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Monthly Archives: April 2012

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

 

Honest American Food.

The Union Grill in Oakland does American comfort food with style.  The place is swamped on Friday afternoon lunch.  There were only two of us and we had to wait about 20 minutes, but the lunch was worth it (and it got me out of the office for a few hours!)

Their food is good, but be warned, there is not a ton of veggie-ness on the menu.  They have one veggie sandwich that has hummus, baked eggplant and a bunch of veggies.  I wasn’t in the mood for that today.  I just wanted some good, old-fashion comfort food- french fries and all.  So, I went for this:

Chicken Ciabatta Melt

“Our signature sandwich features succulent chargrilled chicken breast in a hot, grilled ciabatta roll with applewood-smoked bacon, spicy banana peppers, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions and your choice of gourmet cheeses.”

So, clearly I got this sans the chicken and bacon.  I wasn’t expecting much from it, but it was great!  It was warm, full of veggies and cheese.  They had three cheeses of the day: a hot pepper cheese, smoked mozzarella, and one other I can’t remember.  I went with the hot pepper cheese.  Paired with the sweet, caramelized onions and peppers, it was a great match. The roll was good- warm and toasty. And those waffle fries are as good as they look.  The portion was just right- not a tiny little thing but not so much that I felt sick after.  Clearly not the healthiest lunch, but just what the doctor had ordered for a Friday afternoon!

The sandwich with fries is priced on the menu at $10.99, but to my surprise, they only charged me $7.99.  Usually when I alter something to make it meat-free, I still have to pay the same price.  They made my day by taking $3 off.  Well played, Union Grill!

This place is place is a must for those who want some good, casual American eats and a cheap (but not crappy) bottle of wine. They have a decent beer list too.  I’m a fan.

Overall Grade for Union Grill: B+

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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in American, Oakland

 

Going downhill fast.

This summer, when I first moved to Pittsburgh, I went to the Double Wide Grill a few times and really enjoyed it, but the last two times have created a different story.  Last night, a couple of us ventured over the Monongahela for dinner and drinks.  We went with the Double Wide Grill.

Like I said, I have been to the Double Wide a few times prior to last night and liked the bar food a lot.  Last night though, gross.  Everything that we had was just…gross. Our server was just okay, the hostess was not very friendly and the food was terrible!  Really, the only redeeming quality of this place was the beer selection- it’s pretty darn good and they have all their vegetarian and vegan food options on the back of the menu for convince (still doesn’t mean it tastes good, but it’s all listed in one place).

For dinner, we had:

Potato Tacos: Seasoned and smashed potatoes, red and green peppers, grape tomatoes, shredded cabbage and a jack cheese mixture in two flour tortillas. Served with pico de gallo, sour cream, black beans and rice.

I ordered the tacos.  They sounded healthy, flavorful, and right up my alley.  I was WRONG.  They were, at best, bad.  The “seasoned and smashed potatoes” were actually just really, really poorly made mashed potatoes with no flavor.  I think they came from a boxed potato mix.  If they didn’t, then they were certainly not made that day.  Wallpaper paste.  Then they were placed on a flour tortilla that had a few grill marks on it, but it was not even a little warm.  A few sprinkles of jack cheese and one slice of red and green pepper- yep, one measly slice. And there was no sour cream (which I was actually okay with since I don’t like it) and no pico de gallo (which I would have liked, but couldn’t be bothered to ask for since the whole thing was crap anyway).  The rice and beans had NO seasoning and the beans were dry and bland.  A sad show indeed.

Coconut Rum Tofu: Deep-fried in our vegan fryer with crispy, organic tofu in a creamy sauce.

This one was just as gross.  It came with a side of broccoli that was overcooked and smelled a bit like baby diaper.  The tofu was crispy but that was the only good thing about it.  The sauce was not good- too tart with a bad after taste. The rice was fine, but nothing too special.  This one, while better than the tacos, was still not a winner. 

The set-up of this place is cool and has a large outdoor patio.  It is an old gas station and the inside bays make for lots of space and places to sit.  They also have a large screen tv that is great for watching sports.  If you do go there, don’t go for the entrees- stick with apps.  The seitan wings are good (not nearly as good as Spak Brothers) and the junkyard nachos are good as well.  The rest, as far as I can tell, gross. Stick to beer, wings and sports.  Oh, and don’t expect good service.

(thanks to the interwebs for providing the last two pictures!)

Overall Grade for Double Wide Grill: D

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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Pittsburgh Neighborhoods

 

Most eclectic place in Pittsburgh?

I found it.  And I LOVE it.

