Sunday, April 13, 2014

Localvore

For those of you not familiar with Pittsburgh and it's many neighborhoods, there exists a land inhabited by a vast cocktail of characters. There are indie hipsters.  There are drunken frat boys.  There are Woo Girls. In the warm summer months, there are homeless Rastafarian teens with dogs living on the streets eating gyros.  Welcome to the South Side.

The South Side is most well-known for East Carson Street, a stretch of restaurants, shops, and a few scattered boutiques... But most people come for the bars.  It's dirty, loud and shameful, but sometimes, it just feels right.  It seems that there is a bar for everyone, no matter their personality, whether they're seeking dance clubs, pool halls, or jungle-themed hot spots.  Seemingly, the South Side has an offering for anyone... Until you go there with your parents. 

When I was growing up, I was attached at the hip to a neighbor that we'll call Tata (a nickname she gave herself at the age of three).  We were the same age (two months and three days apart), in the same class, and spent a huge chunk of our childhoods together.  As we transitioned through high school, we found our own groups of friends, but attempted to maintain the obligatory friendship based on memories and my mom's wishes, despite having limited shared interests.  During college, she found an internship in L.A. and decided to relocate there following her graduation.  I haven't seen her in years. 

Recently, however, Tata has decided to move back to Pennsylvania just in time for her mother's 60th birthday.  When planning a party for one's 60-year-old mother, it only makes sense to do so in a rat den of a South Side bar like the Smiling Moose,  right? (Commence eye rolls now)

My mother, sister and I decided to attend the party in the South Side; but as neither my mom nor my sister had ever stepped foot on East Carson, I was a bit concerned. To ease them into an evening on the South Side, I determined that we should have dinner beforehand and I asked Ginger Sister to choose between Urban Tap or Local Bar + Kitchen. She opted for Local.  

I had been there before for brunch and experienced decent food and service with a relaxed Sunday vibe.  I hadn't anticipated that a mid-day dinner vibe would be the polar opposite.  Despite reserving a roof top table, my sister, parents and I were crammed into a corner table next to a group of rowdy day-drinkers cheering on the Penguins.  

The server seemed confused by the fact that we weren't drinking alcohol, but was still curteous and initially attentive.  We skipped on appetizers and shouted our orders to the server, trying to be heard over the roaring crowd at the bar.  I blame myself for the noise factor, as I should have known not to base a restaurant environment on brunch experience alone.  Brunch is a whole different animal.

While we waited for our food, we were able to watch the South Side passersby, which added an entertainment factor needed due to lack of conversation for want of a quiet environment.  Dogs with Mohawks, women dressed like hookers and dudes in tank tops shuffled past the open window restaurant and on to their bars of choice.  

Our food arrived within a reasonable timeframe and looked good. I ordered loaded pierogie, which sadly seemed to have been made directly from a Mrs. T's box. The subpar pierogie was topped with cheddar, bacon, green onions and sour cream.  Had the pierogie been homemade, this meal would have been fantastic. 


My parents and Ginger Sister ordered burgers.  Dad ordered the Pittsburgher, topped with carmelised onions, a fried egg and cheese, while Momma ordered a basic cheeseburger.  Ginger Sister was a bit more adventurous with the Mexican War Street Burger, topped with guacamole, pico de gallo and pepper jack cheese.  Everyone who received a burger also ordered sweet potato fries and they all enjoyed their meals.  

    Mexican War Street Burger

It wasn't until after our food arrived that our server seemed to disappear.  She returned a few times to take a plate or two, but must have thought that the family without alcoholic beverages was enjoying quality time with the cursing drunkards next door, because it took her ages to return with the check.  When she did, we made our way out to the busy sidewalks before beginning our trek to the Smiling Moose for an anticipated awkward birthday party for a 60-year-old who refers to herself as a "Glitter Bitch" (and no, I don't know what that means either). 

