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Red Oak Cafe with Casey Abramson

Red Oak Cafe with Casey Abramson

A Café That Does It All

I’ve dined in quite a few cafes for someone my age.  Most have been coffee shop-esque, with little focus on food and its effect on guests.  Moreover, even fewer have tried to please all guests in terms of dietary restrictions.  Many times I have guests over at my house or out and about who are gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, or lactose-intolerant.  In these cases, I need a local establishment that can cater to these needs and still provide tasty options for anyone who comes.  Red Oak Café to the rescue!  And I was so happy to reconnect with one of my friends over breakfast there, Casey Abramson.

Atmosphere

There is definitely a casual vibe to Red Oak, something that only a family-owned operation can accomplish.  The café conveys a sense of locality and warmth, only enriched by the wall murals of Pitt and Pittsburgh.  The space is a little cramped, but that aspect only jumped out at me due to the popularity of the place during the school year.Red Oak Cafe with Casey Abramson

Service

The service was not quite what we expected.  Between no menus where we needed them, the slow and backed up kitchen staff (leading to us waiting a decent amount of time for our meal), and the fact that Casey’s potatoes were cooked with butter (when she specifically requested they not be), there was much to be disappointed about.Red Oak Cafe with Casey Abramson

Quality

The quality of the meal sure made up for the dearth in service quality.  My strawberry and banana smoothie was filling and rich, without being too strong on any one flavor (yogurt, fruit, etc.)  I also ordered a hardy breakfast burrito, which stayed warm for a long time.  Overall, I would say the food is filling and keeps you full throughout the day.Red Oak Cafe with Casey Abramson

Price

The price is great for college students, and a really good breakfast or lunch definitely won’t set you back more than fifteen dollars.  Plus, there are free coffee refills!

Rating

6.8/10

Translation

What did Red Oak in was the service, but this is still an above average spot in a college town with lots of strong competitors.

Casey’s Take

Best part of the experience?

Well, catching up with Samson obviously!  He’s always great company.  But, if I’m just focusing on the restaurant, I’d say seeing how many options Red Oak Café has on their menu!  I can’t eat gluten or dairy, so their menu is incredibly accommodating for me and I always love going there.

What needs the most improvement?

The wait time is always a bit long, and their kitchen seems a bit chaotic.  But that makes sense considering the amount of space that they have and their recent popularity.

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

It’s a delicious and super casual restaurant, perfect for any breakfast/brunch/lunch desires.  Personally, for the kind of lifestyle I live, I would bring anyone here!  The very laid-back environment is great for friends, or even to take the edge off of a first date!  I also love bringing as many people as possible here because as I mentioned before, their menu is great for my food intolerances.

Describe your meal for us.Red Oak Cafe with Casey Abramson

I had an omelet with lots of veggies and roasted potatoes on the side!  The omelet was delicious, but unfortunately, they cooked my potatoes in butter so I felt a bit sick after the meal.  However, the meal was still super delicious.  I have always been very satisfied with whatever I order off of their menu!

Casey Abramson is a rising senior at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Media and professional Communications with a concentration in Corporate and Community Relations and Digital Media.  She spends her free time singing with her a cappella group, spending time outdoors, and she is super passionate about anything involving music, food, traveling, and people!

Red Oak Café is a fresh and healthy, family-owned eatery located in the heart of the Oakland Neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  To see their menu, which includes all-day breakfast options, check out their website: http://redoak.cafe/

 

 

 

