Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

A Birthday By Day & By Night

January 21, 2014

Recently, the Pittsburgh Urbanist Guide interviewed me as part of the 3 Meals & A Bar series. The premise for the questionnaire is if you only had 24 hours to show a friend the best that urban Pittsburgh has to offer, where would you take them? As it turns out, my answers were very similar to how I chose to show myself around on my own special day…my THIRTIETH special day no less!

La Gourmandine

Every January 21st begins with a ritual- I acknowledge 8:36am, the precise moment when I entered this world. I know this time because as the baby of the family, there were several people to take note of important details like birth times. I acknowledge this time faithfully because I am quirky and crazy I suppose. With my precise birthday moment properly recognized, it was time for breakfast, and a breakfast of birthday champions should begin at La Gourmandine, so that it did!

Birthday Pastries

My lovely friend Dana accompanied me on my snowy morning to the warm, bright place where pastry dreams come true [in the form of almond croissants for this dreamer]. Dana generously gifted me a bite of her clafouti too [that sounds dirty. It was not. It was pure, innocent and delicious].

La Gourmandine Almond Croissant

Full and content from a perfectly almond-laced croissant and caffeinated from one of my favorite cappuccinos, I spent the afternoon with my favorite four-legged friend, hiking in the snowy woods and cityscapes of our neighborhood until she was plum tuckered and ready to snuggle. Those tired eyes were singing “happy birthday to you.”

Hike and Cuddle

Snow treks, snuggles and one perfectly relaxing massage later, I was ready to indulge in one of my favorite menus with two of my favorite people…

Meat and Potatoes Bar

You guessed it… Meat & Potatoes!

Meat and Potatoes Place Setting

Girls and Cocktails

Favorite faces and the cocktail that could make an alcoholic out of me- the Sgt. Pepper’s Old Fashioned

Poutine is basically a birthday cake waiting for a candle, and there were plenty, plenty more birthday treats where that came from.

Meat and Potatoes Poutine

Not quite a full 3 Meals & A Bar lineup, but my 30th birthday was a day comprised of a few of my favorite Pittsburgh offerings, with a few of the people who matter most to me. That was merely the beginning. After all, I mentioned how much I like to milk my birthday month for festivities, so obviously, there was still more in store, and that “more” included LOTS of cake!

How do you celebrate your day of birth?

Single-Grain

Happy Birthday To Me!
-Quelcy

Happy Birthday To Me, Love Big Burrito

January 2014

In an effort to fully milk my birthday, I took advantage of a special offering from the Big Burrito Restaurant Group [apologies if this post's title led you to believe I would be writing about a larger-than-life burrito...maybe one day!]

Wine Collection

The Big Burrito Restaurant Group includes several Pittsburgh establishments. While I tend to associate their name with an outdated approach to fine dining (expensive prices, design that caters to stereotypical business types and websites that inspire nostalgia for the precise moment when we moved past AOL chat rooms and began to dive into using the internet), I’m not one to turn down an olive branch in the name of my birthday. Joining the Big Burrito mailing list entitles each subscriber to a token of birthday cheer good for one free entree at the restaurant of her choice.

Eleven

Of the various restaurants, Eleven is my top choice, and if it were to have an interior design overhaul, it would probably be on my regular cycle of Pittsburgh favorites. In the meantime, I’m happy to overlook the overwhelming presence of beige and the private business rooms looming overhead in honor of my 30 years on this planet. Bring on the pork belly and foie gras!

Pork Belly

Pork Belly appetizer

Eleven is nestled between the bustling food scene of the historical Strip District and downtown Pittsburgh. Its name commemorates its place as the eleventh restaurant in the Big Burrito series. Despite my critiques, I do applaud Chef Derek Stevens’ ever changing menu of contemporary American flavors. I just wish the powers that be would frame his food more modernly. His kitchen is the center of Eleven’s spacious dining room, complemented by the more hidden, in-house bakery which yields artisan breads and desserts.

Foie Gras

Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Calvados prunes, orange-thyme biscuit, candied sage and kumquat

Beautiful Radish Salad

Beet Salad with golden beets, pickled red beets, little gem, molasses vinaigrette, taleggio and cornbread croutons

Not pictured is my complimentary Seafood Sampler birthday entree [my photo did not do its deliciousness justice], which was so flavorful it should have pushed me past the point of dessert, but when I saw beignets…

Beignets and Tables

Apple Beignets with apple caramel compote, brown sugar ice cream, cherries and granola

…I just had to have at least a few sweet bites. My birthday coupon turned out to be a pleasant reminder of why Eleven stands out from its Big Burrito counterparts and should be a part of my rotation more frequently. If you live in Pittsburgh or for some reason are planning a visit for your birthday, you should sign up for your own birthday gift!

Single-Grain

Happy Birthday Dining!
-Quelcy

ps: Pittsburgh Post Gazette food critic Melissa McCart wrote a well articulated piece about the Big group which might even describe my objections more accurately than I have done myself.

Carnegie Coffee: Where History & Caffeine Converge

I apologize for the longing these blue skies and sunny streets might stir in your winter bones, but there’s a little adventure I’ve been meaning to share, and somehow it took me all these snowy months to arrive at the right words.

Carnegie, PA

On a wide, brick, turquoise-accented street in Carnegie, Pa, there’s a location where history and caffeine converge.

Light Fixture

At this intersection of time and energy, a brick facade boasts looming windows and regal light fixtures.

Carnegie Coffee Sign and Lounge

A glass pane announces your arrival and the dual function of the space- pick up your prescription and pick up your java, but first, push through the antique door and really behold the small details so unique to this place…

Antique Door

PO Box Counter

Previously the site of the Carnegie Post Office, which closed in spring 2008 and moved into smaller, leased quarters, the spacious coffee shop pays hommage to its history through the hundreds of post office boxes and the refurbished marble forming the bar.

Carnegie Coffee Menu

These antique gestures overlap in a clean, modern way with industrial furniture, bold, simple patterns and bright color accents.

