Monday, April 13, 2015

Denim is the new white linen

Boyfriend has been a busy bee lately with his work schedule, course load, homework marathons, and making sure he slips in some "me time" at the gym. Aside from the morning rush and (sometimes) dinner together, I haven't spent much quality time with Boyfriend for awhile, so when he suggested a dinner out this past Saturday, I blocked off the evening and prepared myself for the continuation of our quest to find Pittsburgh's finest burger.  The quest took us to Bloomfield's Tessaro's American Bar and Hardwood Grill.

We had heard from various trustworthy sources that Tessaro's is a prime spot to find a deliciously plump and juicy burger, so with high hopes and growling bellies, we ventured to Bloomfield.  Upon entering Tessaro's it was easy to see that this is a beloved restaurant with both regulars and first-timers.  The woman working the door, whom I assume was the owner, was motherly and attentive.  She knew people by name and if she didn't, she pretended she was your best friend anyway.  The entryway was extremely tight and we shuffled back-and-forth to allow other diners to leave or arrive, but luckily, we only waited a few minutes before being taken to our table. 

I really hate close proximity seating.  I try to understand that sometimes, there just isn't enough available space for private tables, but connected booth seating at Tessaro's was out of control.  I could have easily reached every item off of our neighbor's tables, which had to be moved in order for any of us to leave or situate ourselves.  Due to the closeness of other diners and the general bustle of the restaurant, I only heard about 35 percent of what Boyfriend said throughout dinner. 

The decor is a typical family run and influenced setting with paintings of deceased family members and black-and-white photographs.  The real "oh, wow..." moment stemmed from the tablecloths... Which were denim.  Straight up Levi's Strauss finery.  I tried not to judge... But wow. Denim tablecloths. Just...no. 

We asked for a drink menu, but there wasn't one.  Our server recited the draft list, but when I asked about wine options, she faltered a bit.  I settled for whatever Cabernet they had laying around, which unfortunately, tasted like it came from the fine boxed section of the wine and spirits store.

In glancing at the food menu, I saw a variety of bar food, sandwiches and of course, the burgers.  Honestly, the burger menu isn't that extensive.  It features a classic hamburger, cheese burger, and only a few more original burgers, like the Deli Burger, featuring cole slaw, thousand island dressing and Swiss.  

Then I looked at the side options: potato salad, cole slaw, home fries, white rice, broccoli, boiled red skin potatoes or potato chips.  No fries?! How can any self-respecting burger joint NOT offer french fries?! After a mild heart attack, I opted for the potato chips to accompany my classic cheddar cheeseburger.  Boyfriend selected the Gourmet Burger, which featured bacon, mushrooms, onion, and cheddar. 

Surprisingly quickly, our meals arrived to the table.

    Gourmet Burger and Home Fries

    Classic Cheeseburger 

I stared in sadness at my burger as I realized that what I assumed would be homemade potato chips were, in fact, Lays with Ridges.  The pickles were wilted and the bun looked unimpressive.  The cheese looked to be more of a Colby than yellow cheddar.  Expecting the worst, I took a bite and tasted... A really freaking good burger.  

The meat was cooked perfectly medium as I requested, nicely seasoned, and it was so juicy, but not at all greasy.  As I assumed, the bun was subpar and soon collapsed from too much juice absorption and I didn't even bother with the chips.  Because Boyfriend's burger had so many toppings, the feeble bun collapsed mid-meal and he had to surrender.  Like me, he enjoyed the taste and juiciness of his burger and said that the bacon was pretty good.  The toppings blended well and lame bun aside, Boyfriend genuinely enjoyed his burger, but wished for a sturdier bun.


The home fries, Boyfriend said, were bland and nothing to write home about, albeit something to blog about.  I didn't try my Lays with Ridges because... Let's face it, they were Lays with Ridges and who cares?

We left quickly after our bellies were full and we couldn't stand being so close to other diners any longer. I suffered a close call when a fellow diner wanted to inspect my burger and pointed his dirty old man finger way too close to my meal. 

The owner shouted out at us as we left to come back again someday, which we lied that we would.  The burgers were good, but Boyfriend and I are not convinced that they're worth claustrophobia-inducing tables, disappointing side dishes, and denim tablecloths.  

Tessaro's, I appreciate your juicy meat and your charm, but I beg of you, throw away the Lays, serve some fries, and hang up the Dungarees.  



