Tag Archives: local

This Week on Dormont-Brookline Patch: Quality Beers for Quality Drinking on St. Patrick’s Day


This week’s Local Table column focuses on that time-honored tradition of getting shit faced on St. Patrick’s Day. Every good Irishman will tell you that him and his fellow countrymen don’t exactly need a national holiday to drink themselves  under the table. Drinking in of itself is a celebration, so why the excuse of a holiday to do it?

The holiday of St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the man who brought Christianity to Ireland. Many of the traditional images of the holiday stem from religious purposes. For example, the shamrock thing is said to have come from Patrick’s practice of teaching the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish via the three leaves of the plant. In America, the holiday is less about Christianity and more about basic Irish-American pride, a pride that is firmly established by parades, festivals, concerts, more parades, dance performances, art, poetry, and…. drinking. Loads and loads and loads of drinking.

Who am I to challenge a longstanding tradition of insane public drunkenness? I only seek to make things a tad more civilized by suggesting a few – or seventeen – beers that will make your St. Patrick’s Day drinking a little tastier, maybe a little more satisfying, but won’t get in the way of the whole getting-wasted-out-of-your-mind endeavor. Given the alcohol content of many of these great beers, they will only serve to enable drunkenness even more.

Drink well. Drink responsibly. Slainte!

Take Out Tacos from Cocina Mendoza


It’s Lenten time once again! I don’t know what this time of year is like in other cities, but in Pittsburgh, even if you’re not remotely religious, you’re bound to notice when Lent comes around. All of a sudden fish is available in every size and preparation, from church-held Friday night fish fries to fish and mac’n’cheese specials at  nearly every bar and restaurant in the area.

One of my most frequented Mexican restaurants, Cocina Mendoza, is serving up my favorite of the Friday fish specials: Fish tacos. I didn’t have the chance to try the tacos last Spring, but struck by a need to get in on the fish fun this past Friday, the first Friday of Lent, I wandered over to the restaurant on my lunch break and grabbed a lunch special to-go.

Cocina Mendoza is tucked away inconspicuously in the Mt. Lebanon Shops. It’s not my favorite place to grab a taco – that would be Las Palmas in Brookline – but it’s still pretty terrific: fresh, authentic Mexican cuisine at decent prices for good portions. I’ve mostly taken advantage of the lunch specials, which for five or six dollars a piece resemble a full dinner portion more than a light lunch option. As I have trying in the last few months to a) save money and b) eat healthier and lighter options for lunch and dinner, I’ve not walked down to the restaurant nearly as much.

I’m glad I did this past Friday. The tacos were delicious. They were two flour tortillas wrapped around several thick slices of fish that were dressed by a fresh salsa. The whitefish was lightly floured and seasoned and fried, a thin, crisp skin giving it prominence even as it was buried under a mound of Pico de Gallo. The bite of the tomato and onion against the mildness of the fish was refreshing, as was the lack of heavier additions, such as cheese or jalapeno or beans. A completely satisfying meal, but far lighter than any of the other lunch options at Cocina Mendoza.

Like many fish specials, it was the sort of thing I wished was around all year. Then again, I suppose I’d take it for granted eventually, when the novelty and anticipation wore off completely. Better to have it contained to just this time of year, when I can look forward to that special every Friday, making this March and April trudge toward a reluctant Spring a little more joyful.

Cocina Mendoza on Urbanspoon

Good Morning, Vegan Pierogi!


Pierogi. Pierogie. Perogi. Pyrogi. Pyrohi. Doesn’t matter how you spell it, this staple of European cuisine satisfies hunger in a way few other dumplings can. What is it about the wondrous pierogi that makes it such a favorite? Could it be the thin dough, crispy and golden when fried? Could it be the filling, flavorful and bold against the neutral flavor of the dough? Could it be the handiness of the little savory pocket, or how easy they are to make, with cheap, accessible ingredients and easy preparation?

