A Vegetarian Walks into a Meatball Joint…

… and quite liked it.  


Emperio: A Meatball Joint

942 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Emporio Inside

Last week, I headed downtown to Emporio for a casual dinner.  It was the second time I’ve been to this joint in the last few months, and I’ve really enjoyed it both times- good food, good beer & good service. It totally cashes in on the hipster vibe.  Emporio is part of Sienna Mercato, three restaurants in one building kinda deal, a la Italian Village in Chicago (which just so happens to be one of my favorite places). Emporio occupies the ground level and one floor up is Mezza: Charcuterie with its fine wines, fancy cocktails and wood fired pizza and pastas.  Head up one more level to Il Tetto: Rooftop Beer Garden for, you guessed it, tasty craft beer and some small plates.

But, back to Emperio. I’m gonna start off straightaway with the star of the night (besides my date, of course) the warm mixed & marinated olives, ciliegine mozzarella.  Sweet shit.  I had this both times I went to Emporio and I have since dreamed about it on multiple occasions.  It’s a little salty, spicy taste of heaven.  And the portion is huge- in olive world, that is.  They were all warm and delicious.  Be warned though, if you are more into it for the cheese, there were only three little motz balls, but a gaggle of different types and sizes of olives.  Small green ones with the pits still in them.  They were peppery and tart.  The larger pink ones were more mild, but just as good.  The two of us ate all of them, but could have happily shared with two more people.  Plenty to go around. But, get them.  I promise, you olive lovers, they are amazing.

Emporio Olives

Upon first looking at the menu, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of veggie options, but don’t fret, even with only one veggie ball on the menu, there are plenty of options.  The sauces/gravies, soups, apps, etc. that are for us veggie folk are clearly marked with an *.  Thanks, menu creators.  And you can put your chosen ball on whatever you want…veggie meatball, that is.  Sliders, panini, poutine, solo.  You create your own ball masterpiece.  The first time I went, I just did the slider with spinach-almond pesto.  It was a good choice, but I learned my lesson and stepped it up the next time.  Behold, the Fried egg, Veggie ball, Poutine special covered with a spinach-almond pesto.  Perfection, is actually what I have named it.


They might as well just put it straight on the menu. It’s a winner.  The perfectly fired cheesy goodness of the tots (poutine) with the over medium fried egg.  Once the yolk broke over top of the veggie ball and mixed with the pesto, it was a marriage for the ages.  I know.  I am kind of a food genius.  Look away from the panini and sliders and go straight for the trifecta of poutine, veggie ball and egg.  A winner.  My only recommendation would be to not eat the ball solo.  It’s a little bland and pretty squishy.  Mixed with everything, it is very good.  Solo, it leaves something to be desired. And, since it is, after all a meatball joint, I was a touch disappointed in the lacklusterness of the ball.

Empoiro has a great beer selection, but to up my hipster points (I wanted to fit in) I ordered a PBR.  It was good, cheap and reminded me of my undergrad days.  A win in my book.

Emporio PBR    Draft List

Overall, I am a fan of Emperio: A Meatball Joint.  Good for an easy night out with your sweetie or a group of people for a happy hour spot with friends.  Get crazy with your meatball (veggie ball) concoction.  Go with the spinach-almond pesto. And DON’T miss the warm olive app.

Overall Grade: B+ (if the veggie ball gets a touch more flavor, this grade would sky rocket!)

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Posted by on August 27, 2014 in Downtown, Pittsburgh Neighborhoods



Lawrenceville – 3810 Butler Street – Pittsburgh, PA 15201- 412.586.7224


A sunshiny day in Pittsburgh means getting out of the office and hitting up a good lunch spot.  A friend and I decided to head to Lawrenceville for some fries and dogs.  I wasn’t disappointed… bbbuuuuttttt…I also wasn’t overly impressed.  The place is beautiful—super clean and very well renovated.  The bar is nice and I would guess that this place is packed with happy hour and late night guests.  Great beer selection and good food, not great food, but definitely good. The service was great and the staff seemed knowledgable and happy to be there—always a good sign.

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There are a handful of good veggie selections on the menu.  A veggie sausage and a vegan, tofu dog.  Every dog can come with your choice of toppings or style.

CHICAGO IMPOSTOR: Relish, tomato, banana peppers, chopped onion, yellow mustard, pickle spear, celery salt (At least they know its not a real Chicago dog, hence the name “imposter.”  They get a point for this one.)