After church on Easter Sunday, we were looking for a good, veggie friendly brunch.  Well, we found it and so much more! The Zenith is both a cafe and unique art/antique gallery.  Anything on the walls, floor, ceiling, tables, etc is for sale.  This place was weird, crowded, homey (somehow), jumbled, and I loved everything about it!  Sunday brunch was great.  Lots and lots of food, good service and LOTS to look at. Be warned, if you come with a small group (we just had 2) they will try to sit you at a table with other people to maximize the space.  I thought it was kind of a fun idea, but I know it could make some other people super uncomfortable.

ZENITH EASTER BRUNCH MENU 4-8-2012

$10.00 INCLUDES ENTREE COFFEE OR TEA & BUFFET

Scrambled eggs with basil tomatoes & Romano cheese

Strawberry french toast with strawberry topping

Apple spice pancakes

Seitan reuben with optional Swiss cheese

Coconut curry wrap

Tofu pepper steak over rice

Portobello steak with mashed yams and mixed veggies

We went with one of the Strawberry french toasts and one seitan reubens:

The french toast was amazing.  It almost tasted like a jelly filled doughnut.  Even though it was slathered in strawberry topping, it wasn’t mushy and gelatinous. It had crispy edges and sweet, yet mildly savory, middle.  The reuben was good.  Nothing wildly special.  I am normally much more of a savory person than sweet, but sweet won on the battle between these two entrees.  Each entree came with a rice dish on the side that I thought was a bit our of place, especially on the french toast plate.  I only ate a bite or two.  It wasn’t bad, but there was much better stuff to be had on the salad bar.

The salad bar consisted of about a dozen different types of cold salads and veggies.  My favs were fresh green beans in a light vinaigrette and broccoli in an Asian dressing.  Both veggies were crispy and perfectly prepared.  I wanted to just bring the whole bowl of broccoli back to my table.  It was my favorite part of the meal, for sure.

They also had a good looking dessert bar with lots of different homemade treats- bunt cakes, cookies, etc, but we were so stuffed from the entrees and salad bar, that we passed this trip.  The only thing that I would change is the quality of coffee.  I can make better coffee at home, so I was disappointed that there wasn’t good, locally sourced coffee.  I might go for tea next time instead.  But for and all-inclusive $10 price tag- I guess there is no room to complain!

After brunch, we wandered around the gallery.  They have everything from Mother Mary figurines to classic 1920’s shoes.  Again, weird, but wildly entertaining.  Oh, did I also forget to mention that one of the dudes working there was dressed up head-to-toe in a pink bunny outfit? And a Steelers shrine with a Catholic kneeling/prayer bench in front.  PGH folks take this shit seriously!

All-in-all, what a fun dining experience.  I am looking forward to going back for both the food and the entertainment value. Well done, Zenith.  Well done.

Grade for The Zenith: B for the food & A for the experience

Zenith Tea Room on Urbanspoon

 

Make room on the bandwagon!

Pamela’s P&G Diner

I’d venture to believe that the vast majority of Pittsburghers have been to one of Pamela’s locations and tried their famous crepe style pancakes.  I had heard about them, and not being a huge fan of crepes, I wasn’t champing at the bit to get to taste them.  What is wrong with me?!  These are some the of yummiest sweet breakfast food that I have ever eaten!  Just the right sweetness, crispy edges, the right amount of filling, really just perfect.  The Pamela’s bandwagon?  Yep, I am on it and want to ride it again and again.

I went to the Pamela’s in the Strip District- which on a side note, is my favorite Pittsburgh neighborhood so far. We went on a Saturday, dumb I know, and there was a line out the door.  So we put or name in and went over to La Prima Espresso Company for a cup of Joe.  Who were we kidding?  That place was just as much of a madhouse, filled with every Italian man in western PA!  But, we got our coffee and braved the winter morning (it was really an unseasonably warm early March morning).  After about 45 minutes, we got our table at Pamela’s and experienced the crepe pancake festivities.DELISH!

The rest of their breakfast is pretty average.  Nothing to write home about… well, except those breakfast potatoes.  They are kinda like a cheesy breakfast potato casserole.  Quite delicious.  I think, next time I am there, I will ask for the potatoes to be well done so they get a bit more crispy.  The taste was right on point, but the texture was a little to squishy for me.  But portions- HUGE.  Bring a friend huge.

The place is fun and funky with lots of PGH history.  A MUST for when visitors come into town.  I am looking forward to another Saturday morning in the Strip!

Grade for Pamela’s P&G Diner:

A+ for the crepe pancakes, C+ for the rest of breakfast

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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Breakfast Cafe, Strip District

 

Heaven is a 7-minute walk from my door…

… and I couldn’t be happier about it!

