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or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

Or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

Moby Dick; or, The Whale?  Definitely The Whale.

Restaurants have an important first step in choosing the name they give themselves.  To an extent, a restaurateur build’s his concept around the name: what food is going to be served, what furniture and fixtures are going to be utilized, even what the uniforms are going to look like and how the staff is going to interact with the guests.  A name can command respect or bring on instant derision if the restaurant is tied up in bad food or service.or, The Whale with Lydia Grubicor, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

However, setting the right tone with a name can make all the difference.  Or, The Whale does this brilliantly.  Anyone familiar with the famous American novel by Herman Melville will understand most of what the restaurant is about from its name: fantastic seafood, set in a nautical-themed atmosphere with hearty service characteristic of the book’s protagonists, quiet and approachable Ishmael and brazen Ahab.  This is at least what I had hoped the goal of the name would be, to set the tone for the experience in but a few words, and with Lydia Grubic as my featured reviewer, I suppose you may call me Ishmael as I recount for you my dining experience.

Atmosphere

The atmosphere of or, The Whale, recently built in the new Distikt Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, is quite magical.  You walk in to a terrace with seating surrounding the main dining room.  Staring you in the face on the wall opposite is a giant mural depicting the famed battle between Moby Dick and the whaling ship Pequod.  It’s quite a sight to behold, but what I appreciate even more than the flashiness and grandiosity of the space are the subtle touches that bring the nautical theme together.  The ceiling’s draped ropes, the menu written with and including excerpts from the book, plus, as one would expect, a lot of whales, all tie the theme together without being tacky.  Presentation wise, this is one of my favorite restaurant spaces in the city.

Service

Of the four categories I looked at, service here was the weakest.  It wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but for a restaurant of this caliber, I did come in with higher expectations.  There wasn’t the connection that I had hoped to have between our server and us, and our interactions with the maître d’ were limited and somewhat distant.  As I keep emphasizing with my last few reviews, there just wasn’t a dialogue in place between us and the staff.  On a technical level everything was well executed, it’s just missing the charm and warmth of truly great service.

or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

Quality

On the whole, everything we had was of superb quality.  I ordered a mixed drink, the Broken Arrow, which I thought was very tasty and strong enough to have one and be done.  I then chose two seafood dishes which are some of my absolute favorites: escargot and scallops.  I thought both were very well done, with the escargot being done exactly right in butter and garlic, and the scallops trying something new with a butternut squash sauce that added a sweet and zesty flavor to what would otherwise be somewhat underwhelming alone.or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

My only grievance I thought was the dessert which Lydia and I split: a bienenstich cake, which resembles a crumb cake but made with a very sweet yeast dough.  I simply thought it was too dry, but on a second visit I would try it again to confirm and compare from the prior experience.  Overall, a really good showing for a new restaurant.

Value

Slightly expensive, but the flavor and atmosphere was worth it.  I did not necessarily think the service paid for itself but I think that can always be a work in progress to any restaurant, and I do factor that into this value category.  However, I’m willing to be lenient to a new restaurant in Pittsburgh, especially one that I think has the right intentions.or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

Rating

8.1/10

Translation

For a first go, I think this is a great score.  There is lots of room for improvement, since I think any deductions were due to the easily rectifiable category of service.  If you haven’t been to or, The Whale in 2017, I would make it a 2018 priority.

Lydia’s Take

or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

Best part of the experience?

I really liked the atmosphere of the restaurant and the décor.

What needs the most improvement?

I think they could be more adventurous with their food.

What kind of place is this (who would you bring here, for what purpose, etc.)?

I would recommend it for special occasions since it’s on the pricer side!

Describe your meal for us.or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

Overall I really enjoyed my meal and would order it again.  Both dishes I got, the macaroni and cheese and the mussels, were flavored very well and nothing was too strong or overpowering.

Lydia has been featured before but she is now a graduate at Case Western University who is always up for a culinary adventure!

Or, The Whale is one of Pittsburgh’s newest and hottest restaurants located in the Distrikt Hotel.  They feature fresh farm (and fisher) to table fare with great seafood, chops, and drinks with seasonal flare.  You can find their website with menu items and reservation instructions here: https://www.orthewhalepgh.com/

 

 

 

Burgatory with Jeremy Hopkins

Burgatory with Jeremy Hopkins

Sentenced to Burgatory?  Not a Bad Deal

Where to burger lovers and birthday boys go to spend the remainder of their days?  In the case of yours truly, Burgatory is the only hamburger/eternal-resting-place-themed restaurant I would choose.  Maybe not for the rest of time, but definitely for a relaxed evening celebrating my birthday!  With several locations in the Pittsburgh area but the extreme popularity of the local chain, Burgatory can be difficult to get into even on a weekday (I have indeed waited up to an hour and a half for entrance through the meaty gates.  However, after calling their Northshore property and ensuring they had a table for us on a Friday evening, I made my way to Burgatory, along with Mark Pavic, Mira Patel, and Jeremy Hopkins, who also happens to be the featured reviewer for this installment of Famished with Friends.Burgatory with Jeremy Hopkins

Atmosphere

The atmosphere of Burgatory plays with the idea of a “burger-afterlife” in ways that I just love.  From wall-sized paintings of devil-horned steers to just the lighting and colors used (dark reds and blacks, with “spotlights” highlighting each table, the curators of each space didn’t just gloss over the restaurant’s name.  They embraced it.

