl since she left Grey’s Anatomy. I was expecting so much more but its lack of depth and bitter orange aftertaste really wasn’t to my liking.

Elise Saison – dry and peppery with some upfront floral hops. Pretty much a cross between Simon Pegg and Zooey Deschanel.


Now for the food! I’m not one for overzealous hyperbole, but my first bite of Spoonwood’s pizza was the greatest thing to ever happen to me. On second thought maybe that isn’t completely true*, but it definitely was some of the finest pizza that I’ve ever had in the “wood-fired” style.

The crust was inexplicably both fluffy and crispy and it had the perfect amount of flavorful char on the underside from the “hot as f” oven. A sparse scattering of house-made mozzarella and fresh basil topped my Margherita and defined the concept of quality over quantity.


The pizza’s size was relatively modest so I was very happy that my wife and I ordered our own instead of planning to split just one. Let that be a lesson to you – the key to a happy marriage is never running out of pizza.

* “Greatest things to ever happen to me” rankings – 1) marrying my wife, 2) my son being born, 3) getting LASIK surgery, 4) eating Spoonwood’s pizza and 5) going to Lollapalooza ’94.

Final Call: Spoonwood’s beer selection was very solid but I can’t say that there were any breakout superstars a la Jennifer Lawrence or Channing Tatum in the bunch. However, I would marry their pizza if it was legal. Highly recommended!

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The Best of Summer 2015 Part II…Dining

Welcome to the second installment in a series of posts celebrating the Best of Summer 2015. The first was a playlist of ultimate summer tunes curated by musician RJ 2020k. Today’s post concerns al fresco dining, and is helmed by everyone’s favorite blogging bon vivant Heidi of The Steel Trap. Bon appétit!

If this humidity would ever subside, I would be more confident in what I am about to write. Nevertheless, summer is here; this means that eating outside is pretty darn appealing. There’s just something truly appealing to the idea; perhaps it’s the fact that summer is fleeting and before we know it, we will be dealing with a “wintry mix” instead of “partly sunny with a chance of thunderstorms.” With that in mind, I want you to get moving and make the most of this season! Here are my favorite spots in Pittsburgh for an outdoor meal… a.k.a. The Steel Trap’s Best of Outdoor Dining List:

Cultural District

Meat and Potatoes has a lovely patio that is private, has shade, and won’t afford the opportunity for pedestrians to get too close. The restaurant’s revered reputation speaks for itself, and there’s always the chance that you would run into yours truly when you are there, which is an unparalleled perk.

The Corpse Reviver at Meat & Potatoes

The Corpse Reviver at Meat & Potatoes


Bar Louie and Burgatory both offer outdoor seating. I happen to enjoy the food and drinks at both of these places very much. Grab a bite to eat before catching a movie; catch a movie before grabbing a bite to eat. Or better yet, do your shopping at Target and then have some celebratory drinks in honor of your bargain shopping skills!


Harris Grill has a charming, secluded patio, and an excellent menu. I particularly enjoy having a glass of white wine and a salad during while perusing the City Paper and watching people stroll up and down Ellsworth Avenue. It makes for a lovely afternoon.

North Shore

Jerome Bettis Grille 36 has a great patio. With a view of everything that’s good in this world (i.e. our iconic skyline, the confluence of rivers, and Heinz Field) and a menu that’s appealing to families, Bettis Grille is a nice option for after a stop at the Carnegie Science Center, Children’s Museum, or sporting event. Afterward, stroll along the river to burn off the calories!

North Side

Benjamins Western Avenue Burger Bar in the Allegheny West neighborhood is a great spot. I love the menu, and love its location. Grabbing a meal and some drinks there is a nice prequel to a Pirates game or a preseason Steelers game. There’s parking and the walk to either PNC Park or Heinz Field is convenient.

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The Commoner – Downtown Pittsburgh

Restaurant: The Commoner.

Location: Inside Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco near the Omni William Penn.

Atmosphere: The steel beams, dark wood and gleaming marble gave the dimly lit dining space an aristocratic ambiance that Jay Gatsby would have approved of.


Menu: Upscale gastropub grub (i.e. barrel-aged and grass fed errthang).

Food: After enjoying a roasty and robust Yards Washington’s Tavern Porter (English Porter, 7% ABV), my group was seated and we quickly put in some appetizer orders to share – the pork cheeks and bone marrow. The marrow was wonderfully unctuous and a welcome savior for the somewhat-dry accompanying grilled bread. The pork cheeks were braised to fork tender and had a baconesque fatty flavor that made me quickly forget the cringe-inducing idea that I was gnawing on a pig’s face.


