Tag Archives: east liberty

Salt of the Earth


Some restaurants are like rock stars. Everyone talks about them. They’re in every magazine, every newspaper, on every blog. First people can’t wait to be the one who discovered them, and then people can’t wait to be the first to dismiss them as nothing special. They have their devotees, their die-hard fans on one end of the spectrum and on the other end, a whole host of critics with complaints justified and unjustified.

But the point is, everyone knows about them. Rock stars, movie stars, and restaurants. Or maybe it just seems that way because I talk to a lot of people about food. But you know a restaurant has hit the big buzz when your mom brings it up:

“Salt? One of the women from work went there. They make you sit at long tables with other diners.”

Well, yes, Mom, they do. Sort of.

Since opening in last fall, Salt of the Earth  has steadfastly proven itself the new diva of the local dining scene, which is kind of funny, considering how aptly named it turned out to be. While the restaurant has high-end trappings – at least for this city – the general feel, pace, and atmosphere of the restaurant is casual. Let me put it this way: I was wearing an old dress, my dining companion was wearing cords. We saw people in business type dress, we saw people in jeans. Nobody flinched. Nobody stared. It didn’t seem to matter in the slightest.

The main dining area of the restaurant is bordered by two opposing focal points: The large blackboard with the daily menu (the entire menu, including drinks, starters, entrees, and desserts, etc) on one side, the wide open kitchen on the other. The bar lines the far wall. There’s a smaller, more intimate setting upstairs and a few high-seater tables in the windows near the entrance, but the majority of the seating is exactly what my mother presumed, long tables lined by little benches. Oh, and of course, the counter seating that lines the open kitchen, which is exactly where me and my dining companion, Meghan, found ourselves when we visited this past Monday evening.

Salt of the Earth on Urbanspoon

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Food Bloggers Meetup at Paris 66

Though I have dabbled in numerous forms of writing, I have really fallen in love with blogging. Some of this is the nature of the form – I’m an instant gratification junkie, so the quick efficiency of writing and posting blog entries holds great appeal – but what has really gotten me falling head over heels is the blogging community. Among a terrain not exactly known for its restrained, distinguished discourse, specific blogging communities remain calm, welcoming places of exchange ideas and opinions, experiences and photographs.

I have been accused of being a bit of a social curmudgeon because I’m not on sites like Facebook or Twitter. While I admit to some moderate prejudice against social networking sites, the real reason I’m not on any of them at the moment is that my time online is already maxed out. On a daily basis I’ve got a few dozen links to check on, and were I to sacrifice some of the time I dedicate to those sites for say, “poking” friends-of-friends or harvesting wheat in my virtual farm, I would be losing a significant percentage of time that I use to keep up my preferred social networking: Reading other people’s blogs.

Until recently, reading and commenting on other blogs was about as far as I had gotten into actual socialization with food bloggers. I learned how much of a shame this truly was when I finally made it to a Food Bloggers Meetup, this time at Paris 66 in East Liberty.

When you write about food, you want to talk about food. You want to talk about it a lot. And while I am lucky to have friends that are more than willing to humor my seemingly endless interest in the topic, there’s something very reassuring about being among members of the same tribe. When the food is served and my camera was only one of many pulled out, I got a warm and fuzzy feeling in my stomach – and not just because I had drunk half of my very potent French martini.

In attendance:
– Mike of Foodburgh
– Luke (organizer and former Paris 66 employee)
– Lauren of Burghilicious
– Erin (and Kevin) of Community Cucina
– Clara of Food Collage
– Roddy of Rodzilla Reviews
– Janelle of VegOut Pittsburgh
– Nicole (and her lovely spouse) of Yum Yum
– Laurie of Tuesdays with Dorie
– Me and the lovely Kait Wittig, friend and eating partner-in-crime


In addition to meeting these bloggers in person for the first time, I was also making my first visit to Paris 66. I’m a bit of a sucker for romantic little enclaves of atmosphere and expensive dining, and Paris 66 has all the best traps: Softly lit, furnished in polished wood and tables complete with laminated-antique postcard covers,  back patio seating, and, of course, a small, concise menu of French specialties, including crepes, steak frites, duck, and some very foreign- and tempting- sounding hors d’œuvres. Billed as “everyday French cuisine” the menu still finds plenty of room for the mildly exotic.

Paris 66 on Urbanspoon
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Friday Happy Hour: Talk about a full plate…

Who needs a drink?

It’s been a quiet week on Forked!, and for that, I can only blame my increasingly chaotic work life. Also, while I am learning immense organizational abilities from my current job, I seem to be devolving in my personal writerly responsibilities, letting myself off the hook for days at a time, ignoring my computer in favor of a podcast, a bowl of noodles, and a nap.

My sincere apologies for this wasteful behavior. I promise that next week will be an abundance of riches… if you consider blog posts “riches,” which if you’re reading this (and especially if you’re a fellow blogger), you might.

Anyway, this week was nothing close to a total loss in food experiences. Things from the week that will most likely be brought up in blog posts in the coming week:

– Last Friday, I tried a new restaurant in South Side. Le Brew House was so new, in fact, that it had only just gotten its liquor license, meaning that though they were legally allowed to sell the alcohol, they had nothing in stock. I’ve got more notes on that visit…

– I finally got to a Food Bloggers Meetup, and I can only shake my head in shameful remorse for all the previous meet ups I have missed. It was such a joy to finally meet many of the writers that I read on a daily basis, like Nicole from Yum Yum, Clara from Food Collage, Mike from FoodBurgh, and Lauren from Burghilicious, as well as some writers whose blogs I have not had the fortune to read before, like Erin of the adorable Community Cucina. Oh, and there was eating too, quite a bit of it, at the very pleasant Paris 66 in East Liberty. Much much more to say on that trip…

– Me and my partner, James, signed up for a CSA. Woo! We’re doing a five month CSA with Garfield Community Farms. I’m also determined to start doing some volunteering with them on their Thursday Community Work Nights. I eat enough veggies, I really should start getting involved in producing them as well.

