Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

My Breakfast with Obama

April 2015

In the fall of 2009, Pittsburgh was an unnerving place to be. Leaders from the globe’s 20 major economies convened in our city for the G20. From the periphery, I observed protests, rattled police officers and an arsenal of army vehicles on our streets. With so many major thoroughfares shut down, the city felt like a ghost town. It was surreal, but as close as I was to the action, I never even glimpsed Obama.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

Fast forward to 2011, and Pittsburgh welcomed President Obama with far more open arms. He had traveled to our steel city to unveil the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. After emerging from its industrial collapse, Pittsburgh was the perfect backdrop for the announcement, but even though I worked for one of the plan’s poster child companies, Obama and I still did not meet.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

In 2014, Obama returned again, with more goals and promises for manufacturing in America. Meanwhile, I was probably editing photos in a coffeeshop. An Obama sighting was just not in the cards.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

BUT 2015…. 2015 was the year of THE QUELCY & OBAMA BREAKFAST!!!

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

Though it’s not my kind of place, when Obama is in town, he eats a classic American breakfast at the very vintage, Pittsburgh staple, Pamela’s Diner. When Obama is calling the shots, you don’t argue. You just suck it up and eat at a greasy spoon because… YOU’RE HAVING BREAKFAST WITH OBAMA! 

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

*april fools*april fools*april fools*

I may not have had breakfast with THE Obama, but I did have breakfast with the Bronx Obama, which is a noteworthy breakfast in its own right. You may have heard of Louis Ortiz, i.e. Bronx Obama, from an episode of This American Life. Like a superhero donning a cloak, when Louis Ortiz puts on his presidential suit, he becomes Obama. His thick Bronx accent fades. His mannerisms change. His posture heightens. He becomes a walking, talking Obama, and because of his impeccable impression, this widowed, single father, unemployed, army vet found himself an almost overnight media sensation.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

Louis Ortiz caught the attention of filmmaker Ryan Murdock, and the documentary film Bronx Obama came to be. The documentary screened at a film festival near and dear to my heart, and thus, I had the opportunity to design a very presidential backdrop, photograph Louis with his adoring audience and have breakfast with the festival crew at Pamela’s, à laMy Breakfast with Obama!

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

Since Pamela’s is more Aunt Jemima than Vermont Maple Syrup, you’d be hard pressed to find me there without presidential intervention. Thus, I thought it best to leave my review to the very polite and political, real Obama, who was quoted as saying this after his appearance at this local institution,

“Before I answer this question [about Clinton voter turnout], these really were maybe the best pancakes I’ve tasted in a very long time. Get some take-out,” he directed the reporters. “You don’t even need syrup on them. They’ve got crispy edges. Yea, they are really good.”

Or, as Bronx Obama said when we were all hemming and hawing over the menu, “it’s either flapjacks or eggs. Easy.”

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

While we ate, Louis was low key, but when it came time to leave, he entertained. He posed appropriately with a painting of the President eating Pamela’s crispy, crepe-like pancakes. “Did your face naturally look like that?” someone asked him in awe, while others stared and whispered to each other in disbelief. “Could it be? Is it really him?”

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

Filmmaker Ryan Murdock had initially intended to follow several impersonators with his camera, but when he met Louis, it was clear where the story was. Louis was destined to be the center of attention. He’s naturally a character, warm, outgoing, confident and likable, but to my sappy self, what’s most compelling about this crazy tale of a presidential lookalike, is his motivation to provide for his daughter and send her to college.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

From the Bronx to the spotlight, Louis is now a pro! He takes selfies better than tween girls, he’ll politely tell you if you’re blocking his light, and he always knows his best angle. That being said, he is tremendously gracious, humble and uplifting, as is filmmaker Ryan Murdock. It was a real privilege to eat American-size portions of greasy diner food with them.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

Louis plans to ride this Obama impersonator tide as long as possible, and it will be interesting to see how he uses this rare platform for his own voice. He’s humble and optimistic and simply wants to share some positivity and lightness while assuming this venerated role. In my dream world, Bronx Obama and Kid President would hit the “campaign trail” together, spreading messages of unity, hope and above all else, laughter!

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

It may not have been breakfast with THE Obama, but in the grand scheme, I’m grateful for My Breakfast with Bronx Obama.

Breakfast with Obama // www.WithTheGrains.com

If you haven’t seen the film yet, you can check it out on Showtime and a slew of other media platforms. Pop some popcorn, and prepare to enter the really bizarre world of political impersonators. Maybe pack a tissue or two also because Louis’s role as a father is his best work!


Happy April Fools’ Day!

A Fall Lunch at Out of the Fire Cafe

October 2014

I once stood blissfully in the general store of an old mill. A friendly older couple regaled me with the history of the town, of the brewery where the man worked as a young brewmaster, and of the grains sold in the shop. I felt like I had stepped back in time until I asked for lunch recommendations. “There’s an Eat ‘n Park or a McDonalds if you get back on the main road.” You could hear my idealism deflating slowly and dramatically like a punctured party balloon.

