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Pittsburgh Eats 2008

I'm here from LA for 4 months, January through April and am determined to make it a food safari. So far, after 10 days I love this place. Really, I've read the "moving to PGH with dread" posts and I gotta say, turn that frown upside down.
Here's the deal: yeah, it's provincial BUT it's trying, yeah it doesn't stand up to NY, LA or SF standards but it has it's own and finally, there's good stuff here and if you want, you can always cook or hop on a plane.

Notes to date-
Whole Foods- rocks as always, buffet has saved my life a few nights when I don't want to go exploring
Giant Eagle near Whole Foods in Shadyside is like ghetto nightmare mutant Whole Foods. What a bad idea. Lots of stuff, really weird layout, looks and feels dirty, the staff is beyond coarse. Just goes to show that presentation is about 99% of the job. WF gets it, stick with that.
Strip district stores, especially Macaroni, just flat out inspires. Soooo good, you want to eat, purge, repeat. Especially for the short term resident, there's little containers of spices, bulk oil and vinegar, gads of cured animal products like meat, olives and cheese forever. If only they made sandwiches.
Ate at Lidia's and was underwhelmed despite the local raves. Admittedly, I had a bowl of pureed minestrone (I think they called it something else) and arugula salad (it's winter, the leaves are woody, that's NOBODY's fault) and both, though simple, were pretty uninspired. I've heard that the pasta special is ALWAYS good but it looks like a plate FULL of food and not what I typically search for. I'm happy for the locals that they love it and will leave them with their sense of accomplishment, enjoy!
Tessaro's- as promised, GREAT, handmade burger. Even had steamed broccoli. Yum! Too bad no fried products but just as well, my colon will thank me 20 years from now (1 meal likely won't make a difference though).
Harp and Fiddle- delightful place though go for the music, smiles, Ceili dancing and 2nd hand smoke. The food is only worth it if you, like me, want to walk no further than 2 blocks from home on a 20 degree night while enjoying 20mph winds. I love the place but the food needs some major love. Then again, it's a pub, Irish at that and what should I expect!
I had likely the BEST, really, the BEST Thai meal of my life last night on the side of the road, next to laundromat in Edgewood. It's called Thai TYK (Tom Yum Kung) 4 tables, tiny, pictures of the king and queen (a good sign that Koreans or Chinese have not just propped up a Thai food sign to gain market share...), some cool Bhudda statues and mom, dad and son working and serving the hot gritty. I ordered (only) panang with brown rice and tofu. Before it arrived the cook, the mom, came out and asked if I wanted the tofu steamed or fried. She agreed with me that the fried texture would be best (it was). The panang was amazing. Wilted lettuce, kaffir limes, a really delicate, homemade curry, fresh veggies and the rice wasn't some pablum brown glop but had almost a wild/unrefined look about it. I ordered tofu figuring I wouldn't want chicken or beef from a strange little place in the (seemingly) middle of nowhere, a good call since tofu is hard to screw up. In any case it was so good, I'm going back for pad thai, green papaya salad and will ask the chef to make something special.
Our offices at at Station Square and as you can imagine, it's so far, the Death Valley of food. A lunch at the Sheraton, took about an hour to cook and was horrible. Chicken caesar from the Hard Rock (yeah I know, but the office assistant thought it was a good idea) caused 2 of us GREAT gastric distress though we did lose weight spontaneously.
Kaya- Fine, OK, would do it again if for nothing else than flavors. Good flavors, amateur workers, walking distance from my place.
21st coffee- The owner, Luke seems cool though a bit cautious. The coffee, especially the Clover, single cup varietals, are great but what's with the horrible looking pastries? Are there no artisanal bakeries here? They might be fresh but they look like they came from Costco. The Choc Chip cookies look Otis Spunkmeyerean, the muffins bland and doughy. I'm glad it's there but think it could be so much more.
had breakfast at Pamela's and yes, if you're after greasy nostalgia it's for you but I thought it just didn't have to be so, so lubricated. It was literally a corned beef and hash, plus dry scrambled egg dish just oozing oil, really, oozing, like puddles. Unnecessary and I'm a dirty, greasy food lover!
Oh Yeah Ice Cream- good idea but they seem like they've overreached their real estate obligations. Soups, waffles, etc feel like a "we need more revenue" play. The basic ice creams are dry, not enough cream, likely a lot of air. I'm a North Shore Boston ice cream freak (Bentsons, White Farms) so my expectations are high but rural/local. When you know it can be done, done well and for not a lot of money, you gotta wonder why it's so hard to replicate? It's ice cream, people like it, serve it BIG and they'll keep coming back.
I'm going to keep eating and will report back.
Love this PGH town, 3.5 more months to go.

