Follow Me!!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Easy Like Sunday Morning: Greendance Winery

I love a Sunday drive. Sunny, rainy,or with fresh fallen snow, a Sunday drive is an event in itself, no matter the weather. The first Sunday in July was a beautiful sunny day, so Cohort and I drove to the Greendance Winery located in Mt Pleasant, Pa. They have a tasting room that offers free tastings of over 40 wines everyday. I'm sure you'll find something to enjoy! You can also purchase wine by the glass or bottle. The shop is full of wine accessories, gourmet foods and other unique gifts. After our tasting, we debated over several nice choices and decided on a bottle of the Sparkling Vidal Blanc. Made from a hybrid grape, sometimes called "The Nectar to the North", developed in the 1930's by French breeder Jean Louise Vidal. It has a crisp aroma with a hint of pink grapefruit. The taste is a dry citrus with effervescent bubbles. We grabbed a chilled bottle and headed outside for lunch.

Sparkling Vidal Blanc and Burger
On this particular day, the folks at Elegant Catering had set up a Burger Bar in the garden area. The burgers are cooked fresh on an outside grill with your choice of cheese and other toppings. The side dish was a Dill Potato Salad that was pretty amazing, flavorful with more tang than sweet. Entertainment was live classic rock courtesy of The Buddy Mac band. Greendance has designated areas throughout the gardens for picnics and events. They have several events scheduled most weekends from now until October. I would not let the summer pass by without checking their events calendar.
Blackberry Pie and Triple Berry Pie
We sat under a large persimmon tree, enjoying our wine and burgers when we noticed people walking by with the most amazing looking berry desserts that you have ever laid eyes on! Sand Hill Berries operates the Cabin Cafe' in the garden, offering their own homemade desserts, fresh fruits, and smoothies. We had to partake! I dove into the blackberry pie while Cohort settled on a slice of triple berry pie with a sort of cheesecake filling. Both pies were stuffed full of fresh in season berries surrounded by homemade flaky crust. Scrumptious! They paired nicely with the sparkling Vidal.

It was the perfect afternoon. I could have sat under that tree all day, but alas life must continue on. Until the next long Sunday drive!

Click to add a blog post for Greendance Winery on Zomato

CONS: You may not be up for the drive!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

One Of A Kind: The Commoner

Located in the new Hotel Monaco at 458 Strawberry Way in downtown Pittsburgh, this place is amazing! The hotel itself is gorgeous and the luxurious theme sweeps throughout the restaurant, with a dark and rich color scheme. The bar and most of the tables sit up high (I love that!) with additional half  booth seating along the side wall. If you're in a rush you can pop over to the grab and go carvery window for breakfast and lunch. It was a bit crowded on the evening that we dined, so we posted up at the bar. Our bartender was a sweetie pie, plus she made a Pisco Sour like nobodies business!
Pisco Sours with Meat Board
After a few rounds of drinks we had a Meat Board for starters. Nothing fancy, just a small variety of meats with toast, mustard and pickled bits, but lovely. I then moved on to the Romaine Salad, which had large planks of romaine hearts lightly drizzled with bacon-garlic dressing, pumpernickel croutons, and frizzled ham. For my entree, I decided on Crab Shells and Cheese- jumbo lump crab meat and pasta shells with a creamy rich cheddar cheese sauce finished to perfection in a wood fire oven. Cohort went a simpler route with the PA Burger- local ground beef mixed with elysian fields lamb, PA noble cheddar, watercress, topped with smoked yellow tomato ketchup. He did share, it was very tasty!

Romaine Salad

For dessert we split the Sticky Toffee Pudding - a warm moist date cake with gooey toffee sauce, topped with a scoop of rye vanilla ice cream. I suggest that during your meal, you keep this in mind and SAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT!!!! It is to die for.
Click to add a blog post for The Commoner on Zomato 

PROS: Fabulous drinks, high end with a relaxed atmosphere
CONS: Downtown parking, gets crowded in the evenings

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Drink Of Kings: Apis Mead and Winery

A few years ago, Cohort taught me how to make a lovely beverage that I'd only heard about in books and movies. Mead, the drink of kings (and Vikings) has origins dating back to around 6500-7000 BC and is made from fermenting honey with water. Sometimes the brewers add various fruits, spices, grains, or hops and the alcohol content of mead can range from 8% ABV to more than 20%. Depending on how it's made, mead can be still, naturally sparkling or carbonated; it can also be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet. 

