Tag Archives: bar

Chicago: Day Three

In which reach heaven via homemade tostadas... and then we go home.

Our third day in Chicago was really more of a half day, since we had to drive home in the afternoon. Despite having a whole lot left on our respective to-do lists, we couldn’t shake ourselves out of bed early enough to get in anything besides a decent breakfast. We hopped a train and a bus over to our final eating destination, Handlebar.

I may not be a bicyclist, but I seem to be endlessly fond of their dining establishments. Handlebar shares a lot in common with OTB Bicycle Cafe in South Side, a place I used to frequent when working in the South Side Works a few years ago. The focus of both bars is squarely on the cycling lifestyle, whether it be for intensive sport or for everyday getting around town. Unlike OTB’s biking-themed menu, however, the Handlebar leaves the theme to the decor and general philosophy of the establishment.

Both are exceeding vegetarian and vegan friendly, however, something that appealed to James, especially when Anna Sophia gave us a sterling recommendation of the place.

“Huevos Diablos,” she told us. I took it very, very seriously.

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Bocktown Beer and Grill

You get spoiled living in the city. Everywhere you turn there is another decent-to-great restaurant to try, each its own singular culinary voice in a crowded eater’s paradise. Consider each city neighborhood and their busiest streets. How many good restaurants, for example, are on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill? And not all of Murray Avenue, just the stretch between Forbes Avenue and where Murray hits Forward Avenue.

I suppose it depends on personal preference, but in my mind, the answer is somewhere around ten. Ten. In the span of a few blocks. And yes, that’s a Pittsburgh perspective. Someone coming out of a city like New York would laugh at that number.

“Ten decent restaurants in a few blocks?” they’d repeat. “My block alone has nearly a dozen places to eat, and that’s not counting the street vendors! That seems downright… suburban!” They would go on, but I have either tuned them out or punched them in the face, cause while they may be right that urban Pittsburgh doesn’t (and probably shouldn’t) pack in the businesses like urban New York, they seem to have forgotten what being out in the suburbs is like, especially for diners.

That’s not to disparage suburban eating. Dormont is quasi-suburban, and I go on and on about how terrific it is for diners. I’m not thinking suburban neighborhoods so much as those areas that are, for lack of a better term, vacant of “charm” and abundant with “commercial.” I’m thinking of places like Robinson.

Robinson, with its myriad of big chain stores, its endless strip-mall-esque sections of businesses, it’s gigantic and labyrinth-like parking lots. When I think of Robinson the visual that pops out most readily in my mind is IKEA, emerging from the highway like a monolith tribute to shopping. Its vibrant blue and yellow call the eye’s attention like a shopping siren bringing cars into its parking harbor.

It may say something about my own particular Robinson experiences that the only place I recall eating in the area is the cafeteria at IKEA. (Oh, I could totally go for some Lingonberry soda right about now. I’ll pass on the Swedish meatballs, however.) Most of the nearby restaurants don’t really offer much competition. For most people in and out of Robinson, food is a secondary notion, to be eaten immediately before or immediately following the grander purpose of shopping. Why do malls have food courts and only a few full-restaurant options? Because most shoppers are in a retail-heavy area to shop.

Fortunately, someone was bound to challenge the status quo of the eateries in Robinson. Before the newly formed Settlers Ridge started bringing in restaurants that would be unique to the immediate area, Bocktown Beer and Grill was the first strike against the mediocre and mundane that comprised most of the Robinson dining options.

Bocktown’s Robinson location is in a strip mall segment across a vast lot from the Target. Its long, narrow interior is brightly lit and lined on one side by a bar area and the other side by booth and table seating, eventually leading back to an outside beer garden area. The inside is a surprise – warmly painted and lit, tasteful decor, and comfortable seating – compared to its mostly staid exterior, although the hand-drawn chalkboards advertising specials, events, and the various online locations for Bocktown was a nice touch, livening up a dimly lit concrete sidewalk.

The staff is dressed supremely casual, but move with quickness and efficiency. We were assured of a short wait, then quickly sat in a corner near the front,  slightly isolated from the rest of the dining area. A few moments to peruse the beer list, then our server, James, introduced himself and took our drink and appetizer order.

Bocktown Beer and Grill on Urbanspoon

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Brgr


I don’t really eat red meat anymore. Not as a rule, necessarily, but I just began to realize how little I a) desired it, b) needed it, and c) missed it when I didn’t have it. While I sometimes find myself craving crunchy, slightly spicy fried chicken or a big greasy strip of bacon (especially if that strip of bacon is on a BLT), I never crave beef. I never think of all-beef hot dogs longingly. I never see a big juicy steak and think, “Mmm, I could go for that right now.” I don’t even crave burgers.

