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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Worth a trip over the river! again and again and again!

Smoke BBQ Taqueria

I should just be happy that this place isn’t in East Liberty, because if it was, I would be poor, poor, poor!  Homemade tortillas, veggie options, Mexican Coke in the bottle, eclectic decorations, and friendly service?  My kinda place.  A friend and I went to Smoke today for lunch and couldn’t have been more pleased- me with my veggie options and him with his meat options.

The place is very small and quaint, and if you want to eat-in at prime meal times, you will probably have a wait.  We were just a bit after the lunch rush, so we were able to get a table at the small bar.  There are only about 12 seats in the whole place.  The decor is cute and rustic- quite homey.  The staff was friendly and accommodating.  But the best part, by far, was the food!  I had two tacos for lunch:

Veggie: black beans, roasted poblano & corn relish, crispy potatoes, and chili de arbol sauce

Migas: eggs, thin & crispy corn tortilla strips, onions, hot peppers, beans, and cheese

They were both delicious!  Fresh ingredients on a homemade tortilla with the perfect amount of spices.  If I had to pick one over the other, I would go for the veggie.  The fresh corn and tiny diced peppers and crispy potatoes were perfection.  I would go back for this taco in a heartbeat.  It was so stuffed full of goodness, that I had to ask for a fork to get at the fillings that had fallen out- yes it was that good!  Here is the after picture:

The sign hanging in the restaurant had it right.

I really don’t have a bad thing to say about this place.  My friend who came with me, a Mexican dude, said that his three tacos were all amazing.  He had the brisket, pork and chorizo.  His fav was the pork, with the brisket a close second. He said the chorizo was done just right and reminded him of home.  So, Smoke gets 4 big thumbs up from the two of us. Well done and we will see you again soon!

Overall grade for Smoke BBQ Taqueria: A

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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Homestead, Mexican

 

Mardi Gras in the ‘Burgh

NOLA on the square

Good service. Good fun. Good food.

Last week, a big group of us went out for a friend’s birthday. This place was fun and funky. Decorated in true Mardi Gras, New Orleans style, this place had me right when I walked through the doors! The folks at NoLa had a great table in the back setup for us, and our server was delightful. She was attentive without being annoying (you know what I’m talking about). This place had a great selection of beers and an equally interesting, but not super veggie friendly, food menu. With starters like crispy fried alligator and blue crab and strawberry salad, I was bit worried. However after tasting the only veggie appetizer option, my worries were squelched!

Fried Artichokes: Abita battered with creole mustard ranch. Ummmm, yes please! Now, I like artichokes. I don’t love love artichokes, but I like them in moderation… This dish however, may have made me love (not quite love love) artichokes. Fried nuggets of artichoky heaven with a ridiculously good side sauce to boot. I would go back to NoLa just for this dish with a nice Abita Turbo Dog on the side! But be warned, the app is $9 for just five little artichoke nuggets.

Then came a tasty salad that was just perfection. Their namesake salad, the NOLA salad: was filled with baby greens, romaine, red onions, sweet potato chips, soft chevre (heavenly!) and topped with a light vinaigrette. The salad had nothing too fancy, but it was just right.

Other than a veggie flatbread, there is only one vegetarian main course entree. Good thing is was tasty!

Griddle Grits: Stone ground grits topped with camembert, haricot vert (green beans for the not so classy like me!) and a tomato creole mixture. This dish was good. It wasn’t excellent, but it was good. For what it was, it was a bit pricy- $17. The grits were cooked well- skillet style, more like polenta, but with a nice char on the bottom. The green beans were delish! My only problem with the dish was that the tomatoes tasted canned. I guess they could have just been a bit overcooked and gotten that canny flavor, but they were not my fave. But the grits, green beans, and cheese were a lovely combo that I would get again.

The salad and entree are both 1/2 sized portion because I split the dishes.

All in all, it was a night full of lots of laughs, lots of beer and wine, and lots of good food. I would recommend this place for any larger group or for folks who want to go out and have a few drinks and some good food- just remember to bring along your credit cards, because this place costs a pretty penny!

Overall grade for NOLA on the square: B

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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Downtown

 

No Chicago Dog?!?!?!

Station Street Hotdogs

What?!?!  How can a hot dog place even exist that doesn’t serve a Chicago dog?  I was willing to forgive the newly reopened Station Street Hotdogs for not having a Chicago style dog because they did have veggie dogs and veggie chili, so I ventured over to Broad St. (behind the new Target in East Liberty) for lunch.

Their menu consists of either 100% beef, natural casing hot dogs or vegan Smart Dogs.

Then they have 8 choices of toppings:

House Dog ($4)- with mustard, ketchup, relish, onions or sriracha.

