What's one of the hottest spots in the Burgh for a cool refreshing cocktail on a weekend evening in the Burgh? Wigle Barrelhouse and Whiskey Garden! No, not the Wigle distillery on Smallman Street in the Strip, this is their new locale across the Allegheny River from the original. Oh, the Smallman Street location is still whipping up whiskey, ginever...and RUM alright, the casks are just transported across the 16th Street bridge to age in the Barrelhouse.
The new Barrelhouse and Whiskey Garden? It's not just a storage facility. When the garage door rolls up, the bar is open! Umbrella-ed picnic tables to lounge around while enjoying your Wigle-made delight of the day, a few games of cornhole to while away a warm summer evening, all accompanied by great conversation with friends and maybe even a guided tour of the facilities is what awaits at Wigle.
Apparently, this is also where it's happening when it comes to cocktail throwdowns among local bartenders! Twice in one week, I've had the pleasure of being a spectator at some pretty enjoyable contests.
The first (last Sunday) was a USBG (United States Bartenders Guild) event that pitted four teams of 'tenders against one another in a Whiskey Sour-off. Not just any cocktail competition, no...this one was blindfolded, timed AND judged for taste.
Each team consisted of one bartender who made the drink while blindfolded and another who coached the competitor each step of the way. No matter the missed pours (very few), over-pours (not such a bad thing), broken eggs (yes, these Whiskey Sours were beautifully silky) and spills (fortunately contained in a capped shaker), the blindfolded bartending race was a sight to behold.
|Cecil and Max|
The team of Cecil Usher and his coach, Max Stein - both from Meat and Potatoes, Max also from The Butcher and the Rye - were the ultimate champions that night. Two teams from The Summit on Mt. Washington made it quite the contest, but my favorite team - sorry all you guys - was the well-choreographed, simultaneous-mid-contest-shot-swilling team of Carrie Clayton and Abbie Brehm from Bar Marco and The Livermore. The cocktail chicks extrordinaire stole the show! Congrats to EVERYONE!
|Carrie and Abbie|
And yes, I was back again on Friday evening for the release of Wigle's barrel-aged Landlocked Oaked Rum...and yes, yet another bartender challenge highlighted the evening. This one would be a Tiki competition...hellloooo...rum and Tiki go together like, well...rum and Tiki. What a night!
Hawaiian shirts, flowery leis and grass skirts wandered among the tables. Surf Rock sounds by Dr. Zombo and his Zombotron and the scent of coconut (well, maybe I just imagined that...) filled the air.
|Dr. Zombo says hello!|
Were we still in Pittsburgh or were we in some secret Tiki hideaway in some wonderfully exotic locale? Nope, the presence of Pittsburgh accents all around proved that exotic is where you find it...even in Pittsburgh.
The contenders this night? Greta Dunn (aka, Greta the Grass Skirt Goddess) from Meat and Potatoes, Craig Mrusek (aka, Dr. Bamboo) from Tender Bar and Kitchen and Will Groves (aka...hey, what IS your aka Will?) from The Butterjoint threw down the Tiki moves! Each contestant used, of course, Wigle's newest release, Landlocked Oaked Rum.
Whether or not Will is aka-less, he did concoct an intriguing little tiki drink called the Coconut Groves...get it...Will Groves. Will's cocktail used Landlocked, coconut cream, lime AND orange juices and a hint of mole bitters. (Maybe I did smell coconut in the air after all?)
Greta, she of the grass skirt goddess fame, presented a little number using similar ingredients to the Coconut Groves, called a Bombora. Similar ingredients, yes, but totally different once all the parts came together.
The Bombora consisted of Landlocked, lime and orange juices, honey, mole bitters and egg white. This Tiki drink had a silken feel as a result of the egg white and the honey. The Bombora was the bomb! (Come on, you knew I couldn't resist that one.)
|Greta the Grass Skirt Goddess|
Who came out on top? Craig Mrusek, Dr. Bamboo! Obviously, the good doctor had the right prescription for the winning Tiki drink of the evening. Craig's cocktail, The Cargo Cult, won by virtue of Landlocked, pineapple juice, a mysterious touch of allspice, finished with just a dash of orange bitters. Congrats, Craig!
What was going on outside while the competition raged inside? Wigle cornhole, of course.
And totally delicious offerings from none other than the Pgh Taco Truck and the Lomito Truck! Gotta have good eats with good booze!
Wigle Barrelhouse and Whiskey Garden might just be THE place to spend a beautiful Pittsburgh summer evening. Casual, laid back, relaxing, a damned fine cocktail in one hand, a taco in the other...kind of like chilling in your own backyard except YOU don't have to clean up after your friends leave. Nice.
And maybe...if you're really, really lucky...a rousing cocktail competition might just break out!
Before I go any further, let me first thank my designated driver throughout this very first Pittsburgh Cocktail Week...without you this week could never have been the tour de force de cocktails that it truly was. Thanks, Mark! It was a tough job and somebody had to do it. (Glad it wasn't me.)
Although the event ran for an entire seven days, as hard as I tried I couldn't begin to make it to every bar and restaurant participating in the week. Nor could I make it to every special seminar or event, but I gave it my all. There were industry events: an Agave seminar at Verde, Ice Carving at Livermore, a Wigle Distillery seminar on aging, a tour and tasting at Boyd and Blair Distillery.
|Boyd and Blair - tour and tasting|
Tender hosted a seminar entitled "Drink What You Like and Like What You Drink, led by Johnny Foster and Butterjoint conducted a hands-on class on shrubs and preserves as used in cocktails.
|Ground Cherry Pineapple Shrub in process at Butterjoint - Now THAT'S a muddler!|
|Started at Butterjoint, finished in my kitchen - YUM!|
Not to be forgotten, cool events for you and me were held, too. The bartenders at Verde had folks step right up to the bar for a hands-on class in making the perfect margarita, Livermore's Giuseppe Capolupo taught a few basic tricks to carve your own ice at home, Wigle conducted an aged whiskey tasting that SOLD OUT quickly!
There was a cocktail and food pairing class at Industry, South Seas Thursday at Tiki Lounge with Lucky the Painproof Man and totally amazing, authentic tiki drinks using the best rums and liquors, fresh squeezed juices and handmade syrups.