For my main course I went with the lamb shank and I can’t say that it was love at first bite. The lamb regrettably turned out to be a little tougher than I usually like, though I think following up the supple marrow and pork cheeks helped contribute to my critical assessment. After completing my bovineporcineovine trifecta, my wife and I split the Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert. It was basically ice cream, caramel sauce and a “steamed date cake”, which doesn’t sound terribly exciting but trust me, it was a-friggin-mazing and I now want to eat it every night before bed.

Service: Our waitress was super nice, though a bit underdressed for such a swanky place. Then again, I had on a Patagonia jacket so who am I to judge?

Final Call: Though The Commoner met my expectations as Pittsburgh’s next “cool” restaurant, in the end I kept likening it to Better Call Saul. It has all the quality elements covered to the finest detail, but seems to lack some sense of originality that was captured by its contemporaries Meat & Potatoes and Grit & Grace (or in Better Call Saul’s case, Breaking Bad and Mad Men). Regardless, The Commoner’s romantic charm and elevated cuisine definitely earn it a place as one of our city’s coolest restaurants.

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The Yard Gastropub – Shadyside

Restaurant: The Yard Gastropub

Location: On Bellefonte Street across from the William Penn Tavern*.

* We arrived in Shadyside early and had time to grab a beer at the ‘ole tavern. Our waitress wasn’t sure what the drafts were, but after squinting my eyes enough to see the taps from where I sat, I decided on a selection with the Ithaca emblem. It turned out to be their Embrr Rye (American Porter 6.60% ABV), and boy was I pleased ‘cause it was AMAZING!!!

It was super-creamy with a deep brown color, and although it definitely packed a punch, the subtly sweet hints of milk chocolate made what could have been a kick in the ass seem more like a flirtatious smack. The draft was big as hell too, I swear it must have been in a 20oz glass ‘cause I was already feelin’ hella good by the time I finished.

Atmosphere: The bar side of The Yard reminded me of a really nice frat house basement. The adjacent restaurant area was sparsely decorated but did enough to provide a perfectly serviceable speakeasy-vibe. What stood out the most about the place was how f*ckin’ loud it was*.

* Complaint to be continued in the Final Call section.

Menu: A full gastropub complement of burgers, sandwiches and craft beers, with an emphasis on grilled cheeses.


Food: Our group started with the poutine appetizer to split, and I went with an Evil Genius Pure Evil (Oatmeal Stout 5.60% ABV) draft to wash it down. Continuing my beer-selecting luck, the stout was fan-f’ing-tastic*. The poutine was closer to potatoe chunks than normal French fries, but were scrumptious nonetheless due to their gratuitous toppings of gravy and beer cheese.

I was probably a little drunk by time I got around to eating my entrée (Cheesy Capresey), but from what I remember it was the most decadently delicious grilled cheese I’ve ever had in my life. It was cheesy and greasy and reminded me of what a slice of “O” pizza could be if it got exposed to gamma radiation like the Hulk.

* The beer had a nice cocoa undertone that was in perfect harmony with a full host of other bitterly sweet flavors (roasted nuts, coffee, and molasses). Seriously, this and the Embrr were the tastiest new beers I’ve tried in a long time and I can’t wait to get drunk on them again.

Service: We were seated promptly and the waitress was nice enough so it’s all good here.

Final Call: Continuing my gripe from above – We were seated in the dining area at 7:30pm on a Friday night and the music was way too f*ckin’ loud. Between that and the echoing basement-like acoustics, it was nearly impossible for our group to converse with each other. Though I would never recommend The Yard as a good place for a date or small group, my grilled cheese was just too excellent and the beer selection too awesome for me to totally turn my back on it.

The Yard Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Hitchhiker Brewing – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: Hitchhiker Brewing Company

Location: Next to Luma* on Castle Shannon Boulevard.

* Where’s Luma you ask? Why, it’s next to Hitchhiker Brewing Company of course!

Atmosphere: The interior was basically one open (albeit compact) space with an L-shaped bar, a couple tables near the large front windows, and some perimeter ledges. The décor was understated but cool, and featured reclaimed wood and vintage brewing-inspired accoutrements. The place was nice and all, but what really stood out to me the most was all the hipsters.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love hipsters. I mean, I own Neutral Milk Hotel on vinyl and never miss an episode of Portlandia so I’m practically a closet hipster myself. I was just surprised to see so many oversized frames, ironic Daria t-shirts and meticulously weathered Vans this far out in the suburbs.