Hawaii Dog ($5)- pineapple salsa, bacon, sweet soy, and mint

New York Dog ($5)- sauerkraut and grain mustard

Chili Cheese Dog ($5)- Smoked Brisket (or veggie) Chili, Arsenal Cheese Curds, onions

Devil Dog ($5)- egg salad, tobasco sauce, potato chips, scallions

Banh Mi Dog ($7)- Pork liver (or inari pockets), pickled cucumber, pickled red onions, jalapeno, sweet chili, cilantro

Kimchi Dog ($7)- Kimchi, Kewpie mayo, nori, bonito

Sweetbread Dog ($9)- sweetbreads, apple mostarda, pepper relish, crispy shallots

—and—

Fresh cut fries- $3

Duck Fat fries- $5

I wanted badly to like this place.  I was really excited that it had been reopened in a neighborhood that needs a good, inexpensive place like this.  Well… and I miss Chicago and was ready for a good ole sport pepper, yellow mustard, tomato, green relish, onion covered dog all on a poppy bun.  A dog that has been “dragged through the garden,” if you will.  But, alas, no Chicago dogs here.  So… I went with a veggie Chili Cheese dog and some fresh cut fries and a orange soda.  Unfortunately, the best part of the meal was the orange soda.

 

I was still quite hopeful before I took a bite.  The fries were hot, but tasteless.  I salt and peppered them which made them edible.  The ketchup was off- almost sweet.  The dog, while it looks delish, was pretty far away from the mark.  The actual dog had good flavor (I like the Smart Dogs) but it was cold.  The chili was just ok, but it was also cold.  The cheese curds tasted like cottage cheese smushed up to make a some cold cottage cheesey cubes.  Just kinda weird.  The bun was toasted, but also too sweet for my liking.  I only ate half of my dog and fries which left me still hungry after this $10 lunch. Bummer.

After a lackluster (at best!) meal, I still want to like this place, especially when they have all kinds of cute hotdog paintings throughout the restaurant.  The service folks will have to get some more experience and better attitudes (they looked put out when I ordered veggie and were pissed that there was no liner in the trash can when they went to change it).  And, I wish to think that my lunch was not great because they were newly opened and they don’t have a ton of experience with the veggie side of their menu. The fries…well, let’s just hope they get some more seasonings on them STAT.  For the record, I went with a friend of mine who is a meat eater and he loved his New York Dog.  He said the duck fat fries were good, but not worth the two extra dollars.  But he is excited to go back to try more of the different kinds of dogs.  For me, maybe I will change my tune in a few months, who knows. For now, I will keep my eyes open of the perfect Chicago style veggie dog in PGH!

Here’s to re-openings and to hope that Station Street gets off to a better start (for their veggie patrons) soon!

Station Street Hotdogs Overall Grade: D

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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in East Liberty, Hot Dogs

 

Come for a drink. Stay for the food.

Round Corner Cantina

After another LONG week of work, a couple of us decided to have a few drinks at Lawrenceville’s Round Corner Cantina.  After a few drinks and the best chips, salsa, and refried black beans that we have had in Pittsburgh, we decided to stay for dinner.  By 7pm on Friday night, this place was PACKED!  Seating is first come, first served, so be prepared to swing some elbows to get a space.  The three of us were cozied up to the bar, but with tasty drinks in our hands, we didn’t care much.  There is also a big room with 4-top tables in the back and a large back patio that I imagine is just lovely in the warmer months. They have a long list of tasty cocktails and lots of good beer on tap. A few of the drinks that the folks I was with tried and liked very much:

                Carnation: vodka, ginger beer, cranberry, and lime

                Dark & Stormy: rum, ginger beer, and lime (this was the favorite)

Dinner was as good as the drinks.  This was by far the best Mexican I have had since moving here.  It is nowhere near your greasy, run of the mill Mexican restaurant.  Everything was fresh and simple- yet really, really tasty!  They had a good handful of veggie options on the menu, with more than just beans!

Papas Gratinadas: sweet potato, chipotle, and queso Chihuahua

Tacos De Seitan: seitan, avocado salsa, onion, radish, cilantro

They were both great dishes.  The papas tasted like a really supped up scalloped potatoes and surprisingly were may favorite part of the meal.  They were hearty and warm on a cold night.  The tacos were super fresh and light.  I never pass up an opportunity  to order seitan and this place did it well.  The proportions of everything in the taco were just right- fresh radishes, cilantro and onions covered in an avocado salsa with the cubes of seitan.  Nothing not to like with this dish.

Overall, this place was a homerun.  It was the perfect Friday night destination.  The first time I was in this place was a few weeks ago when I was waiting for a table at Picollo Forno and I am glad we found it. This is for sure a place I will frequent.

