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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review: Yo Rita's Taco's???

The South Side is is full of beer and burger joints and nice restaurants, but some feel that the white tablecloth and linen napkins places are becoming a thing of the past in this section of the city. The closing of Allegro and Bruchetta's lends some support to that theory. There are plenty of customers on the streets, but most seem to be college age and may not be willing or able to spent the kind of money for those establishments.

Yo Rita's is a small bistro style restaurant. The menu consists of tacos. Yup, just tacos (and a few appetizers). Before you quit reading I want to say that this is absolutely the best quality and most innovative food for the least price I have ever seen or heard of! Stacy and I tried two different tacos starting with the Ahi Tuna. It was perfect tuna with gingered slaw, avocado, sliced jalapenos and fresh cialatro. As one of the pricier items it was $7.00. Tremendous. We then ordered the Flank Steak which had chunks of potato, poblano pepper, pickled red onion, mushroom, chimichurri, and cilantro, all for $6.00. The flank steak (see London Broil recipe) was as tender as I've ever tasted. Other selections that sounded tempting included a Mushroom taco with poblano pepper, white onion, green chile sauce, manchego for $4, and a Chorizo with manchego, sweet peppers, pickled red onion, aji amarillo for $5.

While I love a great sandwich and burger place like Fatheads, Yo Rita's has taken relatively lower priced foods and prepares and serves them with the skill and expertise of a great restaurant. How could this be?
Kevin Sousa, that's how.

Kevin has been building quite a reputation around Pittsburgh. He has been the chef at Soba, Kaya, Alchemy, and the Red Room. This is some of the finest food that can be found in the city. I guess he is doing some consulting work at YoRita while he is in the process of preparing to open his own restaurant to be named Salt of the Earth.

The menu at Yo Rita is really fantastic and a great way for those of us that can't always drop $100+ on a meal to experience truly excellent food at bargain prices.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review: The Sewickley Hotel

The Sewickley Hotel along with all the other bars along Beaver Road in downtown Sewickley, use to be a shot and beer bar. Growing up just a mile from there, I have memories of a number of these places filled with working class men drinking their Iron City and shooting pool. Things have really changed over the years. Now it's a place where you could very possibly run into one of Pittsburgh's sports hero's. Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris and others visit, probably because it's the kind of place where no one bothers them. On one visit, I spotted coach Chuck Noll sitting on a park bench across the street chatting with some friends.

As you walk in there is a long wooden bar to the right, and a number of booths and tables to the left with barely enough room for a few more in the back. It's a very comfortable, homey atmosphere. The staff has always been friendly and the crowd always seems to be in a pleasant mood.

The menu is basic American fare (which is fine with me) but it's is all excellent. I don't think that I've ever had even a bad item, let alone a bad meal there. Steaks, pasta and seafood are cooked with the help of a wood burning stove, which gives a great smoky flavor, yet it's not overpowering.

Wednesday evening's they have a tasteful jazz band and the recent addition of a beautiful outdoor courtyard has greatly expanded the seating area. Prices are just a little bit higher than average ($15.95 to $29.95 Hey, this is Sewickley!) but the exceptional food more than makes up for that in my opinion. If you enjoy comfortable places like The 17th Street Cafe or Tessaro's this is a place you should not miss.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review, The 17th Street Cafe

The 17Th Street Cafe on the South Side has been one of my favorite local restaurants for years. It's located about a block off of Carson so it's very convenient but a bit away from all the noise and partying. It has a comfortable feeling and charm that I enjoy. It's a relaxing feeling that you notice as soon as you walk in the door.

This place is somewhat small, with an old time bar on the left as you enter and a few tables on the right. Another small dining room is to the rear of the building. The bar is always friendly and talkative but not noisy enough to bother the patrons seated close by. The crab and artichoke dip is tremendous, lump crab meat in a rich creamy cheese sauce. This is really one of the best appetizers I've ever had. Another one of the best that I've ever had just happens to be served here also. The Roasted Red Pepper Bisque is just a fantastic soup, and that's coming from someone that has to be convinced to ever order soup at a restaurant. I can't really describe it, it's just wonderful. On a previous stop during the Penguin's playoff run, I was treated to a real suprise when we were given bowls of Evgeni Malkin's mother's lucky borscht soup! I've never had a soup like this before. If all restaurants served soup like this, I might order it more often! Another very good appetizer is the Stuffed Banana Peppers.

The entree menu continues with a nice selection but the seafood really shines. I've tried many menu items, but some that come to mind are the Pecan Crusted Sole and the London Broil. Any of you that read my blog know how much I love "horse meat"!

I've never had a disappointing meal here, and highly recommend this place as one of the best kept secrets in Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Big food? Big Jim's!

Big Jim's, or Big Jim's in The Run as it's called, is a place that I first learned of on the TV show Diners, Drive-in's and Dives. Their claim to fame is being a local watering hole with old time charm that also serves some pretty good food. Big food. The portions here are huge, but there's more to like than just large portions.