(Heads up....Lucky takes over Tiki Lounge and creates these EVERY Thursday from 4 - 9 PM, not just for Pittsburgh Cocktail Week!)
|Lucky the Painproof Main, Tiki Bartender Extrordinaire|
|(I'm not saying this tiki mug got the Pirates into the playoffs, but....)|
Probably the most exciting happening during the week (for me, anyway!) was the cocktail competition going on all around the town! Restaurants and bars entered one or more cocktails into several categories. This is where my designated driver came into play...the fun was in trying cocktails in various spots, voting on them via an app called Grail. The developers of Grail, Rhomania, are right here in Pittsburgh! (Check out Grail and all the cool things it does and restaurants it carries right here.)
At the end of Pittsburgh Cocktail Week, a winner was declared and won $1,000 in barware! Not bad for the very first ever event! I won't tell you right now who won, but I DID get to enjoy the winning entry early in the week.
It was impossible to get to every spot and to sample every cocktail...at least for me it was. I did hear rumors that an attempt was made by at least one hardy soul! Here are (some of) the cocktails I tried.
|Oaxacan Campfire by Hannah Morris - Verde Mexican Kitchen|
|The Secret Garden by Erika Joyner - Salt of the Earth|
|Amelia's Last Flight by Sean Rosenkrans - Tender Bar and Kitchen|
|Pittsburgh Sour by Chris Matrozza - Franktuary|
|Billy Porter's Kinky Boots by RaeLynn Harshman & Alyssa McGrath - Dish Osteria|
Looks like a whole lot of cocktails...it was...and that's just the ones that were photographed! Then there were those that were shared among we cocktail geeks and afficianados. Fun times!
As said earlier, I just managed to scratch the surface of the creative libations to be had. Giving it a go EVERYWHERE was impossible! I missed Pittsburgh Cocktail Week specialty drinks at Harvard and Highland, Bar Marco, Livermore, Benjamin's, Tamari in Warrandale, Spoon, Industry Public House, Meat & Potatoes (yeah, I can't believe I didn't get there either!), Butterjoint - but I got there for that fabulous Shrub class!, Toast, Speakeasy, Pino's or Lidia's. NEXT YEAR!
But what about THIS year's winner? That would be the lovely Erika Joyner with her creation using Wigle Ginever, cucumber mint syrup, lime juice and eucalyptus bitters called The Secret Garden. Well deserved, Erika!
If you didn't get to participate in Pittsburgh Cocktail Week THIS year, start planning for next year. Next year will be even bigger...and hard to believe as it is...BETTER! 'Til next year. (I think my liver will enjoy the break.)
The sun shone, it was almost noon. A queue of strangers was forming outside Tender Bar & Kitchen in Lawrenceville waiting patiently for the doors to open.
Passersby may have thought the worst of us. We may have appeared to be overly thirsty for our first drink of the day, but that wasn't the case at all. We were there for a class on gin. We were thirsty for knowledge.
You can study gin?! Yes, you can. Our instructor for the day was Marie Perriello, the Education Director at Tender, assisted by Jeff Catalina, the owner of both Tender and Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina in Garfield. I don't know about you, but I LOVE a bar with an Education Director! The more I know about what I drink, the better I like it.
The long bar in the narrow, former-bank-turned-bar, was lined with 18 students awaiting Marie's cocktail enlightenment. Each of us had our own station and equipment - tins, both a cocktail AND a julep strainer, barspoon, glasses, etc. everything we needed to make our own drinks.
It was a real treat to start off with an old-fashioned, non-alcoholic vanilla phosphate. I hadn't had one of those since I was a kid on a spinning stool at the drugstore counter! Plates of the kitchen's fresh-made potato chips with aioli and bowls of piping hot hush puppies kept up our energy throughout the class.
Marie and Jeff conducted a gin tasting before we started mixing cocktails. We tasted and learned the differences in taste and the suitability for types of cocktails by sampling Beefeater, Plymouth, Old Tom and Bols Ginever. I couldn't decide if I like the Plymouth or the Bols best - all four were excellent.
The cocktail making began with a Martinez, a stirred gin cocktail. Here's where we used the Haymans Old Tom Gin we had tasted earlier along with Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Sweet Vermouth and Boker's Bitters. Stirred gently with ice in a circular motion, strained with a julep strainer into a coupe glass and garnished with lemon peel, it was delicious. And beautiful, don't you think?
Next we moved to a shaken cocktail called The Last Word - the perfect name for the last cocktail of the day. I chose Plymouth gin...the smooth sweetness would complement the other components of the cocktail. Luxardo was used again, Green Chartreuse (another fave of mine) and fresh-squeezed lime juice.
|The Last Word|
After shaking and double straining the liquid into a cocktail (martini) glass, we were ready to raise a toast to the education in gin that we'd gotten in a short, but sweet, two hours. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday at all.
One of the things Marie stressed was the adaptability of a cocktail...how you can swap out one spirit for another, a modifying agent or spirit for another. She gave us confidence to take what she taught and experiment on our own.
Marie mentioned using Mezcal in place of gin in the Martinez and, in fact, I've enjoyed a cocktail she makes that does that very thing. So I tried messing with spirits and other additions myself and came up with this little number. Here's the recipe first for Marie's classic Martinez.
Want to learn that cocktail confidence yourself? Sign up for upcoming classes at Tender! I'll see you there!
Martinez - Marie Perriello
- 2 oz. Haymans Old Tom Gin
- .5 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
- 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
- 2 dashes Boker's Bitters
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass. Use a julep strainer and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel.
Mezcal Martinez - my version
- 2 oz. Wild Shot Mezcal
- .5 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
- 1 oz. Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
- dropper full Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters
Stir all in a mixing glass. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with lemon peel.
|Mezcal Martinez - my version|
Cocktail education really is Marie's specialty. In addition to bartending at both Tender and Acacia, she owns her own cocktail education business, Stir Society.
Marie conducts demonstrations and classes in homes to delight and amaze your friends or businesses as a team-building exercise or entertainment for clients. Check it out for your next party or business meeting...it will be an event to be remembered!