Needless to say, we didn't last long at the Smiling Moose, with its sticky floors, bearded doorman and the party crew that was 30 minutes late to their own party.  Somethings will remain the same from childhood, like the fact that my family will always be early and Tata's family will always be inconsiderately late.  I was home before dark and enjoyed dramatically regaling the tale to Boyfriend before hunkering down for an evening of Orange is the New Black on Netflix.  

Contrary to my initial belief, the South Side is not for everyone, at least not on a beautiful spring day during an afternoon Penguins Day.  For family outings, it's best to stick with South Side Works or Local brunch.  Keep your parents away from the drunkards and keep the Rastafarian teens away from your parents. 


Local Bar + Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Flashbacks

When I was in seventh grade, I played the clarinet and was selected to participate in an honors band comprised of students from neighboring school districts.  The performance was cause for a new outfit worthy of a star clarinet player, so one Saturday, my mom and I went shopping.  We stopped first at Monroeville's Park Diner, owned by Eat 'n Park, and enjoyed bacon cheese burgers, fries and cherry cokes.

Approximately 30 minutes later, I was doubled over in a JC Penney dressing room with pain in my stomach similar to what I can only assume being stabbed repeatedly with a samurai sword feels like.  My mom and I hurriedly found the nearest restroom, where I threw up everything that I had eaten since the age of three.  At the time, it was horrifying, but the tale eventually became just another anecdote in the series of inappropriate places that I've vomited.  

I vowed never to return to Park Diner and managed to avoid those stomach pains for the next 13 years... Until last night.

As I mentioned previously, Boyfriend and I are obsessed with O'Fallon Brewery's Cherry Chocolate beer.  Unfortunately, it is seasonal and most distributors in Pittsburgh no longer carry it; however, we found the last two remaining cases being held at a distributor in the Squirrell Hill/Homestead area.  We decided that since we were going to be in the area, it would be a good evening to stop for dinner and beer at Hough's, a bar-restaurant in Pittsburgh's Greenfield neighborhood with an amazing beer selection.  Hough's features 70 beers on draft and has even more bottled offerings, plus your typical bar food.  I'd been there once before, but only had drinks, while Boyfriend had never been there before.  We were feeling some burgers, so Boyfriend and I made it our mission to enjoy some great burgers and plentiful beer.

We came upon Greenfield Avenue and saw Hough's.... But absolutely no parking.  We circled for seemingly ages until we finally found a spot a few blocks away.  It's hard to imagine living in an area with such limited parking.

We walked into noisy Hough's, which was surprisingly bustling for 7:30 p.m. We expected that the crowds wouldn't build until later and there wasn't a vacant tabletop in sight.  It was not clear if we were to seat ourselves or wait for a hostess, so Boyfriend circled the place for a free table, while I creepily mean-mugged a nearby table full of people who gave the illusion of leaving soon, but to no avail.

We eventually gave in to sitting at the packed bar and reviewed the extensive draft list.  My eyes immediately zeroed in on Southern Tier's Creme Brûlée milk stout, which I hadn't had since fall and have been missing.  I ordered that, while boyfriend ordered two sample sizes of a chocolate stout and a pineapple wheat beer.  Before our beers arrived, a table cleared and Boyfriend pushed and shoved his way over to claim it as our own.  We set up there and put in an order of soft pretzels while we scoured the menu.  



Our server seemed a bit frenzied, and honestly, I couldn't blame her, as the bar was packed; however, I won't accept that as an excuse to offer shoddy service.  She never introduced herself, so I have no clue what her name was, and she had a habit of rapidly taking empty glasses without bothering to ask if we wanted another, then just disappearing.  We had to be the ones to ask her for another beer, which I found obnoxious.  

The soft pretzels were crispy and served with beer cheese and ground mustard.  I liked the pretzels and we had no problem polishing off the cup of beer cheese.  For dinner, both Boyfriend and I settled on bacon cheeseburgers and opted for tator tots, rather than standard fries.  I ordered another Creme Brûlée, feeling hopeful that things would get better as dinner continued.