It can get quite rowdy at times, especially when the place is completely full.  Fortunately, our Northshore location was very spacious, and we didn’t really run into any noise or hBurgatory with Jeremy Hopkinsearing problems.Burgatory with Jeremy Hopkins

Service

The service was good, in that every one of our needs was taken care of expediently and without issue.  I even thought we were being a little too needy at times (it was my birthday after all), but if our waitress had any issue, she did not let it impact her impeccable aptitude for making sure we were taken care of.

QualityBurgatory with Jeremy Hopkins

The food at Burgatory is a cut above your average burger joint, especially when you consider their inspiring additions like spiked milkshakes and specially-seasoned fries and potato chips.  I think their crème-de-la-crème for unique food offerings has to be their “Build Your Own Burger” menu, which offers such unique toppings as chimichurri aioli, wild mushroom and black truffle mayo, and candied bacon.  My elk burger in particular was well seasoned and cooked to my liking, so I really couldn’t ask for that much more.Burgatory with Jeremy Hopkins

Price

The price is competitive with more fine dining establishments but still in reach for a college student looking for a night out.  Fifteen dollars for a burger isn’t too bad for a special occasion, but be warned: adding appetizers, drinks (maybe not including a spiked milkshake…), sides and a dessert will make Burgatory feel like Hell for your wallet.Burgatory with Jeremy Hopkins

Rating

8.5/10

Translation

For any flaws that Burgatory has, they shall be forgiven in the afterlife.  This is a quality and competent restaurant with a lot to offer that’s fresh and fun for guests.

Jeremy’s Take

Best part of the experience?Burgatory with Jeremy Hopkins

The customer service was definitely the best part.  The waitress was incredibly kind despite the fact that we were a younger group (that doesn’t happen very often).

What needs the most improvement?

While there were TV’s around the restaurant, I feel as if they could be placed in better locations so I don’t have to turn my head awkwardly to see them.

What kind of place is this (who would you bring here, for what purpose, etc.)?

I would describe this as a happy medium between a sports bar and a gastro pub.  It’s a nice place to go with friends for an occasion.

Describe your meal for us.Burgatory with Jeremy Hopkins

My meal was a beef burger cooked with “no pink”.  I got a lot of vegetation on it as well as sharp provolone cheese that accented the burger rather well.  Sauces as well as the bacon I got served well in topping it off to make it an overall incredible burger.

Jeremy is a rising Sophomore from outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, pursing a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh.  Jeremy loves to travel to different restaurants and try different things, but the first time he goes to a place, he always gets the burger.  He’s trying to find the best one he can.

Burgatory is a local, upscale burger and milkshake restaurant which sources local and fresh from the Allegheny County area. Check out their website and menu here: http://www.burgatorybar.com/

 

 

 

Church Brew Works with Jared Sheinberg

The Holy Grail of Brewpubs

When one enters Church Brew Works, the immediate impression is awe, followed by a sinking feeling that you’re somehow desecrating a house of worship by consuming alcoholic beverages on a holy site.  Of course, that doesn’t stop most people, myself included, from carrying on with their evening activities.  However, what does give me pause is the sinking suspicion that this grandiose façade is exactly that: a shine which masks an effort to create quality food and drink for guests.  For all the flying buttresses, ornately decorated altars, and colorful stained-glass windows can’t and should not distract me from the primary reason a restaurant exists, and that is to provide delicious meals to its guests.  In the end, my suspicions were partially put to rest, but you’ll have to read on to find out why! (P.S. my good friend Jared Sheinberg, featured reviewer for this installment of Famished with Friends, confirms these same suspicions)

Atmosphere

Of everything that Church Brew Works has going for it, the atmosphere that dining in a renovated church creates is certainly the best part.  The large stained glass windows, beautifully symmetrical arches, and opulent alter (dedicated to brewing the best beers this side of the city), all produce a magnificent setting to enjoy a heavenly meal.

 

 

The noise travels in this building, but not necessarily in a bad way.  The ceilings are so high and there is so much communication going on that a gentle din surrounded us rather than a crazy cacophony.