Burgers and Burgh'ers
Pittsburgh, PA - a city bursting at the seams with hulking skyscrapers and soaring steel girders of multitudinous bridges...and great burger joints.
Harmony, PA - a peaceful, bucolic village of farms and fields way up north (further than Zelionople!)...and a great burger joint! In fact, we found absolute burger brilliance in Harmony. Maybe that should be "Burgher" brilliance. The fine establishment of which I speak is Burgh'ers.
Now we didn't happen upon Burger'ers by accident, we'd been wanting to check this place out since last fall after sampling Burgh'ers delectable bites of food and inventive cocktails at Savor Pittsburgh. Somehow, despite the best of intentions, we never made it that far up north...until Friday. You can be assured we'll be making the trek regularly now!
Upon walking through the door, the place was packed. Wait for a table? Not when there were two prime spots at the end of the bar! It was the perfect perch to observe all the happenings between the kitchen and the front, the kitchen and the bar, the bar and the front...you get the idea, it was the happening place to be. And talk.
We were soon chatting with our barmates as if we'd always known one another. Al and PJ sat to our immediate left and we talked of rock music and Jergel's new spot in Warrendale, the old days and the loss of loves...and of Harleys while we waited for food and drink.
And we schmoozed with Dee Hutto, our very talented bartender. Dee was responsible for the back of the bar looking as much like a scene out of Harry Potter's Hogwarts schoolroom as anything else. Glass jars and bottles of all sizes and shapes and colors held infusions, elixirs and bitters with fruits such as figs, pineapple, mango, orange, blood orange, spices and herbs all waiting to be part of the magical, liquid combinations of spirits with which Dee built each cocktail.
It was the last weekend for Dee's winter cocktail menu and the Royal Fig was sounding just right for the cool, blustery weather outside. Crown Royal, Dee's housemade Pimms, Campari, lemon and her own orange fig bitters beckoned. Bold, tart, sweet and crisp, it was perfection.
Don't look for it on the bar menu as Spring cocktails have taken over...although if you're lucky, Dee may just have enough ingredients to mix you up one last Royal Fig. No promises, though. While I enjoyed my cocktail, Mark savored one of the very nice selections of craft beers on tap. We finalized our dinner selections.
Now what else would you order from a place called Burgh'ers, than a burger? Exactly. Mark ordered the Pitts Burger piled high with cheddar, coleslaw, pickle, basil onion and "special" sauce. The Animal was my choice. It's a cheeseburger...oh, not the typical cheeseburger you might envision, this was a cream cheese burger!
Fresh basil, crisp onion, raw, spicy jalapeno slices and sweet tomato stacked atop a burger of organic local beef and grilled to caramelized perfection on a screaming hot flat top. You might choose to have yours on a bun, but I chose a huge romaine leaf, of course. The contrast of hot meat and cool cream cheese accented with all those fresh veggies made my heart sing...and my tastebuds smile.
|The Animal - Burgh'ers far superior version!|
Although I didn't use the organic beef burger mix that Burgh'ers does and I don't have a white hot flat top to sear the patties almost instantly, I made my own - nowhere near as good as Burgh'ers - version of the Animal burger at home. It was good! If you can't get out to Harmony to experience the REAL Burgh'ers burgers, give this one a whirl.
One more thing...Burgh'ers will be selling their their burgers and other items outside of Good Taste Pittsburgh in Cranberry on Saturday, April 20th at the Marriott on Rt. 228. There will be deliciousness both outside and inside!
The Animal Burger
Makes 1 burger
- 1/3 - 1/2 lb GOOD quality ground beef, made into a thin patty
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 slices cream cheese from the foil-wrapped package
- several thin slices raw jalapeno pepper - or use pickled ones from the jar
- thinly sliced onion - red onion would be pretty!
- red, ripe tomato slices
- finely julienned fresh basil
- Romaine lettuce
- Jane's Crazy salt or another good seasoning salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- a good toasty bun (gluten-free to make this GF) or a whole Romaine lettuce leaf
Place the burger on a waiting toasted bun or a large Romaine leaf. Top with the cream cheese slices and the veggies. Dust with Jane's Crazy salt and enjoy.
Soergel's Orchards Kicks Off
Good Taste Pittsburgh 2013
What's up around town this weekend? Glad you asked. A good time is sure to be had at Good Taste Pittsburgh! After many years of being held east of Pittsburgh, this long-standing, fun foodie event finally makes it's first appearance in the north at the Cranberry Marriott (just off Rt. 279 North at Rt. 228). Get tickets!
The kick off event for Good Taste Pittsburgh was held last week at Soergel's Orchard in Wexford. Why? Because Soergel's will be a big participant in Saturday's event and one of the sponsors! What a party and WHAT A FEAST the kick off was!
If you've ever been to Soergel's, you already know the farm produces everything food and garden related that can be imagined, from seeds to plants, to fresh produce, to their own products made from their very own fresh fruits and veggies, to their bakery, deli, and even their own smoked meats.
Soergel's orchards produce apples that become not only freshly made cider, but their own jarred applesauce. Their tomatoes become some of the BEST barbeque sauce I've had in a very long time! Three kinds...Sweet & Smoky, Caroline-style and (my fave) Spicy.
|Before becoming applesauce!|
Where did this kick off party happen? In the middle of a field? No. In great big, comfortable McIntosh Hall behind the market. Yes, McIntosh...like in the apple variety. Makes sense!
|"Applewood" Bill Maxwell with beautiful, gleaming smoker|
|Source of that sweet, sweet smoke|
Soergel's emphasis on fresh and natural is especially evident at their gluten-free and organic foods store, Naturally Soergel's, located near the market. You all know by know about my gluten issues...and how frequently I mention Soergel's as the source of a lot of the products I use. THIS is the place to buy gluten-free in the Pittsburgh area!
Besides carrying everything gluten-free you could possibly want, the staff is friendly, knowledgeable and happy to help you learn your way around eating gluten-free. If Amy (last name Soergel, of course) is around, be sure to say hello.
