Fat Head’s Saloon
1805 E Carson St
South Side, 15203
Once upon a time, back in my early days of neuroimaging, back when I was a youngin without a care in the world and no shape except for that which my undergrad degree and adolescent years had lent to me, back when I didn’t yet know a thing about beer, way way way way way wayyyyyy back then, I went to Fathead’s for my first time. In fact, it was some kind of Yay-We-Opened-This-New-Brain-Imaging-Center! celebration, so a whole brainiac group was there. I knew nothing of this Fat Head’s place, and to be honest I was a little nervous sitting down to dine and drink with all these professors and post-docs and people who generally knew approximately 5 million times the amount that I did at the time. I was just gonna play it cool and be a meek dumb girl and order a salad, but then – I looked at the menu. And nothing… no one… was gonna stop me from ordering ex-act-ly what I wanted. Which, by the way, was this fantastical kielbasa sausage sandwich with fried onions and horseradish sauce and cheese and then on top of all that it was stuffed with PIEROGIES! STUFFED WITH PIEROGIES! Like, IN the sandwich! It was a fantasy I never knew I had come true! I could not believe my eyes! I had to have it! Now, my eyes are not typically bigger than my tummy, but when this sandwich arrived it threw me for a loop. It was positively gargantuan — like Shaggy and Scooby-Doo sized. I looked everywhere for a string to tie it smaller with, but to no avail. Instead, I just had to open wide and stick it all in there. With all these smart people all around me! And also somehow I had the biggest sandwich, so all of a sudden it became “watch Erika put this whole thing in her mouth” time (stop thinking that dirty joke, neither he nor she said anything). Now, most of y’all don’t know me all that well, but this sort of situation tends to happen to me a lot and as a result I can switch from tentative to balls to the wall in less than one second. “Roll up those sleeves and just take a bite!” I said to myself. And as I geared up to do so, by, you know, unhinging my jaw and whatnot, somebody whipped out their camera and, unbeknownst to me, snapped an action shot just as I was taking my first gluttonous bite. This pic was of course blown up and printed and put on the hallway wall for all the world to see. Perhaps this was just meant as a demonstration of all the extracurricular merriment that ensues among neuroscientists, but it served double duty as a constant reminder that, boy, do I really know how to pack it away! But, suffice it to say, I have no regrets as everything worked out awesomely for me AND I got to eat this rad sandwich. In fact, I work with a lot of these people still and I doubt any of them remembers that sandwich nearly as much as I do. But, I DO remember that sandwich. And every other sandwich I’ve ever had there. Because they are all really pretty good! I’ve never had something I did not like here, beer or food, and though the dishes are monstrous in size, they are not in price, so actually this is a great place to eat overall. Of course, you need 6000 calories in your budget, but if you are up for an indulgent, delicious, mouth-watering, original and unusual sandwich concoction that follows through with its promise of delectability, then Fat Head’s is definitely your place for dinner. And, unless you are going with a bunch of neuroscientists who apparently like to document such things, get sloppy and eat the bejeezus out of whatever you get, cuz that is the only way to do it! Read more »
NaCl (Salt of the Earth)
5523 Penn Ave
M-Sat: 5pm – 1am (kitchen closes at midnight); Closed Sunday
Yay for new restaurants! Salt, NaCl, Salt of the Earth, whatever you want to call it, has been getting tons of press, and as a result, tons of play. I’ve been twice now, both for birthdays oddly enough, and I’ve eaten enough to say that it is worth spending your money on. Of course, I am not without reservations (when am I ever), but NaCl is verifiably good. It is as if someone took a restaurant from Philadelphia and planted it here. Why Philly? Because when a restaurant in Philly looks like it’ll be good, it usually is (unlike here, as I harped on in my Quality-Expectation Probability graph). Salt has the look of a pleasant place, and turns out it is. Note that I do not pick New York. Now, a chef could get mad about that — seems like everyone wants be compared to NYC like it is the gold standard, the solid silver cloud to strive for, the sour cream topped cheesecake in the sky paired with a flute of Krug Clos du Mesnil after which everyone gets in the roof top penthouse hot tub and parties till that one lonely coyote in Central Park howls at the moon. But WHY would we want that? Well, I can see wanting it (at least the hot tub part, and maybe the lonely coyote part too), but it is foolish to covet a scene so anathema to our own. Leads only to frustration. Pittsburghers hate hoity toity, and the whole vibe of the city eschews anything too superficially beautiful. Nope, we like it raw here, a gritty sort of beauty that parallels the phoenix-like life cycle the city may be experiencing. You know – it is soooo cool how the downtown buildings are all old styles, because we didn’t have enough money in the 80’s to tear them down and replace them with the gaudy architecture popular at the time. Nope, we have risen from the ashes with a downtown full of beautiful recycled buildings, varied in their stylings from decades past. It makes our city really unique in an awesome and nearly impossible to plan way. I like how the architecture of the city accepts itself, for the most part, rather than trying really hard to be something it is not. And I seriously think the restaurant, and bar scenes especially, need to follow suit. Salt of the Earth is accomplishing this delicate balance quite well, as it is excellent in a haute cuisine kind of way while maintaining a strong Steel City identity. The perfect mixture of elegant and down&dirty, acidic and basic, sour, bitter, sweet, and … salty! Oh, and don’t forget umami, that meaty tongue-coating flavor. Yup – Welcome to Pittsburgh, NaCl — you can coat my tongue any day! Read more »
5430 Penn Ave
www.qspgh.com (has menus!)
