Tag Archives: review
August 3, 2016
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.
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 $2**, it quickly moved ahead of all the other mouthwatering options. #MalacostracaDoubleDown
The sandwich turned out to be a real winner. Big ol’ chunks of moist crab cake covered the bottom of the sizable roll, which along with the cornmeal-crusted shrimp provided an ocean’s worth of seafood goodness. The side of fries was a little lackluster, but I still ate every one so who am I to complain.
I paired my food with a Jibe Session IPA (American IPA, 4% ABV) from Green Flash Brewing. Its crisp texture and light-citrus taste made for a perfectly refreshing lunchtime libation. The beer rounded out a delicious meal of crustacean goodness that even Squidward Tentacles couldn’t complain about.
* Chip Aioli would make a great name for a contestant on The Next Food Network Star…
** Can you believe that!?? Only 2$?!?! 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?
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!
June 1, 2016
Butcher and the Rye is Pittsburgh’s bestest restaurant. Everything about it is par excellence – from the drinks to the décor to the cuisine. Their Brussels sprout are seriously one of the most delicious appetizers in the friggin’ world…and don’t even get me started on the scallops….or the pig candy…or the yuzu sour…or the hanger steak…etc.
Since all the superlatives in the world wouldn’t begin to explicate how awesome this place is, I decided that the only way to come close to conveying it’s greatness is to populate my review with semi-relevant quotes from the best movie of all time – Pulp Fiction. Please enjoy my review below, and remember, nobody kills anybody in my place of business except me or Zed.
“Warmer! Warmer! Disco!” – Mia Wallace
“Mmmm! Goddamn, Jimmie! This is some serious gourmet shit!” – Jules Winnfield
“Bacon tastes gooood. Pork chops taste gooood.” – Vincent Vega
April 27, 2016
Restaurant: The Village Melt
Location: The intersection of Beaver and Walnut Streets (aka Beav’nut Corner).
Atmosphere: The chalkboard menu, seat-yourself dining area and illuminated marquee created a relaxing space that promoted fun over formality.
Menu: A multitude of “melts” that covered everything from fancy grilled cheeses (w/ Fontina, Gruyere, etc.) to classic sammiches (Reuben, BLT) to custom hamburger creations.
Food: Though politically I consider myself “liberal af”, when it comes to grilled cheese, I’m less progressive than the Governor of North Carolina. Therefore I scanned over the surfeit of creative melts looking for the most basic one I could find. I settled on The Lola. It arrived ten minutes later, and it was definitely love at first sight.
The melt consisted of fresh mozzarella, tomato, arugula and pesto sandwiched between two huge slices of buttery bread. A generous helping of fries on the side guaranteed that my pants top button would be put to the test for the rest of the day.
Unsurprisingly, everything was mighty delicious. I mean, its grilled cheese and French fries so the bar is pretty low since it’s almost impossible to screw those two things up*., but regardless errthang was scrumptious!
* Unless you’re me. I once dumped an old bag of frozen French fries into a deep fryer and I almost ended up looking like Deadpool.
Service: It took me about two minutes to order and pay so there really wasn’t much time to build much of a relationship with the guy behind the counter. I guess he seemed ok enough.
Final Call: The only thing that could make The Village Melt a better lunchtime destination is if they were located in my neighboring cube. Highly recommended!
March 30, 2016
As I get older, the title of Earl Sweatshirt’s solid sophomore album describes my life’s mantra more and more – “I Don’t Like Sh*t, I Don’t Go Outside.” I rarely get the opportunity to dine somewhere out of the south hills suburbs, and usually when I do, I just complain about how long it takes to drive into the city and how it’s ludicrous that a place can charge $16 for a hamburger when you can get a good one for half as much at Red Robin…along with bottomless fries.
Combine all that with the fact that a night on the town for my wife and I also necessitates a fifty dollar expenditure for babysitting, and you can see why I’ve become so dismissive of Pittsburgh’s surfeit of “cool” restaurants that seem to be nothing but a clichéd pastiche of Edison lights, exposed ductwork and seasonalocalartisanal comfort food.
Would a recent trip to the uber-trendy Ace Hotel’s tavern The Whitfield break my streak of underwhelment? Read ahead as I discuss my experience with my blogger-buddy HGB, who’s one of Pittsburgh’s most popular and discerning restaurant critics. Bon appetit!
