Tag Archives: food

Cafe IO – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: Café IO…not to be confused with Captain EO, Michael Jackson’s 1986 sci-fi theme park attraction.

Atmosphere: Cozy and convivial.

Menu: Café IO is a rustic Italian ristorante that serves classic dishes like chicken marsala and orecchiette pasta. Um, wait a sec, there’s jambalaya and hummus also on the menu so maybe Mediterranean better describes the cuisine. Oops, just saw BBQ chicken and pulled pork so forget that. Now I see pork-fried rice? WTF, this place has everything!

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Food: I was dining with a group of four and we started off the evening by ordering two appetizers – the Crispy Parmesan Polenta and the Crispy Green Beans*. The shaved Parmesan added an imprescindible hit of saltiness to the rather sublime polenta and combined with the sweet tomato sauce to deliver a perfectly balanced bite. And unlike T.G.I. Fridays’ fried monstrosities, Café IO’s al dente green beans were lightly adorned with a tempura-like breading and still bore resemblance to a vegetable**.

One of my dining companions has a good friend who happens to be good friends with the owner of Café IO and she had them surprise us with a Iovino starter as well. This consisted of a plate full of Italian sweet sausage, tempura mozzarella***, tomatoes and mixed greens drizzled with balsamic. It was absolutely delicious, and I’m not just saying that since it was a gift. Though that certainly didn’t hurt…

Completing my crispy trifecta, I went with the Crispy Fish Tacos for my entrée. The flavorful hunks of crunchy flounder were lovingly wrapped in a tortilla embrace with red pepper, spicy mayo, Napa cabbage shreds, pickled jalapeños and French fries (for no good reason other than why the f*ck not). Unsurprisingly the tacos were great and are now tied with Round Corner Cantina’s pescado offering as my favorites in Da ‘Burgh.

* Or by the distributive rule of algebra: Crispy (Parmesan Polenta + Green Beans).

** Green beans are botanically fruits but are still routinely referred to as vegetables in the culinary arts because chefs don’t be giving a f*ck.

*** Tempura Mozzarella would make the perfect stage name for an Italian-Japanese drag queen.

Service: Despite it being a packed house, our waitress was very attentive and kept me replete with Pumking (Pumpkin Ale, 8.60% ABV) all night.

Final Call: Combining an intimate and welcoming environment and an eclectically well-executed menu, Café IO is one of the South Hills suburbs bestest culinary destinations. And I’m not just saying that since my wife is friends with a friend of a friend of the owner. #KeepIt100

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Cafe io Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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B Gourmet – Sewickley Borough

Restaurant: B Gourmet

Location: Lovely downtown Sewickley – where the boots are Hunter, the bags are Burberry, and the pants are yoga.

Atmosphere: B Gourmet’s large storefront windows overlook bustling Beaver Street and allow diners the opportunity to observe suburban housewives in their natural habitat. Past the seating area is a sprawling deli counter showcasing a bevy of prepared foods available for eat-in or take-out n’at.

Menu: Soups, salads and sandwiches adorned with foodie-approved ingredients like “organic greens”, “farm bread” and “onions”.

Food: On my most recent visit, I planned on ordering one of the delicious sounding homemade soups. However, my stomach overruled my brain and I went with my usual selection – the rosemary roast beef sandwich.

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Though not as massive as the mountainous meat piles served up by the Carnegie Deli, the sandwich still had a substantial amount of beef that was barely contained between the golden grilled bread slices. A light slathering of gorgonzola aioli served as a solid step-up from plain ol’ mayo, and the arugula and onion straws added a great crunch.

The side salad was a worthy accompaniment to the sammich, albeit a little overdressed and a little heavy on the onions. Thankfully I also grabbed a Leona’s ice cream sandwich from the freezer case for a lunch-dessert and its creamy goodness wiped away any remnant of onion breath.

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Service: The guy working behind the counter certainly seemed really nice, but you can never really know what evil lurks in a person’s soul, amirite?

Final Call: I love this place. I’ve eaten-in and taken-out multiple times and everything has been wonderful. I really hope that they open another location closer to my home in the south hills suburbs. I would gladly trade all of the twenty-seven Mattress Firms that line Washington Road just for one B Gourmet!!

B Gourmet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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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*!!!

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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!

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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!)

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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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The Oakland Bakery – Oakland

Restaurant: The Oakland Bakery and Market

Location: Oakland (duh)

Atmosphere: Like a really nice, Pitt-centric 7-Eleven.