Amy knows her stuff. Her degree in Public Health is from venerable Johns Hopkins University and her Masters in Epidemiology is from Pitt! What piqued Amy's interest in the gluten-free lifestyle? Amy was diagnosed with celiac disease many years ago. Amy lives what she teaches.
One more interesting note. During the presentation part of the kick off evening, it was announced that Soergel's would be growing their own hops this season. I looked over at Amy and kind of silently said to her, "Gluten-free beer?" She nodded yes. Following the presentation, I got the further scoop....and here it is.
Amy is engaged to Doug Foster who is a partner in the brand new Aurochs Brewing Company. Aurochs is the area's FIRST gluten-free beer, and is located on Route 65 in Emsworth. Soergel's hops are being grown for Aurochs! Look for Aurochs Gluten-Free beer sometime later this year. Oh...and just where did Doug and Amy meet? Naturally Soergel's, naturally. Doug is celiac, too.
Be sure to stop and see the good folks from Soergel's at Good Taste Pittsburgh on Saturday and pick up information on what's happening all year 'round in Soergel's orchards and their markets and shops in Wexford on Brandt School Road just off Rt. 910.
Saturday's Good Taste Pittsburgh highlights include:
- Chef Keith Fuller of Root 174 in Regent Square and Chef Kevin Watson of Savoy in the Strip District will both be speaking and demonstrating their widely celebrated culinary skills.
- Cookbook author Lindsey Smith (Junk Foods & Junk Moods will talk about the importance of nutritious easting.
- Caroline Wright, Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals, will be making 3 of her recipes and signing her cookbook.
- The stars of Farm Kings - The Great American Country Network's (GACN) reality television show about the daily lives of the King Family from Freedom Farm in Butler County will actually be shooting a segment for broadcast! Don't miss this!
- Vendors, flower arranging, creative crafts and much more.
See you there!
An Evening to Remember at Volt Restaurant
at Table 21
Occasionally I enjoy a particular dish on an evening of dining out only to return home to recreate it. Why? It might be I'm intrigued by the components of the dish or by a technique or even because I know I make it better! Well, THAT'S most certainly not gonna happen this time!
There are experiences that cannot be recreated. Nor should they be. Such was the stellar dining extravaganza that occurred at VOLT Restaurant in Frederick, Maryland with Marti, one of my closest friends and definitely my BFF. Best Foodie Friend, that is.
A year ago or so I had the pleasure of being a gastronomic traveler through the adventurous menu at VOLT. But that was for lunch and this, THIS was for dinner at the respected Table 21. Yes, the Chefs' Table featuring 21 (count 'em), TWENTY-ONE courses! I told you it was extravagant!
Just getting a reservation for the Table was a coup in itself. As Webster defines it, a coup is "A notable or successful stroke or move." Reservations for Table 21 are taken exactly 30 days before. If you wanted a reservation for March 15, you had to be quick to the phone on February 15..and we were. Success! We scored two precious spots out of only eight available seats at Table 21.
Days passed slowly, the anticipation grew, until finally there we were in Frederick almost giddily climbing the stairs to what promised to be an epicurean evening as never before. After a lovely cocktail in the small bar across the hall from our dining area, we were soon seated.
Wine pairings were ordered by some, cocktail pairings ordered by others. A choice of still or sparkling water filled our water goblets. We made small talk with two diners to our left and the two couples to our right. It felt like the quiet in the theater just before the curtain rises. The first course was served.
The meal was kind of like fireworks starting with a simple, but elegant pile of light, airy and crisp lobster chips to dip into a pool of potato, sour cream and chive oil. There was even a tiny little mound of caviar. This twist on chips and dip elicited oohs and aahs from the cozy table of eight overlooking the kitchen!
|Chips and Dip Lobster|
We progressed from cold beginnings through a mind boggling selection of exotic ingredients as each empty plate was cleared and each new course presented. Not just exotic items tickled our palates (sometimes literally). Simple, ordinary, everyday items like carrots, celery, beets or tuna became far more than I ever imagined they could be.
|Red and Golden Beets, Goat Cheese Mousse, Orange and Sherry|
The dessert courses? Like a fireworks grand finale. Contrasts of smooth and cold, crunchy and velvety, powdery and hard, sweet and tart and even bitter teased until the very end in a cacophony of sensations. Textures, temperatures and tastes exploded one after the other until the meal ended with quiet calmness. Really, we should have burst into applause. Hindsight, you know.
|Chocolate Textures and Caramel|
As the checks were distributed, so were rolled and tied copies of the night's menu along with beribboned boxes of small dessert treasures to help remember the night's delights.
By the end of the evening, strangers around a kitchen table became friends. Host, servers, chefs, bartenders and diners said warm goodbyes and even hugs were exchanged. After all, sharing food, fun, wine, laughs and eventually even friendship makes for not just a meal to remember, but a dining adventure never to forget.
* I was never made to feel "different" when substitutions were made because of the gluten issue. Frank, our warm, wonderful host, after announcing the components of each course then described to me quietly what was different on my plate. In some cases, I think I got the better dish!
*In talking with the group of four on our right, exchanging where we were from we discovered not only do they know my goddaughter and her husband, their kids play together. Yes folks, it is definitely a very small world.
*My first sweetbreads! And I LOVED them! Crispy on the outside, smooth and flavorful on the inside, accompanied by bacon, Swiss chard and parsnip - they were one of my favorite parts of the meal!
*A bright green foam described as wasabi-infused (I missed the rest of the description) was the palate tickler I referred to above. Tiny little pops exploded with surprising flavor with each bite. The "pops" were tabiko fish roe that were more like champagne bubbles than anything else I can compare them to. The yellowfin tuna, avocado mousse and jasmine rice were the perfect complement.
|See the bright green bubbly foam? Wasabi-infused Tabiko Roe!|
*Candied Buddha's Hand whipped with cream and butter - spread on the bottom of a plate with seared kampachi (fish), chives, green apple and ginger had us teasing Celeste that we were going to run off with the whole container of the butter!
*The pork belly. Oh the pork belly! No more need be said. Enjoy the pic!
|Pork Belly with Stinging Nettle (it didn't), yellowfoot Chanterelle & Pearl Onion|
*Probably the most special moment of all wasn't a moment. It lasted the entire evening. The completely professional, yet very warm and friendly service, from the moment we arrived to the moment we left, from every single member of the Volt staff family, made the night complete. Thank you Frank, Katie, Celeste and every member of the Volt family.