Chicago: Day Three is on the way.

– One more important item before I skedaddle to finish my laundry: Steve Albini has a food blog.

Who is Steve Albini? More importantly, who knew that Steve Albini was something of a foodie? Forks up to you, Mr. Albini. I dedicate my next tasty concoction to you and your bulger peanut kimchee spring rolls.

Wonder if he would do a cookie exchange with me…

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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Gimme Gimme Gimme a Gift Card for Christmas!

I try to be budget conscious. My love of dining out, however, has a way of breaking me down. It’s not always that I don’t have anything to eat at home – sometimes I’ll be ready and game for going out despite a fridge full of produce slowly rotting away. Sometimes I’m just feeling too lazy to bother, and the only thing that stands between me and possibly eating a bag of chips for dinner is the promise of a take out veggie sandwich or seitan wings and sweet potato fries. (When are you going to open a South Hills location, Spak Bros.? We NEED you here.)

Mostly, though, I love to dine out. I love exploring new restaurants, checking names off the “to try” list. I love wandering around a neighborhood until hungry, then choosing a place at random to eat. I love taking recommendations from friends and actually being able to report back my opinion to them. As much as I love to cook, I tend to fall into a loop of making the same dozen things, in variations, and dining out is a great way of shaking me out of an eating rut.

Is it healthy? No. Not for my body, not for my bank account. But dammit, it could be worse! It’s not like I’m hooked on smack or something.

This Christmas, I’m not looking to get anything really big. Last year, I received a mighty Kitchen Aid food processor, and that was the last bit of kitchen machinery that I really needed. Instead of expensive goods, I thought I might request gift cards and certificates to different restaurants, cafes, etc., in hopes that I can spread these cards out over a few weeks, and maybe adhere to my budget just a little better in the new year.

Five Restaurants on My Christmas List:

From Foodburgh.com

Salt of the Earth  Yes, I keep up on local foodie news as much as any local food blogger should, and I’ve heard raves and raves about this recent addition to the culinary blossom of Penn Avenue/East Liberty area. And admittedly, the menu isn’t all that expensive – I could probably eat there for a similar amount that I would gladly spend at Thai Cuisine – but when trying out the new hot place to eat, it’s go big or go home. I don’t want to stick to my expensive restaurant budget saving order – usually soup and whatever appetizer is the least pricey – I want to go all out, especially if it means ordering a dessert cheese plate (“Midnight moon goat, Maytag bleu, quince, maple, bacon” – $8) and a Rye cocktail (“Sazerac, cinnamon, Averna” – $10) to finish.
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – It’s not readily apparent on their website, but they are the big buzz restaurant right now, especially after taking “Best New Restaurant” in the Pittsburgh City Paper’s “Best of 2010” poll. If they didn’t offer anything yet, they probably will soon.

Mekong – The best kept Asian secret in town. I have been to Mekong. I have been there many, many times. The way some people have a neighborhood bar they frequent, that’s how I view Mekong. And because I live within short walking distance, I am both a frequent in-restaurant guest and delivery order customer. Because I already spend a large share of my money there, and because I always like to see more business go their way (especially if that business leads to more Mekong food in my tummy), get me a gift certificate. Maybe I can save you some of my Spicy Vegetable Noodle with Tofu. Maybe.
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – They certainly do.

Le Pommier – I’m not a huge fan of super fancy restaurants, but I’ll admit, all the time I was working in the South Side, broke as shit, and had to walk past Le Pommier on the way to my hourly wage slave job, my mouth watered a little at the thought of sitting down to a table covered in fine linen, set with sterling silver, a fine glass of red wine in front of me, candlelight softly illuminating the lovely face of my dining companion. Perhaps the Chou-Fleur to start (“roasted cauliflower with puff pastry and brown butter” – $8), then on to the main course, maybe the Cassoulet (“southern france white bean stew with a crispy duck leg and sausage” – $25) or maybe the Porc (“pan seared Duroc pork loin chop with apple bacon lentils topped with local cider gastrique” – $24). Then onto coffee and conversation over the season Trio de crème brûlée ($8). I haven’t worked in the South Side for some time, and yes, I’m considerably better off financially now than during those glassy-eyed days of yore, but I still haven’t gotten that fantasy trip to Le Pommier. It’s about time I did.
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – At last check, they had gift certificates, but that was pre-renovation.

From exploriate.com

Round Corner Cantina – Okay, yes, I’m being a little cheapskate here, cause this place isn’t exactly expensive. But I was thinking: if I got a gift card/certificate for like, thirty bucks, I could take myself and a few others out for dinner. Anyway, it would make a good excuse to finally get over to this restaurant. While living over in Bloomfield/Lawrenceville area, I had enjoyed a drink or two in the weird little setting of the Round Corner Hotel bar, so I wasn’t surprised when new owners took it over and turned it into a swinging hotspot Mexican restaurant. Get me some credit dollars there, and I’ll buy the first round!
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – Probably not.

Wild Rosemary – Nicole from Yum Yum writes highly of this restaurant in Upper St. Clair, and I’m always eager to take a recommendation from someone whose tastes I can trust. It’s the priciest of the bunch here, so that’ll have to be a pretty big gift card to cover the Chilean Sea Bass ($37) and the Fudgie Mocha Tart with Espresso-Custard ($8), along with enough to include the nominal corkage fee and gratuity. But don’t worry, I’ll treat you when we go to the Round Corner Cantina!
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – No mention of it on the website. Seeing as how they’re fairly high-end, they probably do offer something. Nicole?