PO Box Counter and Coffees

Carnegie Coffee Pastries

Post Office Door

Booth Seat

Most importantly though, the Carnegie Coffee Company serves coffee to make a trip there worthwhile. Inspired by their European travels and the requisite coffee experiences, the owners prioritized the source of their beans. They are the first coffeeshop in Western Pennsylvania to serve the Italian-grown Illy bean.

Illy Coffee

Whether you’re a Pittsburgher, a Carnegian (?!?!), or a wanderer in need of revival, I hope you have the chance to experience this history and caffeine convergence.

Carnegie Coffee Company
132 East Main Street
Carnegie, Pennsylvania 15106

Single-Grain

Bon Voyage & Santé!
-Quelcy

Waffles & Winter Reds in Defense of Beauty

February 2014

Why?
Because it’s beautiful?
No. Why?

Curved City

In architecture school, the why was always waiting around the bend in the critique. We learned to think analytically, artistically and technically. We learned to push our preliminary concepts and defend our assertions. We learned to use buzz words and reference history. We learned to turn our noses up to symmetry, unless viewing its prescriptive balance through an historical lens. Somewhere along the way though, I lost site of beauty. I buried it because beauty was not enough of a defense to answer those looming whys. 

Life Can Be Magic

It wasn’t until recently I realized how important beauty is, how misunderstood it is, how scapegoated it is. While in a business class, I listened to a woman belittle her ambitions. “I want to open my own salon. I know it’s cliché, and I know it’s just hair, but that’s what I want to do.”

Desert Tree

I refuted her lack of confidence. Her work is not just hair. Her work is expression. It is art. It is the ability to listen to someone’s wants and desires and translate them to a style reflective of the words. At its best, her work is beautiful, and it shouldn’t be underrated, especially by her. Her work is more than the hair, it’s the hours, days and lives it touches. To desire beauty is not to be entrenched in the superficial, but we often feel guilty when admiring beauty.

Birdhouse and Coffeeshop

While learning to answer the whys, I traveled to remote Kenya. Without magazines or mirrors, the Turkana women of the desert still sought beauty. They walked with dignity and grace, with necks laden with brightly colored beads, with hair spindled and accented with a desert crimson. Beauty is part of our makeup. It brings joy, brings us together and fosters memories.

Lili

Lately, these ideas have been floating in my head. The pursuit of beauty instigates so many of my endeavors, and I’m finally beginning to appreciate the value of such a contribution. This is not to abandon the whys or the narratives behind my thinking, but it’s to give myself permission to enjoy the beautiful results and the lasting effects they have.

Lili Waffles

A warming plate of waffles and a poached apple from a recent brunch at Lili Cafe. I’m very fortunate to live so close to this neighborhood coffee shop. It has rejuvenated me on so many an occasion.

These musings are the impetus for seeing past the gloomy grays to see bright reds scattered throughout a wintry neighborhood…

Iron Works

…to see fanciful creatures in an imaginary sea…

Grain

…to see amber waves of grain jutting through metal curlicues…

Facade

…to remember what brought me here and look at it anew…

Mother's Bread

…to see tranquility in quiet resilience…

Urns

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases;
it will never pass into nothingness.

-John Keats

Reasons to Love Winter [Alternately: Ways to Delude Yourself]

January 2014

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age.In middle age I was assured greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked…. I fear this disease incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself…. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

-John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley: In Search of America

PGH Winter Horizon

Winter has a way of stirring the wanderlust inside me, a stirring which I usually quell with an interlude in a warmer climate, or in the least, a high-energy city with underground transportation. Despite my steadfastness in this snowy city, I must admit, this year, I’m rather enjoying winter.

Puppy Paws

The primary reason for my sanity in spite of winter’s longevity is my pup. Having a dog is permission to “act” crazy in the snow. Having a dog is the lesson in humility learned when routinely slipping on ice and snow with leash in tow. Julep and I have ventured beyond our normal paths to discover our very own neighborhood Narnia, where my imagination runs as wild as my little excited pup. Though her playful spirit has brightened even the coldest of gray days, cameras, ice and puppies do not mix. I had to remind myself to take a solo adventure and let a wintry trip take me.

Winter Time

In the cold quiet, I found numerous examples of winter’s wonders. Have you had the opportunity to walk outside on a wintry Sunday? The only sound is the snow crunching underfoot, and it is quite peaceful.

Hills and Steps

Just in case you do not have a playful pup to mitigate winter’s incessantness, allow me to offer a few non-canine ways I have discovered to “love” this frigid season [or alternately, humor me my delusions]. Fret not, none of these reasons include extreme snow sports. I am not that girl.

In no particular oder, let us begin…

Step Snow Patterns

Reason 1:
Thanks to the Polar Vortex, anything hovering around 30 degrees feels like a tropical paradise, albeit a tropical paradise where I wear numerous sweaters. I must really love winter attire.

Silhouette

Reason 2:
Winter is the perfect time to feel like an Olsen Twin and dive into Homeless Chic trends which justify layers of sweaters. A pasty white reality check could spell depression, but fortunately, I haven’t even noticed how pale I am under the multitude of sweaters I have managed to layer this year. With all my natural shivering, it’s also completely believable for me to wear a hat all day. It couldn’t possibly be because my hair is gross and flat. No, no, it’s the arctic tundra temperatures, I swear.

Steeple

Reason 3:
Hibernation is a totally legitimate excuse to avoid just about everything. Even if friends protest, they are secretly grateful to have an excuse to wear something frumpy and behave like a hermit. Ignore their protests.

Standing in a Row

Reason 4:
It is perfectly acceptable to increase wine or whiskey habits and claim it’s for warmth. This is the purple-lipped, red-cheeked truth.

Baby Pine Cones

Reason 5:
Love what you do. Winter enables a snooze button to reach new levels of conquest in the face of the best intentions. I have never loved my bed, duvet and faux fur blanket as much as I have this year, but if a miserable job is the impetus for the alarm, winter will be unfairly demonized. The memory of that miserable, morning feeling is visceral. On the bright side of this gray season, if chasing your career dreams means a freeze on finances, winter is the perfect time to buy box wine (they’re not all terrible), hole away and binge on Netflix [with cookies too]. Win win!