Service

The service we experienced was pretty good considering how busy the place was and that there were 5 of us needing separate checks.  Some of our food items arrived slightly cold, which I wasn’t sure was due to slow service or under-prepared food items.  But overall, our waiter was pleasant and professional.

Quality

If there was one thing lacking from our visit to Church Brew Works, it was the quality of the food.  However, a note about the drinks: they were exquisite.  Some of my favorite brews come from Church Brew, and a big shout out has to go to the Pious Monk Dunkel, a light lager that doesn’t leave a sour taste like some other lagers seem to do.

The food was a big disappointment here.  I ordered a few different appetizers, including the pulled pork nachos to start, the lamb meatballs, the traditional pierogis, and a tropical cheese quesadilla with a pineapple pico de gallo topping.  Overall I just thought everything was really bland, and the fact that each dish came out somewhat cold didn’t really boost the score.  The meatballs and pierogis were the worst, just lifeless, with no real spice, heat, or texture to speak of.  The one positive I can comment on is the Malted Bread Pudding a la mode, which however dense did make up for it by being flavorful, creamy, and satisfying.

Price

The price of our meal has me a little perplexed.  I think for the price you pay, you do get quite a bit of food and drink.  However, the quality is seriously lacking in some areas, leading me to believe that it may not be worth it.

Rating

6.2/10

Translation

I have had really good experiences here and also some not so good ones.  This visit definitely belonged in the latter category, and itvery well might be a lasting trend.

Jared’s Take

Best part of the experience?

I would have to say that the best part of my meal was the atmosphere. The décor is beautiful and unique. Not everyone goes to restaurants merely for the food, but for the entire experience. The building itself gives off a personality that makes it very comfortable for anyone to eat, drink, and socialize. I particularly enjoyed seeing the hops machines up by where the alter would be. It almost gives it a spunky look by combining a contemporary and antique appearance to create something that embraces the best of both.

What needs the most improvement?

The food itself is what I believe needs the most improvement. While I would say it was decent, it appeared that overall most of the food I tried happened to be a little dry. This could possibly be attributed to the crowds but nonetheless I found that I would consistently need to revert to my beer to help wash things down.

What kind of place is this (who would you bring here, for what purpose, etc.)?

This is the kind of place to take friends and sit down to enjoy beer and food while conversing for hours. They were certainly able to accommodate large groups due to the ample amount of space. Because of the price of the food and their specialty being in craft beer, there weren’t too many children present, but I wouldn’t say that this kind of unique dining experience isn’t for them as well.

Describe your meal for us.

My meal consisted of a buffalo burger cooked medium rare with a side of Cole slaw and a pickle. Overall, I enjoyed it, although as I stated above the burger was a little dry. I tried the celestial gold and Mont Pious Dunkel beers which were both excellent. The pious was a little darker and stronger which I preferred but both were thirst-quenching and offered a unique flavor.

Jared Sheinberg will be attending Pitt Law this upcoming fall with an undergrad degree in finance. He is from Allentown, PA and has four other siblings. In his free time, Jared reads, runs, and watches Netflix.  Not all at the same time, although that is his ultimate goal in life.

Church Brew Works is a renovated old church, St. John the Baptist Church, which has become a restaurant and bar in the Lawrenceville.  Check out some more interesting history on the parish turned purveyor of pints at their website: http://churchbrew.com/

Butcher and the Rye with Judith Cassel

Butcher and the RyeChoice Matters

The choice to go to a restaurant, to order a specific dish or drink, or to ask your wait staff a question can make or break an experience at even the fanciest and grandest restaurant.  If you go at the wrong time, order the wrong menu item, or ask the wrong question, your experience is diminished, and at times diminished so significantly that it makes you wonder how a restaurant got the recognition in the first place.  I found that to be true at Butcher and the Rye in downtown Pittsburgh.  This is a top ranked restaurant in Pittsburgh, and there were many attibutes that definitely spoke to that ranking.  However, a few specific choices that my parents and I made took away from the experience, which I’ll detail below.

Butcher and the RyeAtmosphere

The atmosphere of Butcher and the Rye is certainly rustic.  Antler chandeliers, mounted animal heads, and lots of wooden fixtures create a pastoral feel which is calming while also instilling a sense of wonder.  I couldn’t help myself as I looked around and tried to identify all the different features of the interior design.

Butcher and the RyeService

The service was one aspect that was seemingly impacted by the choices we made.  The order of our meal came out unexpectedly; half of our appetizers showed up nearly right after we ordered, and the rest came out right as our entrees showed up.  In addition, the wait staff seemed a little rude and aloof to our needs, not so much that it bothered us, but enough so that we noticed it.