At this point, Boyfriend was ready for two more sample beers and flagged down our server to put in his request.  She was carrying a stack of dirty plates, so Boyfriend politely said "when you have a moment, I'd like to order more beer." She then PUT THE DIRTY PLATES ON OUR TABLE to take his order.  My eyes must have bulged out of my head as she said "no, no, I can get them now," and put the remnants of other people's dinner next to my water glass.  I bit my tongue while Boyfriend placed his order, but he could feel the repulsion that was emanating from my every pore.  He tried to find positive aspects of our server, but as far as I could tell, Boyfriend only liked her because she was very smiley ONLY when she talked to him.

Eventually, our food was delivered and we eagerly began to devour our burgers and tots.  



The burger and tots looked good.  They really did.  I hadn't had tots in such a long time, so I was pleased with the crispy little bits of potatoes from childhood and the kitchen gave us a hefty amount.  Then I tried my burger.  The menu-promoted "secret sauce" tasted like thousand island dressing poured from an economy sized tub and the meat had absolutely no seasoning.  It was a bland hunk of cow on a semi-decent bun with chewy bacon.  

Both Boyfriend and I ordered our burgers cooked medium, but we both received well-done, which I honestly didn't even notice until Boyfriend pointed it out.  I was too distracted by everything else wrong about this burger.  I choked down half of it and was slowly turning nauseated.  I kept noticing other upsetting things about the restaurant, like the fact that I could see into the kitchen from our table and it looked filthy, and how every time our server wanted to take a plate or refill a glass, she reached right across my face to the point that I could have bitten her elbow.  

Boyfriend ate most of his burger, but wasn't impressed with the lack of flavor. He was just hungry.  My food was boxed up, even though I knew that I'd never eat it again and wouldn't even offer it to my dogs.  We left and had plans to meet up for a friend's birthday party closer to home, but as we drove through Pittsburgh, I knew we wouldn't be making the party.  The stabbing pain from seventh grade returned and it was pissed.  I sat in silence with a grimace on my face while boyfriend drove as quickly as possible without crashing.  We pulled in the driveway, I got out and walked quickly to the bathroom, where I proceded to vomit everything I've eaten since seventh grade after the Park Diner incident.  

In each of these instances, I was the only one nauseated by the food, so perhaps my digestive system is especially sensitive. Or perhaps my digestive system is just especially sensitive to crappy burgers.  Either way, I can say with confidence that Hough's has earned itself a spot right next to Park Diner on my list of places never to eat again.  I'd go back for drinks only, but will favor restaurants that take more pride in their cuisine instead of focusing solely on their beer selection.  

So, Hough's, kudos to you for your beer selection, but for the love of everything that is holy... Call Chef Irvine, get yourselves on Restaurant Impossible, and let him hire you a new cook.

Hough's on Urbanspoon 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Give My Regards to Broadway

This past week, Boyfriend received the awesome news that he's been accepted to the highly competitive doctoral program at one of the city's top universities.  It was a stressful process that will lead to Boyfriend taking a huge and exciting step in his career and life.  Clearly, this proud moment called for a celebration.

I told Boyfriend to choose anywhere for dinner for a celebratory meal and he opted for some "good pizza." Boyfriend and I have been searching the city for pizza in delivering proximity that can be our go-to for lazy weekends.  We've been through several options, but have yet to find that perfect blend of chewy crust, ample cheese and delicious accompanying breadsticks (the breadsticks are VERY IMPORTANT). 

We turned to our trusty deck of City Dining Cards (handy little cards offering discounts to local Pittsburgh restaurants) for pizza places around us and decided upon Slice on Broadway in Pittsburgh's Beechview neighborhood.  I had Slice once before when my employer ordered it for a department lunch.  I recalled that the menu featured some creative speciality pizzas, along with classic favorites, but I didn't feel that I was able to give Slice a fair shot during a working lunch. It's hard to focus on taste when you're typing, on the phone, and chewing simultaneously.  