Menu: Not really a menu per se, more like counters with a bunch of stuff including cakes, cookies, bagels, muffins, soup, sandwiches, gluten-free foods and organic fruits*.

* Organic fruits >>> mechanical fruits.

Food: All of the pastries looked delicious and I ended up leaving with a cookie sandwich stuffed with frosting, a lemon cookie with white chocolate chunks, a caramel pretzel cupcake and a chocolate croissant.

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I ate the cookie sandwich on my ride back to the suburbs and it turned out to be the messiest affair I’ve seen since Fitz got with Olivia Pope. The soft filling just kept squirting out every time I took a bite. I ending up having to scrape a bunch of frosting off my crotch – which I still ate because #yolo. Engineering-wise, the cookie was a structurally unsound disaster. Taste-wise, it was delicious and totally worth getting frosting-crotch.

I had the lemon cookie later that night for dessert and it was even better. I wouldn’t put “lemon cookie” near the top of my favorite types o’ cookie list, but this one was a masterpiece. The huge chunks of white chocolate are probably what did it. I really, really love white chocolate – the confection and the basketball player.

I bequeathed the cupcake and croissant to my wife. She gave me a couple bites of the cupcake and it was just meh. It looked really pretty, but didn’t have much in the way of taste. It reminded me of a diet-version of a cupcake, though I don’t think it actually was.

My wife had the croissant for breakfast the next day and reported back that it was very tasty. She also made a point to correct me by saying that it was actually a “pain au chocolat”, not a “chocolate croissant”. I’m not sure what that means, but when she told me I just nodded my head like I always do and said “you’re right, I’m sorry.”

Service: N/A

Final Call: Me love cookies, and the Oakland Bakery had some of the best I’ve had in a long time. The Freshman 15 never tasted so good!!!

Oakland Bakery and Market on Urbanspoon

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Artisan Pizza – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: Artisan Pizza Company

Location: The Norman Centre shopping plaza by the Pie Place (Mmm…pie).

Atmosphere: This is a take-out only place so the ambiance is akin to a dentist’s office waiting room. Except instead of leaving with sore gums and a new toothbrush, you go home with a pizza.

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Menu: A nice selection of specialty pies (bbq chicken, margherita), salads (Caesar, Greek) and cookies (Mmm…cookies).

Food: My wife and I always order a salad with our pizza ‘cause it gives us the false feeling that we’re eating healthy. Artisan’s “Mighty Ceasar” reminded me of Panera’s version except with even bigger chunks of shaved parmesan. I hate myself for saying this, but there was almost TOO much cheese. #Blasphemy

The Basil and Spice pizza came with thin salami slices, fresh basil, mozzarella* and even more parmesan. Artisan guarantees “the freshest pizza experience possible”, and you know what – they deliver. Fresh is the best adjective to describe their pie. All of the ingredients just taste like the best version of themselves.

My only criticisms were that the crust wasn’t as doughy as I usually like and I could have went for some more moots-zur-rell. However, making those complaints would be akin to saying that Scarlett Johansson would be hotter with bigger boobs. While theoretically true, any changes would also be wholly unnecessary.

* I pronounce mozzarella “moots-zur-rell” and advise you to do the same. It’s more authentico**!

** Authentico = made up word that means “annoying to my wife”.

Service: N/A

Final Call: I initially groaned when I heard about this place. I mean, fifteen bucks for a pizza that I gotta pick-up AND cook myself? I know people in Mount Lebanon love to pretentiously overpay for stuff, but this seemed even drastic by their standards. However, after giving Artisan Pizza Co. a try, I’ve reversed my position. Their food is fresh and tasty and worth every penny. Mucho delicioso***!

*** I think that this may be Spanish and not Italian. Oh well…

artisan pizza co on Urbanspoon

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Pizzaz Italian Restaurant – McMurray Suburb

Restaurant: Pizzaz Italian Restaurant

Location: On Rt. 19 at the start of Warshington County.

Atmosphere: Vintage. Other than a wall-mounted flat screen television, the restaurant’s cozy appearance looked to have not been updated since the 1980’s. It reminded me a lot of my Grandma…kinda out of touch* but still warm and friendly.

* I was talking to my Grandma recently about the different foods my 11-month-old son has been trying and she offered up this nugget of wisdom – “You should feed him more beans – black people love them”. This statement proves yet again that grandparents are the best at making benign racist comments**.