Given the cultural demographics of Pittsburgh, the pierogi is a staple of this city’s cuisine. Spend enough time on Urbanspoon, and you’ll find users more than ready to complain about this fact. Their point is not entirely ill-informed, but I think it comes from a place of overexposure, rather than a straight forward dislike of the dish itself. I don’t know the actual statistics, but I’d wager a bet that the majority of local restaurants ( those of unspecified ethnic cuisine, of course) offer pierogi. But don’t go judging a dish by its commonly mediocre preparation. Having pierogi on your menu because you’re expected to doesn’t exactly yield the best tasting versions. Many places are serving the same tired, frozen versions that you can buy in the supermarket. This is pierogi, sort of, but it’s about as satisfying as any frozen food can be.

What I say to these pierogi naysayers is to not hate on a dish until you’ve had it properly served to you, meaning homemade, either from some restaurant’s own kitchen or someone’s own home. Take a recommendation from those who LOVE the pierogi before ordering it at a random restaurant. Some good places to start:
S&D Polish Deli
Bloomfield Bridge Tavern
Rosie’s Pierogies
Gosia’s Pierogies (available at several locations, including the Pittsburgh Public Market)
St. John the Baptist Ukranian Catholic Church (they sell traditional Ukranian pyrohy starting in Fall and going until around the end of May)

Or you could eat some quality pierogi by getting into the action yourself. Making pierogi is easy, even if you have never made dumplings before. The dough can be kind of dry, making it tricky to knead and spread out the dough circles. I’ve been able to keep it workable by keeping my fingers wet. You want them to be damp enough to keep the dough from drying out, but not so wet as to make the dough slimy.

One of the best things about pierogi is how easy they are to make vegan. The dough itself can be made with butter, shortening, etc, but is usually best when it is made with simple vegetable oil. The filling is really up to the maker. For my Saturday evening vegan pierogi, I went with an easy potato and onion filling, that yielded far more than I needed. Darn, looks like I’m going to have to make another batch….

Everybody Polka for Some
Simple Vegan Pierogi!

Ingredients for filling:
– 2 medium potatoes, chopped (I used two larger than my fist and ended up with way more potato than I needed. So about fist sized should do it.)
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 2 tsp garlic-pepper seasoning
– 1/2 tsp cayenne
– 1 tsp vegan margarine (I actually forgot to add this and the filling was still delicious, so it is optional)
– 1/2 cup of unsweetened non-dairy milk

Ingredients for dough:
– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/4 cup water (and extra on hand, as needed)
– 1 1/2 tsp oil

For the filling: Boil the potatoes until tender. While potatoes are boiling, saute the onions until translucent, then set aside. Drain the water, add the onions (with the leftover oil), seasonings, margarine, and “milk” to the potatoes, and whip everything until smooth. You want to get it nice and creamy, so try to work out all the big lumps.

For the dough: Stir together flour, water, and oil until you get a workable dough. Knead for about three minutes, keeping your fingers wet to keep the dough from drying out. Divide the dough into eight equal chunks.

Assemble your pierogi: For each of the eight chunks of dough, roll into a ball and then flatten into a disk. The dough should be spread thin but sturdy enough to maintain without ripping. Take about tablespoon of the filling and place it into the center of the dough. Fold and pinch closed, then using the tines of a fork, seal the sides of the pierogi. Set each one aside until you have all completed.

Cook your pierogi: Boil a pot of water, then add the pierogi. Boil for about five minutes, or until each pierogi floats to the surface of the water. Scoop out and gently dry, then either freeze them for later use or cook them, either by frying (as I generally do, cause I love me some fresh fried pierogi) or baking in the oven.

Serve with vegan sour cream, a little smoked paprika, and fried onions, if desired. I know that’s how I like ’em.

(Recipe adapted from this recipe on Vegweb.com)

Thai Cuisine


Thai Cuisine would be completely inconspicuous if it weren’t for its bright yellow exterior. Even the name, as suitable as it is, is laughably generic. In fact, it seems tailor-made for one of those “Who’s on First?” type of scenarios:

“Where are you going for dinner?”
“Thai Cuisine.”
“Oh, I love Thai food. Which restaurant are you going to?”
“Thai Cuisine.”
“I understand. Which Thai place are you going to?”
“Thai Cuisine.”