NOTE: My apologies for the quality of the photos. I didn't want to be "that" person with the camera and ruin the other guests experience at Table 21 so I used my phone. Thank you Volt for allowing us all to "take all the pictures you want!"
Restaurant Week - A Delicious Tour of Delightful Pittsburgh Dining
Pittsburgh Restaurant Week is like Christmas all over again. All these new, fun menus and restaurants are like shiny packages just waiting to be discovered...all over town. It's like a fine dining scavenger hunt or a culinary tour de force of da 'Burgh. Even favorite and familiar spots have new and special delicious temptations awaiting your discovery.
And the event lasts a whole week! Unless, like me, you jump the gun and start a day early.
Sunday - Verde MexicanKitchen & Cantina, Garfield
Verde Mexican Kitchen &Cantina in Garfield, one of our favorite brunch spots in the 'Burgh, was the official kickoff of Restaurant Week for us. It was Sunday. Sunday is the first day of the week. I ASSUMED the week's festivities began on a Sunday....wrong. So what the heck...we got an extra day to celebrate.
Both Mark and I started off with one of Verde's very special, spicy Bloody Marias. Instead of typical vodka, tequila is the spirit of choice along with a housemade mix using guajillo peppers and garlic to kick up the flavor factor. May I just say OLE!
Although not officially restaurant week, we still observed the spirit of the event. Verde's version of eggs Benedict was a new-to-me dish so shouldn't that count?
Sauteed escarole and their scrumptious house-smoked bacon were the base for beautifully poached eggs and crowned with a guajillo hollandaise. To accommodate my gluten issues, instead of the usual English Muffin they were kind enough to serve them with a side of corn tortillas AND a trio of salsas. Word of advice. Never, NEVER hit up Verde's brunch without getting the bacon. You will thank me.
Thanks, Verde! (Bonus! Verde has a gluten-free menu!)
Tuesday - Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen, Regent Square
Now THIS was a real treat! Not only was I visiting Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen for the first time, I was there as one of an invited group of Pittsburgh food bloggers. The Restaurant Week people (hi Brian & Andrew!) gathered we blogging "foodie" fiends (and friends) to kick off the week.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sponsored Happy Hour to really get things started right for the night! We tippled, dipped and schmoozed with fellow bloggers while meeting the driving forces behind the new Post-Gazette food blog, PG Plate.
If you haven't checked out the PG Plate, do it! With info about restaurants and dining, bars and libations, ingredient sources and cooking and everything related, it's food news you can use.
Once happy hour was over, we moved to the dining room. That's where I met up with an old Latin friend. The arepa. What's an arepa? A Latin delight made of masa harina that's made into dough, shaped into discs and griddled on both sides. They are crispy outside, creamy inside, naturally gluten-free, usually split and deliciously stuffed with cheese and/or chorizo.
You can find them (or their cousin, the pupusa) all over the country, even Cleveland! But in Pittsburgh? Not to be found. Until Tuesday in this lovely Regent Square restaurant.
Alma's preparation was different than what I'd had before. The arepa itself was nestled under a salad of beets, avocado, cabbage and cilantro and accompanied by the most delicious fried plantains I've ever had. A very fresh saute of asparagus, red bell peppers, carrots and zucchini shreds graced the side of the plate. SO good!
Wednesday - Habitat, Downtown Pittsburgh
What a surprise! Restaurant Week was actually happening in Downtown Pittsburgh with a lunch special at Habitat in the Fairmont Hotel. Well, sign me up!
The RW special was an Express Lunch consisting of soup, salad, a sandwich and dessert...all for $15. Sandwich? Er...gluten issue? Not a problem. Habitat accommodates food issues of all ilk and actually had gluten-free bread for my muffaletta.
What a surprise! Restaurant Week was actually happening in Downtown Pittsburgh with a lunch special at Habitat in the Fairmont Hotel. Well, sign me up!
The RW special was an Express Lunch consisting of soup, salad, a sandwich and dessert...all for $15. Sandwich? Er...gluten issue? Not a problem. Habitat accommodates food issues of all ilk and actually had gluten-free bread for my muffaletta.
Can I tell you I almost cried with gratitude? That's the first muffaletta I've had in eight years. It. Was. Wonderful! The soup of the day was a light, not creamy, rutabaga puree studded with peas and chunks of said rutabaga. The salad was kissed with a light, lemony dressing. Perfect.
Dessert? A cupcake. No, not gluten-free, but they kindly substituted a fabulous rich, DARK chocolate double-scoop of ice cream. My dining companion had the cupcake...she decided I won the dessert round.
Thursday - Up Modern Kitchen, Shadyside
This visit to a new-to-me restaurant in Shadyside came courtesy of a Yelp Elite event at this cozy little bar/restaurant upstairs of their sister restaurant, Shady Grove. (Hint for finding this spot...although the address says Walnut Street, the entrance is on Bellefonte. Why? This is Pittsburgh, there are imponderables.)
Up Modern put out a beautiful variety of sliced charcuterrie as well as smoked olives (addicting - smoked olives WILL be on my smoker the first time out in the spring!), jerky, mushroom risotto, fried cheeses and even that Pittsburgh favorite (drum roll, please) dippy eggs. We didn't go hungry!
Nor thirsty. Their version of a Moscow Mule, though non-traditional, was quite refreshing. It was made with gingerale instead of ginger beer, but at least the mint sprig was present. Bonus for the mint sprig in my book.
Saturday - KaleidoscopeCafe, Lawrenceville
THIS was a lovely find! No, I wasn't the first to discover the gustatory joys to be found on a side street of Lawrenceville. But, when walking from Industry Public House on Butler Street to our Paint Monkey evening a couple of months ago, we did "find" this colorful gem of a building just begging to be visited.
Three Yelp friends (Hi Rachel, Jenn and Michael!) and I met up for lunch. Again, the Restaurant Week menu wasn't available for lunch, but (again) trying new foods there wasn't a problem. Oh, the choices!