AJF: Let me just start this off by patting myself on the back for making it to The Whitfield (120 S. Whitfield Street, 15206) before you. I mean, it was only by about sixteen hours, but it still counts. Now, upon first entry to the establishment, I was really surprised to find it to be so understated. I was expecting something vibrant like The Commoner at Hotel Monaco since it’s a similar endeavor, but The Whitfield stayed almost too-true to its roots as a former YMCA.
HGB: I was so concerned that I wasn’t going to be hip enough upon entering. I did wear my sunglasses that I got from the lost and found, which is hip and all pseudo-nonchalant, right? But yes, you beat me there and you are right in that it’s very much a former YMCA. After getting my bearings, I remember that I really liked the layout of The Whitfield and how it casually spilled into the hotel lobby. Also, since I went for brunch, the natural lighting was a striking feature of the interior.
AJF: I was there in the evening and also noticed how striking the lighting was, albeit it wasn’t natural since it was dark outside obvi. The bright bulbs and stark white walls just made it feel too glaringly chilling for my liking. As my age tiptoes further away from thirty and towards the big four-oh, I now greatly prefer dimly-lit spaces. That way I can use the shadows to maintain some semblance of a youthful appearance. I’m sure by the time I hit fifty, I’ll only leave my house at night like Dracula. In conclusion, I thought that the overall aesthetic was nice and trendy enough, though a little too white and austere in tone for my tastes… basically the same way I feel about Ed Sheeran music.
HGB: I have no coherent thoughts here as I am laughing about Ed Sheeran and wondering who came up with the term “strawberry blonde,” because he is that right?
AJF: I’m not sure about that, but I am sure that if we don’t start talking about the menu soon, our readers are just gonna head over to Yelp for their restaurant recommendation needs!
HGB: As much as I love Rachel (and all of her awesome Yelp parties), I highly doubt that people would leave us to go over there. Folks are invested in this post already. You and I are the Captain and Tennille of Pittsburgh bloggers (well, the ones who actually blog anyway). But go ahead. Tell us what you drank, since drinks are really an appetizer.
AJF: My group showed up right on time for our 7:30 p.m. reservations, and were seated right away so unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to hang out at the bar. After a quick glance of the impressive drink menu, I went straight to ordering a never-disappointing Fat Gary (English Brown Ale, 3.6% ABV) since I regrettably gave up hard liquor for Lent.
HGB: I didn’t give up anything for Lent. But anyway, because we were there for brunch, we were not drinking beer. We ordered Whitfield Bloody Marys, Mimosas, Almond Margaritas, and something with gin that was amazing but I cannot remember the name to save my soul. Two of the drinks were part of the brunch prix fixe menu, a concept of which I happened to enjoy very much. I know it’s a first world problem, but I sometimes struggle at brunch when trying to choose between breakfast-centric or lunch-centric items. A prix fixe menu eliminates that, especially one that includes a drink. All of our drinks were quite pleasing and refreshing; thus, all were an excellent precursor to our meal.
AJF: Much like the revelers at Pittsburgh’s internationally renowned dance party Hot Mass, I showed up to The Whitfield with the singular goal of consuming as much meat as possible. I started off with the Butcher’s Plate ($18), which was comprised of a nice mix of charcuterie, patés and seductively sweet bacon jam. I followed that up with the hanger steak entrée (creatively titled “The Steak”, $21), which came along with fries and béarnaise sauce. Though I would have liked to seen a larger piece of meat (that’s what he said) than its 8 ounces, everything on my plate was delicious and met my high level of culinary expectations.
HGB: I too, showed up with the goal of eating well. At age thirty-six, it’s one of the few joys that I have left in life. My group was a threesome (in numerical terms only); two of us ordered from the two course prix fixe menu for $26, including the aforementioned drinks. Our first course was Beef Tartare (grilled bread, romaine, capers, parmesan reggiano) and Bruléed Grapefruit (pomegranate), our second course was Frisee & Roasted Rapini (fried poached egg, lardons, duck fat hollandaise, pickled beets) and Ham & Jam (cranberry, egg, powdered sugar, and mixed greens).
The Beef Tartare was chilled, salty, and went well with the grilled bread and capers; the Bruléed Grapefruit is now the benchmark for how I want my grapefruit prepared for the rest of my life with it’s hardened, candy-like shell and tart, juicy core.
