Tag Archives: lawrenceville

Dive Bar & Grille – Lawrenceville Neighborhood

Restaurant: Dive Bar & Grille

Location: The lower part of Upper Lawrenceville where Alchemy N’Ale used to be.

Atmosphere: The exposed brick, tin ceiling tiles and esoteric light fixtures added a nice touch of gastropub coolness to the otherwise casual “classic American diner” vibe.

dive2

Menu: Wings, quesadillas, tacos, sliders, salad bowls, sandwiches, burgers and just about anything else you might need*.

* Shut up. Just shut up. You had me at “tacos.”

Food: I’m a sucker for po’boys. Lobster po’boys, shrimp po’boys, oyster po’boys, hell, I even like the song “Po’Boy” by Bob Dylan. So when I saw that Dive had a shrimp po’boy with chipotle aioli*, which you could also add a crab cake to for an additional $2**, it quickly moved ahead of all the other mouthwatering options. #MalacostracaDoubleDown

The sandwich turned out to be a real winner. Big ol’ chunks of moist crab cake covered the bottom of the sizable roll, which along with the cornmeal-crusted shrimp provided an ocean’s worth of seafood goodness. The side of fries was a little lackluster, but I still ate every one so who am I to complain.

dive3

I paired my food with a Jibe Session IPA (American IPA, 4% ABV) from Green Flash Brewing. Its crisp texture and light-citrus taste made for a perfectly refreshing lunchtime libation. The beer rounded out a delicious meal of crustacean goodness that even Squidward Tentacles couldn’t complain about.

* Chip Aioli would make a great name for a contestant on The Next Food Network Star…

** Can you believe that!?? Only 2$?!?! I wish that everything came with the option of adding a crab cake for two bucks. And not just food either. Oil changes, haircuts, lap dances…what wouldn’t be improved with the addition of a two dollar crab cake?

Service: Good.

Final Call: The fact that Dive has a location in the North Hills suburbs and not the South hills suburbs near my house makes me angry. Other than that, everything’s awesome!

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Matteo’s – Lawrenceville Neighborhood

Most of my trips to Lawrenceville have occurred in the evening for dinner. So traveling there during daylight hours for a devil’s three-way lunch date with my wife and buddy Dan* was a recent welcome change. Parking on Butler Street was fairly plentiful this time of day and we effortlessly found a spot right across from the über-popular vintage shop Pageboy. Though not as Deschanelly** as its boutique neighbor, Matteo’s did have a throwback vibe that forswears modern pretense. The rustic interior created a casual ambiance that recalled the setting interracial couples are shown enjoying in Olive Garden commercials.

Since my wife was wrist-deep into her third trimester, I fully took advantage of her designated “designated driver” status by ordering up a cold beer before I even looked at the menu. I’m always in the mood for wheat beers in the summer so I went with the White Lightning by Full Pint Brewing Company (5.5% ABV – Witbier). It had a pleasant straw-colored haze, and the taste was a refreshing mix of citrus peel, coriander and yeast. Though no threat to my favorite wheat beer (Southampton Double White), White Lightning is definitely an acceptable option whenever I’m in need of an afternoon buzz.

Once I quenched my thirst and began to march away from sobriety, I perused the menu looking for something relatively “healthy”. Dan was in the midst of a diet that had him at his leanest physique in years, and my wife had been trying to stick to salads to help mitigate the lamentable increase in body mass that comes along with the miracle of pregnancy. Though kind of a downer, their self-control meant that I could have all the scrumptious table bread to myself. #nomnomnom

I eventually decided on the mildly decadent selection of a Margherita Pizza and proudly proclaimed that my plan was to eat half and save the rest for dinner. However, as soon as it arrived I quickly realized that I would end up eating my words…and the entire pizza. Matteo’s pie wasn’t Pizza Hut personal pan pizza sized, but its thin crust and relatively modest circumference meant that Lunch Alex was not going to be taking any leftovers home for Dinner Alex. Eff that dude!