   Photo courtesy of Slice on Broadway's Facebook page

Slice on Broadway doesn't offer much in the way of available tables, but the upstairs has undergone a recent renovation to include additional seating and a television.  The staff was exceedingly friendly as we walked in and that customer service continued throughout the evening.  Slice offers a beer selection, but also allows BYOB.  As Boyfriend and I have found a new obsession in O'Fallon Brewery's Cherry Chocolate Beer, we brought our own six-pack, which we carried upstairs to the dining room.  We had to ask a few times for a bottle opener, but the staff was quick and courteous in supplying one, which we probably should have thought to bring ourselves. 



I do feel the need to mention that the floors were extremely slippery! At first, I blamed my boots with lack of tread; however, Boyfriend's feet were sliding, as well, and our friends whom arrived moments later also commented on the dangerously slippery floors.  They weren't wet from snow outside or spilled drinks... Just slippery.  

The upstairs space is not sprawling, but it's easy to see that Slice's owners have done the best with what they have.  The chairs were pleasantly comfortable with plump cushions and the area was very clean.  

While we looked over the menu, we ordered breadsticks to quiet our bellies while we debated on what pizza to order.  The cheesy breadsticks were thin, hard and chewy, more like a pizza crust than a soft breadstick, like Boyfriend and I prefer.  I'm not sure it's an appetizer that I'd order again from Slice.  

The pizza selection is great and I enjoyed the personal and comedic touches throughout the menu, such as "if you order half a topping, you'll only be charged for half a topping.  That's just how we roll."  To me, that shows that the owners care about their customers and do this out of sheer enjoyment.  It's not a stuffy establishment.  It's fun for the sake of fun and pizza.

We finally settled on three types of pizza: half of a mushroom (Boyfriend's standard pie), half of The Athena, and a whole Fancy Pants.  To order, we had to go back downstairs (carefully, so as not to wipe out on the slippery floors) and pay upon ordering.  Certainly different than most restaurants, but if you don't mind getting up, then it's not too big of an inconvenience.  We did not wait long until our hot pizzas were brought to our table to devour.


While I didn't sample the mushroom pizza, it appeared to hold plentiful amounts of fresh mushrooms nicely distributed.  Boyfriend seemed to enjoy it quite a bit and had more than one slice.  The Athena is a white pizza topped with baby spinach, tomatoes, and feta; Boyfriend's sister, J.A. requested added artichoke to the pie.  Again, I didn't try this pizza, but Boyfriend, J.A. and M.W. all enjoyed it.  J.A. did comment, however, that the pizza could have used more cheese.  

We also ordered my choice, the Fancy Pants.  This pie featured pesto, prosciutto, sundried tomatoes, baby spinach and goat cheese.  I thought that this pie was absolutely delicious and had a great blend of unexpected flavors.  The prosciutto was subtle and not overwhelming, while the goat cheese wasn't overly pungent, but certainly made itself known.  We all agreed that Fancy Pants was awesome.



We had plenty of pizza to divide and take home at the end of dinner.  Boyfriend and I aren't convinced that Slice on Broadway will be our new go-to for our standard half-mushroom-half-plain pizza for those lazy Saturdays, but I will definitely be back for the speciality options, like the Fancy Pants.  The pizza is good, the customer service is great... Just watch those slippery floors so you don't fall and split your fancy pants.

SLICE on Broadway on Urbanspoon


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tapeworms

Sometimes I like to pretend that calories don't exist on the weekend.  Apparently, my friends K and J live by this same rule because this weekend was a display of some of the most shameful but satisfying binge eating that I've ever experienced... Well, at least in recent years.

I have been friends with K and J since seventh grade and we've grown up together creating a lot of memories.  We've been there through high school boyfriends, college woes, and K and I were excited to be part of J's wedding this past fall.  This weekend, we planned to get together for some shopping, ceramics at Color Me Mine and dining.  

K recently moved to Oakmont, PA, a quaint little town outside of Pittsburgh with charming shops and reputable eateries within walking distance to homes lined with cobblestone streets.  Upon my arrival to K's apartment, we all agreed that lunch needed to be the first order of the day.  We ventured to What's Cooking at Casey's, a small family-run diner featuring Italian fare with some classic American items, such as burgers and fries.  