Saturday, March 7, 2015

An AWESOME Night on the Town

This week, Boyfriend is on spring break from school and instead of going to Cancun and dancing on MTV, he decided to surprise me with a Pittsburgh staycation and a night on the town.  I was told to pack an overnight bag, wear a dress, and to please refrain from envisioning an engagement ring.  I could handle all three of these directions.  

The initial plan was to visit the famed Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh's Northside, then enjoy dinner, cocktails, and retire to the newly opened Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh, a Kimpton Hotel. 

Since reading of its opening, I wanted to stay at Hotel Monaco, but really, what occasion would require me to board Downtown when I reside nearby? Boyfriend took advantage of the planned night out and booked us a room, much to my excitement.  

    Hotel Monaco's lobby chandelier 

The decor and design of Hotel Monaco is beyond eclectic and unlike any hotel that I've ever visited.  The theme seems to be bright colors, varied patterns, and birds. Lots and lots of birds. 



Unfortunately, traffic and city drivers were a bit too much for Boyfriend and me; we did not have enough time for the Warhol before needing to make our dinner reservations at 8 p.m. We settled into our room at Hotel Monaco and then quickly made our way to our dinner spot, Morton's the Steakhouse, located on Liberty Avenue.  

I believed that Morton's is known for tender delicious meats and a classy, yet comfortable environment.  I was excited to sink my teeth into a filet and wash it down with a glass of Cabernet.  Unfortunately for Boyfriend and I, our trip to Morton's was not exactly the meaty heaven that we had envisioned.  

The cold was harsh as we walked down Liberty, so by the time that we arrived promptly for our 8 p.m. Reservation, Boyfriend and I were a bit frozen. We were escorted to our table and I was surprised to see that the restaurant was pretty empty.  Aside from two or three other tables, we were dining alone, which seemed strange to me for a Friday evening.  

A very quick glance at the menu made me gasp as I realized just how pricey this establishment is, but Boyfriend assured me that we should order whatever we wanted. Our server, Shawn (or Sean or Shaun), enthusiastically ran through the menu to promote his "favorite" items (and the most expensive) while using the word "awesome" a bit too much.  Morton's is an ala carte restaurant, so your slab of meat doesn't just come with a side.  You have to order everything separately, which really adds up.

To thaw ourselves out, we started with bowls of soup: lobster bisque for Boyfriend and five onion soup for me.  I'm not a fan of onions, but as I'm allergic to shellfish, onion soup was my only other option.  Surprisingly enough, the onions were not overwhelming and the broth was tasty; naturally, my favorite part was the melted mess of cheese and soggy bread crouton.

For my dinner, I ordered a 6 ounce filet and Boyfriend opted for a mixed grill of filet, shrimp, and bacon wrapped scallops.  Morton's sides are made for sharing and we settled upon our server's awesome suggestion of awesome twice baked potatoes au gratin.  As we were finishing our soup, the main courses arrived to the table and I was excited to dive right in.  We loaded our forks, looked at each other with enthusiasm, then bit in to our food to discover... Not a lot of flavor.  The only way to really describe my filet is with the word "boring." Next, I tried the potatoes hoping for something more exciting than the meat.  Again, I was met with disappointment. The twice baked potatoes au gratin were really nothing special and I wouldn't have been surprised if I found out that they came from a box and powdered cheese packet.  

If my dinner had been served to me at Outback Steakhouse, I likely would have thought "not your best try, Outback, but you're a restaurant with menu items like 'blooming onions' and 'Aussie fries,' so it's okay."  But because my hunk of unseasoned meat itself had a price higher than $30 (JUST the meat), I was a little miffed.  Boyfriend's filet was equally as bland and his scallops were chewy.  The shrimp was also boring.  

We chewed in disappointment while our server buzzed around with the other servers before retiring to a wall near the open kitchen.  Each server stood against the wall facing the diners, leering.  I realize that they were just waiting to see if we needed anything, but due to our close proximity to the server line-up, it was uncomfortable.  Eventually, our server arrived and seemed amazed that we had no interest in doggie bags for our leftovers.  He brought our dessert of hot cocoa cake (which he assured us would be awesome) with vanilla ice cream and fresh raspberries. 

The cake was good, but it still didn't make us say "wow" or make our eyes roll back in our heads while salivating. It wasn't awesome.  When our server asked if we wanted coffee and we declined, he described it as awesome.  That wasn't awesome either.  Nothing was awesome. The only thing awesome about the dinner was the many ways in which our server used the word awesome.  

