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Sunday Night Catch Up

There have been a number of things over the last month or two that I’ve told myself I need to get around to blogging about. I have the pictures and the intention, and then it comes down to I could either write the post or take a nap. Today I took a nap and OMG it felt good. Naps have been much higher on my priorities list. As they should be for everyone.  I hate that nagging feeling of having a backlog of posts. By the time I have enough time to sit down and write, the older ideas feel stale and I’m no longer into it. So this is my “catch up post” and I’m counting this as a clean slate moving forward.

(1) Now that the winter is really bitter and cold, I am again asking myself WHY do I live in Pittsburgh, and wishing I could go back to our holiday week in Tampa.  We only got to check out a small slice of it, but Tampa seems like a really cool town.  On our last night there we ate at this killer Latin American restaurant called El Puerto.

El Puerto


El Puerto

El Puerto

Mr. Beez had the dinner pictured in the middle, which was basically steaks on top of sausages on top of chicken on top of mountains and mountains and mountains of meat. Also, they had churros, which is nothing crazy or special when you’re in Florida, but churros are HARD to come by in Pittsburgh, so yasssssssss.

(2)  When we were in Florida, we went to Legoland. Everything was awesome.

Legoland

We were incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy a lot of amusement parks with Baby Beez this year. We went to Disneyworld (Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios), both Universal Florida theme parks, Sesame Place, Kennywood, and now Legoland.  now we are beginning what I will call “A few years of not going to any damn amusement parks” because I’ve had enough amusement. We may take her to Disney again in 5 or so years, but we need some time off for a while.

(3) Just FYI, outside of Legoland is this crazy delicious BBQ joint called Hog Heaven Smokehouse. It’s in a nondescript little strip mall, so you won’t notice it unless you’re looking for it. LOOK FOR IT. I admit, BBQ does not tend to be the most photogenic food, but you need to try this stuff, because it is delicious. Also, it’s a small family run place, and everyone working there was absolutely the sweetest. I felt more like a guest in someone’s home than a customer at a restaurant.

Hog Heaven

(4) We also visited the Dali museum when we were in Florida. It’s been a dream of mine since I was in high school to visit this museum, and it did not disappoint. It also had a special exhibition of Escher’s works going on. It was a complete dream for my high school self.

Dali Museum


(5) Ybor City was a totally cool neighborhood and we had so much fun checking out their local breweries, of which there are several. Our favorite brewery was Cigar City Cider & Mead. They had over a dozen offerings on tap of all kinds of meads and ciders, so many different flavors and all over the spectrum from dry to sweet. The bartenders were super friendly and were proud of the drinks they were serving, and chatted with us the whole time. Also they were playing Indiana Jones movies on a big screen the whole time. A+.

Cigar City

(6) When we got back to Pixburgh, we swung by the food truck roundup at The Brew Gentlemen because I saw that Blowfish BBQ was there, and thanks to the amazing food I had at Hog Heaven Smokehouse, I NEEDED BBQ and all I could think about was smoked chicken and delicious deliciousness. Delicious deliciousness was had, and if you have not yet had Blowfish BBQ, you are sorely missing out on the best BBQ in the city. And if you disagree with me, you are just wrong. Sorry.

Blowfish BBQ


(7) This week I visited Amazing Cafe with my friend Beth, and at risk of sounding ridiculous, it really was Amazing. I had the Tulum tacos, which included roasted tempeh, potatoes and vegetables. I also had a green juice that was legitimately delicious. I don’t really like juice, but from time to time I will tolerate it. I actively liked this juice, which is very unusual for me. Both Beth and I were thrilled with our lunches, the food was fresh, light and made us feel good from eating it. This is definitely worth a mid-day trip out of downtown.

Amazing Cafe Tulum Tacos

(8) This week was Restaurant Week and I made it out for 2 meals.  On Thursday, we went for family dinner to Braddock’s Brasserie at the Renaissance Hotel downtown. Baby Beez was really excited that we were eating at a restaurant in a HOTEL and I have no idea why, but whatever. The food was very good and the service was very friendly, so we had a really nice time.

Braddock's


Braddock's

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Braddock's

(9) The Steel Trap and I also went to Prairie for Restaurant Week dinner. Prairie is also on the gastropub/comfort food theme. The food was brilliantly executed and the ambiance was fun and laid back. I am puzzled, though, why the owners decided to change from Verde, which was a really good Mexican style restaurant in a town with few Mexican Restaurant, into a gastropub/comfort food kind of restaurant, of which there seem to be no shortage anymore. I went for the dishes that they are best known for– the chicken & biscuit and the ice cream cookie, and I was not disappointed. HGB of The Steel Trap also loved it, and you can click here for her review.