K had been dreaming of the coconut chicken salad drizzled in raspberry vinaigrette dressing for 15 years (she REALLY meant a few weeks, but K likes to embellish), so both she and J ordered that.  As salad and I aren't friends, I opted for a cup of wedding soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.  K and J enjoyed their salads immensely and my soup was good; however, the sandwich was a bit lackluster.  I like a grilled cheese to have several cheeses and excellent bread, but Casey's was merely a slab of American between two sad slices of wheat bread. I wasn't impressed.

The day started out innocently, but upon finishing our lunches and proclaiming our inability to eat another bite, we meandered immediately to the famed Oakmont Bakery.  The Oakmont Bakery has been around since 1988 and offers gourmet pastries, intricately designed cakes, fresh breads and mouth-watering doughnuts.  Standing room was hard to come by, but we squeezed our ways in and each selected a cupcake.  I assumed these would be snacks for later, but when I saw K grabbing a tray with plates and forks, my appetitive bounded back and I was prepared to attack the innocent baked good.  I ordered a Pretty Woman, an almond cupcake filled with strawberry filling and topped with white buttercream frosting and pink ganache, then capped with a chocolate-covered strawberry. It made me want to treat it like a whore, fall in love with it, then climb its fire escape to win its strawberry-filled heart.  


K's cupcake was a white chocolate and raspberry-filled beauty, while J got a dessert that was essentially a brownie on top of a cheesecake.  After we all destroyed any trace of our desserts and stopped moaning at the deliciousness, we trekked to Squirrel Hill for afternoon ceramics at Color Me Mine.  While we painted, we casually discussed what we'd have for dinner, although we all pretended that we were still full from lunch and dessert, but I knew the truth.  

Squirrel Hill, while possessing a predominantly Jewish population,  also possesses a cultural melting pot of cuisine.  Chinese, Japanese, Italian, American... Heck, there's even a restaurant serving only Belgium waffles!  As we finished our pottery, a couple walked into the building eating the most curiously appealing dessert that we'd ever seen.  It looked like a bright Granny Smith apple on top of pastry.  Thoughts of actual dinner vanished while we creepily watched the girl eat her treat and contemplated where to find it.  We walked only a few feet before stumbling upon Gaby et Jules, a Parisian bakery located on Forbes Avenue.  We bounded inside and were greeted by "bonjour!" K, J and I took three years of French in high school, but none if us recall any phrases more than "may I go to my locker?" Even so, the evident gloriousness of Gaby et Jules seems universal and did not require knowledge of the language.  Cases of brightly colored macaroons and petit fours lined the bakery and we immediately found the apple dessert seen earlier. 


I suggested the purchase of croissants for breakfast the following day and while we paid, I noticed K also ordering a an apple dessert with a guilty (excited) smile.  We vowed that this treat would be delicately split three ways and enjoyed later.  We researched Gaby et Jules and found the backstory  of the patisserie interesting, with the head chef coming from Paris at the request of his friends and owners of Paris66.  

After leaving Gaby et Jules, we decided that viewing so many delicious items had refueled our appetites, so we made outer way to Minneo's Pizza.  Minneo's is a Pittsburgh staple and I've only known of one person who did not enjoy it (he's from Philadelphia, so is obviously a fool). J had never experienced Minneo's before and I assured her that she was in for a treat.  We ordered a small plain pizza (eight slices) and took our seats.  

Minneo's serves food on paper plates with plastic utensils.  Minneo's is a cash-only establishment.  Minneo's doesn't even have napkins on the tables, but Minneo's creates my favorite pizza in Pittsburgh, hands-down.  The crust is chewy and thin, the sauce is smooth and evenly distributed, and the cheese is plentiful.  So what if you need a stack of three paper plates to keep the grease from one slice off of the table?  It doesn't matter because Minneo's has produced pizza heaven continuously since 1958 and does so with speedy, friendly service.