We finished our dessert and I thought that the highlight of my meal was the smattering of raspberries served with our cake.  Boyfriend and I reclaimed our coats and ventured back into the cold before returning to our cozy room at Hotel Monaco.  We eventually meandered to the attached bar-restaurant The Commoner for some unique cocktails and sightings of Pittsburgh celebrities (hope you enjoyed your appetizer, Bus). We retired to our room later and I was hopeful that our upcoming Commoner breakfast-in-bed would be a bit more appetizing than Morton's.  I was not disappointed. 

Mid-morning the next day, Boyfriend and I placed our breakfast orders to room service and were presented with a tray of fresh fruit, delightful carbs, freshly squeezed juice and boxed water.   


I very much enjoyed my order of light flakey pancakes topped with maple syrup and a lemon-thyme butter.  Whoever came up with the lemon-thyme butter... God bless you.  It was truly awesome.  Boyfriend scarfed down his bagel and omelette while we watched television and basked in Hotel Monaco's gloriousness.  

I was sad to leave, but happy that Boyfriend put so much thought into planning a fun evening out on our town.  I don't really have a reason to return to Hotel Monaco, as I don't make it a habit to stay in town, but I plan to make it my mission to return to The Commoner for their delicious food and creative drink concoctions.  I have no intentions of retuning to Morton's; I'd rather have the AWESOME Outback Special.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Great Balls of Fire

When my sisters, cousins and I were younger, we used to play in my uncle's swimming pool and spent many a summer day floating on alligator-shaped rafts and becoming pruney in the sunshine.  In between games of chicken and Marco Polo, my Ginger Sister forced us to play The Little Mermaid and because she was the only red head among us, she was automatically granted the role of Ariel... Every single stinking time. 

The rest of us had to be crabs, eels, seas witches, or even worse, the lame mermaid sisters who were always so jealous of the perfect Ariel.  Ginger Sister got to splash around singing (in her mind) melodiously while her sisters and cousins asked for chances to be the star mermaid, but were only shut down with the same excuse: we didn't have red hair.

Though our days of swimming in my uncle's pool are long gone, Ginger Sister still holds a special place in her DVD collection and in her heart for The Little Mermaid and the film's scaley heroine. Needless to say, when Pittsburgh's Byham Theater announced its January production of The Little Mermaid, I ordered tickets to present to Ginger Sister and my Momma for Christmas, with an extra ticket for Aunt Jackie Number One.  Without any hesitation, we decided that a preshow dinner would be needed and I suggested Emporio, a Meatball Joint, first floor of the three story Sienna Mercato located on Penn Avenue.

Since I learned of the magical restaurant centered around meatballs, I had been dying to try it, but this was my first real opportunity.  Luckily, my fellow theatre-goers take meatballs just as seriously as I do, so the decision was unanimous. 

Sienna Mercato holds three separate dining locales within one restaurant, separated by floor.  Emporio is the first floor, then Mezzo Charcuterie on the second, topped by Il Tetto, a rooftop beer garden.  

We agreed to arrive at 5 p.m. and in typical fashion, I was freakishly early.  I ordered a glass of wine and reviewed the menu while I waited and observed the relaxed environment with a variety of patrons. 


Our server was attentive and friendly, despite my early arrival and seemingly lonely spirit.  She asked if I would like an appetizer to munch on before my family arrived and without much convincing, I ordered a bowl of poutine.  I love poutine, but it has to be done just right for it to be worthy of praise.  Emporio's poutine was not the best that I've ever had, but it was still pretty darn good.  The typical cheese "curds" were more saucy than I had anticipated, but I still enjoyed it a lot.  I tried not to devour the entire pile by myself, which proved easier said than done.


My Ginger Sister, Momma and AJNO arrived just as I was spreading the poutine around to make it seem as though I hadn't eaten as much as I did.  As they got themselves situated, our server asked for their drink orders.  As Ginger Sister said "I'll have..." our server darted away and said she'd be back with water.  It was loud in the restaurant, so it isn't difficult to see why she didn't hear Ginger Sister's request for a beverage, but her departure from the table did seem a bit hasty.

We then were tasked with the choice of choosing our meals.  Emporio's menu gives diners the option to choose from various types of meatballs (beef, turkey, veggie, pork) and a wide array of sauces, including classic marinara and the more daring Tzatziki.  My Momma ordered a panini with beef meatballs and marinara.  


AJNO ordered two sliders: one with a beef meatball and marinara and another with a turkey meatball and spinach-almond pesto.  



Ginger Sister and I decided to get a bowl of four "saucy balls" over creamy parmesan macaroni and cheese. I opted for original beef and marinara, while Ginger Sister got turkey and pesto, then we traded. 