The pizza toppings represented the Italian flag colors admirably, with red ripe tomato slices, oil-soaked green basil leaves and a smattering of white provolone and mozzarella. Though it’s nearly impossible to complain about any pizza because well…pizza’s pizza…I would have liked to have seen a little more cheese on this one***. Other than that, the pie hit all the required taste notes from crust (thin but chewy) to toppings (fresh, fresh, fresh) to greasiness (70’s Travolta). Delizioso!

Bottom Line: The comfortable setting, friendly service and familiar menu selections make Matteo’s an enjoyable destination for anyone desiring traditional Italian cuisine. What sets it apart from the rest is its location and large storefront windows. These attractive attributes allow diners to enjoyably observe the indigenous hipsters in their natural habitat without having to get too close to their prickly beards and skinny jeans. Just be careful not to get one wet or feed them after midnight…

* I was voted class clown my senior year of high school. My friend Dan graduated a year before me and also achieved this prestigious honor. Though similar in wit and jocularity, he is much more of an entertainer than I am. Whereas he is known to bring the house down with a karaoke version of “Sexual Healing”, I’m much more likely to tweet something ingeniously clever comparing my cat to Jonathan Franzen.

Put us together and we’re just like Justin Timberlake and Andy Sandberg…if Justin Timberlake was 5’6” and Andy Sandberg was straight.

** Deschanelly (day-shuh-NEL-i) – adjective meaning cute with a sprinkle of pretentiousness and bangs

*** Truly, is there such a thing as too much cheese? I’ve never eaten anything that had cheese as one of its constituents and thought “Man, I wish this had LESS cheese”. Cheese is basically the boobs of food. More is always better…

Matteo's on Urbanspoon

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Pittsburgh Weekend Activities – November 28

The redundant albeit deliciously-named Joy of Cookies Cookie Tour kicks off tomorrow morning and lasts through Sunday is the wonderfully eclectic Lawrenceville neighborhood. There are 26 participating businesses offering cookies and special deals, and the list includes such area favorites as Arsenal Bowl, Wildcard, Pageboy Salon & Boutique and Divertido. There are also a host of other highlights such as craft vendors, trolley rides, gift card giveaways and even an appearance by the original cookie monster himself – Santa Claus.

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everybody loves…milkshakes…Pt. I

Vincent: Goddamn, that’s a pretty f*cking good milkshake!
Mia: Told you.
Vincent: I don’t know if it’s worth $5, but it’s pretty f*cking good.

I love Pulp Fiction and the above bit of dialogue is from one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Those halcyon days when paying five dollars for a milkshake was a noteworthy transaction are now far behind us. Trading an Abe for a ‘shake is pretty much the standard nowadays, but fortunately it is almost always worth it.

My deep love of milkshakes originated back when I was a small boy at the Denny’s Restaurant on Route 51 in West Mifflin. My parents would often stop there to eat before or after a visit to Century III Mall. Regardless of the time of day, I would always order a Grand Slam breakfast and a chocolate milkshake. One of the biggest reasons I fell in love with that Denny’s milkshake was the fact that it came along with the metal canister that was it was blended in. This complimentary sidecar essentially amounted to another half-milkshake. That’s like buying a Honda Civic and getting a Super Cub for free. 

My epicurean tastes have matured as I’ve gotten older and I now look for treats with a little more nuance than that Denny’s* milkshake. Currently, birthday cake is my favorite ice cream flavor and I order it in milkshake form whenever it’s on the menu. Most ice cream purveyors’ versions of this celebratory ice cream involve swirls of yellow cake batter and frosting in a vanilla base. This somewhat bulky mixture can present a challenge when it’s translated into a milkshake and is admittedly best enjoyed as a waffle cone. However, I rarely let what’s “best” dictate my decision-making, especially when it pertains to dessert. Therefore, I have found myself enjoying a birthday cake ice cream milkshake just about every weekend this summer. The following are but a few of my recent favorites.

