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Sahside Date Night with @city_theater and Kassab’s

Sahside Date Night with @city_theater and Kassab’s

Mr. Beez and I take a neighborhood-centric approach to our date nights. By planning multiple destinations in one neighborhood, we cut down on travel time and parking hassles, and spend more time having fun than getting from place to place.

In January, we had a Sahside date night at Pittsburgh’s City Theater and Kassab’s Lebanese Cuisine. This is my third visit to the City Theater. While it is a small company, I am always blown away by the amazing quality of their performances. When my mom was in town a couple of years ago, we took her to a show, I don’t remember the name but it was about a pair of brothers, and she still brings up how amazing that show was. Two other big pluses about City Theater: (1) Their Greenroom events are an awesome deal, and while I have yet to actually make it there, I’ve heard they are rockin’. (2) Their annual gala is reliably one of the best events in the ‘burgh each year.

On to the show! South Side Stories is a one-woman show written and performed by Tami Dixon. It’s first run was last year and was highly acclaimed. I was extremely bummed that I didn’t get around to going, and was elated to hear that they were bringing it back for a second run. Dixon is a talented actor, and brilliantly weaves together a tapestry of the personalities, meek and overpowering, of the remnants of milltown Pittsburgh still living in the South Side.

South Side Stories preserves uniquely-Pittsburgh culture in a way that the thirty-somethings in Pittsburgh have only heard as memories from their grandparents, or if they are lucky, their parents. I say “they” rather than “we” because I’m a Pittsburgh transplant, and do not personally have the milltown history in my family, so I can only experience it as an outsider. Then I look at my daughter, and realize that although her dad’s family has steelworking in their history, those stories are going to be as abstract to her as they are to me. It’s a culture that is quickly fading.

Dixon’s play is, frankly, amazing and important to Pittsburgh culture. I hope City Theater brings it back for future runs.

City Theater South Side Stories

After the show, we shuffled our way through the snow and wind to a cozy dining spot a mere block away– Kassab’s Lebanese Cuisine.

Kassab's Lebanese Cuisine

I must admit that walking into Kassab’s, I had no expectations, because Middle Eastern food does not excite me. Mr. Beez loves it, but I am generally ambivalent. The only thing I usually have much interest in is pickled turnips.

Kassab’s, however, turned my ambivalence on its head. Let’s start with the hummus– it is so silky. We ordered the appetizer platter, which at around $15 and massive portions of their appetizer selections, it was intended to be shared by more than 2. But it was awesome. And yes. We ate it all. And there were lots of pickled turnips, ALL FOR ME, because Mr. Beez wouldn’t eat a pickled turnip if you paid him.

Kassab's Appetizer Plate

I ordered the grilled chicken flatbread sandwich. It, too, was amazing. It was warm and flavorful, and accomplished all the things such a sandwich is supposed to accomplish (which, I guess, is taste good and be filling. Which it was)

grilled chicken wrap at Kassab's

Mr. Beez had a shish kabob platter and was also extremely pleased. He did share a little bite of lamb with me, and it was so buttery and delicious.

Kassab's Shish Kabob Plate

The service at Kassab’s was casual but attentive. There was a large table nearby that was celebrating a birthday, and it struck me that Kassab’s really is a great place to get together with friends. I may not usually crave middle eastern food, but I now feel differently when it comes to Kassab’s. It is only 8:30 am right now, but all I can think about is that hummus and those turnips and all of that amazing food. Kassab’s has earned a well-deserved spot on this family’s short list of favorites.

Kassab's on Urbanspoon

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Fancy people birthday brunch with @ElevenPittsburg

Fancy people birthday brunch with @ElevenPittsburg

My birthday was way back in November, can you believe how far away that was! Back in a month where the ground was not covered in snow! I can hardly remember what it’s like to walk out of the door wearing heels (not snowboots). Back in that wonderful time, I celebrated my 29th birthday (again) with some lovely friends at Eleven’s lovely brunch. I admit I’ve been to Eleven before for dinner, and wasn’t the biggest fan. The quality of the food was quite good, but it was expensive and didn’t feel as “special” as I expected (Caveat: That was a couple years ago, so maybe a revisit to dinner would be appropriate). The brunch, however, is great. It’s simultaneously fancy and laid-back. You could arrive to brunch in a ballgown or a pair of sweatpants, and it would all be OK.

Eleven Pittsburgh

The price fixe brunch includes a cocktail, starter and entree. I wish I could tell you exactly what my cocktail was, but it was over 3 months ago. All I remember is that it was grapefruit and I loved it.

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Starter charcuterie plate. LOVE it.