Butcher and the RyeButcher and the RyeQuality

Again, our choices mattered.  I personally liked several items on the charcuterie board, including the chorizo and the pickled red onion.  The “pig candy” (pork belly with an apple kim chi) was also crispy and smoky.  However, the rabbit and dumplings dish that I ordered really wasn’t flavorful at all.  In fact, it was quite heavy and so bland that I found it difficult to finish.  I was also really let down with the dessert choice, the cinnamon sugar doughnuts, only because of how few doughnuts came out for the $9 we shelled out for them.

Butcher and the RyePrice

The price I didn’t think was good for the specific selections we made.  Like I said, $9 for three tiny doughnut holes and $28 for a dish of rabbit and dumplings with barely any rabbit in it was really disappointing.

Rating

7.9/10

Translation

By all means, this isn’t a bad restaurant.  I think the fact that our expectations were set so high, combined with the poor choices we made when ordering and interacting with our servers, contributed to our disappointment.

Butcher and the RyeJudith’s Take

The food, and in particular my scallops, was the best part.  They had a caramel brown outside with a slight crunch, and a chewy but not rubbery inside, which is exactly how scallops should be cooked.  On the flip side, the wait staff was slightly aloof, as if they were too good for us or that we didn’t belong there (which is certainly ridiculous).  This is a great place for parents or other people you want to impress with really unique and different food but in a more upscale setting.

Judith Cassel is a partner at Hawke McKeon & Snicak LLP and practices regulatory law, including representation of medical marijuana clients.  You can find the websites for each practice here: http://www.hmslegal.com/ and http://cannabislawpa.com/

Butcher and the Rye is a downtown Pittsburgh restaurant and winner of the James Beard award (the “Oscars of Food”) for their excellent bar program.  The two-story restaurant serves creative rustic meals with contemporary flair and a whisky list so overwhelming I just stopped trying to count.  You can find their menu and make reservations here: http://butcherandtherye.com/

Piada Italian Street Food with Lydia Grubic

Hospitality comes in many forms: it can be surprising and nuanced, or routine and masterful.  Any new venture has the potential to live up to these expectations and create a wonderful experience for its guests, even in the most unfamiliar places.  So when I heard that I had been selected as a VIP for the grand opening of Piada in Oakland, I didn’t know what to expect, other than to be blown away.  That’s the job of any restaurant’s opening: to create such an experience, as described above, that guests keep coming back over and over again.  Lydia, my partner in crime for this experience, can attest to that much as she joined me for the Chipotle of Italian cuisine!

Atmosphere: The atmosphere was lively and fun, full of modern fixtures like sleek, simple wooden tables and gorgeous black and white photographs doting the walls.  There was some soft rock/pop music in the air, which frankly ruined the vibe for me a little bit.  However, there was still a lot of energy in the room, which you don’t find that often in a fast-causal restaurant.

Service: The staff on the line were incredibly friendly, putting on their best smiles for the grand opening.  The chefs and other attendants who visited us at our table, dropping off little samples of everything on the menu, were less sincere but I’m more inclined to forgive that, considering how busy everyone was. 

Quality:  The quality of the food is definitely a step above an ordinary fast-casual restaurant like Chipotle or Five Guys.  My piada, the Diavolo, was warm and fresh, slightly spicy but it had a great crunch and a distinguished combination of eating a steak and a Caesar salad.  We were also treated to free Italian soda (sweet and bubbly), piada sticks, stuffed with cheese, pepperoni, and creamy parmesan dressing (as good as they sound), both tomato soup and lobster bisque (the lobster was significantly tastier), and finally a cannoli chip (tossed in powdered sugar and served with a delicious chocolate chip cream cheese icing).  All of it was amazing and had me coming back several times throughout the month for more!

Price:  Because I was a VIP, everything was free.  However, on a normal day, you can expect to pay slightly more than Chipotle for a very similar meal.  And the more you pile on, the more you can expect the price of your meal to creep up to potentially $20 for an appetizer, entrée, soup, drink, and dessert.

Rating: 8.0/10

Translation: Piada is superior to any other fast-casual chain (with the exception of Shake Shack, in my humble opinion) and certainly the best in the Pittsburgh area.

Lydia’s Take: The service was great; everyone was super friendly and helpful.  We were even greeted by the general manager, who came to our table to personally thank us for coming.  As for improvement, everything was just way too salty.  From the steak to the bread, it seems as if they added extra salt to everything.  Piada is perfect for a casual catch-up with friends or a low-key first date.  As for my meal, in particular, the combination of flavors in the fall steak avocado piada was great, and everything was cooked really well too.  I also really liked the soda, and the fountain that they have for dispensing it is really cool.