Big Jim's is in Greenfield, kind of under a bridge on the Parkway East. Going across the Hot Metal Bridge, it only took us a couple of minutes to get there from the South Side. It's an old place, kind of dated but that's OK with me. During the couple of times that Stacy and I have been there, the staff were all friendly and they seem to have a nice local bar crowd which lends to Big Jim's comfortable feeling. The menu is a nice mix, featuring Oven Baked Hoagies, Dinners, Pizza and a large number of Appetizers (mostly fried). These all looked appealing, but the section that caught my eye was "Big Jim's Speciality Sandwiches".

Stacy knew what she wanted immediatly...This is not normal! Sometimes I feel as though I should have ordered an appetizer while I wait for her to make up her mind...(I hope she dosen't read this). Anyway, the item that got her attention was the reuben. This thing was huge. A full 1/2 pound of lean corned beef on great Russian rye bread, topped with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and 1000 Island. She loved it. I chose the veal cutlet parmigiana sandwich. This thing wasn't just big, it was massive! Pretty tasty too, although I couldn't eat all of it in one sitting.

Big Jim's is a place that I will definetaly return to, although next time I'd like to go in the evening and see how the night crowd is.

Time to Redd Up Mount Washington

The Mayor and a bunch of "Redd Up" trucks were all working hard spiffing up the area around Grandview Avenue yesterday in preparation of our guests for the G-20. I'm really glad to see that. The entire city could use a good cleaning. I just wonder why we only do it when guests are coming over?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

PIZZA!!! My filet mignon....

I love pizza. I also dislike a lot of pizza. As a matter of fact, I dislike pizza about 90% of the time that I have it. The fact that I rarely find really good pizza and continue to order it is some kind of indication of my deep desire to locate the next great pizza joint. Then again, maybe it just indicates that I'm not too bright...

I feel as though I've tried every pizza place in the Pittsburgh area, but of course I'm sure that I haven't even come close. Following are just a few that I've tried and a brief (very brief!) review of them:

Azzeria on Banksville-Pretty good, brick oven baked but not one of my favorites

Bado's in Mt. Lebo-OK

Bellissimos on Mount Washington-Near where I live so it's convienent. That's about it.

Beto's on Banksville-This pizza I really like and would rank it in the top five in the Pittsburgh area. This is thick crust, but it's not too doughy. It is a crispy crunchy crust with a good sauce and fresh cheese. Very good.

Capri Pizza in Homestead-Better than average

Cestone's on Mount Washington-Another better than average and convienent for me!

Cici's, everywhere-yuk

Domenico's in Cranberry-Nice variety and pretty good.


Fioris Pizza on West Liberty Ave- Very good, kind of a sweet sauce and a thin crispy crust. You can order a pie and take it next door to the tavern which is nice.

Fox's Pizza Den, everywhere-Same old crap.

Frank's Pizzeria, Duss Ave. Ambridge-The Best. Ever. Anywhere. You can stop reading now, it dosen't get any better!

Giotto, South Side. One of the best, thin and crispy with a very good sauce. They also offer a variety of styles.

Harry's, McMurray on 19. Great, one of the best around. Thin crispy crust.

Juliano's, Stubenville Pike-Pretty good stuff

Little Chicago on the South Side-I ordered the Chicago style and didn't like it, but I'm going to go back and try the thin crust.

Luigi's, Lincoln Ave, Bellevue-This was always a pretty OK pie.

Michael's, Sarah Street, South Side-This is amazingly good pizza for a bar/restaurant. I don't hesitate to order it and it's a pretty good bar too!

Mineo's, Squirrel Hill and Mt. Lebanon-Considered one of the best in all of Pittsburgh, but not by me...Here we go, let the comments fly!

Monte Cellos's-OK chain pizza

Papa John's-See above

Pepperoncini's, Oakdale-Pretty good

Pizza Roma-OK for a chain, kind of like Monte Cello's

Police Station-In Ambridge. Excellent. Has a thick crust, which I usually don't like, but their's is very airy and crispy. One of the best!

Sir Pizza, off of Rochester Rd in the North Hills-very good and unique. Thin and cut into tiny squares

Tony R's, Sewickley-One of the best. Very fresh ingredients with the best cheese! Take your GPS!

Uno's-no damm good.

Vincent's in Greentree-Pretty good

Vincent's Pizza Park-Another that's considered one of the best in the city. I haven't tried it, but they have such a rep that I felt I had to list it here. I'll report back after I try it.

Vocelli, everywhere-OK

I always thought that pizza preferrence is really a personal thing. I mean, just about any steak lover will like any good steak house, but pizza is different. People either love it or they don't. Mineo's is very popular in Pittsburgh and is pretty good. They use very fresh ingredients and the pie tasts like it, but it's just not my style.

My favorite, without a doubt is Franks in Ambridge. It's a thin crust that is almost pastery like in texture (not it flavor!). This makes it very airy but still crispy...not mushy. They apply the cheese first and then pour the sauce over it. This way the cheese retains it's moisture. If you want extra cheese, they just add it after it comes out of the oven. When they close the box, the heat from the pizza melts it. YUM!!!