The Porch with Teresa Leatherow

The Porch at Schenley with Teresa Leatherow

It’s a Beautiful (Restaurant) in the Neighborhood…

I go to school at the University of Pittsburgh, and for those who are not familiar with the area, the encompassing neighborhood of the school is Oakland.  The neighborhood is a cross between your traditional college town, with dive bars, cheap fast food restaurants, and university buildings, and a suburban business district, with hospitals and technology startups on every block.  This eclectic mix of old and new, professional and, dare I say, trashy (if you’ve ever been to some of the bars that is), means that a nice restaurant might not find its market here.  However, one concept certainly has found its groove, smack dab in the middle of Oakland.  The eatery includes wine and beer on tap, locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, and even a roof-top garden!  Unheard of in a college town but The Porch at Schenley is paving the way for a new dining establishment in urban-esque areas.  I am certainly no stranger to The Porch, but for this review, one of my best friends and just an all-around amazing human being Teresa Leatherow gives you here take on this Oakland favorite.The Porch with Teresa Leatherow The Porch with Teresa Leatherow

Atmosphere

A bright and open space welcomes you into the main dining area of The Porch, where the atmosphere is casual and the conversations aren’t too loud.  The space is overall very comforting, since The Porch isn’t trying to be anything it isn’t.  On top of that, diners get beautiful views of the Schenley Plaza area, making people watching a very tempting activity.The Porch with Teresa Leatherow

Service

The Porch has always done a fantastic job with service, potentially due to the amount of staff on hand at any given time.  Everyone is quick and friendly, and while the flurry of activity would create chaos for most restaurants, The Porch controls this chaos.  The attentiveness did waver toward the end, so if anything prolonged consistency of service needs work.

Quality

When I mentioned above that The Porch isn’t trying to be anything it isn’t, the food might be somewhat of an exception, but in the best way possible.  Chefs at The Porch get creative with some dishes I’ve had, including the Bianca, a pizza with fig jam, goat cheese and arugula or the crispy taters with a curry ketchup. The Porch with Teresa Leatherow

The Porch with Teresa LeatherowBecause Teresa and I went for brunch, we had the best of both worlds: we split a cast iron skillet of cinnamon rolls, followed by an Eggs Benedict for myself and a grilled chicken sandwich for Teresa.  I’m usually a sucker for the cinnamon rolls, but they always seem to come out a bit too dry for my liking.  As for the Eggs Benedict, the dish is definitely one of my favorites, always artfully done and full of flavor with each bite.  The accompanying taters and curry ketchup are also very good, and the different textures of my whole meal, from the crunch of the taters to the smooth béarnaise sauce, creates a great sensory experience.

Price

A $14 Eggs Benedict, with taters, plus $2.50 for coffee (unlimited refills) and $5 for cinnamon rolls makes for an incredibly valuable $20 brunch.  You’re hard pressed to get such a great deal anywhere else in the city, let alone Oakland.The Porch with Teresa Leatherow

Rating

8.2/10

Translation

The Porch creates simply elegance.  It focuses on excellent service and unique takes on comfort and healthy food without the price.  For a college town, The Porch is a jewel to have, and makes any day in the neighborhood that much more beautiful.

Teresa’s Take

1) What was the best part of your experience?

– the company I had

– consuming a meal that could be enjoyed in an atmosphere above the level of where an average college student usually dines

– feeling more “sophisticated” and sitting down to eat a meal for longer than five minutes

2) What needs the most improvement?

– as one of the better dining options in the Oakland neighborhood, brunch is a popular meal to go here for; in terms of improvement, staff could have been slightly more attentive considering the price point (relative to a student budget)

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

– a date, a good friend, someone visiting the Oakland area; it is a good representation of the neighborhood

– it is likely to have a desirable menu item for each customer

– modern atmosphere

4) Describe your meal

– I had a grilled chicken sandwich served with a side of roasted potatoes- it was delicious!

– the portion was perfect (also having consumed a cinnamon roll) and made it so I did not need to eat much beyond a snack for the remainder of the day

Teresa Leatherow is a rising junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying business (supply chain management and business information systems) and engineering (sustainability, industrial and environmental applications).