K, J and I devoured two slices each and boxed up the remaining two pieces.  We headed back to Oakmont and before I could even remove my coat, K was slicing the Gaby et Jules apple dessert.  As if by miracle, my stomach said "feed me again!" and made room for dessert.  We all resumed our groans of "mmmmm" as we explored each layer of the dessert.  The "apple" was a green gel covered mound of custard resting upon a flaky cake filled with chunks of real apple.  It was delicious and we tried to pretend that the apples made it healthy.  The poor dessert didn't last long and we all sat back to digest our day of eating.  

Soon, we relocated ourselves to Oakmont's Carnivores, a sports bar and restaurant featuring a fairly impressive draft list.  I ordered an Atwater Vanilla Java Porter... Then another and another.  Clearly, I wanted to cap off my day of sugar, grease and goodness with the heaviest beer on the menu.  

The phrase is go big or go home, but we went even bigger when we got home and buried our faces in popcorn.  It was the kind of weekend that you don't want to admit to your significant other for fear of immediate repulsion.  It was the kind of weekend that horrifies your sister when you tell her everything that you ate.  It was the kind of weekend that makes you happy that you have great friends who enjoy the same things that you do and who will never judge you for always saving room for dessert.  

I also find it important to note that J, K and I are NOT giant wildebeests. We are normal sized girls who like to eat larger than normal sized portions.  As I said, go big or go home.




Saturday, February 15, 2014

LUV


Valentine's Day.

A day when the love that you share with your significant other throughout the year is exemplified and promoted.  A day when bouquets of flowers are so much more fragrant and boxes of chocolates taste so much sweeter. A day to celebrate true and undying love. Like so many others, Boyfriend and I also celebrated our true love... Our true love of melt-in-your-mouth filet mignon and a lovely restaurant called Bistro 19.

   Photo courtesy of Bistro 19's website

In four years of dating, Boyfriend and I have never really celebrated Valentine's Day. It has always fallen on inconvenient days of the week and we old souls tend to eat at home on school nights.  Since V-Day occurred on Friday this year, Boyfriend and I decided that it was time to celebrate, so we made reservations at Mount Lebanon's Bistro 19.  

We wound up at Bistro 19 for dinner a year ago when our favorite Italian restaurant had an extraordinarily lengthy wait duration for a table and we were too famished to delay.  On our first trip, I ordered the filet mignon with a rosemary demi glaze and Boursin crust.  With my first bite, I closed my eyes, moaned and immediately fell in love with the most tender piece of meat that I'd ever consumed.  After it was gone, I missed it.

This time around, I wanted to try something different.  Our reservation was at 8 p.m. and upon entering the restaurant, the hostess immediately guided us to our table for two.  We were pleased with the readiness of the table, as the restaurant was crowded with couples.  The restaurant is small and tables are close together, but aside from a rather noisy gentleman beside us, neither Boyfriend nor I felt overly confined.  

To start, we ordered an appetizer of lamb meatballs served over a bed of greens, farro salad, and covered in a feta sauce.  While we waited, Boyfriend and I nibbled on some hard Italian bread with a chive butter.  The bread was slightly warm, but not fantastic. I did enjoy the chive butter as a change from standard butter, but Boyfriend prefers it plain and disgustingly plentiful.

Our appetizer arrived just when we were reeling for some real food.  The dish was not at all what we were anticipating, based upon the menu description.  If there was feta involved, I didn't taste it.  The lamb meatballs were of an odd consistency, but not unappetizing.  The farro, a grain similar to risotto, was chewy and different.  I seemed to enjoy the farro more as I continued to eat it, but I became slightly bored of the meatballs.  It was okay, but I would not order it again.

After a seemingly lengthy wait, our entrees were brought to the table.  Boyfriend ordered the beloved filet mignon and just as I remembered, it looked like perfection.  The Boursin crusted cut of heaven was served alongside chive mashed potatoes and green beans. 