The Frisee & Roasted Rapini is a great option for those who want an egg, but not an omelet. The Ham & Jam is thick-cut ham sandwiched between two large pieces of french toast, with the cranberry and mixed greens providing some balance to the dominating overall sweetness; ideal for sharing, this option is worthy of being revisited on my next trip to The Whitfield for brunch.
The third person in our party went rogue and order the Three Egg Omelet ($11, smoked pepper, caramelized onion, cheddar, mixed greens); it turns out that it’s a great option for folks who want a traditional brunch dish with a hipster influence. I mean, don’t we all want a little hipster influence in our lives?
AJF: First with the Captain and Tennille reference, now an admittance of your actual age?!?! I thought that we’re supposed to use the internet to lie about ourselves and pretend to be younger?!?! I mean, is it still alright if I falsely portray myself as a Millennial Asian Lumberjack?
HGB: (staring at the computer incredulously)
AJF: I got the Wigle Whiskey Bread Pudding ($8, candied pecans, vanilla ice cream) for dessert, and it was sublimely delicious.
HGB: We also ordered dessert because our favorite color is #YOLO; we chose the Lemon Mousse ($8, shortbread, toasted meringue). We’d order it again and again as it seemingly went along with our brunch theme of being refreshed in good company and in a good space.
AJF: In conclusion, I’d say that The Whitfield is a fine addition to Pittsburgh’s nationally-lauded restaurant scene and a great place to check out even if you’re not a Millennial Asian Lumberjack.
HGB: Like I tell my students, AJF… using “In conclusion, is cliché!” However, The Whitfield is not.
February 24, 2016
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!
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
November 11, 2015
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.
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.
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!!
September 10, 2015
Restaurant: Marty’s Market (and Café and Coffeebar).
Atmosphere: Despite the fact that it’s basically an unadorned cafeteria that’s located inside of a grocery store, Marty’s Market still achieves the adequate amount of pretentious “hipster-foodie” coolness that I require as a card-carrying pretentious hipster-foodie.
Menu: Sumptuous cuisine with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients – which I’ve found to be much more preferable to rancid, alien ingredients.
Food: I stuck to the -unch side of the weekend brunch menu and ordered a crab cake sandwich during a recent Sunday afternoon visit. The sandwich consisted of a buttery brioche bun laden with crab meat and a creamy corn rémoulade.
I was apprehensive about the remoulade when I first saw it mentioned on the menu because I’m not a huge fan of dumping corn onto my sandwiches (unlike my son), but it turned out to be an agreeably spicy topping for the crispy crab goodness.
The accompanying fries were amazeballs and instantly joined Hello Bistro and Point Brugge in a three-way tie for my second favorite fries in Pittsburgh*.
* Winghart’s are still holding down the top spot, with the Arby’s in Oakland coming in last.
Service: Not great. Our waitress was nice enough, but my wife and son’s meals came out missing the correct side items and the replacements took waaaaay too long to appear and actually be enjoyed along with their entrées. The manager did apologize and comp’d the items in question so I’m not going to complain too much*, but I will say that there’s definitely some room for improvement.
* I lied, here’s some more complaining! I ordered a beer as soon as we sat down because I’ve found that imbibing alcohol is a necessity when dining with a toddler in public. I told the waitress that I wanted a North Country Rye-PA (American Pale Ale, 6.3% ABV), and she ended up bringing me a Headhunter IPA. I told her about the mistake, which was quite understandable because I can easily see how she could have misheard me.
I watched as she took the Headhunter back to the bartender/barista and explained the issue. The bartender/barista then came over and asked me “What beer did you order?”, and I responded with “The North Country Rye-PA”. He then asked me where I saw it listed, and I answered “Um…it’s on the beer menu”.
He walked away and ended up coming back a few minutes later with the correct beer. He didn’t offer up any explanation for the confusion, but by that point I finally had alcohol in front of me so I didn’t really care anymore.
Unfortunately my #firstworldproblem reared its head again whenever the check arrived. The waitress had charged me for the original Headhunter, which turned out to cost nearly twice as much as the Rye-PA.
After bringing it to her attention, she corrected the mistake and gave us a new bill, but it was a helluva lot to go through just to get a beer. Thankfully the Rye-PA was delightful and totally worth the annoyance!
July 9, 2015
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!
June 10, 2015
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 bovine–porcine–ovine 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.
February 18, 2015
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.
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