Tag Archives: suburbs

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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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.

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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).

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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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everybody loves…the suburbs…Part I

I always really wanted to live in the city. Though my wife was raised in the middle class suburbs of Buffalo, city life greatly appealed to her as well. Her brother lives near Lincoln Park in the north side of Chicago, and she laments the lack of great restaurants and activities in our immediate surroundings whenever she returns to Pittsburgh after a visit. My wife and I have to commute through a tunnel and over a bridge whenever we want to enjoy Pittsburgh’s wonderful parks, events and nightlife destinations. Theoretically if we lived in Squirrel Hill or Shadyside, it would be much easier to take pleasure in our most livable city’s amenities by foot or even rollerblades*. 

The allure of numerous approximal attractions was also a factor for me to desire city life. Additionally, I felt driven by the idea of raising a family in a culturally diverse environment. I really love Black, Gay, Asian and Jewish people, so settling into the eastern part of Pittsburgh seemed to be a perfect fit. I grew up in the inner-city neighborhood of Knoxville and I believe that its diversity imbued in me a deep appreciation of different cultures. How will my kids ever learn to truly empathize with their generation’s Tupac Shakur or Eddie Griffin if all of their friends are named Dylan and Parker?

After spending some time perusing homes for sale online and in person, my dream began to die. My wife and I soon realized that we could not afford the houses in Squirrel Hill and Shadyside that matched our search criteria. The houses that we could afford were regrettably aged and would require a substantial amount of time and dollars to update their antiquated infrastructures. Another strong financial deterrent was the associated fixed costs involved with raising a family in the city. My wife was pretty adamant about not sending our future children to a city school. Not that she thinks public school is awful, but even a quick perusal of the stellar academics of Winchester Thurston et al makes those institutions infinitely preferable. It was possible that we could afford a single tuition, but there was no way we could pay for two while maintaining a fiscally solvent budget. I suggested to my wife that we give our children aptitude tests every year and reward the highest scoring individual with a year of private school. Suffice it to say, this idea of a meritocratic education system didn’t go over well. 

We then shifted our locale focus to the suburbs. In particular, the southern municipality of Mount Lebanon. This neighborhood had some of the appealing features of the city, but came along with the benefit of a renowned school district. Unfortunately, the majority of homes we looked at were again like Queen Elizabeth II – small, old and uneconomical. Fortuitously one Sunday afternoon while exploring open houses near The Galleria, I saw an attractive home on my Droid’s Zillow app close by in Upper St. Clair. My wife and I navigated our way to the address and immediately felt a Zen-like sense of harmony as soon as we turned onto the idyllic street. This good feeling was only heightened when we pulled up in front of the house.  Though it had the undesirable combination of being firmly at the top of our price range and requiring a good deal of work, we liked it infinitesimally more than any other house we looked at. 

After weeks of touchy negotiation, we irritably walked away due to the sellers unaccommodating obstinacy. However much like Rachel in The One with the Prom Video, we eventually realized that this house was our lobster and we went running back. Fortunately it was still on the market and we were surprisingly able to enter into a sales contract with the irksome seller. After a few more weeks of inspections, estimates and contingency bartering, we closed the deal and painfully handed over a big-ass check. 

A little over a month has passed since that closing day and our planned move-in this Saturday. We’ve been constructively making use of the interim time by stripping wallpaper, scrubbing grout, patching holes, sanding floors, cleaning filth and painting every possible surface. I’ve been extremely busy and therefore haven’t had much time to process the fact that my dreams of walking to Frick Park and the Harris Grill are now dead. Hopefully I’ll somehow be able to adjust to suburban life and still keep it real. I guess if the Fresh Prince could do it, so can I.

* Just kidding on the rollerblades. I place them just above Crocs as footwear I refuse to make use of. However, I am kinda keen on the idea of combining them into something comfortable and speedy. If anyone ever makes a Bape x Crocs x Nordica collabo, I’d definitely cop ‘em.