    My saucy balls


Our faces were quickly buried into our meals as soon as the server departed.  I tend to be leery of restaurant marinara, as I don't like chunks, but I was not disappointed in Emporio's sauce.  It was smooth, mixed nicely with the parmesan macaroni and the meatballs were pretty massive.  The turkey meatballs were good and seasoned with tasty herbs, but I was not overly thrilled with the pesto.  I make homemade pesto fairly often and, not to toot my own horn, but I prefer my version to what Emporio served.  

My Momma and AJNO enjoyed their sandwiches and did not seem to have much trouble finishing them.  Ginger Sister and I were a bit overzealous in thinking we could eat four meatballs, plus macaroni and cheese, but we fought a good battle.  

Part way through my meal, I realized that the spoonful of macaroni in my mouth was also featuring something hard and foreign.  Channeling Miss Manners, I did not make a spectacle of spitting the object onto the table, but discreetly removed it from my mouth for examination.  We all decided that it was a sliver of wood, likely from a wooden spoon.  

We alerted our server who quickly blamed a toothpick, until I assured her that the toothpick stuck into my meatball was 100 percent in tact.  She took the wooden piece to the kitchen where the cook concurred that it was part of a spoon.  Our server assured us that my part of the bill would be removed and we happily placed an order of warm ricotta donuts with hot fudge for dessert.  

I wish that I can say that there was time to photograph the donuts... But alas.  We tore into those suckers so fast that only traces of powdered sugar remained.  None of us had ever eaten ricotta donuts and we were not disappointed. The donuts were more like donut holes, but similar to Emporio's meatballs, the donuts were pretty large...  And delicious.  

With bellies full of balls and donuts, we asked for our separate bills and our server quickly delivered.  Expecting to see a minimal charge on my sales slip, I instead saw an almost $30 charge and realized that my dinner had not been removed. We questioned our server who said that the macaroni portion of the meal ($4) HAD been removed... But I still had to pay for my meatballs and sauce ($11).  It seemed a little off-putting, considering my dinner had a chunk of wood in it, but it wasn't worth becoming too agitated.  We paid and departed.  

The Little Mermaid was a great show with a talented cast, crew and orchestra.  We had a great time and Ginger Sister greatly enjoyed seeing her Disney likeness on stage.  Hunk of wood aside, both the show and the evening's dinner were excellent and I will think of Emporio's meatballs fondly.  Eventually, I'd like to explore Sienna Mercato's other floors, but for now, I'll have to reminisce about poutine, mermaids, and eating my saucy balls with a dingle hopper. 



Sunday, January 4, 2015

On a Roll

Small town innovation is inspiring.  Though I've lived in Carnegie only a short while, I can see that the city is improving and taking steps to become not just a place to reside, but a place to live.  A place to build a home and a place to instill a sense of community.  

As someone who grew up in a small rural town, I have always appreciated the community feel; however, my hometown does not have a lot to offer in terms of social activities, unique eateries, and proximity to anything.  It is 30 minutes to the nearest Starbucks and I still remember the town's hype during the construction of a new Arby's.  

While I would not consider Carnegie's changes as urban gentrification, the area is certainly receiving a make-over worthy of Clinton Kelly's praise.  You can read more about the updates in NEXT Pittsburgh's article: 

http://www.nextpittsburgh.com/neighborhoods/carnegie/carnegie-roll/?utm_source=NEXTpittsburgh&utm_campaign=44ea306305-111811_18_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_aadbffa18f-44ea306305-170638781

I frequent a few of the gems nestled along Carnegie's Main Street, including Carnegie Coffee Company and Slice on Broadway, but last night, Boyfriend and I were invited by his sister, Joanna the Fierce, to eat at Kasai, a newly opened Japanese and sushi restaurant.  Kasai opened in August and since its opening, I have often thought "I should try that place," but had not done so until last night.  Joanna has ordered take-out and was eager to enjoy a sit-in meal.  

Armed with our trusty six pack carrier (Kasai is BYOB), Boyfriend, Joanna, their friend Meena and I walked into the empty restaurant and were greeted by our friendly server and the chef.  Kasai has a narrow layout, but the staff is more than welcoming and we were given menus immediately.