Let’s start with The Milkshake Factory since they put the dessert of focus first and foremost in their company name. This sweet shop is one of the true gems of Carson Street on the Southside. Though the impeccably displayed salted caramels, pecan turtles and chocolate-covered strawberries are quite eye-catching, I always head straight past them towards the back of the establishment to get in line for a milkshake. The birthday cake milkshake they deliver is thick, chunky and nearly enough for two**. The only downside is that there are inevitably some sizable lumps left at the bottom of the cup that are impossible to suck through the straw. Well, for me at least. Maybe you suck harder and won’t have the same issue. Final Call: 5 out of 5 straws.

Next up is Oh Yeah! Ice Cream and Coffee Company. This hipster-haven is located on the bustling South Highland Ave in Shadyside and has an awesome outside seating area. Oh Yeah! offers by far the highest amount of possible milkshake flavor combinations due to their long list of available mix-ins. Selections range from the sublime (graham cracker) to the savory (goat cheese) to the downright cray (turkey jerky). On my most recent visit, I decided on adding Nutella to my beloved Dave & Andy’s birthday cake ice cream. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The consistency was a little on the thin side, but the traces of chocolaty-hazelnut elevated this milkshake to something akin to a religious experience. Final Call: 5 out of 5 straws.

Last up is the recently opened Sinful Sweets in Upper Lawrenceville. This gourmet chocolatier specializes in hand-made barks, caramels and creams, but they also offer up a mean milkshake. When I last stopped at Sinful Sweets, my requisite dessert of choice was quite literal since it was actually my birthday. The drink was extremely sugary-sweet and could probably be harnessed as an emergency treatment for hypoglycemia. I couldn’t drink one every day, but definitely every other day. Final Call: 5 out of 5 straws.***

 * Denny’s has been much maligned in recent years due to numerous complaints involving cleanliness issues and racial discrimination. I for one don’t hold those negative criticisms against them. I mean, if I turned my back on everybody that had poor hygiene and/or was a racist, whom would I talk to at my family reunions?

 ** “thick, chunky and nearly enough for two” – just like ya mom! Oh snap!

*** If there ever was a television program named Milkshake Idol and I was a judge, I would most assuredly be the Paula Abdul of the show. I just love milkshakes too much to ever be critical.

The Milk Shake Factory on Urbanspoon

Oh Yeah! Ice Cream and Coffee Co. on Urbanspoon

Sinful Sweets Chocolate Company on Urbanspoon

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Pittsburgh Weekend Activities – April 25

Penn Brewery officially* opens up their outdoor Biergarten with a May Day Eve party this Friday. What is May Day you ask? It’s a pagan-originated** holiday that celebrates the first day of summer. These celebrations were known to be full of singing, dancing and the exchange of flowers for kisses. Penn Brewery’s event will have live entertainment and a cornucopia of May Day dishes to pair with their beer offerings. I’m not sure if the waitresses will trade you a smooch for a lily basket, but you can always head to Blush afterwards if you feel the need to barter for affection. The weather outlook for Friday calls for mostly sunny with temperatures in the high fifties. Though that forecast doesn’t exactly scream summer, it’s perfectly suitable for standing around outside while getting drunk.

Art All Night Lawrenceville is appropriately named. This celebration of creativity starts Saturday afternoon in the Lawrenceville neighborhood and doesn’t end until 2pm Sunday. The all-volunteer organized event accepts submissions from anyone and everyone and displays them, no matter how poor or offensive the content. This means that you can show the whole world the masterful illustration you made of Wolverine using Draw Something on your iPhone. Along with the artwork, there will be live entertainment, refreshments and undoubtedly more hipsters than you can shake a stick at.

* I wonder when it was unofficially opened.

** Whenever I hear the word “pagan”, I can’t help but think of the 80’s buddy-cop comedy Dragnet. I really loved that movie as a child and had a particular fondness for the rap song that played over the closing credits. I spent hours memorizing the lyrics to this duet by Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks and would perform the song every chance I got. Fortunately I soon discovered Public Enemy and righted myself back onto the path of ‘Keepin’ It Real”.