Round Corner Cantina’s Final Grade: A

roundcornercantina.com

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Posted by on February 17, 2012 in Lawrenceville, Mexican

 

Book my plane ticket now!

Kaya Restaurant describes itself as island inspired cuisine.  I don’t quite know what island they are talking about, but if anyone knows, I am willing to book my plane ticket right now!  A good meal from start to finish.  Good service, good music, good drinks, good apps, good entrees.  Good all around.

Tucked into the back of the Strip District, Kaya offers unique, inspired, and darn tasty dishes.

We started our meal with:

Tofu Cracklins: crunchy little cubes of tofu with peanuts (lots of them!), scallions, and a really light chipotle BBQ that was far from overpowering. Huge portion and we ate every last little tofu morsel.

Kayapolitian:  Lemongrass and lime zest-infused vodka with a splash of white cranberry juice with dried cranberries.  Smooth and refreshing!

There were only three veggie entrees on current menu, but the two that we had were delicious!

Jerked Tofu Tacos: avocado, cabbage slaw, cilantro cream sauce, cilantro, Reyna’s tortillas.  The tofu was cut into the same cubes that we had for an app, but the taste was totally different.  True to its name, the tofu was indeed jerked.  It was spicy, smokey and sweet.  Some may find the combo a bit overpowering, but with the avocado and cilantro cream on top of a lightly grilled tortilla, it was just right!

Squash Torta: tomato, zucchini, spiced goat cheese, frisee, sunny side egg.  This was the perfect bit, every time.  The torta (sandwich) came with a small side salad that was to die for- amazing garlicy dressing that didn’t distract from the freshness and crispness of the mixed greens.  The bread was something out of a dream.  It looked hard and bland, but turned out to be everything you could ask for in bun form!  It was sweet, soft, hearty, fresh and had a lovely texture.  I have only had bread like it once before and that was in Costa Rica.  It held up well with all the toppings including a perfectly cooked sunny-side up egg. The spicy goat cheese made the sandwich.  That paired with the sweet bread and egg- a perfect match.  I would go back to Kaya just for this sandwich. I haven’t had something so unique and so delish in a very, very long time.

Overall, this place was one of the better meals I have had in PGH.  It had a great atmosphere that would work for a night out with friends or a romantic evening with your love.  Either way, I think you’d have a pleasant experience.  Kaya is a win in my book.

Kaya’s grade: A

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Worth the Wait (mostly)

Piccolo Forno in Lawrenceville proved to be worth the hour wait… mostly.

After a LLLLOOOOONNNNNGGGGGG work week, a colleague suggested that we all go out for dinner and drinks to Piccolo Forno, a tiny little BYOB Italian joint on the main drag in Lawrenceville. The place only takes reservations for groups over 5 and usually not on the same day as the call, so either plan ahead or be prepared for a fairly epic wait. We knew we were in it for the long haul, so we sent over a few from our party to get our name in early.

When I arrived, my group was across the street at a really lovely bar/restaurant called The Round Corner Cantina. What a great little suprise that place was. Good beer and from the look on the faces of everyone eating, good food. The staff was nice and knowledgeable. This was a great place to wait and get a few drinks. I think it will be on my short list for next night on the town as well. (http://roundcornercantina.com/)

But, back to Picollo Forno. We were seated at a nice, cozy table (remember the place is pretty darn tiny) near the bar. Our server, Sabrina told us her favorite things on the menu. One of them contained braised boar; needless to say, I stuck with my own choice:

1. Insalata di Rucola: baby arugula, cherry tomatoes, radicchio, toasted walnuts and parmigiano reggiano. Yum, yum, and yum. There is nothing not to love about this one. It was probably my favorite part of the dinner. Fresh ingredients and not bogged down with cups of dressing like most salads.

2. Maccheroni con Melanzane al Forno: baked rigatoni with fried eggplant (heaven!), onions, beschamel and gruyere. This was also something I would get again in a heartbeat, but on the flipside it was rich enough to make my heart stop beating if I had it more than once a year!

3. Pizza- Tonno e Cipolle: crushed tomatoes, fresh motz, imported tuna (clearly being a veg, I had it sans the tuna), onions and capers. I wouldn’t call the pizza bad…but then again, I wouldn’t call it good either. Being from Chicago I am pretty picky about my pizza. This place just fell short of the mark in every way on this pizza. The sauce was too sweet. The crust was nice and thin but not crispy. It was almost a little soggy- not appetizing. There were not enough toppings. Nothing to write home about.

For the most part, my companions all enjoyed their dinners and I did too. I would return when I am in the mood for a nice dinner out, but I would highly recommend getting pizza elsewhere. Don’t forget to grab a beer at the cantina when you are in the neighborhood!

Piccolo Forno overall grade: B, Pizza grade: D

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Posted by on February 1, 2012 in Italian, Lawrenceville