Have I mentioned how I love dining via "small plates," appetizers or tapas? Well, I do. Little smatterings and tastes are right up my alley.
I'd heard wonderful things about the chicken and apple sausage small plate at Kaleidoscope- so of course, that was part of my order. Slices of house-made sausage sautéed with apple, red onion and walnut in a spicy maple-rum sauce, topped with melted brie and a mixed berry coulis were presented in a gratin dish. It was a spicy, rich, crunchy, sweet combination of tastes and textures that was an alluring beginning to what was to come.
Crab dip?! In Pittsburgh? I knew I was taking a chance ordering a crab dish. Fortunately, my fears went out the window with the first bite. I honestly would have preferred a higher crab to sauce ratio, but this IS Pittsburgh after all. Chef Dan hit the creamy delight right on. Not only that, to oblige the old gluten issue he subbed in top notch fries to dip instead of pita bread.
Only one thing could make this afternoon delight better...dessert. Specifically, a CHOCOLATE dessert. Hello Flourless Chocolate Torte, you certainly are looking beautiful today. AND delicious! And you were.
Rich, dense, decadent dark chocolate with white a chocolate rum ganache ended the meal and my Restaurant Week perfectly.
I'd intended to cap off the close of Restaurant Week with my own celebration called "Bar Night." I had Carson Street's Acacia in my sights as the perfect spot to toast a very fine week. Alas, Restaurant Week left me yearning for a quiet night at home and a simple dinner of homemade minestrone.
Until next time, Restaurant Week! It was fun! Now when is that next date so I can put it on my calendar NOW?!
Saturday Sauerkraut-Making at the Butterjoint
Here's a math problem for you:
1 huge batch of thinly sliced veggies
+ time = ?
The answer is sauerkraut!
1 huge batch of thinly sliced veggies
+ time = ?
The answer is sauerkraut!
Butterjoint, the new cocktail lounge that is part of Legume restaurant on N. Craig Street in Oakland tweeted recently they were holding a FREE sauerkraut making class - first come, first served who responded to the Tweet. I hopped right onto that offer...my German heritage, and perhaps the spirits of my frugal German ancestors, wouldn't let me pass up that deal!
|Tyler (left) and Trevett (right)|
Six sauerkraut making neophytes gathered in the gleaming, pristine stainless steel kitchen that serves both Butterjoint and Legume. Trevett, Executive chef, and Tyler demonstrated the technique involved in the proper preparation of the soon-to-be fermented produce. Then the hands-on fun began.
We each got our own cutting board and selected a damned sharp knife. Cabbages were plucked from plastic tubs on the counter to give our own amateur knife skills a whirl. Cabbage wasn't the only veggie waiting to be shredded...rutabagas, celeriac, turnips, carrots, kohlrabi, onions and parsnips waited to make a delightful melange of flavors. No plain Jane stuff going on here, this was going to be sauerkraut with pizzazz!
As our busy, but careful (sharp knives, you know) group sliced and slivered our way through pounds of veggies, we deposited the fruits (veggies?) of our labors into a giant rectangular plastic bin. Slowly, but surely, the mound grew until it weighed enough to be able to end up with a quart jar of goodies for each person in the class.
Three tablespoons of salt for each five pounds of shredded cabbage and vegetables was sprinkled over the jumble of veggie confetti. Then the muscle power kicked in.
|Developing both sauerkraut AND muscles!|
Each of us took our turn mixing, kneading and squeezing the mishmash with salt until there was a bin of vegetables that had exuded liquid to become the wet mass we were looking for.
Layer by layer we tightly packed and tamped salted, wet veggies into into our own quart jars. Trevett and Tyler used a wider mouth jar and a wine bottle for the compression process - more efficient than our small ladles or muddlers.
Taking the mixture to the very top of the container and being sure to have enough liquid to cover it all, the jars were capped and the waiting began. We were cautioned to "burp" our jars regularly and not to tighten them too much.
How long until we finally get to enjoy our very own, good-for-you homemade (okay, restaurant kitchen-made) fermented veggies? That depends on you. Trevett recommended you taste it in a couple of days to see how you like it and occasionally after that until it suits your own tastes. His advice was to refrigerate it until used once it reaches the sourness you like.
Why go to all this trouble? For starters, anything homemade tastes better than canned or store-bought and the canned variety.
Then there's the health benefit. Just like live-culture yogurt, the fermentation process develops beneficial bacteria that's good for your body and for your gut. Store bought sauerkraut kills the live bacteria in the canning process. It might taste good, but the health benefit is lost.
Another big positive is being able to ferment whatever veggie selection strikes your fancy at the moment...and whatever is in season at the time. Probably the best reason of all is that it just tastes good. Well, that and it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Will I do this again? Already I'm making a list of the combos I want to try....cabbage, onion and apple with caraway seeds is next on my list! That should be perfect for my Winekraut from last fall.
|Winekraut Casserole with Bratwursts and Dumplings|
I've already checked into buying my very own sauerkraut crock. Ace Hardware has a great one at a very reasonable price. You hear that Santa?
Bar Marco has an ice program. No, not a show featuring Tai Babilonia or Dick Button - nor even Sidney Crosby now that he apparently has some time on his hands.
In the bar business, an ice program is one that only the best of the best cocktail establishments are taking on these days. They make ice. Hand cut ice. From the clearest, food-quality ice sculpture grade ice available. And Bar Marco is the very first bar in town to bring that quality to Pittsburgh.
Bar Marco partner, Bobby Fry (yep, that's Bobby behind the bar up there), recently spent almost two weeks apprenticing with Derek Brown at the famed Washington, DC speakeasy-ish Columbia Room hidden behind the equally-famed classic cocktail bar, The Passenger. Yes, nearly two weeks of training went into learning just how to carve and perfect the right ice for your drink.
Last Thursday was a stellar fall day to witness the ritual cutting of the ice outside Bar Marco in the Strip District. The sun was shining and the temps were in the 80's...let the demo begin!