I’ve heard rumors over the past year that they were starting to colonize Brookline and had made some inroads into Dormont, but this is Mount f*ckin’ Lebanon we’re talking about. Just wait until they discover Restoration Hardware at the Galleria, then they’ll never leave!

Menu: Brief. Just a half dozen or so beer-friendly appetizers.

Food (& Beer): I started with a draft of the Tumbleweed Oatmeal Brown (5.1% ABV). The beer was malty and sweet and quite reminiscent of Brooklyn Brown Ale. I ended up liking it more than that industry standard, mainly due to it having a little less bite and carbonation. After just a few sips of the delicious beer my stomach started rumbling for food. I then quickly ordered the cheese & meat board and whiskey pretzels to munch-on as I got my buzz-on.


The aged raw milk cheeses and Parma sporessetta were just ok (and waaaaay overpriced at $12), but the pretzels were ADDICTIVELY SCRUMPTIOUS!!! They were billed as being coated with “a buttery blend of sugar, spices and whiskey”, but I’m sure there’s some crack in there also because NOW I THINK ABOUT THEM ALL DAY AND NIGHT! Oh well, all the more reason to go back and try some of the other beers!

Service: After bringing out the food, the bartender came back after a few minutes and apologetically delivered a container of olives that was supposed to be part of the cheese plate. I hadn’t noticed them missing (nor even remembered them being part of the description), but I’m glad he went out of his way to correct the oversight.

Final Call: The opening of the Hitchhiker Brewing Company is easily one of the coolest developments that has happened to the south hills suburbs since…well…ever. Between the awesome beer, urban-rustic furnishings and crack-infused snacks, it’s no wonder the hipsters are already all over this place. Highly recommended and hipster-approved!

Hitchhiker Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

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The Simple Greek – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: The Simple Greek (formerly My Big Fat Greek Gyro).

Location: Downtown Lebo.

Atmosphere: I’ve visited Greece (PRETENTIOUS TRAVELER ALERT) and can’t say that the decor reminded me of John Stamos’ ancestral homeland. However, the restaurant was very white and very clean, which did remind me of John Stamos.

Menu: It’s setup like a Greek Chipotle, where you pick your base (pita or bowl) and then move down the chow line choosing from a bevy of fresh ingredients to stuff your fat face with.

Food: I was already planning on gorging myself on pizza later that day for dinner so my first inclination was to limit my lunchtime calories by just selecting a salad. Thankfully my growling stomach overruled my brain and I ordered a white pita stuffed with lamb meat, lettuce, Greek rice and the yogurt-based Tzatziki sauce. It was FOVERÓS*!!!


The truly flavorful lamb and a wonderfully warm pita could not have been more satisfying. The rice was really my biggest surprise. It was very toothsome and more pasta-like than I was expecting. This was the gyro that dreams are made of and truly deserving of my new adjective – Stamolicious!

* Greek for “awesome”!

Service: Friendly, quick and competent…basically the opposite of my old co-worker Daryl.

Final Call: I grew up on Mike & Tony’s in the Southside and can honestly say that The Simple Greek rivals that legendary establishment as having the perfect gyro. Highly recommended!

My Big Fat Greek Gyro on Urbanspoon

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BRGR – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: BRGR

Location: In the cursed spot of Galleria Mall, home to such recently failed restaurants as Amigos Restaurante, Jake’s Beef & Barbecue and Los Pollos Hermanos…

Atmosphere: The décor possessed a modern metro-style reminiscent of, yet much cooler than, downstairs neighbor Houlihan’s. The open dining space was packed with families so the noise level was a little high, but I can’t complain since my son was responsible for more than his share of yelling…

Menu: Brgrs, slds and mlkshks…

Food: I had the eponymous brgr and a side of fries with the truffle cheese whiz. In retrospect I should’ve just split a fry order with my wife ‘cause the basket was friggin’ huge. The brgr was enormous as well, but way too delicious not to scarf down completely (whereas the fries were just kinda meh).

The burger toppings (pickled red onion, oven-roasted tomato & blue cheese*) were a highlight onto themselves, but the real star of the show was the beef. The patty was cooked to a perfect medium and had just enough char to balance out all the moist juiciness**. #nmnmnm

* You can also add foie gras as a topping for $12 if you’re an assh*le…

* Or was it juicy moistness?


Service: Our waitress was very pleasant and even brought my son baseball cards and crayons…which he promptly began to eat instead of his mac & cheese.