It wasn’t always that way, at least not with burgers. I used to love burgers. For a long time, my favorite thing to eat was a burger. A cheeseburger with pickles, lettuce, mustard, and ketchup. Maybe barbecue sauce if I was feeling adventurous. Later I embraced the tomato and onion, and my burger world blew wide open. I wanted the most lavish of burgers and the most minimalist. I made my own and experimented with what I could put on top and within the patty. When someone suggested fried egg, I said why not with hot sauce?

But oh, times change. Tastes develop, evolve, and alter. I enjoyed meat less and less and took to more veggies. I found myself desiring veggie burgers over the regular beef burgers, and then I started to stop craving burgers altogether. Grilled cheese sandwiches, every which way and variation, began to supplant the mighty burger.

What really finished off my burger cravings was a rare break in my red meat abstinence, brought on by the necessity of a long road trip. Stopping at a roadside rest stop, the options for food were meat, salt, meat, salt, salty meats, salted stuff cooked in animal-originated source, etc. Fast food. What’s a girl to do when road-weary, hungry, and faced with limited options?

NOT order a Mushroom Swiss Burger from a fast food stand, that’s for sure. I ordered somewhat foolishly, but only realized my mistake upon sinking my teeth into a soggy, horrible bun. I tasted…. gravy. Canned gravy. Everything was damp. Everything was flavorless, yet greasy. I ate half then tossed the rest in the closest garbage can I could find. To this day, I can’t believe I made it that far in. I must have been really, really tired.

Anyway, that was kind of the gross nail in the burger coffin. But I haven’t turned my back on burgers completely. I just… moved on. But when my friend, Kait, suggested Brgr in East Liberty, my curiosity at the hype surrounding the place was too great to resist. Reassured by a positive review from the veggie-friendly Foodburgh, I was ready to eat.

Brgr on Urbanspoon

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The Getaway Cafe

Wes had been to Getaway Cafe before, and it sounded like the right spot for a relaxed Sunday evening meal. The atmosphere was pleasant – a louder, dimmer bar area gives way to a quiet dining room in the back where the decor is fairly generic, but low-key and well-lit. There’s a slightly elevated section of seating that is large group friendly, and a few TV screens in the corner, placement that allows patrons to watch without forcing them to do so. Because the soundtrack was played at a fairly low level, we could easily converse at a normal volume level (something not always feasible at a bar/restaurant).

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Forked on the Road: Episode 2

For those who don’t remember or who are just joining us (Welcome! Can we take your coat? Care for a drink?), Forked! exists in two realms: the blogosphere (people still using that term?) and the podcastosphere (which I know is not actually a term used, but I happen to like, so I’m going with it). We blog here regularly, but occasionally we take our handy little digital voice recorder out on the town. We buy it a few drinks and a meal, and in exchange, it records our conversation, which Wes edits and posts for your audio enjoyment at Forked on the Road.

Our second episode was recorded at Piper’s Pub on the South Side, a visit that you may remember from a previous blog entry, but there was a considerable amount of activity, non-food related, that was left out.

Among the highlights:

– Listen to me and Wes banter aimlessly while walking to the restaurant!
– Engage in secondhand mockery of people we made rash assumptions about!
– Enjoy awkward moments brought to you via Wes and our friendly server!
– Experience podcasting as done by increasingly drunken hosts!
– And, of course, all tied together at the end by Wes’s stirring rendition of “Touch Me” by the Doors. (Not even remotely joking.)

After recording two + hours, Wes has culled together 45 minutes of pure podcast gold. Won’t you take a listen and join us for a meal?

Piper's Pub on Urbanspoon

Dinner at Piper’s Pub, or How to Get Drunk While Eating an Enormous Savory Pie

From pittsburghhotplate.com

I featured Piper’s Pub in my Neighborhood Quick Picks: South Side about a month ago, but I hadn’t been there in over a year. I didn’t even manage to make it down for a World Cup game, a serious shame when you consider the prime audience for the restaurant are football enthusiasts. (I mostly watched World Cup games secretly on my work computer, muted and concealed by open work-related desktop windows – a far inferior way to celebrate the world’s best teams going up against each other, but at least it minimized the amount of vuvuzela damage done to my hearing.)

Last Tuesday evening, the reasons to make a visit were stacking up: Wes had never been there. I hadn’t been there in some time. We were meeting up with friends who are picky eaters, therefore a place with an accessible menu was a necessity. And, above and beyond any other reason, we had not one but two coupons, promising two free dinners for two dinners bought. So we made our way into the South Side on cold, rainy night – in hindsight, ideal weather to match our British Isles dining experience. Continue reading