** They’re also pretty good at making regular racist comments as well.

Menu: Classic All-American family grub.

Food: The house-specialty Pizzaz fries came covered in cheese whiz* and bacon and my turkey hoagie arrived on a paper plate with a packet of mayo on the side. No fancy aiolis, artisan bread rolls or elaborate plating presentations here!

* At least I think it was cheese whiz…

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Service: Our waitress was really nice and checked on us frequently to make sure everything was to our liking. I don’t think her name was “Vera” but it should have been…

Final Call: Pizzaz made up for its lack of modern aesthetic with an abundance of pleasant nostalgia and straightforward goodness. Highly recommended for a family dinner or an octogenarian date night!

Pizzaz Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Lebo Subs – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: Lebo Subs

Location: Downtown Mount Lebanon, between Little Tokyo and Aladdin’s.

Atmosphere: The exposed brick and ductwork gave the restaurant a modern vibe, whilst a vintage Mt. Lebo wall mural added just the right amount of nostalgic decoration. Before I even tasted the food, I declared the place ten-gazillion times better than Subway based on the appearance alone.

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Menu: Subs (obvi), along with homemade soups and salads (chicken, potato).

Food: Though the meatball sub was calling my name, I went with my usual selection – turkey breast with provolone, lettuce and mayonnaise. At first I ordered the large, but after I saw the sandwich artist grab a 14” hoagie roll that Linda Lovelace wouldn’t even dare take on, I quickly downsized to the regular.

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The sammich came stuffed with freshly sliced meat and cheese and I immediately went to work scarfing it down. Though the interior fixings all tasted as good as they looked, the hoagie roll itself wasn’t up to par. It wasn’t bad per se; it just didn’t come close to matching the doughy deliciousness as the ones used by Uncle Sam’s or Carhops*. This letdown forced me to downgrade the place to only nine-gazillion times better than Subway.

* The Lennon & McCartney of Pittsburgh sub shops.

Service: The guy behind the counter, who I think may have been the owner, was extremely pleasant and appreciative of our patronage. He even offered to give my son a free piece of cheese, which to me is the highest form of kindness.

Final Call: Even though I didn’t love my hoagie, I did love my overall visit to Lebo Subs due to their wonderful service and clean*, contemporary dining space. I will definitely go back again soon, and next time I’m getting the meatball!

* No one would ever use the adjective “clean” to describe either Uncle Sam’s or Carhops.

Lebo Subs on Urbanspoon

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Market District Express – McMurray Suburb

Restaurant: Market District Express

Location: Da ‘Burbs past South Hills Village Mall

Atmosphere: Rustic touches like reclaimed barn wood and vintage lighting will almost make you forget that you’re eating inside a Giant Eagle. Almost…

Menu: All of the lunchable standards are available – sandwiches, soups, burgers, wraps, pizza and salads. They also have a host of breakfast options during the morning hours. But more importantly than all of that – they have BEER!!!

Food: I’ve been on a diet kick lately so I eschewed the delectable-sounding 12-hour Smoked Pulled Pork for a Grilled Vegetable & Goat Cheese sandwich*. The amount of veggies was a little sparse, but the big chunks of goat cheese and fresh ciabatta roll more than made up for this small grievance. The fries were a solid 7/10 and I washed everything down with a deliciously hoppy Samuel Adams Rebel IPA.

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* Yes, I realize that there isn’t a dietician in the world that would advocate the carb-laden meal I describe above. However, my definition of a “diet” only means that I refrain from ordering the unhealthiest thing on the menu. Other than that requirement, I can do what I want**!

** Other than lose weight.

Service: I’m not one for hyperbole, but it literally took forever for the lady behind the counter to figure out how to pour my beer. She was nice and all, but no one would ever confuse her for a bartender.

Final Call: Considering that it’s a glorified convenience store, the Market District Express is surprisingly charming and has above-average food. Add in the fact that you can earn fuelperks! just for stuffing your fat face and it becomes the perfect spot for a quick casual meal.

Market District Express on Urbanspoon

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Union Pig and Chicken – East Liberty

I used to get jealous and angry whenever I watched a show on the Food Network that profiled one of the many famous barbeque places in Kansas or Missouri. Watching all those overweight southerners chow down on deliciously smoked meat just served to remind me that my city lacked an establishment that could offer up a similar gastronomic experience*. I must have not been the only one pining for slow-cooked pork since the much-heralded Kevin Sousa opened a new BBQ joint named Union Pig & Chicken to much aplomb last year in East Liberty. 