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Tamari – Lawrenceville Neighborhood

My wife doesn’t love to try new restaurants and doesn’t really love Italian food either. These two preferences have made it hard for me to get her to the popular eatery Piccolo Forno in Lawrenceville. Luckily I caught her with her defenses down after a long day at work one recent Thursday evening and she apathetically agreed to go. As the corner restaurant came into sight on Butler Street, I noticed someone entering the establishment toting a bottle of wine. My wife then remarked “You know Piccolo Forno is B.Y.O.B. right?”, to which I exasperatedly responded with a “Nooooo!”. A stressful work day elevated my normal optional dinner drink to a necessity so I pulled a u-ey and backtracked a few blocks lower to one of our area favorites – Tamari. 

When Tamari opened during the summer of 2009, it was the first Pittsburgh restaurant that created a noticeable buzz in the city since Nakama hibachi’d the Southside back in 2003. I must have overheard people say, “Have you tried Tamari yet?” at the gym, in coffee shops, bars and at other restaurants once a week. Tamari burst onto the scene allowing Pittsburgh to enter into the major metropolis trend of restaurants serving upscale, innovative food in a chilled-out and only slightly pretentious atmosphere. 

The first time I dined at Tamari, I found that the experience more than lived up to the hype. The Asian and Latin American cuisine offerings were extremely interesting, appealing and tasty. The atmosphere was refined, yet casual enough to be comfortable – sorta like the culinary equivalent of a blazer and jeans. The establishment’s au courant coolness was cemented when I noticed Sally Wiggin* dining at the restaurant as well. Between her and the hipsters, there was no doubt that Tamari was the place to be.

Though no Wiggin was in attendance on our most recent visit, we still found the restaurant pretty packed on this particular Thursday evening. We gave our names to the hostess and found seats at the bar so I could get that drink I oh so desperately needed. I was in the mood for something rich, heavy and dark (aka an Oprah beer) and thought that the Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald (5.8% ABV – American Porter) would fit the bill. Slight disappointment arose while I watched the bartender uncap and pour a bottled beer into a glass for I was assuming a crisp draft was coming my way. Fortunately my inner beer snob** was immediately quelled by the hoppy, roasted coffee flavor of the frosty porter. Though the beer had a complex taste with notes of bittersweet chocolate and vanilla oak, all the rich flavors blended together harmoniously and made for an easily drinkable and refreshing libation.

We waited at the bar for about twenty minutes before we were guided to a table against the back wall. The interior (and exterior) of Tamari is rather unassuming with a relatively muted color palate and lack of any ornate design elements. The atmosphere is energized by the open sushi bar/kitchen area, which allows diners to watch the frenetic action taking place. The menu at Tamari has a multitude of mouthwatering selections and I ended up ordering a lot of them. A few past dishes I’ve had there were on the smaller side, and I was determined to not leave Lawrenceville hungry. Shortly after the waitress took our menus, she returned with an amuse-bouche consisting of spicy salmon tartar with eel sauce over a cucumber slice. Despite sounding exotic, the bite was actually pretty straightforward with the major aftertaste being one of crisp freshness. Even my wife liked it!

After I was finished with the small hors d’oeuvre, an avalanche of food commenced to roll out of the kitchen and onto my table. First up for me were the Guacamole and Filo Shrimp. The freshly prepared guacamole had a nice balance between the heat of serrano peppers and the queso fresco coolness. The consistency of the gauc’ was a little thin, but the accompanying salty-sweet plantain chips helped me forgive the possible use of overripe avocados. 