PITTSBURGH: Smooshed pierogie, slaw

REYKJAVIK: remoulade, onion, ketchup, mustard, Onion Crunch

BOLLYWOOD:  curried cauliflower pickle, mint raita, cilantro

BANGKOK: Thai peanut sauce, pickled carrot, cilantro

CORN DOG: Under Dog or Veggie, one dipping sauce

(There are lots more styles, check them out here:

I went with the Reykajavík veggie dog because I have this weird obsession with Iceland and Icelandic culture.  While this dog was good, I don’t think it conjured up the tastes of Iceland.  It looked really exciting when it came with lots of stuff on it, but it was lackluster in taste.  It was good, but didn’t knock my socks off like I thought it would.  The raw onions were good, but a bit overpowering on the dog.  The fried onions created a good texture, which was needed because the actual dog was pretty soft.  I sadly couldn’t taste the remoulade, which was the main reason I went with the Reykakavík.

The fries, of pommes frites as they call them, were quite good.   Local, hand-cut taters.  Good seasoning, but could have been a bit crisper.  I went with the spicy horseradish dipping sauce for the fries. That was really the winner of the whole meal.  The ketchup was weird.  My friend and I both agreed that it had some cinnamon or something off-putting in it.  Not a fan, but the horseradish sauce made up for it all.  They also had loads of other dipping sauces to choose from: garlic aioli, Miller’s mustard, horseradish, barbeque, brown gravy, bleu cheese, wasabi mayo, Thai peanut, remoulade, tahini lemon, marinara, sour cream, & sweet chili sour cream. But, be forewarned, each sauce will cost you an extra .75.  My friend had the pierogies and said they were good.  Nothing to write home about (especially in Pittsburgh) but still good.

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Word on the street is the Franktuary has a killer Sunday Brunch.  That might just get me back in the door.

Overall Grade: B-

If you are looking for a good veggie dog and a great microbrew in a more laid back environment, I’d recommend D’s Six Pax in Regent Square.  But, if you are looking for something a bit more upscale in the hipsterfied neighborhood of Lawrenceville, then Franktuary might just be the place for you.

Franktuary on Urbanspoon

Franks be to god.

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Posted by on March 14, 2014 in Hot Dogs, Lawrenceville


Kaleidoscope Cafe


If you are looking for a place to get some great small plates, salads, soups and amazing desserts served by friendly staff and made by an approachable chef, then check out Kaleidoscope Cafe in Lawrenceville.

Nestled a few blocks north of Butler St. in a residential neighborhood, Kaleidoscope Cafe brings a unique dining experience to the ‘Burgh.  Casual, American food in a laid-back  environment.  The Cafe was small, but colorful and had a welcoming, eclectic vibe.  I was worried that it might be a bit on the pretentious, hipster side of things, but it didn’t feel that way at all.


For dinner we all started out with either soup or salad.  The soup of the day was meat chili, that a friend said was good, not great, but good.  The salads however were excellent.  Each made with a homemade dressing.  I ordered the Farmhouse salad with the house-made balsamic.  Fresh greens, thin pears, roasted (AMAZING) earthy tasting beets, walnuts and lots of gorgonzola made this salad a must.  All of the salads looked amazing and the cilantro citrus dressing was intriguing. The salads also came with some warmed pita triangles and some sort of incredible nut butter.  Don’t miss out on that nut butter!  I would go back for a big salad paired with a nice wine/beer.  It is BYOB, so plan ahead people!


Up to the entree course everything was quite good, but the entrees all fell a bit short which was a let down.  My Gnocchi Nirvana with soyrizo was probably the best of the bunch.  It was good, but not great.  The gnocchi were clearly homemade, but very, very, very soft and squishy with a light fry on the outside.  I would liken them to small mashed potato nuggets before I would call them gnocchi.  The sauce was fine, but kinda boring.  There wasn’t much soyrizo, but what was there was good.  The portions were the right size, not to big and not to small, but the food was just okay.  Those I was with- the carnivorous type- were equally as, shall I say, bored with their entrees.  A friend who had the basa, which is some type of white fish, didn’t even finish it saying that it was soggy and tasteless.  Yikes.


So, after a lackluster main course, I wanted to see if we could end the night on a happier note.  Another Urbanspoon reviewer said that the pear dessert was on the mark.  So, I ordered one for our table and we were all impressed with the flavors and craftsmanship of the dessert.  A medium poached pear sitting on a red wine reduction accompanied by candied walnuts and a rum mascarpone quenelle.  It was stupid good.  Rich and satisfying.  Not cloyingly sweet like some dessert, but had a great depth of flavor and the perfect way to close a meal.

ImageMy recommendation would be to come for salads and desserts and bring your own wine.  And if you are feeling adventurous and want to try an entree that we didn’t try, they have a special on Tues, Wed and Thursday that when your buy a small plate and two entrees you get a free bottle of wine.  That’s got date night written all over it.