A large block of ice was set up on a cutting board outside and let to sit for a while. The wait time reduces the chance of the ice fracturing at unwanted spots and angles, it's less brittle and more maleable. Just right for carving.
|One big hunk of ice waiting to become perfect cubes.|
The first ice-taming tool to come out of the chest is a cleaver worthy of any horror movie. It isn't used to hack the ice, however. It gently and smoothly scores guidelines into the surface. (For right now the mighty cleaver is the tool being used. A similar looking Japanese udon noodle knife with a much finer blade is the preferred choice - Bar Marco is just waiting for it to arrive!)
|Getting ready to score.|
And then the manly tools come out, the testosterone surges and a crowd gathers on the street to witness the show. Yes folks, the chainsaw! The call of the chainsaw never fails to summon curious onlookers and lovers of a streetshow. Honestly, it's such a spectacle they could pass the hat for tips as the engine roars and the ice chips fly!
|Do not try this at home!|
The ice block slowly and carefully becomes slabs of ice, then each slab is deeply cut, again using the chainsaw but not all the way through, into precise columns.
And the columns of ice are then cut evenly into cube-ish shapes - again, not all the way through.
Now the cleaver is brought back into play to gently, but firmly, separate and trim the ice into nearly perfect cubes approximately 3" X 3" each. Beautiful.
|One beautifully clear cube reflecting the sun and the scene.|
But what's the point? Why produce ice in such a time-sapping, laborious process? What makes it better than what comes out of your refrigerator door? It's the speed of the melt and the resultant controlled dilution of your drink. It's the attention to detail when creating a cocktail of the very finest ingredients...top shelf bourbons and ryes, peerless gins and liqueurs, the Perfect Manhattan or Martini made perfectly.
Who wants a precisely made cocktail that in a minute or two is diluted beyond recognition with chipped ice or normal cube ice? Probably not you and certainly not me...nor any discerning cocktail afficianado. If you're the sort who appreciates the contents of the glass, the aroma, the mouthfeel, the subtle flavors vying for your tastebuds' attention, you're also just the person to appreciate the effort of an ice program to preserve your experience to the very last drop.
Remember hearing about Derek Brown at the beginning of this post? What?! You don't know the Passenger or the Columbia Room? The bar was named to GQ's 25 Best Cocktail Bars in America and to Food and Wine's 50 Best Cocktail Bars. Who is Derek Brown? Only the owner of those esteemed establishments and himself a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional Award in 2010 and was featured in the Wall Street Journal's article, "Master of Mixological Science." He knows his stuff.
GQ magazine also applauded Derek for making the best martini in America. While Bobby was working with Derek he taught Bobby how to make his Perfect Martini. Bobby shared the handed-down martini wisdom with me. And now, I'm sharing it with you. Here's how.
The Perfect Martini
- 1 1/2 ounces London Gin - Bobby used Martin Miller's London Dry Gin
- 1 1/2 ounces Dolin Vermouth
- 1 dash Bittermens orange bitters
- a wide strip of lemon zest, no white
In a martini pitcher, place 2 large, beautiful cubes of ice. Measure in the gin, vermouth and the dash of bitters. Stir 60 smooth turns gently around the pitcher.
|Two beautiful cubes in one beautiful martini pitcher.|
Strain into a chilled martini glass and twist the lemon above the glass, forcing out the oils. Rub the rim with the yellow side, if you wish. Cheers!
2216 Penn Avenue in the Strip District
Shakin' It Up to Stop Lung Cancer
There are some things in life that are worth every single moment and every bit of energy you put into them. Kids are first to mind, of course, but I’m talking beyond the realm of family. I’m looking outside to causes that make a positive impact in people's lives. LUNGevity IS that worthwhile cause.
Let me tell you just a little bit about this organization. LUNGevity is the largest private funder of lung cancer research and offers the largest online support network for lung cancer patients. It is dedicated to ending lung cancer NOW. Because 1 in 14 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer, each one of us knows or has known someone who has somehow been affected. Lung cancer kills more Americans than breast, colorectal, prostate and pancreatic cancer combined. LUNGevity works diligently across the country to put an end to this insidious disease.
What does this have to do with today's Dinner Plan-it post? Somehow I was fortunate enough to be connected with this organization to help kick off the very first LUNGevity mixology fundraiser here in Pittsburgh. Along with Michael Green, respected Wine and Spirits consultant to Gourmet Magazine for 19 years, and Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter for spirits, liquor, cocktails and bars, I was the remaining third of the trio of judges at a night of cocktail magic. What an experience! What a dynamic group of moving and shaking (no pun intended) people! What a night of Shakin' It Up To STOP Lung Cancer!
|In the kitchen and getting ready!|
Groundwork had been laid long before I ever was pulled into the fold, but we built upon that framework and gathered some of the BEST mixologists in Pittsburgh to dazzle the lucky people who would eventually attend the event. Shakin’ It Up To Stop Lung Cancer pitted mixologists in a head-to-head competition that incorporated Penn 1681 Vodka and healthy ingredients in a cocktail. What a creative group of bartenders we have here in Pittsburgh!
Ingredients such as freshly crushed red grapes, fresh pumpkin, pineapple and apples, whole blueberries and blackberries and even ancho chiles were all in abundance. Fresh herbs and spices, too, pumped up the cocktails…mint, sage, thyme, clove, cinnamon, basil...a virtual garden! A rainbow of colors and flavors!
|Kevin and Tara showing off Penn 1681 Vodka!|
Each one of the bar chefs could describe to you just what the benefit of their healthy ingredients provided. Kevin Saftner from James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy created a cocktail using freshly crushed red grapes and called it a Grape Sparkler. Kevin explained that red grapes contain a substance called reversatrol that inhibits wrinkles and is beneficial to your heart! Who knew?!
|Stevie P with a little cocktail magic!|
Stevie P, from Liquid Flair Entertainment, used a juice extractor on fresh pumpkins to create from-scratch pumpkin syrup for his Bobbing for Pumpkins cocktail...it won the People's Choice Award! A cocktail with carotenoids that help neutralize free radicals in your body? A cocktail with antioxidants that help prevent cataracts? One that has zinc and iron and fiber, too? Thank you Stevie P!
