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Unexpected Date Night: Tearing up the Town @almapgh @cakecookiespot and @clubcafelive

Unexpected Date Night: Tearing up the Town @almapgh @cakecookiespot and @clubcafelive

On Mother’s Day Weekend, we ended up with an unexpected date night.  My mother –in-law already had plans to watch Baby Beez while we were out on our roller skating adventure, but when we dropped her off that afternoon,  she asked if she could please keep Baby Beez for an overnight.  We didn’t have anything planned with the kiddo for the night, so what the heck, spending more time with her Grandparents is a win all around (they took her to Chuck-E-Cheese, by the way, so I’m sure she was very pleased that we acquiesced to this request).  After living out our childhoods on the rink, we ran some boring grown-up errands (which included buying new couches. Yay new couches!)  Since we hadn’t planned for an evening out ahead of time, we went with the old standby: FOOD!

 For dinner we went to Alma, Regent Square’s innovative pan-Latin establishment.  We’ve been there several times before, but this time the starters really stole the spotlight.  I had an avocado and grilled chicken soup that was hearty but not too thick for the warm weather, and the fried yucca was amazing.  I’d take that yucca over French fries any day.  It was crispy on the outside but much denser than the common potato.  It was hearty and filling.

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Mr. Beez went for steak and was very pleased with his dish.  Many of the dishes here are some variation on protein/rice/beans, but they are all skillfully seasoned and carefully prepared.  I find that Alma doesn’t provide any surprises, but that its strength is in its consistency. 

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I had the vegetarian tangine with tofu.  The vegetables, fruit and rice within the tangerine were a colorful mixture.  They actually forgot the tofu initially and quickly brought it to me on a separate plate, but I didn’t even notice it was missing, because the dish was quite excellent without it.  In fact, I didn’t think the tofu was really necessary (I certainly won’t turn down a serving of tofu, though, I like that stuff.) 

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Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

We passed on the dessert at Alma in favor of exploring an establishment in Squirrel Hill.  We visited the Cake & Cookie Spot. Its offerings are exactly like its name—cake and cookies. They are awesome. 

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Their signature offering, and my favorite of the ridiculously huge gluttonous order we placed, are cake shots.  This is cake layered with filling and frosting.  I feared that the cake might get soggy, but it did not. Not in the least.  This cake was so light and fluffy and the fillings and icing so perfect.  I picked the S’mores cake shot, but they had many, many flavors including red velvet, vanilla, grasshopper, etc. I need MOAR.

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I also ordered a 7-layer bar, which was delicious and buttery and chocolaty and rich.  So delicious, even the sea mammals are trying to steal the treats!

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Mr. Beez and I also split a bunch of cookies.  Like the other desserts, they were exquisite.  He had ordered a brownie, and we discovered that they didn’t hear that part of our order, and Mr. Beez was heartbroken.  I guess that just means I’ll have to make another visit back there soon!  The Cake & Cookie spot is the perfect place when you’re having a hankering for skillfully baked but homey-tasting baked goods.  It’s like a Pittsburgh cookie table in a storefront!

The Cake and Cookie Spot on Urbanspoon

The following day was Mother’s Day, so we had plans to spend most of the day hanging out with my in-laws.  I was hoping for an opportunity for a grown-up brunch, complete with cocktails, so the timing of Baby Beez’ overnight was impeccable.  Mr. Beez and I were able to pay a visit to Club Café for a sophisticated, grown up brunch.  The last time I was there I had the steak & egg croissant and it was awesome.  I wasn’t in the mood for that on this visit, but I pressured Mr. Beez to try it out, and he loved it.  The combination of the buttery croissant from Jean-Marc Chattelier’s bakery and the meaty steak is delicious and filling.

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I started off with a salad that was perfectly dressed with arugula, walnuts and goat cheese.  If only every meal started this way!

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Next were the shrimp & grits.  I love grits. Love them, love them, love them.  These were dressed with turmeric and a little kick, and delightfully lightly charred shrimp.  It was delightful.  Absolutely delightful. 