Lydia is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in neuroscience and minoring in chemistry.  She lives just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Piada is a small regional Italian fast-casual chain serving up fresh pasta, salads, and of course, piadas on the go.  Check out their website to see the menu and get the full story: https://mypiada.com/

 

Sienna Mercato - Emorio with Jill Sylvester

Sienna Mercato – Emporio with Jill Sylvester

Sienna Mercato is a restaurant with three distinct offerings for its guests: a meatball and Italian-inspired restaurant on the ground floor called Emporio, a wine and charcuterie restaurant on the second floor entitled Mezzo, and a roof top beer garden on the third floor aptly named Il Tetto (“roof” in Italian).  For Pittsburgh, the concept of three distinct restaurants under one name is unique and really fascinating; these restaurants operate as separate entities, yet they synergize in a way that shares costs and increases interest for patrons interested in different flavors.  One weekend you could be having a meatball sandwich on the ground floor, and the next weekend you could enjoy a cold one on the roof.  I’ll definitely be returning to sample the other two restaurants at some point, but my first experience was at Emporio, and I was invited along by a very special guest visiting all the way from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Jill Sylvester!

Atmosphere:  The atmosphere of Emporio is much more casual than the other restaurants in Sienna Mercato.  The brick walls, metal furniture, and simple lighting give the impression of a tap room, while all the flat screen TV’s and the general buzz of the establishment spoke more to a sports bar atmosphere.  Either way, I liked what was going on, and felt at ease with the casual nature of Emporio.Sienna Mercato - Emorio with Jill Sylvester

Service: The service is friendly and lighthearted, working well with the casual atmSienna Mercato - Emorio with Jill Sylvesterosphere but inviting an even deeper level of comfort and ambience.  We were seated promptly, served our food expediently, and checked up on frequently, so there’s really nothing else to critique: the service was genuine and hospitable.

Quality:  For “Italian with a twist”, this place nails it on the head.  The meatball sandwich that I ordered, Sienna Mercato - Emorio with Jill Sylvestertopped with gouda cheese and served with a marinara dipping sauce, was very tasty.  One of the prime aspects of this place is how much customization there is; you can order different quantities of meatballs, with different toppings, sides, and sauces, so you will definitely have options no matter your preference.  There’s even a vegetarian option!  We also enjoyed a delicious poutine (with tater tots, un-be-lievable) and a plate of cheesy bread (a carbohydrate and cheese concoction  of real perfection) so although I did feel bloated by the end, I was satisfied.

Sienna Mercato - Emorio with Jill Sylvester

Price:  Nothing is radically overpriced, especially considering the quality of our meal and the fact that we were downtown.  You can easily get a filling meal, with a drink, for $20, and that’s something not a lot of downtown Pittsburgh restaurants can offer.

Rating: 8.3

Translation: This is an outstanding casual restaurant with a welcoming environment and a lot to offer in terms of food and service.  Extra points for customization of menu options and service.  Any improvement would be in some of the food offerings and the décor.Sienna Mercato - Emorio with Jill Sylvester

Jill’s Take:  The best part of Emporio’s has to be the service: we were seated earlier than we had anticipated and everyone, from the bartender to our server, was easy to converse with and extremely nice.  The poutine was also spot on.   The aspects that needed the most improvement included a lot of the food options:  the pork Bolognese was too sweet, there were not enough cheese options available, and there was way too much parmesan cheese on many of the dishes.  This is definitely either a more sophisticated sports bar or a dressed down Italian restaurant, great for either starting your “night out on the town”, or a casual evening with friends.  Either way, the loose environment means you definitely won’t lose no matter when you go.Sienna Mercato - Emorio with Jill Sylvester

Jill is a Senior at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst studying Political Science, Spanish, Modern European Studies, and International Education.  We both studied abroad together in London, England, and her passions for international higher education and study abroad has led her to intern for CAPA The Global Education Network for the Office of the President.  Way to go Jill!

Sienna Mercato is a dining concept with three distinct restaurants all under one roof!  This is “Italian with a twist” and a scratch kitchen to match, so visit their website for reservation information or to see the entire, extravagant menu: http://www.siennamercato.com/

 

Casbah with Mary Rostom

What always surprises me about Pittsburgh is just how much variety there is in the types of restaurants: you have so many choices, from Ethiopian to Thai and French to Argentinian that you don’t even know where to start!  I plan on hitting as many as I can and opening up my palate to a culinary journey right in my own city.  Of course, I began that journey quite a while ago, and since then I’ve visited nearly two dozen restaurants with friends and family.  This next place is only a continuation, but in my mind it’s much more exotic than your typical Italian joint or a gastro pub.  That’s why I brought one of my very good friends Mary Rostom with me to enjoy the experience of Casbah, Mediterranean Kitchen and Wine Bar!

Atmosphere: The atmosphere was very cozy, especially considering how bitter cold it was outside.  The walls are painted a dark brown/orange, dotted with tasteful photographs, candles, and tiny lights, creating a uniquely comforting experience for the diners.  The forecourt, usually reserved for outdoor diners, was covered with an insulating tent; however, this created a weird experience for us as we entered the restaurant, as we had to travel the length of the forecourt before even being greeted by the hostess on the far side.