Stocked for Winter

…and perhaps the very best reason of all?

Epiphany Cake

Winter is when French bakeries offer Galette des Rois! Those layers of flaky puff pastry alone justify a few weeks of gray days and temperatures that freeze your nose hairs.

How do you survive the demoralizing months?

Single-Grain

May your winter be buttery and bright!
-Quelcy

Disclaimer: Yes, I am aware both winter and French bakeries exists in warmer places, but please, leave me my delusions. 

Urbanist Guide Pittsburgh: Three Meals & A Bar with… Me!

January 2014

Whether you’re a native or a newcomer, there’s a really useful and [most importantly to me] a very visual guide to Pittsburgh. Available in almost every nook and cranny of this steel town, the URBANIST guide facilitates pinpointing the city’s outstanding local businesses. Additionally, the forces behind the guide have been moving and shaking to put more events on the calendar including the amazing Low Country Boil last summer [apologies for bringing up summer in the heart of polar vortexes].

I was quite honored when the URBANIST asked me, if I only had 24 hours to show a friend the best that urban Pittsburgh has to offer, where would I take him or her?

Urbanist Guide Pittsburgh

To read all my suggestions for 24 hours in Pittsburgh, check out my interview here, and then come visit me!

Single-Grain
Cheers,
Quelcy

Pork & Pancakes: A Brunch at Stagioni

November 2013

Recently, on a blistery South Side Sunday, my friend and I attempted to try a new brunch nook, but a harsh reality confronted us. A note on the door announced the previous Sunday had marked the last brunch service. Plan B? Not yet ready to admit defeat and go vegan [sorry vegans, but this friend and I appreciate the nuances of butter and bacon on a gray morn], we racked our brains. As we drove the same route from whence we came, I remembered a restaurant I had yet to try, and I had a hopeful thought…

Stagioni Facade

… and fortunately for us, my hopes came true! Stagioni’s beautiful, autumnal facade boasted just the words I wanted to read, “Now serving brunch!”

Stagioni Logo

I first experienced Stagioni as part of the Italian BBQ on the Farm hosted by Cure. Having been wowed by Chef/Owner Stephen Felder’s cooking in a field, I was excited to try his seasonal approach within the context of his restaurant.

Stagioni Autumn Tree

Stagioni Place Setting

Biscuits and Coffee Cake

Complimentary biscuits & coffee cake with fig butter, apple butter & regular butter.

Porkchop and pancakes

Pork Chop with butternut squash, apples, fennel, potato, pancetta, brown butter & sage
Ricotta pancakes with maple mascarpone

One Bite of Porkchop

I’m a sucker for complimentary baked goods, syrupy pancakes and a fall flavored pork chop! The light-filled dining room made the morning feel brighter and warmer despite the escalating winds and dropping temperatures. What began with a brunch fail transformed into a Sunday success.

Stagioni Reflections

Furthermore, I am quite satisfied to add another locale to my Pittsburgh brunch repertoire!

Stagioni
2104 EAST CARSON STREET
PITTSBURGH, PA 15203

A Sneak Peek of Square Cafe’s New Menu

October 2013

Within the confines of twitter brevity, Square Cafe describes itself as such, “There are omelet people; there are pancake people. The choice defines you. Both will find something to love at Square Cafe in Regent Square.”

Square Cafe Front Window

The choice does define me. I want the sweet, and I want the savory. More than an omelete person, more than a pancake person, I’m of the brunch people persuasion.

Square Smoothies

Twice a year, Square Cafe invests a lot of time and tinkering into releasing a new menu featuring as many local and seasonal ingredients as possible. In order for the team to be fully acquainted with all the new menu’s nuances, the group gathered in the kitchen to experience the menu in plate form, and I was fortunate enough to be invited!

Corned Beef Benedict

Corned Beef Benedict

After listening to the chef’s descriptions, this invite meant I had the opportunity to sample a whole lot of brunch. People who know me well, and even people who may not know me at all, know that brunch is my favorite meal. This was an entire new menu’s worth of brunch and for dinner no less!

Breakfast Lunch

Brussels Sprout Hash; Succotash & Black Bean Skillet

As a guest at the kitchen table, my excitement was expected, but even the longtime Square employees were wide-eyed and eager to dig in, which is a good sign indeed!

Forget Chik Filet

Vegan and Vegetarian

Jerk Tofu Sandwich (vegan) & Tahini Chickpea Burger (vegetarian)

Steak for Brunch

Steak & Eggs: 6 oz filet cooked the way you like it. Served with two eggs any style, succotash and toast.

Shrimp and Chips

Shrimp Salad; Huevos Rojos: Three eggs any style on top of house-made tortilla chips, spicy rojo chili sauce, cilantro, onions and black beans.

Apple Salad

Spinach Salad: fresh spinach topped with tomatoes, onions, shredded asiago cheese, raisins, toasted almonds and sliced apples.

Gluten Free Pancakes

Gluten Free Pancakes: caramelized apples, butter, powdered sugar and whipped cream.

Pancakes Galore

Vegan pancakes with warm fig compote and powdered sugar. Pumpkin walnut pancakes with butter, powdered sugar and whipped cream.

As we all rotated around the table and passed plates to combat the traffic jams, our feeding frenzy felt like that proverbial dinner table described by those who had to walk uphill both ways in the snow. “In my day, there were so many mouths to feed, you had to fight for your share.”

Feeding Frenzy

Pulled Pork & Cheddar Crepe

Luckily, we were all just excited about food and still maintained our manners.

Salmon Crepe

Smoked Salmon & Goat Cheese Crepe

If there is one lesson I learned from this sneak peek, it’s this: Yes, there are omelette people. Yes, there are pancake people, but you want to go to Square Cafe with your brunch people. You know who they are. They are the ones who want to get a plate of pancakes for the table, and they want to try what’s on your plate in exchange for what’s on their plate. With Square’s variety of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free items, everyone can share. You’re definitely going to want to invite your brunch people because you are going to want a little bit of everything!