I am allergic to shellfish, don't like seafood, and am afraid of vegetables.  Needless to say, I'm not a sushi fan, but I was planning to order a teriyaki dish with rice; however, entree meals come with rice, soup, salad, and mixed vegetables.  That was a quantity of food that I was not prepared to tackle.  After questioning our server, I learned that Kasai's avocado roll is exactly the type of sushi that I would enjoy: avocado and seaweed wrapped in rice. It was very basic, but sounded right up my alley.  I ordered a cup of miso soup and an avocado roll. 


We waited a short time until our soup arrived, steaming and hot.  The tofu pieces were small, which I appreciated after having bad experiences with huge tofu chunks in the past.  We all slurped down our soup and Boyfriend and Company enjoyed an appetizer of edamame while we waited for our sushi.


My avocado roll, while rather basic, was delicious.  The seaweed added a bit of chewy texture, but the rice was perfect and the avocado fresh,  I ended up ordering another roll before my plate was empty.


Boyfriend ordered the Philadelphia and Chicago rolls, both involving cream cheese and fish.  He preferred the Philadelphia roll, but said that he greatly enjoyed both types.  


Joanna ordered two types of rolls, which I do not recall the names of, but do remember hat one type featured "five fishes," per the menu.  The presentation was pretty and Joanna offered no complaints about her meal.  


Meena was also presented with an aesthetically pleasing platter offering three types of vegetable rolls.  We devoured our sushi and began eyeing up the dessert menu, featuring mocci, a bizarre dessert that was similar to ice cream, but that was enclosed in a chewy shell.  It is difficult to describe, but we all had mango and strawberry flavors and we all ended up scraping the ice cream out of the casing.  Mocci is not a dessert that I'll try again, but I appreciated trying something new.  With our checks, we were presented with small Hello Kitty shaped marshmallows filled with chocolate.  Joanna and I enjoyed these quite a bit, oddly enough, and ate them in one bite. 

With our bellies full of delicious sushi, we decided that the best way to end our night would be with a visit to Apis Meadery, which is also located along Main Street and a short distance from Kasai.  I had been to Apis on multiple occasions and gave several bottles of mead for Christmas, but this was Boyfriend's, Joanna's and Meena's first times.  

Apis brewmasters developed a honey house mead, Dorsata, and have used that base to create a variety of fruit or spice based flavors.  I ordered a glass of passion fruit mead, while Boyfriend opted for the sweet raspberry blackberry variety.  Meena ordered a glass of winter warmer (a limited time drink) and Joanna opted for a flight to sample several varieties.  In my experience with Apis, I've yet to taste a mead I didn't like. 



Apis has a low-key vibe, with shelves of board games and walls covered in original art by Joe Deck, who also designed the bottle labels.  Joanna and I selected a game, Fact or Crap, from the selection and we played a rousing game before Boyfriend was deemed the winner.  We followed up with more mead and a game of Cards Against Humanity before we realized that it was 11:20 p.m. and Apis closes at 11 p.m.  

We ventured off to our respective homes, feeling sleepy, but in a good way.  I intend on returning to Kasai and enjoying more avocado roll in the future.  I will definitely be returning to Apis to replenish my mead supply. I have lived in Carnegie for little more than three years and I look forward to fueling future growth by supporting local businesses, experiencing the community, and drinking more mead. Lots and lots of mead.




Friday, December 26, 2014

All I Want For Christmas Is A Napkin

It has been a little less than a year since Boyfriend and I decided that we should start documenting our Pittsburgh culinary adventures through this blog. Throughout 2014, we have sampled, among other food items, many a burger with high hopes and often disappointing endings.  

As 2014 is quickly coming to an end, Boyfriend and I are still on the prowl for the best burger in town.  Tonight, this hunt led us to the newly opened BRGR in the South Hills.  With this recent addition, there are now three BRGR locations, with the original in East Liberty.  There is also a BRGR food truck that roams the streets seeking those in need of mobile meat.  

Several years ago, I dined at the East Liberty BRGR with my dear friend Stemstar and recalled interesting burger combinations, hard milkshakes and "beertails." Tonight, Boyfriend and I approached the restaurant with eager hearts and rumbling bellies. 

The new BRGR is conveniently located within the Galleria of Mount Lebanon, for which I was thankful when we were given an hour and 15 minute wait time. I wasn't surprised, considering this was not only a Friday evening, but also the Friday following Christmas.  We walked around the mall (stopping for me to drool all over Le Creuset cookware at Williams-Sonoma) and our lengthy wait period seemed to fly by quickly.  