Quiet Storm

Vegetarian and Vegan Cafe

I have been to this place a number of times but have yet to blog about it.  A few weeks ago, yes… I am quite behind in my blogging, I went with two others for a nice brunch at Quiet Storm.  Let me start of this post by saying that I may be a bit biased in this review- this place is fully vegetarian, only a short walk from my house, their logo is an owl (my fav!) and they have an item on the menu that pays homage to my all-time favorite restaurant in the whole world, The Chicago Diner, in my home city.  So… does this place have great veggie food, good service, good atmosphere, and good coffee?  Yes, but it may also get a bit higher of a review in my book because of all the aforementioned qualities- just a little disclaimer! 🙂

Here is what we had:

East Ender Salad was delish, fresh, and filling! Roasted potatoes, chicken-fried tofu, TVP (textured veggie protein) bacon on top of mixed greens and veggies.  With ranch dressing or vegan curry dressing.  Ummm…yes please!  It was a delicious brunch alternative to heavier “bacon” and eggs.

Migas (mé-gahs)
Tex-Mex egg scramble loaded with tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, cheddar & crushed corn tortillas. With black beans, salsa & tortilla. The scramble was lovely- plenty of eggs and covered with a nice amount of cheddar and tortillas. The beans were also good, but there were WAY to many- I only ate about a quarter of what was offered.  This was a big portion of just about everything and I would split it next time I order it.  Overall,very tasty!

Hangover Hash
Roasted jumble of potatoey goodness changes each week. With scrambled tofu (or eggs), wheat toast & fruit.  The meat-eater in our group, who I may have forgotten to tell this was a veggie restaurant, got the hash for breakfast and LOVED it.  She said the actual hash was as good as the “real” deal.  A compliment, for sure!

Quiet Storm serves up locally sourced coffee that is pretty darn good.  They also now have wifi, so when on the East End, swing by! Our server asked us what neighborhood we thought we were in.  I said Garfield.  Somebody else said Friendship, another said East Liberty.  I don’t know that we every fully decided (so we went with East End), but one thing we did all decide on- this place is a must for any self-respecting veggie in the ‘burgh! And you meat-eatters can find plenty to satisfy your tummy as well!

                        

Overall grade for Quiet Storm: A

Quiet Storm on Urbanspoon

 

30 minute drive? Fine by me!

Last week, I decided to redeem a Groupon that I had had laying around for quite some time.  Boy, am I glad I did!!!  Probably some of the best North Indian food I have ever had!

Zaiaka: Authentic Indian Cuisine

http://www.zaiaka.com/

Fresh ingredients in EVERYTHING we had.  Competent service.  Friendly owners.

Zaiaka literally means”the flavor.”  Perfect name for this place!  They even start your meal off with the Indian equivalent of chips and salsa- a basket of crispy pappadum, served with sweet tamarind and mint chutney sauces for dipping.

We started off our meal with the Zaiaka Mixed Vegetarian Platter.  This dish won’t win any awards for being, let’s say, heart-healthy, but it could win some for taste!
Vegetable Samosa, Vegetable Pakora & Paneer Pakora.  All of it was tasty and the perfect amount for 2.

Main course:

Malai Kofta: Homemade cheese stuffed in mildly spiced vegetable rounds in a creamy sauce. I have never had these lovely cheesy vegetable puff balls before, but I will now order them anywhere I can get them.  Delicious!  And the sauce that they came in was amazing- the perfect dip for the poori and garlic naan!

Aloo Gobhi: Fresh cauliflower and potatoes sautéed with freshly ground spices.  It’s pretty hard to beat SPICY fresh veggies on top of perfectly cooked Basmati rice. All the veggies were cooked perfectly- still crunchy and very colorful.  Really the perfect, fresh pairing with the Malai Kofta.

North Indians are known for their flatbreads, so we got two different kinds- garlic naan and poori.  The naan was perfection – chewy baked bread covered clarified butter (ghee) loaded with fresh garlic and herbs.  The poori, while a bit more simplistic was just as tasty and naan’s fried counterpart.  I would recommend both, for sure!

I have been to a lot of Indian restaurants in many different states and this was absolutely one of my favorites, if not my favorite to date.  Fresh, spicy ingredients.  Very friendly service.  Gracious owners. And a great assortment of veggie offerings.  They also have a lunch buffet every day of the week.  I am already looking forward to going back!

Overall grade for Zaiaka: Solid A

Zaiaka Authentic Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2012 in Indian, Plum