Nice servers, friendly chef (who did come greet us at our table), interesting decor, warm atmosphere, awesome starters and finishers.

Overall Grade: B-

Kaleidoscope Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Posted by on July 19, 2013 in American, Lawrenceville


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For a good night out with friends, head to D’s!

D’s SixPax & Dogs

Regent Square

1118 South Braddock Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15218 | (412) 241-4666

So… I am clearly on a veggie dog kick, but can you blame me with all the choices in the ‘Burgh?!  I’ve been to D’s a few times to pick up beer or grab a drink with a friend, but this was my first time testing out their cuisine.  I was impressed.  It was tasty.  Lots of veggie-ness on the menu.

We started with the Zucchini planks for an app.  Planks? Must be a PGH thing, as I haven’t seen it before, but many places here offer the massive appetizer.  The zucchini was nice and crispy, but it was a bit over fried to the point of about a quarter of it being in-eatable.  It was a bit greasy, but not terrible.  We only ate one plank a piece, and to be honest, I could have gone for just a half a plank.  It sat pretty heavy in my stomach. But the redeeming factor for the app were the sauces.  The marinara was actually really good- not to sweet or thick.  And the “tiger” sauce was really, really good.  It had the nice kick from the horseradish and the cooling cream.  It was worth patting the grease off another plank to go back from more!

Fried Zucchini Planks
We fry a humongous handful of breaded zucchini medallions to a golden brown. Served with your choice of marinara or tangy tiger sauce… or heck, both.

For our main course, we tried two different veggie dogs.  Clearly, a Chicagoan at heart, I had to go with the Chicago Dog.  Great choice! The dog was packed with amazing veggie ingredients and void of ketchup- just like a dog should come!  The actual dog itself was a touch dry- overcooked by a minute, I think.  But the condiments more than made up for this misstep.  And, the whole thing came properly on a poppy seed bun.  Well done, D’s!

Capone, Jordan, Ditka, and a dash of celery salt! All on a poppyseed bun! Well, more like relish, onions, pickles, tomatoes, sport peppers, and yellow mustard (oh, and that dash of celery salt!), but still.

The other dog was a must try!  The Big Ben (while not one of my favorite sports heros) it was a great dog! Crispy fries, melty gooey cheese sauce, and coleslaw.  Ummmmm, yes please!  I will go back for this one!

This little slice of Heaven has nothing to do with a clock that’s 3,700 miles away and everything to do with our star quarterback! Piled high with fries, creamy cheddar and coleslaw!

So here are my words to the wise next time you made the stroll to D’s in Regent Square.

1. One hotdog is MORE than enough!  I think I ate about two bites of each and one zucchini plank and I was stuffed.  And I am not the “I’ll just have a side salad” kinda gal.  These dogs pack it all in.  They are stuffed!

2. The servers in the main dining area all tag-team the tables.  The women who took our order was NOT friendly, but the dudes were. So… Well, I guess there is really no advice here, just be warned.

3. One of my favorite parts about this place is that you can go into the beer cave, pick out any beer you want, and they will open it for you right there.  If you want a beer that isn’t cold yet, they have a convenient super cooler that can get your beer frosty very quickly.  You can also get 6 &12 packs to go.  They have a great selection of local and micro-brews on tap.  You can’t go wrong with the beer here.

Overall Grade for D’s SixPax & Dogs : A-

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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Hot Dogs, Regent Square


Joe’s Dogs: Best in the Burgh

Joe’s Dog House

Joe’s is hand’s down my favorite lunch spot in Oakland.  For $5.25, my favorite (and what I get EVERYtime) is the “Veggie Special” with chips and a drink. I am a veggie dog connoisseur, and this is one of my all-time favorites.  Joe’s veggie special consists of a grilled Yves Jumbo Veggie Soydog on a toasted wheat bun topped with sliced fresh red tomatoes, spicy(!) giardiniera, yellow mustard and celery salt.  Joe (and Chris- the other owner) slice the dog length-wise and grill it to perfection.  Then it’s topped with all that yumminess?!

Yes, please!

Joe and Chris also have a tomato & basil tofu Italian sausage and a killer MorningStar Farms chipotle black bean burger. A food cart that caters to vegetarians has my heart!  But don’t worry carnivores! My meat eatting coworkers are also consistenly pleased with their meat dogs, so I say that you can’t go wrong with this place.  And the owners are super nice folks- win, win!

Joe’s also has a rewards system to keep me coming back.  Wait… who am I kidding, it’s that dog that gets me coming back each time! But, this is a lovely perk!  Buy 10 dogs, get one free!

Joe’s Dog House Grade- Easy A!

