Tag Archives: pittsburgh restaurants

Ramen Bar

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Unlike the seeming many of my peers, I don’t have regretful notions of a college era spent subsisting off of a ramen. It was there, of course, those shiny plastic packets stocked next to the microwave-safe containers of Campbell’s, the boxes of Easy Mac (the best/worst thing to happen to college students since Stouffer’s frozen mac’n’cheese), and (always my mainstay, even to this day) the PBJ fixings.

But while I was not immune to the seductive allure of processed, easy and fast, microwaveable junk dinners, I had it better than a lot of other students because my campus was small, the dining options quick to get to, the selection of decent quality, and I was the proud owner of a complete meal pass for three out of four years. Even when I moved to a campus apartment, which was outfitted with a kitchen for the express purpose of self-feeding, I continued near daily visits to the dining hall. My ramen era would have to wait.

I am not so ignorant of the food traditions of various other cultures that the idea of a moderately upscale ramen place was surprising to me. Admittedly, I assumed such a thing was inevitable. Remodeling the street food of other cultures into destination dining is an easy sell in the contemporary culinary landscape. The Ramen Bar has a hook that is both international and innately familiar, making it a perfect complement to its fellow restaurants in the busy Forbes/Murray/Shady corridor of Squirrel Hill.

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Silky’s Crow’s Nest


A while back, I worked as a front desk clerk for a hotel and restaurant in the area. Because we had no formal concierge, the front desk was expected to manage visitor requests and questions, among the most popular being, “Where should we go to get dinner?” Many times, this question would be coupled with additional criteria: “Where should we go to get dinner on the riverfront?”

To that question, there isn’t an easy answer. While we have many restaurants on the river, so where can you go is not an issue. Where should you go… well, that’s an entirely different story.

Like any waterfront real estate, properties by the riverside are highly sought after. The ability to dine while overlooking a body of water will never go out of favor – just ask the fine folks of some of the most mediocre restaurants lining our East Coast beaches. It really doesn’t seem to matter to most waterfront restaurants whether their food is of decent quality, their staff well trained, efficient, and friendly, or even their interior atmosphere welcoming. The whole sell is that they’re on the water, which puts their diners that much closer to the water, and that setting in of itself is enough to get people through the door.

There are exceptions, of course. And then there are places like Silky’s Crow’s Nest, which is neither the exception nor the rule waterfront dining, but instead inhabits a limbo between above-par dining and sub-par riverside stride. But, as with many places of its type, the bar and restaurant requires the diner to set their expectations realistically. When reaching for a menu item just a bit above ordinary, the chances of their kitchen turning out something splendid is fairly slim.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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The Surprises of Silk Road

I have come to the decision that the best part about dining isn’t really just the exceptional food possibilities or the atmosphere of the place you are dining in or even the company you keep while dining out. The best part about dining out is how all the possible good and bad factors of eating outside your own home come into play in unexpected ways. The saying “You get what you pay for” isn’t so much a negative criticism as it is a knock against the expected: Go to the same place time and time again and get the same experience time and time again, and that is the essence of getting what you pay for. A value and experience share a definition.

Some people want, nay, crave the expected, so they only go to a handful of places (if anywhere – I know plenty of people who are in a similar habitual loop with their home cooking as people who frequent one or two eateries) and quickly establish a routine that insures an edible safety zone.

While there is nothing wrong with this in a general sense, that type of behavior is not really my thing, and I’m guessing it would be safe to assume that the dozen or so lovely readers I have are similar to me in that way. For the food enthusiast, food lover, gastronomic adventurer, taste junkie, snack addict, dining explorer, or, even, shudder, the foodie, eating is more than survival obtained by chew and swallow and digest. Eating is a chance to take a chance, to take a risk, to venture reward in the face of loss, to produce, to consume, to experience through the realm of senses. For some, eating is akin to sex (indeed, these are the basic activities of mankind that utilize all five senses and to an enormous degree), for others, eating is the best and quickest way to learn about… anything.

I don’t really mean to ramble on and on about this, but it turns out I had a lot to reflect upon after a visit to Silk Road. This Chinese restaurant bears an unassuming front among the other shops and restaurants in Caste Village, but coming through its front doors is nothing short of being transported to its very specific world. The seating area is spread about and separated by partitions, wood and stone half-walls, beams, and warmly painted walls. Each little section is its own habitat, united in general theme, but invoking a feeling slightly different from the rest. Large canvas sconces of light come up from wall and float through holes in a blocks of false ceiling. It’s eye-catching, modern, with touches of the ancient heritage implied by the restaurant’s name. What’s more, it’s comfortable and well-lit, serving as a nice environment to a group of friends dining, which is exactly what we were.

My partner and I joined our friends Maureen and Brandon at the restaurant and were quickly seated with full water glasses, hot tea, and menus in front of us. Taking advantage of the good wine list, Maureen ordered a glass of Riesling. Brandon ordered a Yuengling. Hard pressed to pass up the opportunity when it comes along (which if you eat in as many Asian establishments as I do is rather frequent), I ordered a Sapporo. James stuck with the hot tea.

Admittedly, this was not the first time at the restaurant for myself, nor Maureen and Brandon. The two had held their engagement dinner there, at which I was present. Ever since that dinner we had been singing the praises to James, especially in reference to Silk Road’s substantial vegetarian menu. I’m always a little conservative with the Asian restaurants I rave about to him – he compares every place to his favorite Philly area restaurant, Kingdom of Vegetarians, and supposedly few are matches for this place (having not been there, I can only take his word for it) – but Silk Road inspired the confidence to rave and rave about the meal we had without fear of eventual disappointment on his end. Continue reading

Max’s Allegheny Tavern

When you live in the South Hills and don’t drive, there’s any number of excuses to largely ignore the North Side. However, having recently caught on to the irresistible charms of Banjo Night at the Elks Lodge, I’ve had more opportunities to get to know the current culinary landscape of the area. Now I can count Max’s Allegheny Tavern as its own reason to make the trip.

Kait and I were all set to meet at Bistro Soul, the fairly recent addition to the popular Bistro-To-Go takeout counter, but they only stay open until six. We had to figure out a new plan. Kait knew about a good German restaurant down the street from the Elks Lodge, but couldn’t remember the name. Thankfully, Urbanspoon (and fate) intervened. Their handy little luck of the draw slot machine app of restaurant picks, when set on North Side, spit out the name: Max’s Allegheny Tavern.

Residing in what used to be Allegheny City’s “Dutchtown,” Max’s Allegheny Tavern has over a hundred years of history, a long-standing story immediately apparent once you step through the doors. Little rooms spill off of the narrow bar area: a little parlor space, a larger dining room, and a slightly more formal white-painted dining room. There are old photos and paintings all over the wallpaper walls. The floors are old wood, the dining tables and chairs are wood. Soft golden light comes from antique fixtures hanging from the ceiling and scones on the wall.

The menu can be found in the interior of what looks to be an old newspaper, and the waitress directed our attention to the paper insert listing the night’s specials. Considering that we were headed off to Banjo Night after dinner and that we’d have more than enough beer to drink there, we passed on brews and went straight to ordering our entrees.

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