Final Call: I’m not prone to hyperbolic exaggeration, but BRGR opening a location in the South Hills ‘burbs is one of the best things to ever happen to me. Before becoming a parent, I LOVED exploring Pittsburgh’s gentrified hipster neighborhoods to dine on upscale comfort food alongside my fellow pretentious foodies.

Nowadays the idea of taking a toddler to Tamari is akin to trying to ice skate with a squirrel in my pants. Thankfully the new BRGR in The Galleria allows me to dine with dignity on gourmet burgers and handmade shakes, whilst watching my son dine with indignity on cardboard and Crayola. It just doesn’t get much better than that!

BRGR on Urbanspoon

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Casa Rasta – Beechview

Restaurant: Casa Rasta

Location: Where Boustead breaks from Broadway in Beachview (try to say that three times fast).

Atmosphere: Casa Rasta occupies what looks to be a converted single family home so the dining area isn’t large*. The décor is Día de Muertos-chic ala Mad Mex. Despite the preponderance of foreboding skulls, the bright colors and streaming reggae music help invoke a vibe that is more Tuff Gong than Tuco Salamanca.


* This gives me a great idea for a new HGTV program where people go out to dinner and then come home surprised to find that their house was remodeled into a hipster taco joint. The show will be hosted by Paige Davis and B-Real, and feature a different celebrity chef every week to make the tacos. Sounds like a hit to me!

Menu: Tacos*, tostadas, burritos, tortas, quesadillas, wings, salsa and soup.

* You had me at tacos.

Food: My wife and I don’t get out to eat much since we had a child. So whenever we do get the chance to dine somewhere other than our kitchen or King’s, I try to order as much food as possible until I’m stuffed beyond belief. It’s like I’m a hibernating bear, but instead of sleep I’m storing up a reserve of artisanal tacos.

Feeling especially hungry, I also ordered the sweet and spicy mango wings to go along with a buffet of tacos to split* with my wife (asado, carnitas, chorizo and polo). The wings arrived nice and crispy like I like ‘em, and the citrusy sweet heat of the mango sauce gave them a distinctive Caribbean flavor profile.


The tacos showed up just as soon as I was done devouring the wings. They were all simply great, and I would rank them in order of deliciousness as: Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Steak, Citrus Marinated Pork and Mexican Sausage. All came adorned with onions and cilantro, while the chicken had some extra oomph supplied by avocado cream and mango.

* When I say split, I mean she gets a couple bites and I get the rest.

Service: Our waitress was super nice and made sure our water glasses stayed full. She also didn’t seem to get annoyed when I busted out my phone to take pics of the food, which I admit is super annoying.

Final Call: Not only was the food great, but the prices were unbelievably low. THREE DOLLARS FOR A TACO!??!?! I would have paid twice as much and still felt like I had gotten a good deal. My only complaint is that Casa Rasta doesn’t have a liquor license, but they are BYOB so I’ll just have to remember to come prepared with a sixer of Red Stripe next time.

Casa Rasta on Urbanspoon

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Las Palmas Carniceria – Brookline

Embracing the Mexican authenticity of Las Palmas Carniceria, this review will be presented in Spanish with English subtitles.

Restaurant: Las Palmas Carniceria

Location: Brookline Boulevardo*, en el lugar en la esquina donde la Costa Oeste de Vídeo que solía ser…

(Brookline Boulevard, in the corner spot where West Coast Video used to be…)

(* “Boulevard” is actually the same word in both languages but I changed it to “Boulevardo” because I think that it sounds more ethnic.)

Atmosphere: Auténtica bodega de la esquina.

(Authentic corner bodega. Las Palmas is basically a grocery store with a taco cart out front so there really isn’t any seating…unless you count the nearby street bench occupied by two Jesse Pinkman-esque teenagers having a lively discussion about someone named “bitchin’ ass Heather with da big ass”.)

Menu: No hay menu.

(No menu…obvi.)

Food: Ya que no había menú, acabo de señalar a lo que yo pensaba que era la carne de pollo y pedí dos tacos de cada uno para ir. Les coronada con una mezcla de selecciones de la barra de salsa sin etiqueta y recé que no estaba eligiendo nada demasiado picante. Entonces me llevé el hogar tacos a mi esposa para que podamos disfrutar de una agradable cena romántica, sentado en el sofá de la sala de estar viendo “The Unauthorized Salvados por la campana Story”

Me alegré al descubrir que las tortillas recién hechas no filtran su interior-delicias a pesar del viaje a casa llena de tráfico (maldito seas Washington Road). Además de ser estructuralmente firmes, las tortillas eran básicamente perfecto y un millón de veces más sabroso que comprados en la tienda conchas. El único comentario negativo taco que puedo hacer es que la carne era bastante duro. No me esperaba filet mignon, pero mis dientes definitivamente tengo un entrenamiento morder aunque algunos trozos de cartílago.