Cohort makes a very good mead. His beverage stands up well to most commercially available mead. For years we tried different mead makers, none could hold up to Cohorts homemade batches. And then it happened....

Apis Mead and Winery

Apis Mead and Winery located on Main St in Carnegie, PA. The bar area is small, but the space is warm and cozy with booths along one wall and high tables on the other side. The walls are full of brilliant artwork (for sale) from local artist Joe Deckart. Cohort and I ordered 2 flights which covered everything on tap plus a specialty Pineapple Coconut Sangria (yummy). My favorite was a tie between the Lemon Bourbon 8% - a nice tart lemon mead aged in bourbon barrels and the Hopped Pineapple 11% - a soft pineapple flavor, not too sweet with a light hop taste.

Mead Flights
They don't serve food, but during special events they have food trucks and live music. You can review upcoming events on their website
Along one of the back walls they have a shelf full of board games and Cohort chose Othello; it was my 1st time playing. While settling the tab we noticed a sign "What's In The Box?" If you guess correctly you get a small prize. Wouldn't you know it....Cohort guessed correctly and we had a bonus glass!! We shared a Raspberry Blackberry 10% and more fruity than some of the other flavors, but still divine. If you haven't tried mead, now is your chance.

Click to add a blog post for Apis Mead & Winery on Zomato

PROS: Great people, good drinks, board games! 
CONS: I-376 construction makes getting into Carnegie more challenging than normal and looks like this may continue throughout the summer. 


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Brewed In The 'Burgh!: The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co.

According to the Brewers Association, by the end of 2014 there were 3,464 breweries in the US. This list included 1,412 brewpubs, 1,871 microbreweries, and 135 regional craft brewers. This number is climbing everyday. What exactly does this mean for the discerning beer drinker? More choices and more quality local beers.

This brings me to The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. located in the historic neighborhood of Braddock at 512 Braddock Ave, one of the new craft brew spots to open in Pittsburgh. Craft breweries are normally small, independent, and traditional. Co-owners Asa Foster and Matthew Katase have managed to take those three ingredients and add a bit of trendy luxury...and it works!
Tap Samples
We paid a visit on a Friday evening, so it was crowded but still comfortable and inviting. We sat in the bar area which is industrial with exposed brick and metal bar stools. They also have tables with additional seating towards the front entrance.

As far as beers go, they have a little something for everyone. We tried 5oz tasters of everything they had on tap, with names like General Braddock's IPA, Build and Destroy, and Apple Pie. My favorite was the Kitchen Sink from the Rapid Prototype Factory Series, The Gentlemen's line of experimental releases. This particular beer is amber in color, has a smooth finish and boasts a 6.0% ABV. It is a new creation that does not compare with any other beer genre. 
The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. 
In the food department The Brew Gentlemen have alternating local food trucks that set up shop in the parking lot. We just popped in for a beer tasting and didn't plan on eating, but the smell of BBQ coming from the Blowfish BBQ food truck was too tempting to resist! They offer a variety of BBQ meats and sauces with sides to boot. We grabbed a couple of drumsticks on our way out and continued our journey. The drumsticks were amazing! It made me regret not having a full meal from The Blowfish food truck, but that is for another day!