Its cheery yellow front makes it a standout on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield, a strip already busting at the seams with decent places to dine. As generic as the name is, the experience dining there is anything but. In full disclosure, I’ve eaten Thai Cuisine numerous times, including dining in and ordering to-go, and I’ve never had a bad meal there. Ever.

My partner’s parents were in town and kindly took us to dinner. Now my partner has a few favorites in this town, all of which he sticks to with a fierce loyalty that echoes the devotion he has to his favorite sports teams. Knowing Thai Cuisine as well as I do, I understand completely why he’s always eager to go there. Luckily for us, his parents don’t seem to disagree.

Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Continue reading

Good Morning, Dor-Stop!


While I’d love to crawl out of bed early each Saturday to explore the vast array of delicious breakfast options that this city has to offer, it’s more than likely that Saturday mornings are spent sleeping in, then cooking a late breakfast in my own kitchen. This is a perfectly reasonable way to enjoy a weekend morning, but it has been limiting on my breakfast experience around town.

Another obstacle in my path to local breakfast domination is that I have one of the best diners in the area mere blocks away from my apartment. The Dor-Stop on Potomac Avenue draws in a consistent flow of weekday traffic, but it is the weekends that are the big deal here. Visitors from all around the area bring their loved ones. People line up in the cramped entrance way or shuffle about outside, sipping cups of coffee and waiting for their table. The wait – which is never more than fifteen minutes – is more than worth it.
Dor-Stop on Urbanspoon

Continue reading

Square Cafe


For such a small business district, South Braddock Avenue is a culinary powerhouse. Upscale options like Legume commingle with delectable down-to-earth favorites like D’s Six Pax and Dogz. Laying somewhere in the middle is a little cafe catering to both breakfast and lunch diners and commuting visitors just stopping in for a cup of coffee to go: The Square Cafe.

My pals (and previous dining companions) Maureen and Brandon had sampled Square Cafe while looking for a place to hold the rehearsal dinner before their wedding. They were thoroughly charmed not just by the food and decor but by the friendliness and attentiveness of the staff. But what really won me over and convinced me that a visit was necessary was their high praise of the vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, including tofu scrambles and soy chorizo. When they offered to take me with them on their next visit, I jumped at the chance.
Continue reading

Sababa Middle Eastern Grill

When it comes to online coupon deals like Groupon, Townhog, etc, I’ve become a bit of an obsessive. For someone who relishes the chance to try new places to eat, these sites offer daily slices of opportunity. Now, most of the time, the opportunity isn’t something I’m particularly interested in. Many mornings I have rushed to my email to see what is in store for me and my appetite (and my wallet) today, and many mornings I have immediately dismissed the 50% off of manicures, or hot air balloon rides, or new carpeting.

Other mornings, I’ve come across a restaurant deal that sounded pretty appealing, but I hesitated too long, coming back to sign up for it only to find that it had sold out. Groupon, especially, seems to take a sadistic pleasure in disappointing people who are silly enough to pussyfoot around a good deal. (Good deal or not, sometimes it takes a lot of thought before I’m just willing to spend twenty bucks. I don’t have the kind of income level that affords me flippancy with that amount of money. Sorry, Groupon.)

It’s those ten-dollar deals that always get me. Ten for twenty. Not a lot of initial investment, especially when the deal is for a place you’ve been dying to try. Hence, when Townhog was offering a ten for twenty on Sababa Middle Eastern Grill, I jumped so immediately on the deal, my computer shook with fear.

Continue reading

This Week on the Dormont-Brookline Patch: Sugar, Sugar!

So normally, I am about five steps behind the happenings around town. Recently, I’ve become more in the know about newly opening restaurants, the buzzed about places, the comings and goings of the food life in Pittsburgh. Yet, I’m never on top of a story.

Well, when you live down the street from a hotly anticipated, soon-to-open cafe, you keep your eyes peeled for signs of life. But how I found out that the Sugar Cafe was going to open on Friday morning wasn’t good scouting, but some terrific luck. My pal, Jackie, who lives right down the street from me on West Liberty Avenue, was walking back from my apartment on Broadway sometime after midnight on Thursday, when she spied that the slowly deteriorating paper shrouding the big windows of Sugar Cafe had finally been torn down. I received a text and that was that.