(Since there was no menu, I just pointed out to what I thought was beef and chicken and ordered two tacos of each to go. I topped them off with a mix of selections from the unlabeled salsa bar and prayed that I wasn’t choosing anything too spicy. I then brought the tacos home to my wife for us to enjoy a nice, romantic dinner sitting on the living room couch watching “The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story”.

I was glad to find out that the freshly made tortillas didn’t leak out their inner-deliciousness despite the traffic-filled commute home (damn you Washington Road!). Along with being structurally sound, the tortillas were basically perfect and one million times tastier than store-bought shells. The only negative taco comment I can make is that the beef was pretty chewy. I wasn’t expecting filet mignon, but my teeth definitely got a workout biting though some bits of gristle.)

Service: Amistoso y bilingüe.

(Friendly and bilingual.)

Final Call: Las Palmas mantiene real con tacos hechos a fin de que sean auténticos, sabrosos y relatevely barato. ¡Muy recomendable!

(Las Palmas keeps it real with made-to-order tacos that are authentic, tasty and relatevely cheap. Highly recommended!)


Editor’s Note: The taco pic included in this post is not mine. By the time I got home from Las Palmas, I was way too hungry to spend time on a photoshoot and devoured my tacos posthaste. Thankfully my friend and fellow taco-lover Nicole was kind enough to send me a picture of her most recent Las Palmas tacos. #ThatsWhatFriendsR4

Las Palmas Carniceria on Urbanspoon

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Sirena Taco Joint & Bar – McMurray Suburb

Restaurant: Sirena Taco Joint & Bar

Location: Back corner of Donaldson’s Crossroads shopping plaza.

Atmosphere: The interior of the restaurant is bright and inviting with a tropical island vibe that reminded me of Sammy Haggar. The outside dining area comes complete with its own tiki-ish bar and is secluded enough to make you forget you’re basically in a strip mall parking lot.


Menu: Tacos, taco’s and tacos’…

Food: I arrived hungry and ready to devour as many as the delicious sounding taco options as I could. A très taco combo sounded like the best way to accomplish this economically, along with giving me the chance to try one of the tasty sounding sides. Upon ordering the Blue Planet (bbq shrimp taco, smokey tilapia taco, Scottish salmon taco), the waiter informed me that the combos were actually unavailable. Taco threesome denied!!!

Disappointed and starving I selected the beef brisket and beer-battered cod (two tacos per entrée). Despite doubling down on the tacos, I still wanted to explore some of the other options on the menu and convinced my wife to split the chips & salsa and mac & cheese with me (FYI – it didn’t take much convincing).

The chips & salsa came out with our drinks (East End Witte/Cosmopolitan – both delicious) and I got down to grubbin’. The salsa was pretty spicy, with a smoky bite bordering on unenjoyable. The chips were also kind of a letdown. Not bad, just nothing special. The fact that they cost almost twice as much as Mad Mex’s chips and salsa had me expecting something extremely tasty and/or gigantically huge and…these were neither. The mac & cheese was disappointingly ho-hum, but thankfully it was only four dollars…

The tacos fortunately were mucho yummy. The Yuengling-battered fish filets were both crispy and tender, and the trio of toppings (avocado crema, chipotle slaw, roasted corn salsa) couldn’t have been more ideal. The beef brisket tacos were mo’ spicy than smoky with bold paprika/cumin flavors, and again the protein paired perfectly with its sister components (grilled pineapple, pickled jalapeños, roasted corn salsa, queso fresco).


Service: It was actually our waiters first time serving and he gave a valiant effort. He kept our waters full and checked on us every chance he got. Our apps and entrees took awhile to arrive, but it was a gorgeous night and I’m certainly not going to complain about having some extended time to relax on Sirena’s charming back patio with a cold beer and my beautiful wife.

Final Call: A bit pricey, a bit uneven, but overall I’m thrilled that the Sirena Taco Joint & Bar has opened in the culinary wasteland which is the south hills suburbs. My plan next time is to skip the starters and just order myself three entrees of tacos. Ay, caramba!

Sirena Taco Joint & Bar on Urbanspoon

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