The Brew Gentlemen Beer Company on Urbanspoon

PROS: Great beer, great service. Support local establishment. Food trucks!
CONS: Can get crowded on weekends. Food trucks change, so you have to contact brewery for schedule. With the Rapid Prototype Series your favorite beer may vanish before you had your fill.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Sunday Brunch: Dorothy 6 Blast Furnace Cafe

With new establishments popping up all over the city and the usual brunch spots getting overcrowded, my family and I decided to try a new spot for Sunday Brunch. We settled on Dorothy 6 located on East 8th Avenue in Homestead. Named after the largest blast furnace in the world, Dorothy 6's amazing interior pays homage to Pennsylvania's steel mill days. The poured concrete bar runs along an exposed brick wall, with tables throughout and a large lounge upstairs. Using old steel mill parts and steel mill workers memorabilia, the space is one of a kind.
Dorothy 6
We started with mimosas to prepare us for the menu. Being a large party, we ordered one of everything and then had an almost shameful free for all of food. Steak and Eggs, Home Fries and Pancakes are the regulars before chef Matt Davis (Chef MD....a doctor of food perhaps!) brings his personal touch to the menu. Stuffed French Toast - 3 pieces of perfectly cooked french toast with a creamy strawberry filling topped with fresh strawberries. Chocolate Zucchini French Toast - a decadent chocolate zucchini bread dipped in an egg batter, lightly grilled and topped with strawberries. My personal favorite was the Potato Pancake Benedict - A crispy potato pancake topped with poached egg and your choice of ham, bacon, sausage, or crab. (That's right, I said crab!) covered in hollandaise sauce. It tastes so good you'll want to slap Benedict himself! Mimosa, Bloody Mary, juices and coffee are listed for drinks on the brunch menu, but they have a full bar and a fabulous selection of beers, so just pick your poison! Although I had a wonderful brunch experience, I cannot wait to hit Dorothy 6 for dinner....I hear they offer a Lobster Pot Pie (seasonal). Mmmm, I'm getting excited just thinking about it!
Chocolate Zucchini French Toast
Dorothy 6 Blast Furnace Cafe on Urbanspoon

PROS: Amazing food. Not crowded for brunch, but I hear the weekends are a different story. Close to the Waterfront. Full bar with nice beer selection.

CONS: I don't really have a CON. Parking, maybe?

Monday, February 16, 2015

A NYC Quickie: Babylon Hookah Lounge

Recently I had the pleasure of joining Cohort on a quick business trip to NYC. I love New York. (I can't believe I just typed that...) I especially love New York in the winter, so it was the perfect time to visit! The weather was just right, cold enough to snuggle, but not cold enough to freeze to death. We had a wonderful evening with fabulous food at a local restaurant and great laughs at The New York Comedy Club. Before our evening got underway, we decided to stop for drinks and light fare. We found ourselves at the Babylon Hookah Lounge located at 208 East 34th Midtown/Murray Hill. As luck would have it, it was happy hour!!
Babylon Hookah Lounge
We ordered the regular Babylon Mix Hookah with appetizers. Babylon Hummus - a smooth hummus topped with marinated meats and pine nuts, served with bread for dipping. I could have eaten the entire dish all by myself! We also had the Cigar Borek - rolled phyllo dough stuffed with feta cheese, parsley and seasonings. Everything was very tasty, I'm sure their full entrees are just as amazing.

The space is large and divided into two sides. One side has a large bar with a dance floor and a seating area. The other side is more for lounging. The decor is lavishly Turkish! Our plan was to stop in for a quick drink and a smoke, but sitting there puffing away and sipping on Sangria, time simply slipped by. If you ever find yourself in Midtown/Murray Hill, stop in for a bite and lounge around for awhile. I know you'll enjoy it!
Babylon Hookah Bar & Lounge on Urbanspoon

PROS: Relaxing atmosphere, good drinks (Sangria was lovely) variety of flavored hookahs. Happy hour drink and hookah specials.
CONS: It's a nice place to lounge around during happy hour, but in the evening, it can get crowded.