Once we received our table readiness notification call, Boyfriend and I were ushered to a small table for two in the noisy restaurant.  Patrons seemed to be having a good time and enjoying their meals, so I was excited to order.  Our server approached the table while Boyfriend and I scoured the draft list.  We ordered water (with lemon for Boyfriend) and two beers - Southern Tier Pumpking for Boyfriend and Full Pint Brewing's Festivus for me.  I don't remember our server's name, but I do not know if that is because she never told us or because I had not heard it over the noise, but she was friendly enough and started out well.  

Soon, she came back over to let us know that my choice, Festivus, was no more.  She suggested a popular beer, Evil Genius Purple Monkey, which is a chocolate peanut butter stout.  I figured that the chances of my liking this beer enough to order a full glass were slim, but I was curious, so our server brought a sample.  My intuition was correct (peanut butter beer is not my thing) and because our server was unable to describe any other beer on the list, I settled for a hard root beer.  

With the the taste of Jif still lingering, I realized that we didn't yet have our water.  When our server came back with my drink, we placed our Build Your Own Burger orders and I reminded her of the water.  She left and I watched her check in with several other tables before meandering to the bar for our water.  When she finally brought it over, Boyfriend's was without lemon, as specifically requested. It was a small snafu, but annoying nonetheless. 

After a rather short wait, another server approached our table with a tray, threw the burger baskets on the table and turned without another word.  Prompt service, but not very curteous, I'm afraid.  Jerk waitress aside, everything looked good and I was ready to dive in. 

I am a burger-cutter. Always have been and always will be; however, it is difficult to cut a burger when you don't have silverware.  We looked for our server, who had vanished since bringing the water, but to no avail.  Finally after a few minutes, Boyfriend got up, went to an empty table, and took the napkin-wrapped silverware for our use without any sign of our server.  

    
I ordered a medium-cooked angus beef burger on a brioche bun with white cheddar cheese, topped with bacon and sliced avocado.  For my side, I ordered Cajun tots, which came a heaping pile.  Had I known what a huge quantity of tots was waiting for me, I would have shared a side with Boyfriend. 


The tots were sprinkled with a Cajun spice blend, which I liked a lot.  Boyfriend thought that they were too salty, but "too much salt" is a complaint that rarely leaves my mouth.  I picked up half of my burger with anticipation, bit into it, and thought "ehhh." The burger was fine.  It was certainly nothing to write home about, but nothing to throw on the floor and then flip the table in blind rage about either.  It was just kind of there.  The bacon was average and the bun was decent. I left about a quarter of the burger, but I did put up a good fight against the tots.  The meat was more medium well than medium, but not enough that I cared to send it back.  

Boyfriend's burger was dry aged bison meat on brioche topped with smoked cheddar, mushrooms and bacon, with a side of Parmesan fries. 


The fries were not very exciting.  They were below average fries that were supposed to be fancy with shaved Parmesan and herbs, but even cheese couldn't make this side remarkable.  

Boyfriend experienced some difficulty in consuming his burger, as everytime that he tried to take a bite, the meat slid around on the bun and threatened to jump ship.  In all of our burger endeavors, I think it is safe to say that BRGR offered the greasiest burgers.  Mine was not as bad as Boyfriend's, but he had some slime  issues.  

A few bites into his sandwich and Boyfriend suddenly realized that his burger was missing a very important ingredient... Bacon.  Again, he looked for our server, who had vanished and whom I can only assume was hiding in a closet somewhere eating Boyfriend's lemons and bacon.  He kept eating and by the time she did return, it was pointless to request it.  We let her know of the missing meat and requested that the additional bacon charge be taken from our check.  

We finished our meals without much enthusiasm and without any rushed desire to return.  Tots were good, burger was whatever, and service was flakey, although I do have concerns about the number of missing items throughout our meal.  Seems like BRGR may have a lemon, bacon, napkin, silverware, and server thief on staff.  

Our experience at the Galleria BRGR can be summed up in my initial first-bite reaction.  Ehhh.  Boyfriend and I will continue in 2015 on our quest for Pittsburgh's best burger and to replace the "ehhh" with "mmmmm." 





Saturday, November 8, 2014

Once Constantinople

Fun fact about Boyfriend's family: his youngest sibling is an amazingly talented belly dancer.  She performs not only throughout our city of Pittsburgh, but also travels across the country and in some cases, across seas, to practice. 

This weekend, Joanna was set to perform Friday night at Istanbul Sofra, a restaurant nestled along Forbes Avenue in Pittsburgh's Regent Square neighborhood.  This performance happened to coincide with Boyfriend's mother's husband's birthday, so a celebratory dinner of delicious Mediterranean fare was obvious. 