Service: The service was good, but again, as with many placeCasbah with Mary Rostoms in Pittsburgh, the hospitality seemed very rehearsed and insincere.  We were also consistently missing silverware, as each course that was brought out required a different utensil that never seemed to accompany the dish as it was being served.Casbah with Mary Rostom

Quality: Overall, this was a very positive experience in terms of the quality of my meal.  My tuna tartare was excellent and well paired with the accompanying bread and labneh (a type of Greek yogurt).  For my main dish, I had the ricotta cavatelli, and I was absolutely blown away with how fresh everything tasted.  The house-made sausage and       ricotta cheese blended very well together and created a very poignant taste depending on how much of either was in every bite.

However, the most disappointing part was the dessert.  I’ve never been so amazed with the appetizers and entrees of a restaurant yet at the same time so dismayed at the quality of the dessert; it was honestly quite baffling.  My vanilla bean Crème brûlée was not well caramelized and far too liquid like under the surface.  The macaroon placed on top was also very dry and brittle, like it had been sitting in a cupboard for a long time.  It’s a shame that the dessert wasn’t as good as the main meal because other than that, everything was top-notch quality!Casbah with Mary Rostom

Price:  Definitely on the pricey side, so come out to Casbah on special occasions or if your parents are in town.  I also would not have paid $9 for my Crème brûlée had I known what I was getting myself into.

Rating: 8.1

Translation: Overall I rather enjoyed my experience at Casbah!  If the restaurant can fix some aspects on the execution side (walking the length of the forecourt with little direction, missing silverware, etc.) and improve the quality of the desserts, this place definitely has the makings of a 9 sometime down the line.Casbah with Mary Rostom

Mary’s Take: The best aspect of Casbah was definitely the food, and in particular my entrée.  The double-cut pork chop was cooked to perfection and had a delicious creamy flavor to it, on account of the parmesan risotto and garlic cream sauce.  As for improvements, just little things here and there, like warm bread or better lighting, would make such an impact and improve this place considerably.  This is definitely a really nice restaurant, great for parents but also not too serious or romantic.  Casbah has almost a rustic feel with a lot of modern trappings, but it all works well together.Casbah with Mary RostomCasbah with Mary Rostom

Mary Rostom is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, double majoring in Biology and Chemistry and pursuing a certificate in the Conceptual Foundations of Medicine.  She is from Howland Corners, Ohio but is currently studying abroad in Rome, Italy for the semester!

Casbah is a warm and intimate Mediterranean restaurant on the edge of the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  With a fine selection of food and drink and both outside and inside accommodations, Casbah is ready to deliver fine hospitality to “a wide audience.”  Check out the menu and make reservations here: http://casbahpgh.com/

 

Urban Tap with Mark Pavic

Since turning 21, the gastropub has become one of my favorite types of restaurants for satisfying food and unique craft beers.  There is a type of culture surrounding gastropubs that is just so unique: you have groovy music, a friendly approachable group of guests in one place, and a bunch of greasy but delicious food to fill you up.  I’ve had the privilege of eating at a few gastropubs in Pittsburgh already, including Fuel & Fuddle and the Yard, and while both had delicious food and a great selection of drinks, Urban Tap ups the ante with over 140 types of beer available.  There’s so much beer that an entire wall is devoted to the beers on tap alone!  Nevertheless, I was undaunted on my visit, and I was so happy to share the experience with my Pathfinder family, especially my pal Mark Pavic, who will be the featured reviewer in this installment of Famished with Friends.

Atmosphere: When you walk into the Shadyside location, you are greeted with a huge bar area with tables surrounding the bar and a large glowing screen displaying all the taps.  For our group it was a little awkward, as there wasn’t a separate area for waiting patrons, but if your aim is for the bar then you’ll find plenty of space.  The only other downside was a strong smell of cleaning detergent as soon as we walked in, which hopefully was only a temporary smell.  Besides those aspects the atmosphere was lively and party like, with good music, functional décor, and unique accent pieces throughout the space.Urban Tap Beer DisplayUrban Tap Interior Decor

Service: Our service was overall very well executed.  Our server Caroline was prompt and funny and engaged us on all levels of hospitality (in small talk, with regard to our food, etc.)  The one aspect of the service that was not up to par was the reservation we couldn’t make, which the host told us was due to a software error.  This error forced us to wait an additional 40 minutes and wasn’t the ideal first impression for those of us who were visiting for the first time.