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  1. Nice reee-port. Some times you have to consider where people were and which direction they're moving. If you're at Station Square, you can explore down Carson Street all the way to the Hot Metal Bridge. The range is from Fat Heads to Cafe Allegro and Le Pommier - before you hit the chains at the other end. Then there's places like Bloomfield and Sharpsburg. It's nice that you were surprised that the town did not live up to it's advanced billing.

    I'm no Thai food expert at all, but I enjoy the Silk Elephant on Murray. I just order a lot of stuff that I don't know what is and it comes out and is very attractive and tastes good.

    1 Reply
    1. re: yayadave

      Welcome to the Burgh. With a little imagination, and help from the locals (they'll take you to where you want to go, not just show you) you ought to find just about everything imaginable. Our family has been in the food business for as long as I can remember, and the Strip is a treat. Don't miss Parma Sausage. The Sunseri Brothers are worth the trip even if you don't buy anything! I don't want to shamelessly plug the family, but for groceries, DeLallo's out on Route 30 east near Jeanette is a must, and for a nice meal with arguably the finest wedding soup, DeLallo's Fort Couch Cafe near South Hills Village is a long time favorite. If your forte is getting stuffed to the gills (what I like to call 'next stop electric chair'), Pasta Too at the entrance to South Park has good food, and way too much of it. Plan on a long wait, especially on weekends.
      Mangia por bene

    2. Before we even get to the food, welcome and if you like a good bar with plenty of 2nd hand smoke and excellent music selection you HAVE to find Gooski's. Not everyone's taste, but certainly seems up your alley.

      Nice report - helps to see things from an outsider's perspective. Having been here going on six years, I'm feeling more "insider" now. There are some terrific places on Carson, just not in Station Square. YYD named a few, and notably omitted Dish, which is probably the best Sicilian seafood you'll find in the region. New places keep popping up all the time.

      Next time you're in the Strip, I'd recommend a visit to Parma Sausage for some pancetta and other salumi to go with the cheese you're getting from Penn Mac. All of Parma's sausages and meats are good, but we especially love their nutmeggy pancetta. Prosciutto is mouthwatering buttery, but maybe a tad salty depending on what part of the leg is being sliced.

      There's plenty within city boundaries to try in Shadyside, Bloomfield, Sq. Hill, L'ville, North Side and some other isolated gems. Just wanted to make note that from where you are, it's a short hop through the Liberty tubes to Dormont/Mt. Lebanon, which also has some good eats to offer and is actually more accessible to you via public trans (the "T") than some other options. Lebo is (IMO) the most culinarily advanced 'burb: Bistro 19 and Iovinos (both voted best new restaurant in various media), Il Pizzaiolo (considered among best pizza/wine bar in various media), Little Tokyo (voted best sushi in various media), not to mention Irish, Turkish, Szechuan/Hunan, Cantonese/Shanghai, and a couple of top coffeehouses.

      While I'm at 21st Street for coffee fairly often, rarely get anything else (not that I wouldn't, just usually not hungry when visiting there). If I recall correctly, the pastries mostly came from the Priory Bakery on the North Side, which has a good rep. Anyway, looks aren't everything and you can't argue with the coffee quality. Luke used to be on CH but haven't seen him here for a bit. Maybe he'll chime in.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Panini Guy

        I remembered hearing about Dish but I've not been there yet, so I just couldn't come up with that name when I was posting. Maybe it's covered in that wide area between Fat Heads and Le Pommier that I spoke of. I thought Alla Famiglia (haven't gotten around to that one, either) was supposed to be the place for Sicilian.