Prairie Pittsburgh


(10) Over this weekend, we took Baby Beez to Dave & Busters for a bit. We played this ridiculous pirates game that involved shooting monsters and such, but she and I had so much fun together with it, it was really incredible. I’m not really into video games, and she doesn’t have the skills or coordination to do well at them so she gets frustrated fast, but we were able to make some headway on this silly game and had such a fun time playing it together. It was one of those special little memories that is going to stay with me.

Dave & Busters


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NaBloPoMo Day 23: Seasonal Specials with Potential but Room to Grow @TheYardPGH @mad_mex

NaBloPoMo Day 23: Seasonal Specials with Potential but Room to Grow @TheYardPGH @mad_mex

Autumn is my favorite season for all the reasons, but especially because of the food. I’m a sucker for pumpkin and cinnamon and apple everything. Roasted veggies appear on all the menus, and various establishments roll out their take on “gluttonous Thanksgiving meal.”  Mad Mex’s Gobblerito is probably the most beloved Autumn food in Pittsburgh.  I do like it, but there are enough things about it I would like to change to make it fit my specific tastes, that I am not obsessed with it the way most of the rest of the city is.

In general I don’t write negative reviews of places. There is enough negativity in the world that I don’t feel the need to pile it on any further. In this case, however, I do generally like both of these restaurants and often go and am very happy with other things I’ve ordered. The dishes I’ve had at each have the foundation of a really, really good dish.  As is, the dishes are just okay. But after a few tweaks, I think they could be delicious.

Last week my friend, Christine, took me to The Yard for my birthday, because I’ve been eager to try their “Turk’d Up” sandwich. The Yard serves local brews and all kinds of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. The Turk’d Up is their version of a Thanksgiving Dinner grilled cheese. It’s got turkey, corn, stuffing, potatoes and gravy, and is served with a side of cranberry cobbler.

The Yard Turk'd Up

My chief issue with most Thanksgiving themed dishes is that they involve slices of turkey rather than chunks of turkey, carved off the bird. It probably is unwieldy for a restaurant to have lots of for-real Thanksgiving turkey for its dishes, but slices of turkey just do not add up.  The bread was also much too thick and inadequately buttered on the outside for this kind of dish. Thin bread, generously buttered and grilled on the outside would make this sandwich delicious.  Also, I am one of those disgusting people who loves to turn my Thanksgiving inner into a goopy mess, so I would love it if cranberry sauce were served in the sandwich (instead of or in addition to the cobbler on the side), and if the whole thing were soaked with huge ladles-full of gravy. Yummmmm.  As the dish was, it was a nice, heavy, comfort food kind of lunch, but with better turkey, thinner buttered bread, cranberry sauce and a ton of gravy, this would be great.

Tonight Baby Beez ad I grabbed dinner at Mad Mex.  At first I planned to order the Gobblerito and do some kind of Turk’d Up vs. Gobblerito post. When I saw the Shishito Pepper Burrito on the menu, however, I opted for that instead.  The burrito features roasted butternut squash, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, feta cheese and is topped with delicious roasted shishito peppers. The default protein in the burrito is grilled chicken, but I subbed in tofu.

Shishito pepper burrito

I love the concept, as well as the mix of flavors. The peppers are just on top, not inside the burrito, but I liked the independence of the peppers’ texture, when I would put a bite of pepper together with a bite of burrito in my mouth. This burrito’s downfall is that there is about 5 times as much rice in there as there is anything else. At times I felt like I was just eating a rice burrito.  I’m not sure if Mad Mex would go for this, but if you could order it with no rice (or with very, very little), I think it would be a really excellent seasonal dish.

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NaBloPoMo Day 16: Birthday trip to @Nemacolin

NaBloPoMo Day 16: Birthday trip to @Nemacolin

So this is really yesterday’s post, but I was laying in bed last night and realized I forgot to post, and just was not going to get out of bed for the sake of blogging. So 2 posts tonight and I say we’re on track.  My birthday is tomorrow, and to celebrate my birthday we went on a family trip up to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.  I’ve never been there before and I always love spa treatments and excellent food.

We started our visit with brunch at Lautrec.  It’s a lovely buffet with all kinds of pastries, fish, pancakes & waffles, desserts and even prime rib.  Baby Beez’s behavior has generally been getting better as she has gotten older, but I wanted to make sure she was on her best behavior.  To encourage fancy manners, we wore fancy clothes. She loves fancy clothes so this was a thrill in and of itself.  She also likes getting to choose her own foods out of a buffet.  She was able to show her best manners for the meal and we had a very nice brunch.