A [Delicious] Taste of Grow Pittsburgh

September 2013

Wouldn’t it be amazing and refreshing to go into a grocery store and trust all of its offerings? You wouldn’t have to read labels and decipher symbols, you’d just push a cart merrily and fill it with the items on your list.

Taste2013Poster_Sponsors_pr

A Taste of Grow Pittsburgh, the organization’s annual fundraiser, was like a glimpse of that ideal grocery store. Instead of shelves of food, there were tables of fancies from many of my favorite restaurants, all under one tent!

PCA

Each restaurant donated a sampling from its menu as a sign of support to Grow Pittsburgh, whose mission is:

…to teach people how to grow food and promote the benefits gardens bring to our neighborhoods. We believe access to locally-grown, chemical-free fruits and vegetables is a right, not a privilege. We envision the day when everyone in our city and region grows and eats fresh, local and healthy food.

The Crowd

In doing so, these restaurants reaffirmed their commitment to local ingredients and the community.

Grow PGH Beers

Pork Tongue Terrine from Root 174

Bright Pink Decor

e2 display

Tomato Fennel Gazpacho from e2

e2 Soups

Plaid and Pork Belly

Pork Belly from The Porch at Schenley

Habitat Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Guinness Spice Cupcakes from Habitat!

Beautiful Bar

My Plate

It was all just so easy to support! In lieu of a cart in a trustworthy grocery store, I carted around my plate, helping myself to the vibrant offerings.

Green Pepper Jam

Spicy and Sweet Pepper Jam from Legume Bistro

Cure Menu

Cure Crostini

Whipped Lardo Crostini from Cure

Grow PGH Team

The Grow Pittsburgh team

Furthermore, the diligent worker bees behind Grow Pittsburgh had a lot of progress to share:

1,090+ volunteers donated 2,260 hours of time to Grow Pittsburgh programs

Worked with 1,668 students in five Pittsburgh Public Elementary Schools and two Public Charter schools through the Edible Schoolyard Pittsburgh Program

Grew 3.8 tons of food at Braddock Farms, Shiloh Garden, and Frick Greenhouse.

…so we all had a lot to appreciate (and eat)!

Coca Cafe By Night

September 2013

It’s important for city dwellers to evaluate their stomping grounds anew, but it’s also important for the makers, movers and shakers to change and grow over time. I had long appreciated Coca Cafe for its brunch and lunch attributes, but the restaurant recently expanded to the dinner scene. Long overdue to sample the small plate offerings, a good friend and I chose Coca for a dinner date. Our only disappointment was our inability to eat more!

Coca Facade

Starter Biscuits

Complimentary Biscuits & Herb Butter

Poutine

Rustic Poutine

Red Corn

Tempura Squash Blossoms with Red Corn and Mole

Coconut Curry Mussels

Coconut Curry Mussels

Coca Cafe By Day

September 2013

Do you think Parisians push the Eiffel Tower to their periphery? Do they take it for granted?

When traveling, time limits act as deadlines and incentivize bursts of energy in an attempt to see and do as much as possible. Living in one place for a longer duration falls at the opposite end of the spectrum. Local bucket lists are often pushed to the back burner, and familiar places are taken for granted. It’s often a visitor who puts the everyday into perspective again.

Coca Brunch

When my sister and her kids came to visit me this summer, they provided a perfectly fresh perspective on my city. We walked downtown, visited landmarks, and ate brunch at Coca Cafe. Having worked just around the corner from Coca for 3.5 years [having lunched at Coca frequently for 3.5 years], I never really thought to bring my camera and share any of the many meals. However, a place that serves delicious breakfast all day definitely deserved a post on my corner of the blogosphere.

Challah French Toast

Challah French Toast
Melted brie, fig jam & fresh berries

Once you’ve eaten this, it’s challenging to stray from it and explore more of the menu, but once you’ve eaten this again, you’ll feel confident in your relapse.

Chicken Sandwich on Challah

Chicken Sandwich
Grilled local chicken, melted brie, granny smith apple, fig jam, toasted challah
(because sometimes you just want to find a way to turn brunch into a lunch sandwich)

Brunch, lunch and even catered affairs- Coca has come through for me on many occasions. Recently, they expanded into the dinner hours with small plates, so stay tuned for Coca by Night!

Franktuary: Franks Be To God Indeed!

August 2013

For my first encounter with Franktuary, I rolled out the red carpet- an actual red carpet! I happened to be coordinating the commemoration of a business’s expansion to a vast, manufacturing site, and the occasion called for a red carpet  For the sake of food fantasies and fantastical narratives, let’s say the red carpet just appeared and led to a sustainably sourced hotdog. Logistics aside, that carpet did indeed lead to a sustainably sourced ‘dog from one of the trailblazers of the Pittsburgh food truck scene. All in all, that’s a good narrative and an even better hotdog!

IMG_3962edit

Not long after that red carpet rolled away, a building started to take shape in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The rumors proved true, and much to the local foodies’ delight, Franktuary’s second brick-and-mortar (and garage-doors) shop opened for business.

Franktuary Bar

Upon opening, a coworker wagered Franktuary wouldn’t be open for more than a year, since a frank costs more than $.99 and isn’t plucked from one of those rotations of nastiness [I judge those heavily. Don't eat one around me lest you be judged]. In his distance from the growing trends [ie: in his old age], he failed to see the delightfully long list of what Franktuary had done right.

That list in no particular order:

Ingredients
No corn syrup! What a beautiful mission and so well executed. Much like a Portlandia skit, browsing through Franktuary’s facebook pictures leads to photos of happy, healthy cows on a farm. They put a lot of care into their sourcing, so you can enjoy an American past time without guilt. To the responsible sourcing, I say amen!

Garage doors.
There just aren’t enough outdoor or semi-outdoor eating areas in this steel town, where Vitamin D is a precious commodity. Plus, once my little one‘s attention span grows a bit, I’ll be able to straddle the interior and exterior with my puppy in tow, making Franktuary a high priority on the list of dog-friendly restaurants. To the breeze and city scenes, I say amen!