What a little blurb on the blog doesn’t tell you is that I have become borderline obsessed with this place. Okay, that’s a bit of a hyperbole. But for someone who has trouble working at home, it’s become a minor godsend. I get off the T a stop early at Potomac, stroll down to the cafe, have a cup of coffee, pastry (I’m just pretending that everything in the cafe is magic and doesn’t have calories), and sit down to write for a while. I know the whole thing of going to a cafe to write is seen as sort of pretentious, and maybe it is. You know what else it is? FRIGGIN SWEET.

For my first weekday evening in the cafe, I got to sit down with the owner, Kelly James, to discuss her fantastic opening weekend. I definitely suggest reading the article, but more importantly, I highly recommend the Sugar Cafe. Come by any weekday between 5:30 and 6:00, and you’ll likely me see there, typing and sipping away.

(Note: Article is not live on the site as of yet. I will update post when it is active.)

Sugar Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sugar Cafe Opens Today!

The much buzzed about, highly anticipated bakery-coffee shop, Sugar Cafe, opens today. I will definitely be making a stop in to sample the goods, take a look around, and enjoy the taste of something brand spanking new in our humble little borough of Dormont.

For more info on Sugar and its owner, Kelly James, check out the following links. And of course, check out the cafe itself, located right by the Potomac T Station on Potomac Avenue.

– “New Cafe Coming to Dormont” on the Dormont-Brookline Patch
– “Sugar Café will make Dormont’s Potomac Avenue even sweeter” on PopCity
– “On the Table: Unique Pittsburgh bakeries flourish with special dessert treats” on the Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Kellypastry: Kelly James Twitter

Also, apologies for my relative quietness this week. First it was too busy, then it was too nice outside to concentrate on typing. Rest assured, I have a ton of new posts coming up, including trips to Chaya and Sababa in Squirrel Hill. I’ve also been working on a few new features to debut, hopefully by the middle of next week, to run in addition to the general chatter that goes on around here. I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that I can get down to some serious writing business this weekend.

But seriously, how freaking gorgeous was it out there today? After work, I walked home, so that I could soak up the unseasonably warm weather and take a few shots of my beloved neighborhood. It seemed like the entire borough was out to enjoy the few precious days of respite from the cold. My favorite shot:


Enjoy it while it lasts, kids. The temperature is going to drop drop drop come Sunday.

Good Morning, Potomac Bakery!

I have yet to have anything from that was less than delicious from Potomac Bakery, but a mix of at-odds schedules and my workplace’s proximity to Graham’s Bakery in Mt. Lebanon has kept me from becoming a frequent customer. I should probably be thankful for this: The last thing I need is more food obsessions to empty my wallet and expand my waistband.

But the occasional  treat is alright by me. I used photographing the Valentine’s displays at Potomac as an excuse to try two delectable little tarts, a cherry pastry tart and a blueberry tart with Linzer torte pastry for the dough. They were the perfect pre-V-Day sweet treat, and at a $1.50 for the pair, well worth the money. Heart-shaped cakes and cookies and cupcakes with mountains of frosting and sprinkles are all well and good, but I like to keep my baked goods simply and classy. (Cause Classy is my middle name…. Immediately following “Not Remotely,” of course…)

In regards to the picture, tea and pastries has become my absolute favorite thing to come home to after a long workday. I’ve always been a fan of the British scheduled tea-time, as it helps break up the day without making too much of an interruption in the middle of a work flow. Not to mention it’s a great excuse to drink a hot beverage and snack on something tasty.

Were I able to, I would have a private ten-minute tea time every day, just around four, when my energy was getting supremely low and I needed something to push me through the last hour. Instead, I’ve taken to coming home from work, making a pot of coffee in the French Press or warming up a mug water in the microwave for tea, finding something on the sweet side to indulge in and just sitting down at my kitchen table to enjoy a few minutes of solitude, quiet, and light snacking.

Perhaps with that post-work dream state in mind, I will be making more stops in at Potomac Bakery in the future. I’ve already got a plan for a few preserves-stuffed, sugar-dusted cookies I spied the other day while in the shop.