This was both my and Boyfriend's first times visiting Istanbul Sofra and I was unsure of what to expect.  While I have been better with expanding my tastebuds, I am still not very adventurous when it comes to cuisine.  My disdain for vegetables is a huge road block in finding ethnic food that I'll enjoy, but I approached our visit to Istanbul Sofra with curiosity.  

The restaurant is decently sized and had a moderate crowd for a Friday night.  The hostess was extremely friendly and quickly seated Boyfriend and I at our reserved table while we waited for the rest of the family to arrive.  The space is nicely decorated with Turkish influence and gorgeous light fixtures dangled from the ceiling.


We later found out that the lanterns are imported from Turkey through a company called Leyla's Lanterns and are available for sale online and through Etsy. They can be shipped directly to Istanbul Sofra for pick up.  The pretty fixtures added to the overall ambiance of the restaurant and made me even more eager to try some of the menu items.

Upon the arrival of Boyfriend's mom and her husband, we poured some wine (Istanbul Sofra is BYOB) and ordered a large mixed platter, which is a combination of cold appetizers.  We were soon presented with a pretty presentation of hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and spicy ezme salad (chopped tomatoes and peppers with Turkish spices) with a basket of soft, warm pita.  We dominated the plate before anyone thought to take a photo, so you'll just have to take my word for it that the appetizer platter looked and tasted deliciously.  

For our entrees, Boyfriend's family opted for the chicken mixed grill platter, which featured chicken kebab, chicken Adana, and chicken kofte kebab.  This was served with rice and grilled vegetables.  Both Boyfriend and I ordered Iskender kebab, sliced lamb in Turkish spices served on pita with a tomato and yogurt sauce.  I felt that I could easily handle lamb on pita and prepared for a gyro-esque meal. 

While we waited, the night's entertainment began her belly dancing performance.  Boyfriend's sister weaved in-and-out of the tables to impress the diners, stopping occasionally to give personal attention to her admirers.  She always impresses me and I encourage anyone in the city to seek out her solo performances or those with her company, Third Street Belly Dance.  

    Joanna the Fierce

Well into Joanna's set, our dinners arrived to the table and I was surprised to see that Iskender kebab was not served as a gyro, as I was anticipating.  Instead, what we got was, for lack of a better word, a deconstructed gyro. 


The lamb and tomato sauce was laid on a bed of pita bread pieces and bordered with the yogurt.  I took a forkful of meat and pita, then swirled it through the sauces before taking a bite. Deliciousness. Pure deliciousness.  The lamb was juicy and tender, while the two sauces combined for an unexpected blend of flavors.  The soaked pita was chewy and soft.  Everything about this meal blended so nicely and so interestingly; I devoured almost all of it while Boyfriend the champ left nothing behind but a few smears of sauces. 


Boyfriend's mom and the Birthday Boy shared their large platter of various chicken dishes, each spiced with Middle Eastern flare.  I tried some of their chicken Adana, ground chicken marinated in Turkish spices, and it was very tasty.  

After we stuffed ourselves and declared our bellies full, we quickly changed our tunes as our exceedingly sweet server brought a dessert tray.  Each couple ordered a dessert to share.  Revani for Boyfriend's family and Kazandibi for us.  


Revani is a semolina cake with orange syrup glaze and walnuts.  I did not sample this treat, but it looked good.  My and Boyfriend's dessert was a milk pudding with a carmelised sugar coating.  It was so incredibly sweet, but I honestly think that I could have devoured the whole thing myself.  It would have been in poor form to lick the plate, so I refrained. 

The performance ended and Joanna sat down to enjoy her meal of soup and Mediterranean salad while the rest of us sunk into food comas.  Despite my "what will I find to eat" attitude going into Istanbul Sofra, I left with a happy belly and a new spot to visit if ever I find myself in Regent Square.  

The pretty decor, the attentive and genuinely kind staff, along with the palet pleasing menu makes Istanbul Sofra a must-visit for anyone seeking Mediterranean cuisine and a great atmosphere.

... And I may be a bit biased, but the entertainment was also fabulous. 










Sunday, November 2, 2014

Spooky Supper


Throughout the month of October, Boyfriend and I like to partake in all things spooky, including ghost tours, scary movies, and dog walks through Carnegie Park's Trail of Terror (really not that terrifying, but it amuses me nonetheless). 