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Club Café is a decidedly grown-up brunch spot.  It’s laid back, not fancy, but it has an abundant cocktail menu and sophisticated dining option.  It’s not as well known as some other big-name brunch spots, so that means there’s often a table open.  Club Café s on my short list of places to bring out-of-towners when they’re seeking a taste of the ‘burgh.
Club Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Waffles, Taters and a Cuppa Joe at Waffles INCaffeinated @wafflesINCaffein

Mr. Beez and I are lucky to have the opportunity to go out on dates fairly frequently, but last night’s date was especially awesomely fun.  Today, however, it’s rainy and gloomy and Baby Beez is whiny because she doesn’t feel well, and I just don’t feel like doing that whole write up.  For now I will share with you our breakfast this morning: fantastic delicious waffles from Waffles INCaffeinated in the Southside.

Waffles INCaffeinated specializes in all kinds of waffles, but they also have omelettes, sandwiches, soup and all kinds of other good things.  When it comes to breakfast foods, I lean toward savory while Mr. Beez prefers sweet.  Waffles INCaffeinated has plenty of offerings of each, as well as a build-your-own option.  WafflesINC

Mr. Beez selected the banas foster waffle with fresh sliced banana, ice cream and candied walnuts. He also ordered a side of home fries, which was a generous portion of roasted white, purple and sweet potatoes. If I knew that was what the home fries were, I would have requested an order myself. (Although I did help myself to plenty of Mr. Beez’ order).

I went for the option on special for the month of April: Dijon Chicken & Waffles.  It was a sourdough waffle with cheese and scallions baked in, with a fried chicken cutlet and a dijon sauce.  It was GOOD. And it totally hit the spot.  The only change I would suggest would be for this waffle to be made from cornmeal instead of sourdough batter. That would be perfect.

WafflesINC2The service was fine, although kind of slow.  It wasn’t so slow that I’d avoid the place, it’s just a factor to keep in mind when choosing a breakfast spot.  I was very hungry when we got there, so my hunger aggravated my impatience.  It’s the right kind of pace if you’re going somewhere for a leisurely morning meal with friends. Also, it is kid friendly for older kids (like older than 6), but the space is pretty tight, and combined with the not-completely-fast service, I probably won’t bring my 2 year old there until she’s a little older ad has better control over her behavior.

The coffee comes from a local coffee roaster, and was smooth and flavorful.  I’m so used to getting weak diner coffee with my breakfast, that the bold cup was a nice surprise.  Waffles INCaffeinated definitely places within the my top 5 of Pittsburgh breakfast places, especially because their offerings are unique and their ingredients high quality.
Waffles INCaffeinated on Urbanspoon

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The Happiest of Birthdays for a Very Special Grandma

No, I haven’t disappeared from the internet.  I’ve spent the last few days with my family, celebrating the 80th birthday of my wonderful Grandma.  I grew up in Southern California, but my family has long dispersed throughout the country.  Our chances to see one another are few and very very very far between.  Upon hearing that a surprise 80th birthday party was in the works, the Beez family eagerly packed up for the trip!

Flying with kids is not easy.  It’s not so bad when they are tiny infants and don’t do anything but sleep, eat and poop.  The worst flight we had was when Baby Beez was about 18 months old, walking and full of energy, and we were too foolish to get her her own seat.  She spent the whole flight squirming and screaming.  Once the kid is walking age, get them their own seat.  Sure, you can keep them on your lap til their 2, but it will be awful and you will hate everything.  It’s nice to be out of that time where forgetting something at home is a total crisis.  I still need to bring diapers and sippy cups and everything, but if I forget something, replacements are usually easy enough to pick up or I can improvise.  It’s nice to be out of that zone where forgetting a bottle or a binkie or whatever means complete crisis.

This isn’t to say that flying with a toddler is a joy. It’s certainly not.  But it has toned down from complete torture to annoying inconvenience, and future travels look to get better and better.

Grandma was shocked by all the excited guests. She and Grandpa were crying so many happy tears.

We had her party at The Castaway, a restaurant high up in the hills surrounding Burbank.  They serve a generous, delicious buffet style bunch, with bottomless mimosas to boot! I have a taste for the fine things as well as life’s basic pleasures.  Few things can make me happier than a plate full of mini corndogs and a glass of green champagne (for St. Pat’s of course)

The more refined offerings on the menu included osso buco and oysters on the half shell.  They were all delicious, and the variety of options is perfect for a party.