Valentine's Feast at Fede: Cenacolo

This year Valentine's Day fell on a weekend. Good luck getting a reservation at any restaurant, anywhere! No worries, Cohort said we could just pick up an artisan pizza to go or hit a low key watering hole. I awoke on Saturday morning to beautiful white fluffy snow falling from the sky. It was gorgeous! Then....It...Just...Didn't...Stop!! By that evening the roads were covered with snow and sleet. Salt trucks were everywhere. Cohort said couples would start canceling reservations due to the bad weather. (He's smart like that!) He decided we should venture out to a place in North Huntington called Cenacolo.
Cenacolo is a very interesting space. Located in an office park, it's definitely a hidden gem. It showcases the fresh made pasta of Fede Pasta's which is handmade onsite. Despite not having a reservation, we were seated immediately. (SCORE!) We started with Drusian Dru El Cru Prosecco and appetizers. Fagioli E Verdure - white beans, pancetta, broccolini and garlic. An excellent take on greens and beans. Carciofini Fritti - crispy fried artichokes, topped with freshly chopped basil, served with a roasted lemon slice. The basil is what makes this dish pop with flavor and the light taste of the prosecco was a good starting point for drinks.

For his entree Cohort ordered the Reginetta - a wavy, thick pasta with shrimp, broccolini, hot banana peppers, and bacon covered in a rich gorgonzola cream sauce. It's a hearty dish with contrasting flavors from the sharp cheese and light spice from the banana peppers. I decided on the Oxtail Ravioli - braised oxtail with sage, served in a delicious marrow reduction. (Make sure you get an order of bread, you are going to want to sop up every drop!) With our meal we splurged on a bottle of Bava Barolo di Castiglione Falleto. It's a full bodied red wine that has a spicy aroma and pairs perfectly with rich pasta dishes. 
Strawberry Limoncello
After dinner they served Strawberry Limoncello with light cookies as a special Valentine treat. We then had an Italian Coffee to help warm up before heading out into the cold. Mmmm, perfetto!
Cenacolo Restaurant on Urbanspoon

PROS: Fresh in-house made pasta (They also have pasta making classes!) Nice wine selection, but you can also B.Y.O.B.
CONS: It's located in an office park, don't let that deter you, the inside is amazing!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Off The Hook: on the hook if you're the one paying....

Cohort and I recently traveled to Warrendale to enjoy a bite at a new upscale seafood restaurant called Off The Hook. Due to the looong wait, we decided to post up in the bar area. The layout is amazing! They have a main bar area, a separate section for the oyster bar and additional tables throughout. Despite a menu advertising fish from all over the world, we learned that their large wine selection was limited to California, so we decided to start with cocktails. They were fine, but nothing special compared to some of the other cocktail places we've visited. For an appetizer, we had the Plum Island Lettuce Cups which are lobster, crab, shrimp and water chestnuts blended and stuffed in lettuce cups, then sprinkled with crispy rice noodles and Korean Dragon sauce. It's a light appetizer with a mild flavor. I thought it was fine, Cohort thought the lettuce was the boldest flavor in the mix. For sides we chose Lobster Whipped Potatoes and Asparagus. The potatoes were tasty and I loved the asparagus. It was char grilled with mild seasoning, letting the true flavor shine through.
Lobster Whipped Potatoes and Char Grilled Asparagus
For a main course I had the Black Grouper with Choriza and Cream. It is served with chorizo sausage, sauteed fennel, onions and smoked paprika cream. Cohort ordered the Swordfish Vera Cruz finished with tomato, onion, jalapeno, olives and caper topping, drizzled with EVOO. We waited a looong time for our meals. Twice, the bartender came over and apologized for our wait, informing us that there was a chef tasting in the kitchen and that things were slow. We sat and watched as other patrons around us were being served. Hmm, maybe only some dishes were behind in the kitchen? Once served, as wonderful as these two dishes sounded, they seemed to be lacking. Apparently OTH char grill the fish separately and THEN add the sauces and toppings. I feel the dishes would be much more flavorful if they were cooked IN the sauces. Cohort and I were left feeling ho-hum about our meals. Incidentally, while we were eating, another couple just seated asked for menus and the bartender began giving them a list of all the "specials." We were never offered these items, so I can only assume this was part of the chef tasting and that it was not available when we ordered.