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Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Food Trucks, Hot Dogs, Oakland


Casa Rasta v. Smoke

Casa Rasta

2102 Broadway Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15216

Some friends and I took advantage of the amazing weather on Sunday and ventured to the South Hills for the highly recommended, Casa Rasta experience.  It is a cute little place with a nice outdoor patio.  Prefect for a lazy Sunday afternoon of sunshine, people watching and chowing down on some good grub.  The inside has just a few seats, so be warned if you are going on a cold or rainy day, it might be best to get yours to-go!

There are two veggie tacos on the menu.  I clearly had to try both!  They were both good.  Not earth-shatteringly good, but good.  Both tacos came with two fresh corn tortillas. Yum!  The first one I tried, which was my favorite of the two, was the Vegetarian Poblano Chilis & Potatoes (Rajas) and the other was a Vegetarian Mexican Sausage (Soyrizo).  The pepper one was cooked well and didn’t have any of the bitter/metallic taste that happens sometimes to cooked peppers.  The peppers were cut into ribbons which made for a fun presentation.  Topped with a bit of their homemade salsa, it was a good taco.  The Soyrizo taco was fine.  I ate the whole thing and enjoyed it, but it tasted like something I could whip up a home in no time.  The “sausage” tasted just like Boca or Quorn crumbles cooked in some taco seasoning.  I liked it, but it was nothing special.  Am I glad they have it on the menu though?  Heck yes!  I will always credit a place when they have veggie protein on the menu!  Well done, Casa Rasta!

The only thing on the menu that I didn’t much enjoy were the black beans.  They come in a Styrofoam bowl, which for a cute little hippy, veggie/earth friendly place, I was shocked that they used Styrofoam.  But neither here nor there, the beans were just not great.  No seasoning and a minute or two undercooked.  I put them on both tacos to add a little somethin’ somethin’, but on their own, they were not good.

I did, however, very much enjoy my Mango Jarritos.  Delish.

If you have read my review of Smoke and this one, I bet you can guess my winner.  For the food, from this one veggie’s perspective, there is a clear winner- Smoke.  As far as the whole dining experience, I would give it to Casa Rasta based on the patio and option for outdoor dining. I would go back to Casa Rasta with friends for a cheap, casual meal.  I would go back to Smoke time and time again for flavorful, fresh food.

Overall Grade for Casa Rasta: B-

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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Mexican, South Hills


A+ for taste. That’s right, A+!

Udipi Cafe

4141 Old William Penn Hwy
Monroeville, PA 15146

Pure Vegetarian South Indian Cuisine

This place is in the middle of nowhere, looks a little sketchy on the outside, and a little sketchy on the inside, but OMG is the food amazing.  I though Zaiaka’s was good (and I still think it is well above par) but this place-AMAZING!

We went on a Sunday night and there was a line out the door.  Now, mind you, the place is pretty small so it doesn’t take more than 50 people to make this place burst at the seams. The inside was pretty dull and boring and the service was nothing to write home about, but again, the food was worth writing to just about anybody about.  And all vegetarian?  I’m a believer!

The menu is large and full of amazingly tasty looking veggie delights.  A friend recommended the Dosa, so we went with that and quite a bit more.

First, we went with the Royal Appetizer Sampler.  Fancy, I know. It was huge and delightful!

And here is my only warning to you.  The peppers are “praying to sweet baby Jesus make the burning stop” hot.  I mean like hot, hot.  Now, I love me some hot peppers and can usually hang with the big boys, but I may have lost a taste bud or two after this one.  The curious thing about this little pepper, is that after I was done with this one, I ate the other one on the plate.  Why, you ask?!  I think I was drunk with the heat from pepper #1.  But, pepper #2 was not spicy at all.  Pepper #1 could have been hotter because I was dipping it in the green sauce that I mistook for a cilantro sauce which was, in reality, a hot peppery sauce.  Once can never be sure, but sample with caution.

For our two main course dishes we went with an old favorite, Malai Kofta, and a new favorite, Masala Dosa.

Malai Kofta– Beautifully floral curry with hearty veggie balls.  Perfectly cooked rice and a sweet and tangy veggie yogurt on the side.  Was just as good reheated for lunch the next day!

Masala Dosa– Perfectly soft crepe with crispy edges good for scooping the chunky potatoes and onions.  The dosa was served with sambar and chutney (two spot on accompaniments.)

I have zero, yes zero, criticisms about either dish.  I would go back for both in a heartbeat, but I am so excited to try everything on this menu.  It is authentic, fresh and flavorful. What more could you ask?  Oh, and I forgot to mention that it is stupid cheap.  You can thank me for the recommendation after your dinner.

Overall grade for Udipi Cafe: A (but A+ for taste!)

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Indian, Monroeville