Out of the Fire Cafe

Hence my excitement when a recent fall adventure, through the quiet, misty mountains, resulted in a unique eating opportunity as well. My friend and I had worked up an appetite touring Kentuck Knob, the mountain home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. About halfway between Kentuck Knob and home is Out of the Fire Cafe, a place I had often passed and had tucked away in my memory. This was the day at long last!

Out of the Fire Scallops

Sea Scallops with Butternut Squash Butter, Vanilla Emulsion and Crispy Pork

Family owned and operated, as well as a member of Slow Foods USA, Out of the Fire was just what the day demanded. We dined on seasonal flavors while taking in the view of the Laurel Highlands and a hillside of cows. Unlike my General Store anecdote, this time lunch completed the feeling of escaping the city.

Out of the Fire Cheeseburger

Grilled Cafe Burger on Brioche with Farmhouse Cheddar, Roasted Tomatoes, Charred Onion Jam , Arugula and French Fries.

Out of the Fire Cheeseburger Half

Out of the Fire view

If you’re planning a trip to Falling Water or Kentuck Knob or hiking in the highlands, I highly recommend incorporating Out of the Fire into your route.


Happy Wandering!

Pizza in Pittsburgh: Wood Fired Flatbreads Mobile Pizzeria at the Allegheny Green Innovation Festival

September 2014

As a lover of food, as a proponent of local resources, and as one who likes to slip into a wooded park to escape the world every now and then, I find fracking to be a terrifying force in this region. I have a very close friend who has made it her mission to fight for families being harmed by fracking. She’s an inspiration, and by no coincidence, she’s the reason I have the Urban Farmer in my life. Through this friend, I was humbled to meet a growing group of young girls who have made it their mission to protect their parks from fracking.

Tent Area

These girls may be small in stature, but they have strong voices. They inspire me as females and environmentalists. They are a tremendous reminder to stand up for our natural resources and for our basic rights to clean air, water and food. Every time I think of them, I feel such a mix of emotions and excitement. The next generation of female leaders is going to crush it in a big way, and they make me want to be a better female myself. Two of these girls, Kathryn and Liz, and their amazing mom Joy, had a table at the Allegheny Green Innovation Festival at Hartwood Acres, so the Urban Farmer, the little one and I went to pay them a visit and encourage their efforts.

Food Trucks

We had very little idea what to expect, but there were tents and people galore! There were also food trucks. In any other city, these food trucks might not be that big of a deal, but zoning in Pittsburgh was a prohibitive roll of red tape for the longest time. Seeing the food truck round ups grow in size is a great marker of progress, especially when the food on those trucks supports local agriculture like the trailblazing Franktuary.

Hot Julep

Though I love me a local frank, I had heard about and needed to test Wood Fired Flatbreads. Uninspired by the choice of asiago as a cheese topping, the Urban Farmer and I decided on the Margherita pizza, while little Julep endured the heat of waiting in line. We arrived at this decision just in time to score the very last pizza of the event!

Wood Fired Pizza

Wood Fired Flatbreads is a mobile, wood-fired oven for parties and events in the Pittsburgh area, and after thoroughly enjoying the thin-crusted Margherita, I hope to see them at an event real soon. Though I still question the choice of asiago, I suppose there is only one way to find out. Maybe next time.


In summation:

1. No matter how big or small you are, your voice matters!
2. Support your local food scene.
3. Eat good pizza often.



Pizza in Pittsburgh: Pizza Boat

October 2014

My middle school “Family & Consumer Science” teacher described pizza as healthy. Healthy. I could misconstrue her words. I could use some small version of her in my mind to justify greasy pizzas from large, hairy, sweaty men who haven’t consumed a vegetable, other than the peppers held hostage by greasy, over processed cheese, since the time Ms. Schwartz made her health declaration. I could go that route, but that would be terribly uncharacteristic of me. Like Ms. Schwartz, I too believe in the health benefits of pizza, but only when pizza is made with the best of intentions and ingredients… so let’s eat a healthy slice from the Pizza Boat!

Skeleton Pizza Slicer

It would be really exciting for me to show you pictures of a houseboat docked on the Allegheny River, with sailor types slinging pizzas. Hold that thought, which was part of the Pizza Boat founders’ initial vision. Logistics may have prevented the realization of their nautical pizza dreams, but the name stuck. Their “boat” is a trailer with a wood fired oven and a sink. Their river is a parking lot. Their kitchen is a tent and tables, and their pizza is top notch!