The Porch at Schenley is a modern Americana bistro in the heart of Oakland, serving an “eclectic mix of familiar food with things that are altogether surprising and new.”  To see their menu and find out when the best time to go is (they don’t take reservations) visit their website: www.theporchatschenley.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/

 

Stack’d with Tim Li

It seems as though now-a-days the customized burger is what is on everyone’s mind.  One walks into a fast casual chain or a sit-down bistro and in addition to a selection of tried and true hamburgers, there is also an option of choosing toppings, buns, sauces and other inStack'dgredients to really make the burger unique to you.  While some restaurants operate in this manner quite successfully (and I hope to review Burgatory in a formal manner soon for that exact reason), other establishments have been less successful.  I can hypothesize on what the reasons are but to really understand why a burger restaurant is either successful or unsuccessful at the customized burger concept, I need to sit down and put the process to the test.  This is just what I did with my good friend Tim at Stack’d in Oakland.

Stack'd

AtmStack'dosphere: Like any true sports bar, the place was lively and hip with a lot of activity.  However, it felt a little more modern with the addition of large flat screen televisions and a sleek, stainless steel interior with simple metal furnishings, very different from a hometown burger joint.

Service: The service was adequate for the venue, nothing so compelling as to warrant a rave review but it definitely got the job done.  The most annoying aspect was how long it took the two of us to get our food, as we waited nearly 30 minutes after ordering to receive our entrees.  Granted, we did order custom Stack'dburgers, but the purpose of reviewing Stack’d was to see how the custom burger restaurant “stacked” up to Stack'dsimilar eateries in the area and I’m not sure that the concept worked here.

Food:  I also thought the food was good but far from exceptional.  I had a regular burger with my customized list of add-ons and toppings but it wasn’t anything that impressed me.  Tim’s chicken burger was also lackluster, even with the “OMFG” sauce.   But, even though there wasn’t anything outstanding about our sandwiches, the orders were nonetheless executed well: my burger was cooked to my specifications, there were plenty of toppings and fries to boot, and I was full by the end of the meal.

Cost:  The burger can be pretty cheap if you stick to what’s included with the initial price.  However, if you load up on the extras, you may find that a $10 burger and fries turns into a $15-17 meal piled so high you can’t see your friend across the table.

The Verdict: 6.5/10

Translation: Go to Stack’d if you want a decent burger, fries, and a shake with some friends on a weekend night.  If you’re in the mood to do anything else, especially if you’re stretched for time, I would head somewhere to a different establishment.

Tim’s Take: For a college town restaurant that serves your basic fast casual fare, you can’t go wrong with a decent burger and fries.  It’s a good place for hanging out with your friends or having a casual time with the family, especially since the environment is so lively.  The best part is obviously the burgers, but the speed and quality of service, which varies considerably from experience to experience, is not ideal.

Tim is a senior Finance major and Economics minor from Broomall, Pennsylvania.

Stack’d is a local Pittsburgh burger restaurant with locations in Oakland, Shadyside, and another one opening in Wexford in the coming winter.  Check out their website here: http://www.stackdpgh.com/

Fuel & Fuddle with Roger SinClair

IMG_7859
All hail the gastro pub!  America’s bastion of cheap but delicious cuisine and too many craft beers to try in one life time.  The gastro pub as we know it today originated in the early 1990’s in (you guessed it) the United Kingdom.  Once the reinvigorated idea of a pub serving hot food caught on in the land of fish and chips, naturally America “stole” the idea and ran crazy with it.  At today’s modern gastro pub, one can find a range of crazy selections like hamburgers injected with cheese or pizzas with smothered with mashed potatoes.

Pittsburgh is definitely a gastro pub lover’s hidden treasure since the city has several unique (if relatively unknown outside of Pittsburgh) pubs to call its own.  I will be reviewing a good majority of them in time, but this post is one big shout-out to Oakland’s own Fuel & Fuddle (affectionately called Fuel).  For its superb location, killer eats, and spectacular deals, Fuel has Pitt students going in throngs, which is why I sat down with my good friend and roommate Roger SinClair (on his 20th birthday!) to review our other dear friend: Fuel.