At that moment they brought dessert out for the couple sitting on our other side. A fluffy cheesecake with apples, caramel and a crumb topping. We decided to stick around and the dessert was the highlight of a dining experience that was just so-so. With the prices that OTH charges, I should not be using the words "so-so" and 'ho-hum" to describe my meal.

Off The Hook on Urbanspoon
PROS: Nice ambiance.Very good dessert.
CONS: Long waits for seating and entrees, pricey food that is fine...nothing special, just fine.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Spoon Full of Sugar: Vanilla Pastry Studio

Have you ever needed just a bite of something sweet? If so, I know the perfect place! Located in Regent Square you'll find a posh little bakery called Vanilla Pastry Studio. So much more than your neighborhood sweet shop, it's a full blown boutique bakery experience! The shop is set up like a girl's dream house. They have a seating area with a metal table and pastel painted chairs. The ceiling is filled with brightly colored chandeliers that make the shop look decadent and cheerful. They offer everything from lollys (sweet little desserts on a stick) to custom made celebration cakes.

My sweet of choice are the cupcakes. They are simply divine! On this visit I had the Lemon. It was perfectly moist with a burst of tart citrus balancing out the sweetness. The frosting was light, creamy and fluffy. I could very easily eat a bowl full of the butter cream frosting and be completely content. They offer flavors like Strawberry Shortcake, Mango-Passion fruit, and even Grapefruit. Their cupcake combinations are always changing, so what they have in store changes from day to day. I have never been disappointed and I always try something new. They play a lot with sweet, salty, tart and chocolate flavors. You're sure to find a little something to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you're ever in the market for a one of a kind wedding cake or an over the top birthday cake, this is the place!

Vanilla Pastry Studio on Urbanspoon

 PROS: Freshly baked sweets made with natural ingredients.
CONS: Pastry items change daily; if you have a favorite, they may not have it everyday.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Out of Prohibition, Into a New Era: Speakeasy Social Lounge

Located in the lower level of downtown's Omni William Penn Hotel sits a hidden gem -  the Speakeasy Social Lounge. In the 1920's, during prohibition, this intimate room was actually used as a Speakeasy. When alcohol became legal, there was no longer the need to hide things in the basement, so for decades this lovely space was used as a storage room. Recently they decided to resurrect this Speakeasy to it's former glory. The term "Speakeasy" originated right here in Pittsburgh. Patrons would speak quietly (or easy) about such places in public, or when inside, so that the neighbors and police would not catch on.
Omni William Penn Speakeasy
The space is small and low key. (I'm sure most Speakeasy's were set up this way during prohibition.) The decor is rich, warm and luxurious and definitely takes you back. I expected the great Gatsby to come over and welcome us. I wanted to sport a bob haircut, flapper dress and take a drag on a cigarette in a long holder. It has a nice bar and small plush cranberry colored chairs in the center and luscious bench seating with low tables surrounded by round golden ottomans along the back wall. Once seated the bartender produced a distressed leather booklet which contained the menu. The menu has a selection of curated spirits that would have been served during that era with a few local twists. We had just popped in for drinks, but they do offer small plates.
Speakeasy Menu
Cohort ordered a Blind Tiger, named after the dispensaries of unlicensed alcohol in the Carolina's, a punch made of Batavia Arrack Van Oosten, Benedictine, Cherry Herring, Chai Tea, Birch Bark Sour, Ginger Beer with fresh seasonal fruit. I had a Raspberry Lemon Vodka Cobbler- citrus infused Boyd & Blair Pennsylvania potato vodka, Schladerer raspberry liqueur served over LOTS of ice. Both were yummy, but Cohort clearly won this round. (I drank his and mine!) The punch was brimming with a blast of flavor. I love a good, classy cocktail - we ordered an entire pitcher! Worth every sip!
Blind Tiger
It's one of the coolest drink spots in town. The prohibition back round makes it even better!

PROS: Very good drinks. Nice decor. Historic place.
CONS: Not much signage, so you have to know that the Speakeasy is down there-but then again, maybe that's the point!

Speakeasy Social Lounge on Urbanspoon