Category Archives: Restaurants

There’s a Reason New Orleans Is Considered a Foodie Destination

crawfish etouffe

They say in New Orleans, there’s no such thing as a bad meal. Earlier this month, I spent a few days in the Crescent City, and based on my experience, I’d have to agree with that sentiment.

Going into the trip, my only criteria was that I had to, at least at some point, try the special dishes that put NOLA on the food map: gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish, etouffe, beignets, chicory coffee, muffaletta, charbroiled oysters, fried oyster po’boy, and, if I was lucky, alligator. I’m happy to say that my mission was accomplished on all fronts. Here are some of the highlights. Continue reading

Can You Improve on the Classic Burger? Burgh’ers Can

Forest Hills burger with rosemary fries

Sometimes, all you want or need is a great burger. Not a perfectly cooked filet, or trendy sushi, or an elegant seafood dinner, or even modernist cuisine, but a juicy, flavorful, classic hamburger, perhaps with a few creative toppings. And for that, you go to Burgh’ers.

Opened in 2010, Burgh’ers is one of several gourmet burger joints to recently hit Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene. What sets Burgh’ers apart from the crowd is its strong commitment to using local, natural ingredients—evident in the way the restaurant proudly lists its local purveyors right on its home page. Another source of pride for Burgh’ers is its proprietary meat blend, made from grass-fed beef raised at Armstrong Farms in Saxonburg, PA.

A quick glance at the menu will tell you this isn’t your parents’ burger joint. Instead of just hamburgers and cheeseburgers, you’re able to choose from nearly a dozen specialty burger combinations, all with sophisticated toppings. Caramelized onions? Check. Wild mushrooms? Check. Fennel seed? Check. Even rapini? You bet! None of the preconceived burgers quite your fancy? Then build your own burger with the toppings list on the back of the menu. Continue reading

Food Trend: Cuban Sandwiches

Kaya Cuban sandwich

Cuban sandwiches aren’t anything new. Let’s face it, the origins of the sandwich are more than 100 years old, and its current incarnation made its debut in America (or at least Florida) in the late 1940s and 50s. A quick glance at food blogs makes me think the sandwich became a national sensation circa 2008. And now, all of a sudden, I’ve noticed Cuban sandwiches on a number of restaurant menus around Pittsburgh.

Maybe they’ve been there before and I just never saw them, or maybe Pittsburgh’s current food revolution has led to these little babies being featured at establishments that focus on Caribbean and Latin fare. At any rate, here’s a run-down of some Cuban sandwiches sampled around town recently. Special thanks to my husband for being such a fan of the sandwich and biting the bullet to taste test them with me. Continue reading

Biba Brings Innovative Dining to Beaver County

Spaghetti Squash at Biba

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a saying that can be applied to restaurants, too. Or rather, don’t judge a restaurant by its prices, as was the recent lesson I learned.

The case: Biba, a new Latin/tapas restaurant in Beaver, PA, about 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh.

The menu: A variety of small and large plates, meant to be shared. The menu changes weekly to take advantage of foods that are fresh and in season (I know, right up my alley, right?). On the night I visited, small plates ranged from $4-$12 and large plates cost $16-$26.

The dilemma: I attended Biba’s soft opening night in late summer, at which small plates were $7 and large $14. I feel this is more in line with the prices people expect to pay for a dining experience in Beaver. So, I went into my more recent experience thinking that no matter how good the food was, expecting Beaver County residents (of which I am one) to pay $26 an entrée was setting the restaurant up for failure.

I was wrong. Continue reading

Cheers to Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar

I had been wanting to try Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar for more than a year now, even before the restaurant had been named the best new restaurant of 2009 by Pittsburgh Magazine and Executive Chef Chet Garland received the magazine’s “Rising Star Chef” nod, but those awards only further piqued my interest. Time and a general lack of desire among friends and family members who I asked to accompany me kept getting in the way. Until last weekend, when two of my more adventurous foodie friends and I finally made it there.

After such a lengthy build up, I was worried the restaurant wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Thankfully, that could not be farther from the truth. Continue reading

Can Giant Eagle Market District Cooking School Take the Heat?

Market District Cooking School

Note. This post originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Observer, February 2010.

The opening of the Giant Eagle Market District store in Robinson Township last November promised to be a Mecca for Pittsburgh-area foodies. Here you could find all of your specialty food products in one place, from locally grown produce to grass-fed meats, with purveyor names like Jamison Farms and D’Artagnan. At last, you could finally purchase beer in a Pennsylvania grocery store, and not just any beer, but quality microbrews, both local and otherwise. Artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, high-end prepared foods, even gelato—the list both delights and amazes.

Despite the draw of these products, a slightly lesser known aspect of the new store intrigued me even more: The Market District Cooking School. I have dreamed of attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York State for years, if not for its formal four-year culinary arts degree then at least for its enthusiast classes. The Market District school held the promise of those kinds of informal classes closer to home. Continue reading

Vanilla Pastry Studio Is Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Vanilla Pastry Studio

Note. This post originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Observer, October 2009.

Entering Vanilla Pastry Studio is like walking into every little girl’s dream—and even a few dreams of some of us thirty-somethings. From the moment you step in from the sidewalks of Centre Avenue in Shadyside, it’s as if you are transported to another world altogether. Gone are the cold, gray sidewalks and streets, replaced with a more feminine and delicate space, decorated mostly in white with touches of soft pinks and greens. Continue reading