Boyfriend's first bite and involuntary moan of "mmmmmmm" was identical to my first bite a year ago.  He loved the tender medium-cooked meat and said that he hardly even required the accompanying steak knife.  Boyfriend also enjoyed the mashed potatoes, but said that the green beans were plain and underwhelming.  He graciously granted me two bites of filet, which I enjoyed more than a normal person should enjoy red meat.

To mix things up, I ordered the rack of lamb with a blackberry demi glaze, chive mashed potatoes and asparagus.  At some point between the appetizer and receiving my entree, I realized that I had no clue how to eat a rack of lamb.  I scolded myself internally for failing to google it before dinner, but decided that it would be completely inappropriate to do so at the dinner table.  I'd have to wing it.


The lamb was cooked medium and was very tender.  The glaze, while not obviously made of blackberry, was a nice subtly fruity contrast to the meat.  It was easy to cut the meat from the rib, since it was so tender and I didn't have to gnaw on the bone like a Valentine heathen.  The mashed potatoes were delicious and we all know that I didn't touch the asparagus.  Boyfriend tried it and said that the asparagus was boring and blandly seasoned.  

After practically licking our plates clean (except vegetables), Boyfriend and I couldn't even think about dessert, but our server brought our bill with two Nutella strawberry cookies, courtesy of the chef for Valentine's Day.  Boyfriend didn't care for his, but mine became a mere memory while waiting for our receipt.  

Bistro 19 did not disappoint for our first celebrated Valentine's Day.  The crowds were handled well, although the service was a bit slow.  Our server was pleasant and my water glass was never less than half-full.  The appetizer and the vegetables were nothing special, but the lamb was great and the filet... Oh, the filet.  The meat made the meal and it's why we will return again to Bistro 19. 

If loving red meat is wrong, I don't want to be right. 

Bistro 19 on Urbanspoon




Sunday, February 9, 2014

Cafe io

Now that my disgustingly debilitating illness has moved on to its next victim, I've abandoned my Jello diet and have begun eating solids again. The chewing motion was foreign at first, but now I'm chewing food all on my own and have been preparing meals, as well. Near pneumonia, you cannot defeat me!

Craving some socialization, I spent yesterday afternoon dining with AA and Stemstar, two of my favorite friends, at Mount Lebanon's Cafe io.  This was my first time there, but I had been dying to try it for awhile.

I met AA in seventh grade and still can't fathom how the quiet, timid scholar I met back then has developed into the tattooed wild child of present day. She is bright, holds a great job and works hard; however, AA has a social life that makes me laugh and shake my head simultaneously. I can't keep up with her and prefer to have her over to my house for dinner before she ventures out on the weekend evenings like the 21-year-old she thinks that she is.

Stemstar and I have been acting as one person since freshman year of college. We met during our first semester and ended up having several classes together, eventually moving in together, and confusing people on campus since day one. People were never quite sure if we were dating, friends, or the same person split between two cranky bodies.  Our professors tended to refer to us as one entity and one of my favorite quotes from senior year was that of a classmate who upon seeing us on campus after a night out at the bar together exclaimed "oh my god.... You're STILL together?!" 

AA and Stemstar were introduced while we were all in school and luckily for me, two of my favorite people clicked instantly and a lovely little threesome was born.  So, as I said, the three of us went to Cafe io for Saturday lunch. 

   Photo courtesy of Cafe io's Facebook page

Cafe io is located on Beverly Road in Mount Lebanon, a busy little shopping center with multiple eateries and coffee shops.  Parking is sparse, but luckily, a spot was vacated just as AA and I pulled up in front of the restaurant. At noon on Saturday, the restaurant was completely empty, so the waitstaff seemed eager to assist us quickly. The dining room is comfortable, has several seating options and a lot of natural light brought in by large window fronts.



I ordered ice water and a Bloody Mary while we waited for Stemstar to arrive.  The Bloody Mary was good and garnished with a single celery stalk and a skewer of olives. I enjoyed the drink, although I do prefer my Bloody Mary to be a bit spicier.  