Franktuary Bourbon Cocktail

The [Raised] Bar
This positive attribute is twofold. Firstly, many of the cocktail ingredients are sourced from a garden behind the restaurant, so we are talking fresh. Secondly, the bartenders know what to do with those fresh ingredients. Should you say “I like ‘summer’ and ‘bourbon,'” well then, you would be me, and you would also receive summer and bourbon with the accent of grilled peach. Be warned cocktail kindred spirit, that icy, grilled peach cocktail could easily push us past our drinking limits! For non-drinkers or working lunches, it’s worth noting Franktuary serves kombucha and Boylan’s root beer on tap. To the [raised] bar, I say amen!

Sweet Pea Special

Creative Toppings & Choices
From the standard New York dog to New Zealand, grass-fed beef with local and vegan versions in between, Franktuary leaves plenty of room for customization. Beyond the embrace of dietary restrictions, they offer several creative takes on hotdog toppings. My favorite menu dog is the “Bangkok” (Thai peanut sauce, carrot, cilantro), but on this occasion, I was lured by the “Featured Frank.” Our curiosity also led us to start with “beet balls,” which I recommend for both the oddity and successful delivery. To the toppings & choices, I say amen!

The Sweet Pea
Fresh peas, mint, spring onion

Frank and Altar Bar

With the abundance of hot sauce slathered on that dog above, it might as well be called “The Nina,” in honor of my dining companion. The girl likes hot sauce with a side of hotdog, and when she put herself at the mercy of the grillmaster, he magically delivered.

Poutine and View

Poutine!!!
Is there anything as lovely as poutine against the backdrop of the city? You might say, “Poutine?  Isn’t that just a fancy name for ‘cheese fries?'” to which, I would reply with a scathing facial expression and negate my offer to share my Poutine Québécoise with you. To Franktuary’s poutine, I say amen!

To the [old] guy who said Franktuary wouldn’t make it, I say, “I’ll see you in less than a year [with a shit-eating grin on my face... and maybe a smear of ketchup too]!” Their list of rights is long and growing, and I for one am happy to pay more than $.99 for some overly rotated, questionable, mystery meat. Roll out your proverbial red carpet and try them for yourselves!

a pop UP dinner with e2

July 2013

Put me indoors on the perfect summer day, and internally, I’m squirming like a kiddo confined to a church pew. Fortunately, Pittsburgh chefs are embracing summer scenes as the backdrops for their seasonal cooking and the showcases for their ingredient sourcing. Having ventured to a farm dinner or two, the opportunity for outdoor, urban dining was quite exciting, especially with Chef Kate of e2 behind the grill!

Pop Up Dinner

Wanting to showcase the developments of Bryant Street in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh, a local lot owner offered his grassy nook to the ever talented e2 crew. What popped up was a BBQ of classic comfort foods made with local, seasonal produce and a real respect for the ingredients.

Chef Kate

Beautiful Beans

Goold Old Fashioned Potato Salad

Lotta Slaw

That's How Good It Was

The Perfect Bite

Like the event itself, conversation popped up with an accelerated familiarity, and in concert with the meal, made summer dining all the more memorable…

“Kate and Tara are going to get ‘Wendy [the alpaca].’ I’m going to hug her so hard. She’s going to spit in my face, and it’s going to ruin my friendship with them, but it has to happen!”

Wine Drops and Dessert

Summer meals are better outdoors, so here’s to blades of bright green grass, a setting sun, flickering candles, wine stains, purple lips, heaping plates of ribs, corn lodged unabashedly between teeth, images of alpaca spit and sweet cobbler conclusions!

Best of the PittsBurgers: Burgatory

July 2013

You might not remember May of 2011, but to some, it was nearly the end of the world. Back then, Harold Camping predicted the return of Christ, the emergence of Christians to Heaven, and the dawn of fire and brimstone for those of us below. It just so happened my pal’s birthday fell on Rapture eve. Being the heathens that we were, we decided the event called for a pre-celebration in the form of burgers and cocktails in a very fitting place…

B for Burgatory

Though Christ did not return to earth that fateful May, I have returned quite a few times to Burgatory, making it count amongst my Best of the PittsBurgers locales!

Burgatory

Fox Chapel / Waterworks
932 Freeport Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15238
412.781.1456
*This is the location I frequent, but there is a second locale in Robinson.

Blessed Be The Burger

Ambiance/Design

Strategic. Industrial. Witty. A Little Bit Mischievous.
Burgatory channeled the big guns for their branding, and it shows. Infographics and witticisms accent the industrial interior. Its location in a strip mall makes the interior an odd diamond-in-the-rough situation (unless your cups of tea are big-box stores, then diamond-in-a-diamond). Exterior and collocation aside, the interior is energizing but also arranged in such a way that individual tables and conversations feel relatively private, albeit, a bit muffled by said energy.

Honor Thy Burger

Burgatory Booth

Very Important To Note

Sourcing of the Meat

All Natural, Hormone Free Burgers are better for you and the environment. Plus they taste a HELLUVA lot better! Our beef burgers are ground and hand formed daily using our private label blend of sirloin, chuck, brisket and short rib. All of our burgers can be served TOPLESS or NAKED (WE’RE TALKIN’ NO BUN, FOLKS!) upon request. You can also substitute an All Natural Chicken Breast for any burger if you want to cluck it up. 

Burgatory makes a big deal about the purity of its meat, which I appreciate, but what is missing [or in any case, isn’t glaringly obvious] is the name of the meat source(s). Give me that assurance, and my locavore-loving heart will be completely at ease.

Burgatory Burgers

Quality of Meat Preparation

“Red, Pink or No Pink Center”

It’s hard to assess the inherent quality of the juicy, ground beef under all those rich toppings, but the burgers are prepared according to the more playful take on the rare-to-done spectrum and delivered as promised.

Pink Burgers

Toppings (ie: This is why you go to Burgatory!)