Atmosphere and service:  In the true style of a gastro pub, Fuel reflects its namesake with a wild, almost whimsical flair for automobiles, truck stops, and fuel pumps.  The “traveling” theme works really well, creating a contrastingly relaxed and highly socialized vibe where you can kick back in the non-stuffiest way possible.  Fuel is definitely not trying to take itself too seriously, working with, instead of against, the fact that it’s on a college campus.  While the seating is a little cramped, it doesn’t take away from the overall atmosphere, which includes the use of subtle light fixtures and several televisions tuned to the sports of the hour.  Our service, while definitely not 5-star, is intentionally casual; it reflects the clientele of the venue.  Our server wasn’t peppy but yet still very attentive and accommodating with our orders.IMG_7868

Food:  What else can be said besides utterly amazing!  You should definitely not come here if you are focused on your low calorie diet, but even then when has that ever stopped a college student?  We ordered what Fuel calls a “rollafatty” (tiny strombolis), the “kick-gas nachos” (nachos), and the “hog heaven” (pulled pork sandwich) with sweet potato and russet fries.  I absolutely loved everything, with Roger giving special props to the nachos and the hog heaven.  The rollafatty was crispy yet delicate, and the marinara sauce doesn’t overpower the cheese in the rollafatty like in some strombolis.  The nachos are some of the best I’ve had, ever, which is a huge deal considering that’s a good 1/5 of a college person’s diet.  Fuel doesn’t skip out on the toppings, and I actually had to dig to find more chips, but that’s just the way I like it.  One almost has to eat these nachos with a fork and knife, that’s how dense this plate can be.  We both recommend you get the chili with your nachos, it just adds an extra something to what’s already near perfect.  Finally, my all-time favorite dish has got to be the hog heaven.  I’m not sure if it’s the perfectly crispy sweet potato fries or the house-made chipotle horseradish sauce served on the side, but this pulled pork sandwhich is hard to beat.  I always think that it could use more barbeque sauce (as every pulled pork sandwich since the beginning of time could use), but if that’s my only criticism, it’s easily rectified by asking your server for more.  Overall, Roger and I were very full and very satisfied by what we had.IMG_7860

(As a side note, I’ve eaten at Fuel on numerous occasions, and although I didn’t sample any of these dishes this time around, I can also personally recommend the fire-baked brie, the smashed potato pizza, and the “hangover helper” hamburger as really good options).

Price: $40 for 2 hog heavens, a rollafatty, and some nachos isn’t bad at all.  How could you get any cheaper?  Well I’ll tell you!  Starting at 11:00 pm, Fuel has a special “Late Night” menu where everything is five dollars.  That’s right, IMG_7866only 5 dollars for everything on that menu after 11pm, an insane deal when all you have to do is go to bed a little later.  Pitt students frequently take advantage of this deal but remember that seating at this time is first come first serve, no reservations, so be ready to get there early or you wait in line for affordable deliciousness.

The verdict: 8.0/10

Translation: A very solid gastro pub with a large offering of food (and beers, which I didn’t get to try since I was a day from turning 21!) and a very easy going atmosphere.  This joint is best for a relaxing evening with friends or a quick late night bite, and while definitely not an elegant establishment, Fuel is among Oakland and Pittsburgh’s beloved for artery-clogging goodness.

Roger’s take: The food is definitely the staple at Fuel: it’s affordable, delicious, and perfect for the college student.  The only drawback in my mind is that it’s a little too loud for conversation, but that’s just the atmosphere you get.  Fuel is the best when you’re just hanging with friends, a great place for some good college grub.

Roger is a rising junior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Finance and minoring in Statistics and hailing from Cornwall, New York.  He would like to give a big shout-out to his hometown of Cornwall and could always use a few more Instagram followers: https://www.instagram.com/rsinclair96/?hl=en

Fuel and Fuddle is a “lively little joint” situated in the heart of the Oakland area of Pittsburgh on Oakland Avenue.  Fuel serves “great wild fire food and chilled beer on tap” that is second to none in the area.  Check it out for a cool and casual night sometime with your peeps: http://fuelandfuddle.com/