The gargantuan shrimp came wrapped in delicate fried strings of filo dough. This preparation made the dish as visually appealing as it was scrumptious, albeit quite messy to bite. Out of the three companion dipping sauces, the chimichurri was by far my favorite. The coconut saffron was a tad blah, and the avocado crème suffered from my other tapas already more than satisfying my desire for alligator pear

I followed up the tapas with a main course of lobster maki. The tempura coating was almost not crispy enough but it was passible.  Keeping with the theme of the evening, the roll also had an avocado constituent. Luckily it wasn’t all that noticeable due to the sriracha aioli and flying fish roe dominating the flavor profile. The lobster fritters on the side served up another fix of fried crustaceans and was deliciously meaty. My only complaint with the otherwise excellent dish was that the diameter of the sushi roll pieces were way to large to be one-bite. This is one of the few cases where more girth is a bad thing.

Final Call: Before Tamari, there really wasn’t a consensus as to what the Steel City’s hippest restaurant was. Since it opened, their impressive Asian-Latin fusion offerings have set the standard for high-quality, innovative and playful cuisine. It’s not cheap by any means, but if you’re looking for a memorable night-out in a refined casual atmosphere with the chance of seeing local newscasting luminaries, then you really can’t beat Tamari.

* Sally Wiggin is the Anna Wintour of Pittsburgh, but nicer.

** My inner beer snob is named Marc-Andre.

Tamari on Urbanspoon

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Round Corner Cantina – Lawrenceville Neighborhood

We didn’t plan on going out. It was just one of those nights where we didn’t already have a firm meal plan for dinner and the ready-to-make options in the freezer were not at all appealing. Sometimes it seems like the person that stocked the fridge is different from the person that is actually going to end up eating what’s in there!
 
After staring into the freezer for a few minutes and waiting for something delicious to materialize out of thin air, I decided to see if my wife would like to go out to eat instead. I broached the question to her when she arrived home from work at 6:45pm and much to my surprise she said yes!!! Actually that response wasn’t shocking at all…my wife would go out to eat every night if we were rich and she wouldn’t gain any weight. Though not our first choice, we attempt to eat-in during the work week since it’s such a regular activity on weekends.  But this night was making a fine argument to be an exception to that rule, with the sun-shinin’ and us already lookin’ forward to the upcoming holiday weekend.

We arrived at the Round Corner Cantina and wanted to dine al fresco around back but unfortunately it was full. We hungrily retreated to the front sidewalk where there were a few tables set up. It was probably ten minutes before someone made us aware that you had to order at the bar, so I hastingly made my way to order a.s.a.p. because my wife has a really hard time maintaining her high level of pleasantness when she’s famished.  

I ordered a Coronado Orange Ave Wit (5.2% ABV – Witbier) to help wash down the chips and salsa we ordered for a starter. The chips were really good and greasy and the salsa was just OK – mushier than most but tasty nonetheless. The beer (or bier?) was refreshing and overall pretty solid and luckily wasn’t much of a punch to my near-empty stomach.  It has less of a fruity orange taste than I expected, but that’s not necessarily a bad attribute. I would definitely order it again on a hot day, but I don’t think I’d buy a six-pack or a case for home because I can’t say I loved it.

I got the Taco Pescado (fried fish tacos) for dinner and they were very flavorful, albeit a bit messy. The tacos came in a double shell configuration, with the outside being freshly fried (I’m assuming). This tasted great at the time but I blame them and the chips for giving me a slightly nauseated feeling the next morning. Next time I’ll pat the fried surface with a napkin a bit more to try and alleviate the after-effects. That’s not really the most manly act to be caught doing in public, but effit!

Overall the food and drinks were good, and a fun night was had by my wife and I. The ambience in the Lawrenceville neighborhood is really happening right now and this night didn’t disappoint. We were flanked on the right by a large group of lesbians (not a group of large lesbians, just normal-sized), and on the left side there were some biker-hipsters sitting close to their vintage fixies. You can’t ask for a much hipper environment than that on a Wednesday night in Pittsburgh!

Final Call: Highly recommended for a fun bar-food night with friends or a later date (not a first date – the food’s too greasy!)

Round Corner Cantina on Urbanspoon

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