|Marie of Stir Society and Mike of Meat & Potatoes|
Mike Mills, yes, THE Mike Mills from Meat & Potatoes(!), used acai, agave, damson plum liqueur and a special mixture of bitters in creating the Judges' Choice Award winning cocktail. Garnished with a single rose petal, I can attest it was as beautiful as it was intoxicatingly delicious!
|Judges Award: Never Been Kissed by Mike Mills, left People's Choice Award: Bobbing For Pumpkins by Stevie P, center|
Tara Shinn of Cioppino in the Strip District used fresh blueberries and thyme to create her delightful Blueberry Thyme; Marie Perriello, of The Stir Society, incorporated apples, cloves and citrus in her Manhattan Mule; Allie Contreras of Root 174 used apples, apple cider, freshly made sage syrup and citrus to come up with her Fall Slumber - there was even a bit of bacon bitters...mmmm; Glasgow in the Summer Time was Colin Anderson's (Bar Marco) contribution featuring fresh pineapple juice, blackberries and mint; and Dish Osteria's RaeLynn Harshman created her refreshing Turchino with a homemade fresh blueberry shrub garnished with a basil leaf.
|All 9 contenders|
|Allie Contreras pouring an Autumn Slumber|
For those not wanting to indulge, mocktail versions of the above cocktails were available as well as soft drinks. A very special selection of craft beers and ales and wines were flowing, too. And no evening of cocktails - healthy or not - should be undertaken without a sumptuous spread of appetizers. Crabcakes, a wealth of sushi, tender meatballs, cheeses, meats, fresh fruits, Caprese salad, shrimp...I could go on and on just like the beautifully decorated tables that seemed to stretch forever.
|Just a peek of the appetizer selections.|
Believe it or not, plans are already underway for next year's bigger and even better event that will coincide with Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Mark your calendars NOW for Thursday, November 7th, 2013 at J Verno Studios on Jane Street in the Southside. BE THERE! I will!
Oh, wait! You didn't think I'd leave you without a cocktail recipe, did you? Of course I wouldn't! Here is THE recipe from Colin Anderson of Bar Marco in the Strip District:
Glasgow in the Summer Time
Pineapple juice, blackberry shrub (Whole Foods in East Liberty carries shrubs in the beverage section), mint, Angostura bitters, seltzer (Colin used Pittsburgh Seltzer in those gorgeous bottles), Penn 1681 Vodka
Lightly muddle 6 mint leaves in 1/4 oz. of rich demerara syrup (or simple syrup). Add 2 parts pineapple juice (1-1/2 oz), 2 parts vodka (or water or a mocktail), 1 part blackberry shrub (3/4 oz.) and 5 dashes of Angostura bitters.
Shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Strain, add ice, top with seltzer and garnish with a healthy mint stalk.
Don't wait until next year to support the work of the LUNGevity Foundation. Please donate today. Here's the link...and thank you!
|Stevie P looks on as Mike Mills gets a congratulatory hug from Beth Westbrook Starnes - the driving force behind Shakin' It Up To Stop Lung Cancer.|
Life as a Culinary Judge
- One Pretty Sweet (or Savory) Gig
Head-spinning! That's how I'd describe two days under the fancy, big, white tents at Savor Pittsburgh and my very first experience as a culinary judge. Belly-busting might be an appropriate description, too.
When it came to belly-busting, Thursday night was the most intense of all. Thirty - count 'em, THIRTY - dishes were beautifully, almost ceremoniously presented to two long tables of judges. Appetizers, entrees and desserts streamed to our tables in a parade of tantalizing aromas, titillating flavors and tempting presentations.
We judges were chosen from a wide array of food-related areas...respected chefs, magazine editors and writers, food bloggers (me!), distinguished WQED television personalities (Chris Fennimore AND Rick Seback!) and esteemed food writers for BOTH Pittsburgh newspapers...15+ of some of the most interesting food experts I've ever had the good fortune to rub elbows with...literally with the people on either side!
|Chris Fennimore, Me, Rick Sebak|
The evening began with what else but appetizers...where else would you start in the natural progression of things? There were winners and losers evident from the get-go in both taste and presentation. Some of the prettiest didn't deliver on taste, some of the most delicious were lacking in style and panache and just a few were underwhelming in creativity. It was the best of the best that scored in all three categories...those would be the winners.My picks in the most of the categories ended up taking home honors. Meat & Potatoes' creation of the Pig Wing proved that pigs do fly...straight to the top of the heap for Best Dish of the Year. By the way, this win makes two years in a row that Meat & Potatoes has won Best Dish of the Year. Impressive.
I wonder if the accompanying Pig Slap Pale Ale influenced us at all?!
|Best Dish of the Year - Pig Wing from Meat & Potatoes|
Speaking of influencing judges, check out the original presentation of the Duck Confit Tarts! Sorry...it takes more than a buck to influence THIS judge. By the way, no money was accepted...I saw all the cash go back with the plates. At least all those I noticed!
|Some bribe! LOL|
|Chocolate Ravioli from Savoy in the Strip District|
One of the sous vide dishes won the entree category! Thank you Jackson's of Moon Township! The sous vide short ribs were served atop a hash of apples and a variety of root vegetables. Notice the little plastic thing sticking out of the top? That was a "syringe" filled with a "reduction" we were told to squeeze into our mouths after eating the meat. Just like Iron Chef America!
|Sous Vide Short Ribs with Roasted Apples and Root Vegetables|
On to dessert! The winner was a beautiful landscape of white chocolate capuccino cannoli served with balsamic glazed fresh strawberries from one of my favorite grand dame restaurant in Pittsburgh, The Grand Concourse. The shells were light, airy and crisp, the filling smooth and silky and the strawberries made such a tart contrast...it was a perfect way to end a meal.
|Wish the pic was clearer...it may have been my eyes watering right along with my very grateful mouth.|
That was it for the food on Thursday night...all that was left was an evening of strolling through the tents, sampling cocktails, talking with chefs and guests, enjoying the music and the beautiful breezes off the Mon. What a beautiful way to spend an early September evening in Pittsburgh. What an incredible experience!
(That was Thursday night...Friday night was round two and THE Great Happy Hour Competition. Tell you all about THAT in the next post. Yes, I got to judge BOTH nights!)