Pizza Boat Prep

Pizza Boat Oven 01

Like Howl’s Moving Castle, Pizza Boat just appeared on my horizon one day, and for whatever reason, I questioned very little of this non-boat boat. I just ate the thin crusted pizza, engaged in some sarcastic banter with the amusing dough boys, went along my merry way and praised their pizza to friends. It wasn’t until digging up this article that I learned these fellas earned their dough tossing stripes at Roberta’s in Bushwick. Roberta’s has been on my to-go list for quite some time, so I appreciate this teaser.

Pizza Boat Oven

Co-founder Jeff Ryan putting my pizza in the “Pizza Boat.”

When the sun was still beaming late summer warmth upon us, my best Italian friend and I went on a little afternoon pizza date. The Pizza Boat was docked at the Bar Marco parking lot- in the historical Strip District neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Pizza Boat Parmesan

Co-founder Matt Watson grating parmesan on our pizzas.

On this particular date, we went pretty classic, but I recommend the “Market Pizza” options which feature seasonally inspired flavor combinations.

Pizza Handoff

Pizza Boat Pizzas_vertical

Like much of the myth surrounding the Pizza Boat, what lies in store during the colder months is unclear to me, but they are waging a battle against the Anticrust this weekend, so hurry up and enjoy a slice of their pilgrimage because it’s good for you. Even my home-ec teacher Ms. Schwartz would agree.

That’s what’s happening in Pittsburgh. What exciting pizza developments are happening in your locale?


Happy Pizza-ing!

ShrubDown: A Shrub Competition at Wigle Whiskey + A Recipe

August 2014

“Have you got into drinking shrub yet?” I asked, and I immediately regretted the “yet” lingering pretentiously in the air.

I backtracked and attempted to erase the unintentional hipster tone I had assumed, while proceeding into what felt like a Portlandia skit. I explained to my friend, “Shrub is a syrup or concentrate made with sugar, vinegar and fruit infusions. The traditional beverage dates to colonial times when it was used as a fruit preservation method.” Luckily, my friend was a good sport because the more I spoke, the more “do you know the name of the chicken I am eating?” I seemed.

On that note, let’s talk about a gathering of shrub nerds . . !

Wigle Varieties

Sarah Walsh, owner of Caffe D’Amore Catering, is an avid shrub maker and drinker. She had the idea to bring other shrub nerds together for a tasting and friendly competition à la… a ShrubDown!

1947 Tavern

Jen from 1947 Tavern serving “shroda” and creating her competition cocktail.

We gathered at Wigle Whiskey, where we received a proper welcome in the form of a cocktail containing peach shrub, early grey tea, honey and Aged Wigle Wheat Whiskey. Set against the backdrop of whiskey barrels, was the “shroda bar,” where we sampled shrub (mixed with soda water) from local enthusiasts including Blackberry Meadows farm, Wild Purveyors, the Butterjoint, the Livermore, and 1947 Tavern. After adequate sampling time, the competition began.


Bartenders from said establishments shook, stirred and mixed at the designated bar before submitting their concoctions to the panel of judges. One critique of the event was the judges were the only official taste testers of the cocktails, but it pays to be friends with a competitor’s girlfriend and catch some of the extra sips. It’s all who you know!

Will's Cocktail

Will Groves of The Butterjoint

Shrub Jars

Various “shrodas”

Cavan and Abby

Cavan of Wild Purveyors and Abbie of The Livermore

Declaring the Winners

The panel of judges declared a first place tie- weak judging, says my competitive side, but congrats nonetheless to Abbie of the Livermore and Will of The Butterjoint on winning the first ever ShrubDown!

Winners Winners

ShrubDown organizer Sarah Walsh and the prize bottles of Wigle White Whiskey for the winners.

Good news for you local Pittsburgh shrub enthusiasts. There is another ShrubDown on the horizon! Mark your calendars for November 9th, and keep an eye open for more details. For you local and non-local shrub enthusiasts, here’s my own shrub recipe.


Photo by Adam Milliron.

I made the pictured shrub from local mint, fresh strawberries and a red wine vinegar when strawberries were bursting with local flavor. Pardon my blogging delay, and I might suggest using a more seasonal fruit if you’re making this during the fall or winter. I made another variety with lemon, rosemary and apple cider vinegar, which was for the more seasoned shrub palate, as it was far more tart and acidic.

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My Favorite Healthy Eats for “Fittsburgh”

August 2014

For a city known for infusing salads and sandwiches with french fries and cole slaw, “dining out” and “healthy” are very rarely synonymous. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, the tables of greasy foods are turning, and there are plenty of healthier options. I recently added my two cents on this topic, and dorked out about whole grain rice, as part of a Fittsburgh blog post.

Screen shot 2014-08-12 at 9.10.11 AM

Check out the full story-
4 Pittsburgh Food Writers Spill it on Their Favorite Healthy Eats in the ‘Burgh

If you happen to be dining in Pittsburgh, check out my recommendation and enjoy a serene dinner at Pusadee’s Garden.


Here’s to Health!

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?


Happy Birthday To Me!