Quality:  The quality of everything was actually a little beyond my expectations.  I thoroughly enjoyed the drinks that I had, first an amber ale and then a Moscow Mule (my absolute favorite), and the food just continued to enhance the experience.  We ordered a beer cheese risotto for the table and the combination of mac and cheese alongside pretzel flavorings worked so well together.  I ordered a bison burger for myself, and while it came out a little too dry, the meat was well seasoned and the mayo had a tangy, spicy flavor to it that made every bite a little bit more interesting than the last.  For dessert, we all split the carrot cake, and anyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for carrot cake with a rich cream cheese frosting.   Needless to say, this dessert took the cake!

Urban Tap Moscow Mule

Urban Tap Beer Cheese RisottoUrban Tap Bison Burger

 

 

 

 

 

 

Price: Nothing was so overpriced that I was shocked when looking over the bill but be careful how items pile up.  After a few expensive cocktails, an appetizer, entrée, and dessert, you could be looking at a large payment by the end.

Rating: 7.5

Translation: Minus the few flaws at the beginning in terms of the smell, the waiting area, and the reservation system, a gastro pub like this has real potential.

Mark’s Take:  The best part about Urban Tap has to be the food.  In my opinion, this is some of the best food in Pittsburgh for the price.  This is also my second time coming here, and in addition to the beer cheese risotto, the brussels sprouts are to die for!  The most difficult part was the hosting process, as there was nowhere for us to sit during the waiting process and the only reason we even had to wait was because of
the reservation system.  This is definitely a night bar for people 20-35 years old, especially with all the beer choices.  As for my meal, my burger was a little more than medium but the taste was good.  Also, this was some of the best carrot cake I’ve ever had! (agreed Mark, so agreed).Urban Tap Carrot Cake

Mark Pavic is a sophomore from Johnstown, Pennsylvania majoring in Marketing with a Certificate in Digital Media.

Urban Tab gastropub and draft house is a from scratch kitchen with over 140 drafts between its two locations: Shadyside and Southside.  You can find out more about the restaurant and make reservations here: http://www.theurbantap.com/

 

James and Samson at the Hotel Monaco

The Commoner at the Hotel Monaco with James Mitchell

Any fan of my blog will know that I love hotels.  I love the atmosphere of boutique hotels, the world class service of luxury hotels, and even the economics and business models behind some of the world’s biggest hotel chains.  One of my first experiences with boutique hotels came with the opening of the Hotel Monaco in downtown Pittsburgh, since I would walk past it every day during the summer of my freshmen year on the way to and from my internship.  The outside is striking, almost intimidating with huge columns of concrete and steel bars on the lower windows.  However, the inside is, as the website describes it, “vibrant and whimsical, with bold pops of color.”  It’s no wonder U.S. News and World Report ranked it among the best hotels in Pennsylvania for 2016!  However, this isn’t a hotel review, it’s a restaurant review, which was no less suburb than the hotel itself.  What’s even better, I had a very special guest in the form of my best friend from high school, Mr. James Mitchell, who accompanied me to lunch at the Monaco’s amazing tavern-style restaurant, The Commoner:

Atmosphere: Harkening back to Pittsburgh’s industrial past, The Commoner delights in taking advantage of the city’s history and turning it into a theme.  Old maps were highlighted on the walls behind us and we were surrounded by steel girders and copper light fixtures.  It was a modern take on an older style but it worked so well for a hotel as imaginative as the Monaco.The CommonerThe Commoner's bar

Service: The service was exactly what I was expecting from a 4-star hotel: friendly, courteous, and attentive without being overbearing.  We were even greeted by the manager, a mark of exceptional customer service which you don’t see too often any more.  Our only critique here would be that the courses came out far too quickly between each other; only a few minutes into our appetizers did the entrees come out!The Commoner's kitchen

caramelized cheeseQuality: I’ll also have to steal a line or two from the Monaco’s website, because the food was exceptional, coming from a kitchen “that excels at adding modern flourishes to classic comforts.”  We shared a caramelized cheese plate with warm “squid ink” bread that was indescribably gooey and delicious.  My main meal was a smoked brisket sandwich, one of the very few I’ve had where the meat had the perfect amount of moisture without dripping with sauce.  For the finale, we each ordered a sticky toffee pudding, which took me back to London after only one bite.  I only wish James and I would have split one; we were so full by the end that we couldn’t finish them!  brisket sandwichsticky toffee pudding

Price: This is not an everyday place (and I forgot to mention my cocktail, mostly because the price would shock you!)  But The Commoner does have a lunch counter which is slightly cheaper if you’re not having three courses like we did!

Rating: 8.5/10smoked chicken salad sandwich

Translation: “Rusticity in the most delightful way.” I have to agree, The Commoner had an old-fashioned charm with the modern essentials of a classy restaurant in the heart of the Steel City.