One of The Castaway’s signature features is its beautiful view.  It was a little cloudy when we arrived, but it cleared up beautifully.

And we took the opportunity to gather together for family photos.

Baby Beez stole my iPhone for a bit, and showed off her artistic side.  She knows how to activate Siri, but all she keeps telling Siri is “iPhone,” and then Siri keeps directing her to the online Apple Store.  Baby Beez is better with the camera than with the Siri.

Grandma and Grandpa were so happy to see all their beloved family and friends.  It was so sad to have to part ways at the end of the weekend, not knowing when we’ll gather back together, but it was wonderful getting to spend a little time together.

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A Belly-Filling Brunch .@TinFrontCafe

A few weeks back, the Beez family piled into the car, rolled down the High Level Bridge, and joined friends for brunch at the Tin Front Cafe. Baby Beez is an early napper and brunch time tends to be the witching hour.    We got lucky on this particular Sunday and she behaved more like a baby than a banshee. We managed to have a charming brunch.

I kicked things off with a generously-portioned bloody mary.

Salty, tomato-y and all things wonderful.  They also offer one with horseradish infused vodka, but I was afraid that the kick was more than my delicate sinuses could handle.

The Tin Front Cafe has a varied menu of hearty stick-to-your ribs vegetarian fare, but I also love that they have a small buffet that goes along with your brunch entree.  On this particular day they offered chili with chili-toppings and cornbread, potatoes, salad, cookies and to die for banana chocolate chip mini muffins.  The mini buffet was a lifesaver for brunching with a toddler.  Toddlers, and Baby Beez is no exception, are not known for their patience when hungry. We always order for her as soon as we are seated, but it was nice to be able to give her some food immediately.

For my entree I went for the polenta with ratatouille and veggie sausage.  It was a very cold day outside, and this selection was delicious and belly filling.

Along with the typical brunch fare of french toast, pancakes etc, there was a breakfast burrito on that menu that I was dying to try (next time! next time!). As Greenfielders, Tin Front is super close in Homestead.  The on street parking is very easy on Sunday mornings.  The cafe staff were friendly and attentive.  The cafe was all around excellent.  Tin Front is a brunch gem.
The Tin Front Cafe on Urbanspoon

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BOOM. Yoga Revelation. And E2.

I had an awesome bikram yoga class today. I was focused, working hard, and did an awesome job. And during this fantastic class, I had a moment of clarity: These NaBloPoMo posts are getting boring. So I’m ditching them. SEE YA.

Now on to something fun– FOOD. Mr. Beez and I took our friends Christine and Trav out to E2 for a birthday brunch.

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I’ve been meaning to go there for ages, and was thrilled that Christine selected it. I’ve heard that the wait there can be hours long, so we went on the early side (10am). The dining room is very tiny, and can seat maybe 20-25 people. They have a nice big party room downstairs, where we sat and drank coffee while we waited for our table to open up. Even though the seating in the downstairs area are big communal tables, it would be really nice if they would open this area up for more brunch seating.

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E2 is BYOB.  And brunch isn’t brunch without mimosas.

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E2’s menu changes continuously, and this week’s menu was full of fresh winter vegetables and comfort foods.

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But there is also a standing menu of sweet and savory beignets.  These savory zeppoli (with pepper and cheese) were my favorite part of this delicious meal, and the caramel nut beignets were a close second.  I’m not much of a doughnut fan, but E2’s fried dough made my tastebuds sing.

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I ordered the butternut squash frittata.  On the whole it was delicious, but it could have used just a little kick.  I think it would have been perfect if there were some spicy sausage mixed in, or maybe I should have tried topping it with a bit of sriracha. That being said, it was still tasty, and I would not hesitate to order it again.

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Mr. Beez also happily devoured his omelette.  Our meals were hearty and reasonably priced.  I was glad that we did not get stuck with a terrible wait, and the servers were nice an attentive during our little wait.  E2 is a gem in Highland Park’s cute little business district.
E2 on Urbanspoon