    Marley, Zombaby and me at the Trail of Terror

During a Mount Washington ghost tour last year courtesy of Haunted Pittsburgh, we learned about the ghost of a woman named Mrs. Soffel who haunts the Shiloh Grill.  Kate Soffel was the wife of the Allegheny County Jail's warden in the early 1900s, but as we were told during our ghost tour, she aided two prisoners in escaping the jail and was ultimately persecuted herself upon their capture.  The ghost of Kate Soffel is said to haunt not only the jail, but also her post-prison home, which now houses the Shiloh Grill. 

Since first hearing the tale of Mrs. Soffel, Boyfriend and I have twice enjoyed haunted beverages at the restaurant, but we opted to have a full dinner last night with a side of ghost hunting.  After circling the block a few times in search of a parking space, we arrived to find a pretty full house, but readily available seating at the bar.  The ambiance of the Shiloh Grill is relaxed, but eclectic with wart hog head mounts on the walls and portraits of Mrs. Soffel in the hallway.  It definitely seems like the type of restaurant that would have a ghost host.

We found bar stools and perused the drink menu, which features seasonal options such as the pumpkin pie martini and pumpkin sangria.  The bartender immediately approached and asked me what I would like to drink. After mentioning that I was still pondering, he remarked upon my iPhone case and picked it up to get a better look at the design, then offered me a sample of the pumpkin sangria, plus two more samples of Southern Tier's Warlock and a pumpkin beer.  

Just as I was thinking about what an attentive and amiable bartender he was, I noticed a distinctly disgruntled-looking Boyfriend.  I then realized that while I was being given several drink samples, Boyfriend had not even been greeted.  A similar, albeit reversed, situation had occurred to us at Hough's months prior, but as I was the one being ignored, Boyfriend had merely shrugged it off with an "I thought the server was nice!" Now, however, he was the one pouting and grumbling about being ostrasized (much to my amusement). 

We each selected a Southern Tier beer (Pumking for Boyfriend and Warlock for me), then relocated to a bar table, where Boyfriend continued to lament treatment by the bro of a bartender who described hockey as "not a real sport," which may have been more upsetting to Boyfriend than the lack of service.  You can give his girlfriend too much attention while offering none for him, but don't you dare insult the great Sidney Crosby in front of Boyfriend, evil bartender. 

To make up for the bartender, our friendly server, Janine, then came over and took our order of the goat in a boat, a cold feta and red pepper dip served with pita. As a huge feta fan, I enjoyed the salty, briney dip a lot, but did feel that we could have benefited from a bit more pita.  I'm sure that we could've requested more, but I wanted to save room for the main course.


After questioning Janine about any of her personal Mrs. Soffel sightings (she had none), Boyfriend and I ordered our dinners: Imagine the Rastabilities Macaroni and Cheese for me and, with guidance from Janine, fish tacos for Boyfriend. 

The Shiloh Grill has an entire menu section devoted to "The Macaronis and the Cheeses," which I appreciate as a true mac and cheese addict.  There are some great options, including lobster macaroni and cheese and flat iron steak macaroni and cheese.  Tonight, spicy jerk chicken and macaroni just sounded right.  

    Imagine the Rastabilities Mac and Cheese

We didn't wait long for our meals to be delivered to the table by friendly staff members.  I didn't hesitate before diving into my delectable plate of steaming cheesy goodness.  The sauce was a cheddary (it was so good that I'm inventing adjectives) bechamel sauce that was creamy and delicious.  The jerk chicken was spicy, but not overly spicy to ruin the meal.  It did help clear up my sinuses, which is a plus. 

   Fish Tacos with Quinoa and Vegetables

After chortling at the idea of ordering fish tacos, Boyfriend began his meal.  The tacos were topped with kale slaw and pico de gallo, then served with corn quinoa and a vegetable mix. Boyfriend described his meal as "okay," with nothing standing out as a special feature.  He said that it was flavorful, but just was not a flavor that he particularly enjoyed.  

We finished our dinner, packed up leftovers, and made one last attempt at luring the evasive Mrs. Soffel. Rumor has it that she frequents the upstairs, which is where the restrooms are located, so we climbed the stairs to feign bathroom use and call out to the Shiloh spirit.  

We did not see our girl Kate, but we did awkwardly stare at other diners upstairs and looked at the Mrs. Soffel memorabilia on the walls.  Overall, I like the Shiloh Grill for its ambiance, cool story, friendly staff and profusion of macaroni and cheese options.  Dinner there was a good way to close October and welcome a new month.  I'm sure that Boyfriend and I will be back next year to enjoy some drinks and macaroni with Mrs. Soffel.  Until then, rest in peace, Kate.