Eleven Pittsburgh 3

I opted for the oysters starter. I think having oysters as a starter option really sets Eleven apart. Where else are you going to get oysters as part of a price fixe brunch? And you know that these oysters are fresh and high quality. They were. So tasty.

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This picture is kind of hard to see, but it was my steak entree. I was like IT IS MY BIRTHDAY, I AM EATING STEAK. I don’t often eat steak, but birthdays call for something decadent. And decadent it was.

Eleven is a perfect brunch spot to impress your guests. The menu selections are familiar, but have a creative twist. In particular, if you’re an out of town visitor staying in dahntahn, Eleven is walkable and worth a stroll. Although this is definitely a “grown ups only” atmosphere as the day gets later, I felt perfectly comfortable bringing my little one with me for brunch. Since brunch prices are reasonable ($25 for grown ups, $15 for kids), this special brunch does not have to be reserved solely for special occasions.

Eleven on Urbanspoon

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Family Pizza Outing at Pi Coal Fired Pizza

Family Pizza Outing at Pi Coal Fired Pizza

I never quite know what to make of restaurants that continuously run specials on Groupon or LivingSocial.  For some wildly expensive restaurants, a $25 coupon for $12 doesn’t shave much off of their profit.  For more modest eateries, I’d assume that such coupons don’t run them cheap, and so I wonder how the whole thing works out for them.

I like pizza, I like fancy pizza, and the Southside is close to my house and my work, so after seeing the Pi Coal Fired Pizza deal on heavy rotation, I decided we should give it a whirl.  We went on a weeknight for an early dinner (6:30 or so).  Pi is more “bar” than “restaurant,” and when I first walked in and saw the tower of Pinnacle vodka bottles and huge open floor space for mingling, I worried that I’d picked a place that is more appropriate for bros than babies.

Pi Coal Fired Pizza

We took a few steps in and a waitress greeted us warmly, and I felt a lot more comfortable.  Because of the early hour, the place was fairly empty, so even if bringing my kid was a faux pas, it wouldn’t be witnessed by so many people.  Well, it turns out, it wasn’t a faux pas at all.  Kids are frequent guests (kids do love pizza after all!) and they even had little kid cups.

The menu has probably 15 different options for pizza, but I found that many of them were variations on the same theme.  For example, there were probably 5 different varieties of margherita pizza.  However, the ingredients on these pizzas were very high quality and the way the options are structured are well suited for people with very specific tastes.  The pizza is thin crusted and fired in the pizza oven, so it is fresh and hot when it arrives at the table (and service was impressively fast).

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We ordered two varieties of the “spicy cured meat” pizza.  One had chorizo and the other I think had pepperoni.  Since our visit was a few weeks away, the finer details have faded from my memory, but I do recall that I preferred one and Mr. Beez preferred the other, but only slightly for each.  Baby Beez was kind of being a punk that night and preferred to play with the iPad instead of eating, but that was fine, it meant more for us.

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After the Groupon (which I think was $10), I think we paid another $18 or so.  The pizza and service were both good and the price was right. Pi worked out as an excellent option for a weeknight when we hadn’t figured out dinner, didn’t have the energy to cook, and wanted something savory and satisfying.  Given that Pi so frequently offers its Groupon deals, I should pick up a couple more as an option for busy weeknights.


Pi Coal Fired Pizza on Urbanspoon

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#NoMenuMonday with @HaitianFam1st at @BarMarcoPgh YUM

Bar Marco is better described as a community gathering place than as just a “bar” or “restaurant.”  Its proprietors are incredibly invested in not only making Pittsburgh a better place, but also in helping other Pittsburghers make the whole world a better place.  The No Menu Monday dinner series has been a raging hit over the last few months.  No Menu Monday involves a partnership between Bar Marco, organizations advancing good causes in various forms and guest chefs.  Like the name, there’s no menu.  Basically you pay them, they give you food, and part of the money goes to the organization.  This ain’t no church basement spaghetti dinner, they take their food seriously.

I’ve been meaning to make my way to these events, and with Haitian Families First as the featured organization this week, it was time to stop by for a meal, no ifs ands or buts about it.  Ali and Jamie are both in town right now, and were both there to share news of the great work they’ve been doing.  To make the event extra-special, the meals prepared for the event were from recipes they brought back from Haiti.  The idea was “everyday food,” so we got to sample a bit of the kinds of meals that are common in Haitian homes.  Like most Caribbean cuisine, this means rice, beans, plantains, meat and spices.  These are basic, hearty and flavorful ingredients and made for a tasty meal.

Citrus Cocktail from Bar MarcoNo Menu Monday means, seriously, NO MENU.  So when I asked for the bar menu, the waitress said “Nope, sorry, no menu. But if you tell us what you like, we can put something together for you!”  My instructions were: citrusy, a little sweet (but not overly so), with a vodka base.  This drink had those components, there was also absinthe involved, but only in a small quantity so that you could taste a tiny hint of it, but it didn’t overpower.  This was quite a good cocktail, whatever it is they should make it more often.