Once Stemstar arrived, our server took our orders and was great with describing menu options with detail.  I ordered the ham and cheese pretzelwich, sliced ham piled on a pretzel bun and topped with Gouda, with honey mustard dipping sauce,  I have a sick adoration of pretzels and was in no position to choose anything else on the menu.  Pretzel buns always win, especially those featuring Gouda.  AA ordered tomato cream fettuccini sans shrimp and Stemstar ordered the roasted turkey sandwich (also featuring Gouda) and a bowl of loaded brisket soup, which was served over fried polenta.  

Stemstar's soup arrived first and looked pretty fantastic.  Stemstar agreed that it was great and happily  ate the entire serving.  Our meals came and everything looked good.  Our server was attentive in ensuring that we had everything that we needed and that our food was satisfactory.  

My ham and Gouda sandwich was good and the pretzel bun was filling, but not overly heavy.  The Gouda paired with freshly sliced ham was delicious and sadly, I couldn't finish it all.  I will admit that I abandoned some of the ham and devoured the remaining pretzel bun with melted Gouda.  The side of fries was okay.  They were not the best fries that I have ever had, but they were decent.  Both AA and Stemstar enjoyed their meals as well, and Stemstar even took half of his sandwich home for later.   He informed me that it made a fantastic snack after he retuned home from the bar later that night.  

Our server failed to separate our bills, but assured us that he could do so easily by taking each of our debit cards and splitting the check at the register.  There was some mild confusion over my and AA's checks, as we both have names beginning and ending in "A," and I later checked my online banking statement to find that I had been incorrectly charged.  Just be sure that you request separate checks before being brought the final bill. 

Overall, Cafe io is a good lunch spot and I would be willing to go back.  The prices are a little high for what you get, but the eatery is a nice alternative to the many chain restaurants in this limited area.  Next time that I'm in the mood for a pretzel and Gouda, I'll know where to go.

Cafe io on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 31, 2014

Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

For the past week,  I've been a blur of coughing, mucus, and chest pains with a touch of feverish delirium. After finally forcing my aching bones to MedExpress last Thursday, I was diagnosed with severe bronchitis bordering on pneumonia. Needless to say, I was away from the office for days and became rather attached to Lifetime's morning Frasier marathon. I also grew accustomed to having a warm kitten on my lap at all times.


As I adopted a diet of jello and hot toddies, poor Boyfriend had been on his own with cooking dinner since last Tuesday, but now that I've returned to work and have started using normal hygiene habits again, it was time for me to regain control of the kitchen for tonight's meal. 

I opted to make one of Boyfriend's favorite chicken dishes, with a side of Parmesan rice and brown sugar glazed carrots.  To start the rice, I browned two cloves of minced garlic in oil then added two cups of chicken broth, one tablespoon of lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Once this came to boiling, I added one cup of brown rice, reduced heat and let cook for about 35 minutes, until the liquid was absorbed.

While the rice was cooking, I browned two chicken breasts, seasoned in poultry spices, in olive oil.  


Once the chicken was cooked, I transferred it to a plate and draped each piece in provolone cheese until melted.  Then, I added sliced baby portobello mushrooms and fresh baby spinach to the pan, until the mushrooms softened and the spinach wilted.  Once the vegetables are ready, I covered the chicken breast with the spinach-mushroom mixture.



During this time, I also cut two medium carrots into strips and covered them in a pot with water, then brought the water to a boil. After ten minutes of boiling, I drained the carrots and added one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of brown sugar into the pot, plus a dash each of salt and pepper. Once blended, I returned the carrots to the pot and stirred until fully coated.


At that point, the rice was finally done, so I fluffed it up with a fork, added a handful of grated Parmesan and plated the first dinner that I had prepared in a week.  Boyfriend was a happy camper with his cheesy chicken and we dined together while watching our new obsession, Breaking Bad.



It's a simple and healthy meal representing a few food groups and is a good way to begin the work week. Not quite as fun as jello and hot toddies, but it was time to stop eating like a 90-year-old great aunt in a nursing home anyway.