James’ Take: My favorite aspect has to be the food.  My smoked chicken salad sandwich was very good and the sticky toffee pudding was some of the best I’ve ever had.  The spacing between courses needs definite improvement; it was just too rushed for what should have been a relaxing lunch.  This is definitely an elegant place, great for family or close friends visiting Pittsburgh!Islay Have What He’s Having cocktail

 

 

James is graduating in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in American S tudies from Washington College.

The Commoner is a modern American tavern serving upscale dining fare in a rustic environment.  I would suggest checking out both the restaurant (http://www.thecommonerpgh.com/) and the hotel (http://www.monaco-pittsburgh.com/) for anyone looking for an excellent stay in downtown Pittsburgh.

Pamela’s Diner with Nadine French


The classic American diner has a special place in my heart; I could walk into my local diner at 2:00 AM, order a plate of cheese fries with ranch, and leave without paying more than $7 for my meal.  How amazing is that!  In all seriousness, diners are great.  I love the food, I love the price, and I just overall love the unique atmosphere of every diner.  For Pittsburghers, no diner has been more beloved over the ages than Pamela’s Diner, a local chain with so much heart and soul to it that it’s hard to describe without going to see for yourself.  Each location is whimsical in nature, with board games, memorabilia, and plenty of bright colors to brighten any sour mood.  And who better to review Pamela’s with than someone who always brightens my mood, my very good friend Nadine French:

Atmosphere: At the Oakland Pamela’s (although there are 6 in the Pittsburgh area), the atmosphere is silly but also comforting.  Even among all the hustle and bustle of servers pouring coffee or running around with plates of hotcakes, one finds peace and relaxation being surrounded by so much color and memories from your childhood like the Monopoly board and Twister mat up on the walls.  The spacing is a little tight, which doesn’t make for a very intimate experience, but once again, the decor makes up for that in all the topics of conversation that can arise from what catches your eye.

John Lennon Pamela's

Service: Fast, friendly, and genuine, it feels like Pamela herself is serving you!  My coffee was seemingly always full and our food was out fast and hot.  More than anything else, the service is the aspect that creates a personalized experience for the guest.

Pamela's Diner

 

 

 

 

 

Pamela's Diner

Quality: The quality of the food, while nothing particularly exceptional, is a cut-above diner food in general.  I will also have to say that everything was very filling; I ended up taking most of my meal with me when I left!  Of note:

 

 

Pamela’s Famous Crepe Hotcakes: Although I did not order them during this particular visit, the hotcakes remain one of my favorite dishes to order.  If that’s not enough of an endorsement, even President Obama gave his stamp of approval on these hotcakes while campaigning for the presidency back in 2008.

Lyonnaise Potatoes:  They go with literally any breakfast food and are so good that my entree took a back seat to the pure deliciousness that was this plate of butter and cream infused potatoes.  You will not regret ordering them, but you may regret eating them all in one sitting, if you end up not restraining yourself.

Pamela's Diner FoodPamela's Diner Food

 

 

 

 

 

 

California French Toast: I was actually disappointed with this french toast.  It wasn’t bad by any means but it lacked the flavor and the fluff of other french toast dishes I’ve either ordered or made in the past (and I’ll have you know I make a mean french toast).  Again, the french toast wasn’t terrible but I didn’t get enough cinnamon or vanilla flavor from the batter and the syrup somehow also detracted from the overall quality of the dish.California French Toast

Price: Pamela’s is slightly more expensive than your average diner, and while not everyone is willing to pay the premium (and in my case I wasn’t so thrilled with the french toast price), if you order the right meal then you’ll find it’s worth the price.  On a slightly unrelated note, you do need to pay in cash, as Pamela’s has a no-card policy.  It’s slightly annoying but it does keep an air of authenticity to the place.

Rating: 7.7/10

Translation: The best family-owned diner in Pittsburgh that I’ve been to so far!  Is it the best family-owned diner in Pittsburgh of all time?  I can’t be sure at this point but I’ll keep searching for the answer!

Nadine’s Take:  Definitely the atmosphere is the best aspect of Pamela’s.  The decorations and themes ranging from board games to 60’s era memorabilia makes this restaurant fun and atypical for diners.  What’s the aspect that needs the most improvement?  This place needs to start taking cash!  As endearing as the cash only policy is, it can be inconvenient.  In addition, the wait times on weekends can get fairly long, and they don’t take any reservations.  While this isn’t an everyday place, it is a great meet-up or catch-up spot for friends and family who come to town.  And for the Oakland locations, it’s a Pitt staple!

Nadine French is a Junior Environmental Science and Chemistry major with an English Writing minor from Lititz, Pennsylvania.  She is a member of the Pitt Dance Team and would like to encourage everyone to come and cheer them and their fellow players on at the football games!

P&G’s Pamela’s Diner has been serving the best breakfast in Pittsburgh since 1980.  They have 6 locations across the greater Pittsburgh area and you can find all their locations and a full menu on their website http://www.pamelasdiner.com/