Haitian chicken dinenr at Bar Marco

Haitian vegetable fritters at Bar Marco

I attended the event with my foodie buddie Christine.  In an ironic turn to the tables, I ordered the chicken (despite having been a vegetarian for years and years and years of our friendship) and she ordered the vegetable fritters (despite practically being a carnivore).  Both dishes came with rice, beans and a small side of slaw.  The slaw was too spicy for me on its own, but mixed with the rice and beans balanced out to a perfect kick.  I found that the best taste came together when I heaped the chicken, rice, beans and slaw onto my fork all at once and took a huge bite in one gluttonous demonstration.  The chicken was great but the fritters were even better.  I didn’t order the fritters because I assumed they’d be more fried than vegetable (think: latkes).  These were more like heaps of mashed sweet potatoes with a fried crust on the outside.  The inside was creamy and not fried through.  I could get used to fritters like these.

Rum Ice Cream and Plantains at Bar MarcoThe final course was a surefire winner– rum ice cream and fried plantains.  Rum flavored desserts are usually too overpowering with the rum flavor for my taste.  The rum in this ice cream was certainly strong, but was a good match for the plantains and did not overpower my palate.  I was happy to support HFF in their amazing work and even more happy to fill my belly with these flavorful dishes.  Although the $30 price tag is steep for me to make my attendance a weekly happening, the cause was worthwhile and the food satisfying.  I’ll be sure to swing by again to support my other favorite organizations.


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Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurants Party @PittsburghMag

Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurants Party @PittsburghMag

This was my fourth year attending the Pittsburgh Magazine Best Restaurants Party, and it was my favorite by far.  The party celebrates the region’s “best restaurants” as chosen by various critics, using whatever criteria they use. Really, I don’t know how the restaurants are picked, but every year the lineup consists of restaurants I like (see: Cure), restaurants I want to try (see: Wild Rosemary) and standard Pittsburgh staples (see: Mineo’s).

Burgatory's sliders and mini-shakes

Burgatory’s sliders and mini-shakes

Each year Mr. Beez and I attend with our foodie friends, Christine and Trav.  The party is not a cheap ticket, and it’s popularity has exploded with the Groupon specials that have run the last two years.  The last three times, we attended with a standard ticket, and I seemed to have the same gripes every year: too crowded, too crowded, too crowded, running out of food because it’s too crowded.  This year we changed things up and splurged for VIP tickets, meaning we got in an hour earlier and had an hour’s worth of an open bar.  This made all the difference and we loved it.  By the time the standard ticket folks started wandering in, we were already stuffed full of food, and ended up leaving kind of early (seriously, we were there for the FOOD, and we needed naps after gorging ourselves).

Divine pistachio macaron from Cafe Chocolat

Divine pistachio macaron from Cafe Chocolat

Each year ends up with more or less a food trend.  Our first year, sashimi and other varieties of raw fish were all the rage. This was a disappointment to me because I was pregnant at the time, but did manage to console myself with copious servings of chocolate cake from the Gullifty’s table.  A couple years back pork belly was the big thing, which is delicious for the first several dishes (the restaurants serve out “small bites” sized dishes), but quickly became much much too much.  This year seemed to be the year of the crostini.  Crostini is good, but not particularly exciting. I think of crostini as something I’m eating when I’m waiting for the real food.

photo(4)My favorite dishes of the evening were the fresh sliders and mini java-chip shakes from Burgatory, pictured above, and the delicious steak salad from Wild Rosemary.  Savoy and Cure took home the audience awards for the evening, but to be honest, I didn’t make it to the Savoy table and I can’t remember what Cure served.

Wild Rosemary's heavenly steak salad.

Wild Rosemary’s heavenly steak salad.

The party is followed by an after-party at the Rivers Casino. We did not go this year because of the early onset of food coma. We did go last year, and I recall that there was an abundance of delicious snacks (we only sampled a few, since we were stuffed by the time we got there…this is an ongoing theme for the Best Restaurants party), and there was plenty of music and on the whole was a nice time.

Tasty pulled pork slider from I don't remember where, but it was super good.

Tasty pulled pork slider from I don’t remember where, but it was super good.

If you are interested in the Pittsburgh food scene– whether it’s just trying new restaurants or chatting with chefs– the Best Restaurants Party is worth attending. Heck, you don’t even have to be a foodie to have a great time. We plan on splurging for the VIP ticket in future years to avoid the big crowd, but yinz all better not jump on that bandwagon, or you’ll crowd it all up!