I was very excited to visit UP&C because not only did it advertise the southern delicacies I craved, but it also offered up the hipster atmosphere I’m required to love to maintain my membership in the Pretentious Food Blogger Club. Double win for me! My wife and I ventured there for lunch and were fortunate to find a parking spot directly in front of the restaurant. Though the East Liberty neighborhood has enjoyed quite a renaissance over the past few years, the area is still tuck-yo-chain territory and I try not to wander too far from Penn Circle.

The first thing that grabbed my attention when entering the establishment was the warm, open floor plan. Much like its sister restaurant Salt of the Earth, UP&C employs a communal dining layout that encourages causal socialization over privacy. Couple this concept with the fact that the restaurant doesn’t take reservations and I think that it would be nearly impossible to arrive with a large group and expect to dine together. Thankfully that wasn’t an issue that I had to deal with since it was just me and my boo. We were instantly seated at one of the long tables nearest the door. 

The décor was minimalist, with rustic charm provided in spades by the distressed wood walls and old-fashioned Edison lights dangling from the ceiling. The large storefront window not only allowed in some daylight to help brighten the otherwise dim space, but also provided a breathtaking view of the First Niagara ATM across the street (#sarcasm). The only flash of color in the mise-en-scène came from a huge swatch of red gingham along one of the walls. Overall, the environment hit all of the current notes of restaurant design – simplistic, elegant, clean and the perfect balance of casual and upscale. One thing I’ll also mention is that the bathroom was really modern and cool. A little dark maybe, but thankfully I don’t have to clean it so good aim wasn’t that high of a priority.

I got comfortable on the wide wooden bench and perused the menu. Wafts of smoky goodness from the kitchen window started to cloud my mind with animal hunger and I found myself having a hard time making a selection. Our waitress was short on small talk and grew impatient with my indecision so I ended up hastily blurting out a bunch of items. I ended up with the brisket sandwich and a surfeit of sides to split with my wife. The plates of food were soon delivered on metal cafeteria trays adorned with matching gingham place mats. I sized up the options and decided to start with the least-toothsome looking option – the greens!

I shoveled a heaping fork-full of collard greens into my mouth and was immediately met by a vinegary slap in the face. I admirably finished them despite the fact that they were more alkaline than appetizing. I’ve never had true southern greens before so UP&C’s version could have been spot-on, but I found them to be a nearly inedible mushy mess. Thankfully my eating adventure got back on the upswing with a bite of the mac and cheese. It eschewed the elaborate toppings or fanciful cheeses that many other restaurants are incorporating into this comfort food staple and was just straightforward deliciousness. 

After I had eaten my allotted 50% of the mac and cheese, I finally moved on to tackle the brisket sandwich**. There was a trio of BBQ sauces on the table – traditional, vinegar and habanero I believe – and I indiscriminately doused my brisket with all three. They combined to add a layer of heat-and-sweet to the most tender brisket I’ve ever had in my life. It truly melted in my mouth and assured me that I could never-ever become a vegetarian no matter how many times I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals”. The sandwich was huge, but I finished every morsel of it with gluttonous glee. My wife felt even more strongly about her plate of fried chicken and stated that she would have licked the wax paper it came on if we weren’t dining in public. #classy

Final Call: My pig and my wife’s chicken were both the best we’ve ever had. The picnic table layout suited us just fine, but I’d imagine the place could be quite cramped and cacophonous when full. Regardless, I’m elated that Pittsburgh now has an upscale BBQ destination that not only offers amazing food, but also has the aloof hipster ambiance that pretentious foodies like me demand. Highly recommended!

* Sure, I heard great things about Mr. Ribbs in the Hill District, but there’s no way my suburban-bred wife would accompany me there unless we were outfitted in Kevlar and accompanied by Batman. 

** The part of my brain that controls’ eating is wired in series, which means that once I get started on something, I don’t move onto the next part of the meal until that one is finished. My wife is a parallel eater and gallivants all over her plate tasting everything. I’m psychologically unable to do that. Because of our differences, I always end up eating way more than her since to complete my meal circuit, I’ve got to eat everything or it doesn’t count. Thanks for nothing Kirchoff!

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