        I have to say that I'm not a fan of Enrico Biscotti either on the Strip or in Shadyside.

        Another place that I found very comfortable because of it's "in the neighborhood" atmosphere is La Tavola. BYOB Nobody ever mentions it on these boards. Maybe I should leave it a little secret and not take a chance on ruining it.

        But it sounds like just pointing BR in the right direction is enough. He seems to know what's up.

        1. re: yayadave

          La Tavola, eh? Never heard of it and have no idea where Boggs St. even is. But took a look at their site. Wondering what is it about the food you like as the menu seems pretty standard (not that that's a bad thing - I used to enjoy DeBlasio's in Scott Twp. when I lived around the corner.) But, if you can sell me on either the eggplant parm or the linguini and clams - two dishes I've yet to find to my liking in Pgh - then they might well have another customer soon.

          1. re: Panini Guy

            There's a red light where Warrington comes into rt 51 next to the Liberty tubes. The way to go is start up Warrington then cut a quick left and traipse all the way to the top of Boggs.

            If you clicked on the pictures (Gallery) you know it's not about the thick carpet and chandeliers. It must be the food. Hey! "Joe and Carmela, the owners and managers of La Tavola Italiana, wish you the finest and most enjoyable in dining experience with your visit."

      2. Ben, enjoyed reading this. I went to graduate school in Pittsburgh 30 years ago and ave made a few odd trips back since; fmy wife and I sepent 2 weekends there this year, the most time we've spent in the 'Burgh in a while. It's a really cool city and I'm sure you'll enjoy your stay. Too bad it's winter because it's really fun to bike all around and eat and drink your way around town.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jkosnett

          Dish is one of my very favorite restaurants in SS, definately check it out. In Shadyside, check out Cafe Zinho on Spahr and ellsworth (i lik ethe duck and the osso buco), Casbah on S.highland, Typhoon (upscale Thai with the best Lamb Curry) on S. Highland.

        2. Glad to hear you are enjoying Pittsburgh and the Strip District. Have you tried Kaya on Smallman Street? Check the Neighbors in the Strip website (www.neighborsinthestrip.com) for more information about the area...there is lots to see and do. La Prima Espresso is also great for coffee or try Leaf and Bean (coffee and cigars with a touch of Key West). Definitely go to La Prima and try the Basil Pesto bread at Mancini's...there are lots of little hidden opportunities for yummy treats, so enjoy exploring. If Neighbors in the Strip can help you with anything during your stay, please give us a call.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Cindy at NITS

            I'd try Enrico's in the Strip for pastries and the little place next to La Prima has really good sfogliatelle. You might also want to check out The French Tart in Shadyside for pastries (731 Filbert Street, Pgh PA 15232). I haven't been there for 6 months or so but had some really good pastries. My sister was just recently there and didn't like what she had. Not sure if they're going downhill or if she just chose poorly. Either way worth a shot. Across the street from the Frenth Tart is Crepe Parisiennes, 732 Filber Street. I really enjoy their crepes, the brown sugar and bannana being my favorite. They have savory crepes as well.

            I agree about 21st street pastry case could look better, but they now serve fresh made waffles. They don't advertise them very well but they are pretty good.

            For Italian please try Alla Famiglia, I really think you'll enjoy it. The neighborhood is a bit sketchy but the food is excellent.
            http://www.allafamiglia.biz/

            I'd also recommend Girasole in Shadyside for good italina. Their website is a bit confusing, click in the lower left corner for the "navigation" button.
            http://www.733copeland.com

          2. Welcome to Pittsburgh, the town of big portions. Where a good meal used to be measured by poundage consumed not quality of cuisine. Thankfully that measure is changing to a more open if not downright sophisticated view of food. With respect, I will make one additional suggestion to the many excellent comments made so far, and that would be.. UMI in Shadyside. One of the best if not THE best sushi restaurants I’ve ever been to in any city. The food and service is wonderful. The simple and comfortable setting belies the intricate and complex yet unpretentious flavors of every dish. I think all “the bigburrito group” restaurants, of which UMI is one, (and with the exception of Mad Mex) are worth a try.