Nemacolin

Mr. Beez and I went to the spa while Baby Beez spent the day at the Kidz Klub. She was literally the only kid there, but that didn’t bother her any. In typical only child fashion, she made up stories with her imaginary Harry Potter friends, went swimming, watched movies and played with toys. It did not bother her any that there were no other kids there. Although I venture to guess she was a little bit lonely, because by the time we left the resort, she was saying that she missed her friends.

Nemacolin

After having an amaaaaazing time at the spa, Mr. Beez and I spent a good part of the afternoon sitting around, drinking wine and reading the whole internet. It’s kind of a silly thing to do, but we don’t get to just sit and relax very often so it was very nice.


Autumn

We had dinner at Autumn, which included scallops with bacon jam. Yes, Please.  The meal was lovely.  We do get to go out to eat quite a lot, but it was nice to be able to just wander down and pick up our kid afterward, and then wander back to our room. Because we are total party animals, we were all in bed and asleep by 9:30. But that’s a perfect birthday treat for me. I like sleep.

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NaBloPoMo Day 15: The Best Meal We Ate in Montreal

We ate very well in Montreal, but naming our “Best Meal” was no contest. After our 2nd visit to the spa that weekend (IT WAS VACATION WE DO WHAT WE WANT), we called up Bouillion Bilk to see if they could fit us in, and they were happy to oblige. To be honest, I did not do my homework in advance of our travels. Sometimes the time gets away from me. I was perusing the restaurant reviews on Yelp, and the one for Bouillion Bilk was glowing, so we decided to try it. I am so, so glad that we did.

FullSizeRender (5)

First, the food was perfect. Amazing.  It’s hard for me to describe the varied, unexpected and delightful flavor combinations, so you will have to make do with the pictures.  Sandy and I are both fairly comfortable with wine lists, but we were baffled by this restaurant’s. The server told us that because their menu is novel and ever changing, their wine list matches by being interesting and inventive. The only wine I recognized on the list was Rioja, so I had that. Sandy asked for the server to recommend wine based on her dishes, and he did an excellent job. This is a place where you can trust the servers to steer you in the right direction.

Urchin Amuse Bouche

Urchin Amuse Bouche


beets, smoked egg, horseradish, taliah, clementine, cranberries

beets, smoked egg, horseradish, taliah, clementine, cranberries


scallops, cauliflower, shiitake, pear, watercress, beurre noisette

scallops, cauliflower, shiitake, pear, watercress, beurre noisette


venison, rosti, cabbage, labneh, juniper, honeyberries, yellow foot chanterelles

venison, rosti, cabbage, labneh, juniper, honeyberries, yellow foot chanterelles


chocolate financier, jerusalem artichoke, clementine, hazelnuts, coffee

chocolate financier, jerusalem artichoke, clementine, hazelnuts, coffee


kouing amann, apple, caramel, vanilla, pink peppercorn

kouing amann, apple, caramel, vanilla, pink peppercorn


Second, the ambiance was dead on for our moods that night. The food was fancy but the mood was completely casual and unpretentious.  During most of our trip we were surrounded by all these twentysomethings and it just felt weird.  Boullion Bilk was full of people more in our age range, and the whole place had the feel of people just wanting to enjoy a relaxed night out with a delicious meal.

Third, the people-watching was beyond compare. The host was Alex’s Canadian long lost brother (the host was incredibly friendly, although Alex has the edge on humor). There were many couples with whom we played “guess their story,” which is always one of my favorite games. I think the restaurant is fancy enough that it is a hot spot for couples on early dates, still trying to impress each other. New couples always make for the best people watching. (I say this as my husband and I are sitting in a hotel lobby, drinking wine, and looking at the internets to make the most of our relaxation time now that we have sent our daughter to the Kidz Klub to hang out. #old).

The tastes of this meal are so vivid in my memory that it pains me that the restaurant is so far away. Hopefully I make it back to Montreal soon, and when I do, Bouillion Bilk will be right at the top of my “must visit” list.

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The Best Things I’ve Eaten Lately with @OhioCityPasta @OutTheFireCafe @LeonasLLC @BlowfishBBQ @BeatrixChicago

The Best Things I’ve Eaten Lately with @OhioCityPasta @OutTheFireCafe @LeonasLLC @BlowfishBBQ @BeatrixChicago

I’ve had some good eats lately, both in Pittsburgh and while traveling. What is “good” or “best” is completely subjective, but these things have completely knocked my socks off.

Sweet Potato Blue Cheese pierogies from Ohio City Pasta in Pittsburgh Now that Baby Beez is back in ballet on Saturdays, an after-dance stop at the Pittsburgh Public Market is usually on the agenda. Ohio City Pasta has a stall there, vending pasta and pierogies to take home as well as hot cooked dishes. These sweet potato blue cheese pierogies are beyond. They are starchy, buttery and sweet, but that blue cheese gives them a little funk in an excellent way. I have an enthusiastic appetite, but 4 pierogies filled me up nicely.