Life is all about choices. Do I strive to be a saint or do I revel in sin? Burgatory is all about choices. Do I want Angel Dust or Bourbon BBQ… or both?!? Picky people and confident creatives alike will relish in the control the grill relinquishes to them, and these power grabs span the entire menu. This also makes Burgatory a blessing when dining with kids who might not see the value in Truffled Shallot Aioli. These offerings aren’t limited to “do you want lettuce, tomato and onion?” I’m talking an infographic guided tour through robust flavors and potential combinations. The only danger zone is dining with the easily overwhelmed, indecisive type, in which case, point them to the classics and forbid them from flipping pages.

Sides

I revered potato chips as a food group when my lunches still came with notes on the napkins. As a noteless “adult,” these chips strike me as a cheap ploy. Clearly, the obvious companion to a burger is the french fry, so to make me pay extra for the rightful complement is counterintuitive. As expected, the fries also come with their fair share of options, so any inkling of an inner tantrum is quickly reversed.

Free Float for Kids

Cocktails

My most recent trip was a family affair, so I refrained from boozing, but in the past, I’ve partaken in delightful, fresh cocktails. If you’re going for icy decadence, you can also upgrade your milkshake to an adult milkshake. If kids plow through their entire meal to arrive at the clean plate club, they receive a free ice cream float. Burgatory means well with this gesture, but I’m not one to reward gluttony, so I’m on the fence about that incentive.

Price

The standard [but decadently stacked!] menu burgers range from $9-$12, which is consistent with other burger joints around this region and worth the cost of supporting local meat (see Sourcing of the Meat). As mentioned, paying extra to swap fries for chips grates on my sensibilities just a smidgen, but even that fee is pretty harmless. With so many options though, including boozy shakes and cocktails, the numbers can quickly add up to a decent investment.

In Conclusion…

Life is full of contrasting choices, blacks and grays, but sometimes, the middle territory is a helluva good time! Enjoy!

Best of the PittsBurgers: Butterjoint

July 2013

Every now and then, I really need a good burger.

The Butterjoint

A friend recently claimed he would give the ribbon for “Best Burger in Pittsburgh” to ButterjointLegume’ Bistro’s full service bar located in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. This friend happened to make that comment within earshot of a defensive chef from another establishment (to which I say, “show me what you can do and quit your whining!”). My friend’s harmless enthusiasm sparked a fierce debate amongst a foodie few. I was inclined to believe him, but I had yet to experience a Butterjoint burger for myself, so to the Butterjoint we journeyed!

Whiskey Sour

“Best Burger” is not a phrase I take lightly. Nor is it a blue ribbon I am quick to assign. Even though I have some fierce opinions and am quite passionate about burgers, I am more inclined to elect my burger locale based on the merits that strike in that moment. Do I want complete and utter control of my toppings? Am I mainly interested in the meat? How about the fries? Should there be an adult milkshake involved? Based on these whims and merits, I’ve come up with a few guiding principles. I’ll use these guidelines henceforth, on this here corner of the internet, whenever the topic of burgers arise. Without further ado..

Butterjoint Burger

Butterjoint

214 N Craig St
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Neighborhood: Oakland

Meat Source: Keystone Cooperative Beef

The Farmers of Keystone Farmer’s Cooperative raise cattle in the vicinity of Uniontown PA. The high quality Choice Beef is fed on grass and locally grown grains. Because quality is their primary concern, Keystone’s cattle are raised without the use of hormones, antibiotics or pesticides in the feed. I wouldn’t have expected any less from the restaurant who pioneered local ingredients.

Meat Preparation Quality

Medium-rare is medium-rare, and this freshly ground burger is thick and juicy.

Toppings

Lettuce and onions for the standard fare plus a few cheese options. The way to go is the “Fancy Burger of the Day.” In our case, that fancy burger had a garlic scape spread, shoestring onions and melted gruyere.

Sides

The burger comes with tallow fat fries and a side of garlic aioli sauce if you’re game. You should be game. It’s delicious!

Cocktails

I only ventured one cocktail deep on this particular visit, but when a bar delivers an outstanding whiskey sour, that’s a good sign- high caliber simplicity at its best!

Ambiance/Design

Entering Butterjoint is like opening doors to a saloon, but not in the stereotypical way that makes use of a namesake font and cliche swinging doors. There’s the wooden bar, the well stocked shelves of glass bottles for extra glitz and glares, fancy light fixtures and an earthy tone. In short, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone walk in wearing those sleeve bands that prevent ink from soiling a fancy, collared shirt. It’s like a legitimate, upscale saloon, and I love it!

Price

The “Fancy Burger of the Day” and fries will cost you $14, and considering what that money is supporting (responsible farming and local business), I happily fork over my $14.

Bread pudding

Just to top it alllllll off, there was a decadent bread pudding to really push us over the edge!

Butterjoint is pretty blue ribbon after all!

Stay tuned for more PittsBurgers!

Adieu Abay, You Will Be Missed.

June 2013

At the beginning of June, Pittsburgh diners received a simultaneously heartfelt and disheartening message. Owner Jamie Wallace announced he would close his Ethiopian restaurant, Abay at the end of the month.

Although my mom cried inconsolably because she thought I was throwing away my law degree, in June of 2003, I bought a building in East Liberty to open what people would tell me was Pittsburgh’s “weirdest” restaurant…. After a lot of deliberation, we’ve decided to wind things down. June 30 will be our final day of operating (at least with Heather and me as the owners).

…Every person who even interviewed at Abay was forced to hear my speech about how I didn’t view it as a restaurant, but rather a cultural destination that happened to be a restaurant. That outlook has remained.

…Part of the reason people have such strong opinions about restaurants is because they are personal to them. The dining experience is an emotional one. Guests have had first dates with us as well as celebrated new jobs, anniversaries, graduations, and birthdays. We’re humbled to have been a part of all of those life achievements.