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Stonepepper’s Grill – Upper Saint Clair Township

“How ‘bout we go to Stonepepper’s?”
“But you hate Stonepepper’s!”
“So.”

The above exchange occurred between my wife and I on a recent Sunday afternoon. We were open house trolling in Upper Saint Clair and my stomach was starting to rumble something fierce. Our favorite dining options in the area – Pepperoni’s and Chick Fil-A – are closed on Sundays so the next best suggestion I could come up with was the South Hills Village mall food court. I instantly recanted this proposal since I realized that I wouldn’t be able to get a beer at South Philly Steaks & Fries or Flamers*. That left Stonepepper’s Grill as the most attractive option.

We had gotten dinner at the establishment once before when it first opened and I was rather underwhelmed with the food. More importantly I was viscerally pained by the clichéd décor that was peppered with framed Rolling Stone magazine covers and the worst design elements of T.G.I. Fridays and the Oliver Garden. But since Stonepepper’s has a bar and the food court does not, I figured that it was worth giving them another try. It was late afternoon when we arrived, and despite being the slow period between lunch and dinner, the restaurant had a good amount of patronage. The customers consisted mostly of parents and kids who looked like they had just finished a sports practice/game of some sort. The exasperated look on most of the parents faces led me to believe that they were there due to a desire for libations just like me.

We were seated near the bar area at a booth next to the large front windows. It was nice to see the sun shining outside although our vantage point granted us just a view of the parking lot. Not exactly Mount Washington, but I guess it could be worse**. Stonepepper’s purports to be a sports bar and I was happy to find that the flat screens above the bar were broadcasting an NBA game. My line of sight was perpendicular to the screens so I couldn’t straight out watch, but I was able to sneak some peaks away from gazing at my beautiful wife to satisfy my thirst for Linsanity.

Our waitress was very friendly and had a constant look of excitement due to her vast amount of eye make-up. I actually found this look quite reassuring for some reason. Wanting to show my wife how serious I was about saving money for our new house, I deigned to go with the drink special which was Duquesne Pilsener 16oz drafts for $2.50. The beer (5% ABV – American Pale Lager) had a straightforward barley and hops taste profile with a hint of citrus. Though somewhat light and watery, its uncomplicated smoothness gave it an easy finish that I think would pair well with sunny afternoons by the pool or as beer pong stock.

My initial Stonepepper’s experience involved a lackluster margherita pizza, but the allure of brick oven goodness persuaded me to try my luck again. This time I went with the less conventional (and less artisanal) BBQ Chicken pizza. Before I even finished guzzling my beer, a hot mess of white gobs and barbeque sauce was laid out in front of me. Pizza doesn’t need to look good, just taste good, so I did not hesitate to grab a slice and start chowing down. The pie shell was crispy and a bit thin, albeit substantial enough to hold the conservative toppings of cheese and chicken. The menu purported smoked Gouda as an ingredient and evidence of the cheese’s pungent caramel sweetness was sparse but fantastic when tasted. The tangy barbeque sauce was more mild than wild but was helped by the bite of roasted red onions. Though I vowed to only eat half and save the rest for later, I actually almost devoured the whole thing. I left but one lone survivor slice that I later heated up and consumed that evening.

Final Call: There’s a perception that there aren’t any culinary destinations offering innovative food and singular dining experiences in the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Stonepepper’s Grill doesn’t do anything to change that. But it doesn’t try to. It’s like NCIS: Los Angeles or The Voice. Nothing innovative, challenging or overtly special. However it’s aim to embrace familiarity is somewhat mollifying and even enjoyable if accompanied with alcohol.

* Do you think Flamers knows that their business name predominantly brings to mind the image of a group of flamboyant homosexuals, not charbroiled burgers? Then again, the 5801 Lounge in Shadyside frequently serves flamboyant homosexuals and its name makes me think of the protein tyrosine phosphatase so go figure. 

** Actually, I’m not sure it could be worse so I take that back.

Stonepepper's Grill (Upper St. Clair) on Urbanspoon

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