Honey and Cinnamon Latte from Restaurant Beatrix in Chicago. This is the coffee drink of my dreams. The sweetness is so subtle, and the espresso so smooth. It was a few blocks away from our hotel, and I snuck back over several times to pick up more of these beautiful lattes. I just could not help myself.

Beatrix Cafe

Pasta with fresh vegetables and langoustine at Harvest Moon Cafe in Sonoma, California Setting aside our dinner at the French Laundry, this pasta dish at Harvest Moon Cafe was my absolute favorite meal of our trip to wine country. Saying that I am picky with pasta is not quite the right description, but I usually just do not care for pasta dishes. But every once in awhile, I am treated to a pasta dish that impresses me, and does it ever impress me.  This pasta was all things summer in one delicious meal. The vegetables, including corn, were sweet, crisp and crunchy and the pasta was deliciously hearty.  Although it is nice that Harvest Moon is a local/seasonal kitchen that focuses on the produce that is available and best, it is sad to know I could not just show up at the cafe again and expect this dish to be offered. I suppose it will have to live on in my memory.

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Grilled Oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co. in Napa.  After being entirely squicked out by oysters for many years, I gave them a try a couple years back, and quickly acquired that acquired taste.  More recently, I was introduced to grilled oysters and they changed my world. Grilled oysters have a denser texture, alleviating the texture issue for anyone who is afraid of slimy foods. They are also grilled with various sauces, which adds a kick of flavor. Especially if you like oysters (or even if you don’t), try them grilled. It will change your world.

Hog Island

Mushroom Bread Pudding from Out of the Fire Cafe in Donegal, PA. Even if you don’t have a visit to Seven Springs booked, it’s worth the drive to get dinner at Out of the Fire. I had dinner there with my friends during a girls weekend in the spring, and it was one of the most fun and delicious meals I have had in ages. The mushroom bread pudding is so unique and decadent, it is by far the star of the menu.  It is kind of like stuffing, but covered in a rich bechamel sauce. Unlike so many other mushroom dishes where the mushrooms are flavorless bits of sponge, these mushrooms have real flavor. Bonus–if you are like me and your heart breaks to see food thrown out even though you are stuffed, go ahead and bring the rest of this home in a doggie bag. It reheats very well and I bet would make great breakfast alongside some eggs.

Mushroom Bread Pudding from Out of the Fire

Brisket & Mac and Cheese from Blowfish BBQ. Pittsburgh has had quite a few new bbq options lately.  We discovered Blowfish by accident, and it absolutely blew us away. Blowfish is a mobile operation. You can find out their location from their twitter feed, or, if you are like me and can’t handle keeping track of one more thing in your life, just remember: they are at the Brew Gentlemen in Braddock every Friday NIght.  As I write more and more in this post, I’m running out of adjectives. And anyway, you know what BBQ brisket and mac and cheese taste like. So I’ll just say this: Best.

Blowfish BBQ

Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches.  I have to admit, my obsession with Leona’s is twofold: (1) they are delicious and I like to have them in my belly; (2) finding them in stock or with flavors I have not yet tried is always a crapshoot, so there is a thrill-of-the-chase element in working to get my next ice cream sandwich fix.  A number of their sandwiches feature cinnamon, ginger or speculoos, which is just about perfect in my book. They go perfectly with a hot cup of coffee, which is why Zeke’s coffee shop in East Liberty is one of my favorite places to stop for this treat.  I especially like that the fruit flavors in the ice cream are fairly mild. I had a ginger cookie and plum sandwich recently, and the plum was nice and subtle, not beat-you-over-the-head overwhelming plum, which was lovely. I did reach out and ask Leona’s if there’s any possibility for them to publish info about what flavors are stocked where. They replied “no can do,” so it looks like the hunt will continue.

Leona's

Breakfast burrito from Kelly-O’s in Pittsburgh As a Southern California girl, I take breakfast burritos very seriously. Very. Seriously. For the record, the breakfast burrito of my dreams is served at Primo Burgers in my hometown. Several places in Pittsburgh now serve breakfast burritos, but none have proven to be “the one.”  Every once in a while, I have a breakfast burrito CRISIS, and I need one immediately.  I had such a crisis last week, and Kelly-O’s breakfast burrito, while not a Primo Burger breakfast burrito, did hit the spot. I recommend ordering it with extra salsa. I snagged one through carry out around 10am that day, and was stuffed all the way through dinner.


And now, a completely gratuitous picture of the now-5-year-old Baby Beez, who is hoping for a win for the Bucs this afternoon. Let’s Go Bucs!

Let's Go Bucs