City Dining at Abay

I counted amongst those who felt a personal connection to the restaurant. Like Wallace described, I clanked glasses of wine in celebration of my birthday. I went through the investigative early questions and conversations of a first date, while seated at one of the authentic, woven tables. I reunited with friends while breaking apart injera, and the unique menu items filled my head with dreams of eating the same meals in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Pickins

Abay offered a great cultural and culinary destination, and through that combination, it was a truly personal experience. Like watching an old friend make a new leap, we couldn’t let Abay slip through our grasps without a proper sendoff, so we went one last time to mark another point of this journey.

Churchview Farm Dinner Series: A Fairytale Sort of Sunday!

June 2013

When my death-day comes
For certain, I’ll be sorry
For all that I have done indoors
When outside sons were shining
Blinding! Binding!
Reminding me the heaven-king is one!

~”Mount Marcy” By Frontier Ruckus

Farm Welcome

Want to glimpse a perfect Sunday? It starts at the foot of a tree-lined driveway and winds its way to a lovely, lavender lemonade.

Milk Jug and Lemonade

Along the way, you might encounter a hen or two… or seventy (!!!!), and they might encounter your fingers. Take heed!

Chicken Caravan

A chef and a farmer is a match of fairytale proportions, but in the case of Churchview’s Farmer Tara and e2‘s Chef Kate, it’s a real life fairytale! They’re both so passionate and generous with their talents, and we, the farm-loving foodies reap the benefits in the form of their farm dinner series.

Old Farm Equipment

Like any good family farm, the passage of time from grandfather to granddaughter is evident in lingering equipment, chipping paint, rusting textures and a reinvented coop. Everywhere you look, there is something beautiful and intriguing to behold!

One of Seventy

The Perfect Hammock

Farm Drinks

vino
rondineto passerina IGT (Abruzzo)
terre di sole sangiovese (Puglia)

Place Settings

Churchview Farm Table

Menu and Place Setting

cocktails
Spiked lavender lemonade.
Boyd & Blair. mint. lots of ice.

Floral Charcuterie

antipasta
lomo. venison prosciutto. lardo
mascarpone leek gorgonzola hot mess bizness
pickled green tomatoes and bread & butters
fat cat. scaf kase. st. malachi- local cheese situation
breakfast radish with mint
bunching onion bread sticks

Floral Charcuterie 02

Bunny Rabbit Ravioli

primo
ravioli stuffed with local bunny rabbit
preserved heirloom tomatoes. fresh herbs. grana padano.

insalata
frisee and arugula with spring onion vinaigrette
sheep’s feta

Chicken and Lanterns

secondi
grilled hen with black pepper porcini rub
trumpet mushroom. rapini. chard. baby kale.
honey saffron polenta.

Night View

When my passions for gatherings and for thoughtfully prepared foods unite with the outdoors, I’m in my happy place. When both of these passions combine in the form of a farm dinner, I am an endless smile. Indeed, too much time is spent indoors, but a good farm dinner makes time pass slower, and voices grow louder with libations and laughter. Cheers to the farmer! Cheers to the Chef! This was a fairytale summer Sunday!

Dessert at Dusk

dolce
ricotta gelato with fresh strawberries. salted walnuts. shortcake crumbles.

Then we wandered down the winding driveway and curved along a few country roads, content with time well spent outdoors.

Table Magazine Gatherings Issue: Part One

April/May 2013

Some say print is dying, but there’s nothing like the surprise of a magazine amidst the junkmail, foregoing responsibilities, sitting outside, feet up, an icy cocktail in hand and paging through beautiful spreads of food, interiors, fashion, etc. Some say print is dying, but there is something exciting, maybe even more exciting these days, about tangibility, especially, especially, especially when it’s your name in the print!

Table Mag

I regard myself as a professional picknicker, so it was fitting when my photographing friend Adam Milliron asked if I wanted to style a spread all about picnics. Of course I did! Then he asked if I wanted to style a rooftop deck for a cocktail gathering. Of course I did! Then he asked if I wanted to be in front of the camera for a change. Huh?

Final Shot_gatherings

The article’s concept was a gathering of friends- Italian style. Adam was asking if I wanted to join a group of foodies at a beautifully set table (styled by Suzanne Friday) on the patio of Il Pizzaioloa and eat authentic Italian cuisine. OF COURSE I DID!

Duane and Quelcy

I was in such good company it was easy to forget editors and a photographer and lights were all staring at us from the other side of the table. Duane Rieder poured (glass after glass!) his Engine House 25 wines (the smoky, caramely Port style was my favorite); Dylan Steigerwald, the restaurant’s manager, pointed us to his favorite pizza and cheeses (cheese board cravings have since commenced!), and Lou, better known as “The Pie Guy” and I exchanged stories of European journeys and secret pie ingredients.

Il Pizzaiolo Slice

This gathering enabled me to connect with new faces with similar interests. It also pushed me beyond the city limits to experience a beautiful courtyard just as spring had begun to paint with broad strokes of green.

Il Pizzaiolo Cheese Board

Encouraged to approach this gathering as I would any other gathering, I did what I always do- I brought a dessert! Though I have yet to experience it firsthand, when I imagine a meal’s finale at a true Italian table, I smell strong coffee and taste the tartness of palate cleansing lemon. These were the flavors I channeled for my contribution.

Quelcy Cutting Cake

The meal ended just like a patio gathering of friends should- a few more sips of wine, a slice of dessert, another little extra forkful of pie, espressos and friendly farewells and see-you-soons.

With The Grains Chocolate Espresso Cake

Be sure to pick up your copy of Table Magazine’s summer edition to see my food styling work from behind the camera! While you’re at it, kick up your feet, sip something icy and refreshing, and really enjoy paging through some print!

Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake with Whipped Lemon Mascarpone Topping & Candied Lemons (recipe to follow in subsequent post)

All photos in this post by Adam Milliron.  

My Special One’s Choice- Penn Ave Fish Company

April 2013

When it comes to his birthday dinner (or a birthday observed dinner in the case of busy schedules), I like to make dinner (and dessert!) for my Special One. However, in the case of lunch, it’s ok to treat him and let someone else prep his birthday meal. Thus the choice was his, and he chose Penn Avenue Fish Company because, as you may recall, he really loves sushi (and I really love him!).

Penn Ave Fish Market

Situated in the Strip District, the restaurant’s industrial interior feels a lot like you’re wandering amongst the fish mongers of an early morning market. The quality of the fish also evokes a fresh market. It’s all the perks without the overwhelming smell of a fish market.

Penn Ave Fish Mrkt Salmon Sandwich

Sneaky Pete
Grilled salmon on whole grain ciabatta with fresh arugula, hearts of palm and spicy avocado crẻme sauce

Pro: The Sneaky Pete is a perfect sandwich. Avocado and salmon together are one of my favorite combinations, and I obviously appreciate a whole-grain bread.

Con: I ordered the Sneaky Pete the first time I went to the restaurant, and I haven’t been able to stray from it. Just when I’m about to pronounce a different fish sandwich’s name, I find myself saying, “I’ll have a ‘Sneaky Pete’ please!”

Luckily, my Special One and I believe in sharing & caring and family style for just about every meal to date. Thus I was able to combine creature comforts with menu meandering and a whole lot of sushi sampling!

Penn Ave Fish Mrkt Sushi

For the review of this sushi, I defer to the birthday fella, who has a LOT of experience with chopsticks, soy sauce and depleting the ocean of its sushi grade fish. “I think this is my favorite place for sushi in the city. It’s really good quality fish at a great price, and it’s not masked by potent flavors that hide the fish quality and cost a fortune.”

There you have it!

P.S: We still really love Fukuda too!

Tender Bar + Kitchen

April 2013

Put on something lacy. Paint your lips in rouge. Perch a fur around your neck and get ready to feel like you’re stepping through time and entering Pittsburgh’s future all in one swing of the door. You’re going to have a real night on the town. You’re going to Tender!

Tender Bar

Tender is an American cocktail lounge & restaurant that celebrates a return to the elegant simplicity of a past era. Tender is also carrying the torch passed by the movers and shakers (Meat & Potatoes, Cure, Bar Marco and Union Pig & Chicken to name a few). These restaurants are raising the bar for both dining and design in this industrial city. For a girl who doesn’t bleed black and yellow, these establishments make me happy to live exactly where I do!

Tender Bar Front

When I first heard “Tender,” I assumed the name referenced meat, but the moniker is actually a clever hommage to the venue’s past life. The corner brick building was once the home of the Arsenal Bank– a storied financial institution where legal tender filled a massive safe. The restaurant’s creators embraced this history, incorporating found bank notes and the daunting safe door into the design. The tall ceilings now boast shelves of alcohol served over the formal, granite bar. The space unfolds, room after room, channeling the bank’s former elegance in its wainscoting, walpaper, fabrics and colors. The design was strategic, and it shows at every turn as you wander deeper and deeper into the unfurling restaurant.

Tender Menu

Aptly so, the full name is Tender Bar + Kitchen, and both of these components deserve their place in the name. Equally rooted in history, the food and drink menus channel regional America. Tender’s chef describes the menu best when he says, “…the items we feature on our menu are those that are iconic and representative of a particular city, state, or region — dishes that tap into our emotional connections to food, depending on where we grew up or traveled across this great land. The menu: distinctly American. The ingredients: as local as possible….”

Tender Poke

Poke, Honolulu, HI fresh sashimi-grade fish

Tender Scrapple

Scrapple, Chester County, PA
pork, tomato jam, quail egg

Having grown up in Pennsylvania’s scrapple region, I was really hesitant to order this. Memories of weird bits in a jar flashed in my mind, but the waiter assured me, this scrapple was really well prepared. Despite the chef’s desire for diners to channel their own regional  memories, this plate pleasantly created a new memory and taste association.

Tender Pecora Investigation

The Pecora Investigation (front)
Ardbeg scotch, Amontillado Sherry, crème de mûre, Amaro Montenegro

Hemingway’s Mistress (back)
Vida mezcal, maraschino, grapefruit, lime

After two Tender experiences and sampling friends’ choices, the drink menu has me hooked. Unlike so many over-mixed and indistinguishable cocktails, these drinks retain the distinct flavors of their elements. Allow yourself to be enticed by both the name (Hemingway’s Mistress? I mean c’mon!!!) and the list of ingredients. After I work my way down the left side of the drink menu, perhaps I shall venture to wines.

Tender Salad and Yaka Mein

Penn’s Corner Salad, Pittsburgh, PA seasonal greens & vegetables, house vinaigrette
Yaka Mein, New Orleans, LA cola-braised pork rib, house made noodles, broth

Tender Banana Split

Banana Split, Latrobe, PA

This was the highlight of my evening! This dessert did hit the spot, but the real reason it made my night was the historical lesson I gained from eating dessert! I was curious why the Banana Split was attributed to Latrobe, PA, and my waiter informed me the dessert’s origin is in fact Latrobe (where I venture for flour every now and then). From a venerable source, I learned…

David Evans Strickler, a 23-year-old apprentice pharmacist at Tassel Pharmacy, located at 805 Ligonier Street in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, who enjoyed inventing sundaes at the store’s soda fountain, invented the banana-based triple ice cream sundae in 1904. The sundae originally cost 10 cents, twice the price of other sundaes, and caught on with students of nearby Saint Vincent College. News of the sundae spread by word-of-mouth by students, through correspondence, and at professional conventions. Strickler went on to buy the pharmacy, naming it Strickler’s Pharmacy. The city of Latrobe celebrated the 100th anniversary of the invention of the banana split in 2004 and, in the same year, the National Ice Cream Retailers Association (NICRA) certified the city as its birthplace

Tender Dessert Gone

Despite all the grandeur, I’ve heard a few complaints here and there. To the naysayers I say, Tender is very new, so cut the beautiful, elegant place some slack. That being said, I was offered a free dessert to compensate the long wait time on a drink, but somehow said freebie still landed on our tab. Tender, if you’re listening, beignets are a fast way to forgiveness.

I will surely return to Tender in the very near future!