M, W-Sat: 9-9; Sun 10-4; Closed Tuesday
As long as I am writing up places that requested my opinion, I think I will finally get around to Quiet Storm. Jill from Quiet Storm actually wrote to me many moons ago, in 2006, requesting my criticism. At the time, I felt underqualified to issue a response, since I had only been there a couple times and not terribly recently at that. Moreover, my impression was, at the time, that they were inconsistent and on some dishes failing to meet the mark of success. I didn’t want to be a jerk and review at request only to say bad things, so I resolved to saddle up and give it a square and fair shake. Buuuuuuutttttttttttt, I sorrrrrta never got around to that, and many years have passed since those summer days among the fields of barley… THEN, about a year and a half ago I moved just down the street from it. And all of a sudden I was studying there frequently and regularly attending brunches. And all of a sudden my world came alive! I have come to greatly appreciate Quiet Storm’s role in my life, delivering unto me delightfully affordable curry-of-the-day, tofu-scramble and delectable milkshakes! I still think they suffer from inconsistency (and an occasional fly or two buzzing around), but nevertheless with the things they do well they’ve managed to secure a firm hold in my culinary heart. Read more »
The Sonoma Grille
947 Penn Ave
www.thesonomagrille.com (Full Menu)
Open Daily: Lunch 11-3; Dinner 5-11
So a funny thing happened to me on the way to the internet forum. I got asked to do a tasting for a restaurant! Like, it gets paid for and I get a $25 gift certificate to give one of yinz readers!! (hang tight till the end of the review to find out how to win!) I find this funny because, well, my whole reason I am doing this site is because I love food and not because I want to make any kind of money or fame (though some money might support my ability to actually eat out anywhere, hint hint), and so the review writing style is goofy as hell and therefore it surprises me that I got picked up on enough to get asked to do something professional-seeming like this. In any case, I was invited to taste and review The Sonoma Grille, in downtown Pittsburgh. And I gotta say, out of the Pittsburgh restaurants downtown, I think it’s not half bad. Which, by my calculations, makes it at least greater-than-half good. Even with the caveat that I was essentially paid to write this review whilst they got to put their prettiest pedicured foot forward. Read more »
5221 Baum Blvd
Oh Ritter’s. You are so…. Ritter’s! This place has so much individuality, it is practically its own person. And more than any other place I know in Pittsburgh, everyone I’ve talked to is completely polarized about it. They either got burned by or are totally in love with the gritty, bitter bitch that is Ritter’s. There’s a lot to like honestly: cheap, open all the time, you can go there totally plastered (totally), foods not TOO crappy, it is located kind of close to the universities, and it provides the most fabulous people watching. The main complaint people have is the service, which I’ll just call ‘saucy’ for now, but this just makes it quintessentially Ritter’s. Apparently other people than me actually love the whole feel of it, because there exists a chain theme restaurant called Ed Debevic’s that tries to replicate the environment by training their wait staff to be subtly abusive. But we don’t need any chains here because we’ve got our very own, real life version of such a place in Ritter’s, and let me tell you — Ed’s got nothin on her. Read more »
305 South Craig St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
M-F, 7:30am-8pm; Sat, 10am-5:30pm
In Pittsburgh we have no shortage of delicious, locally owned restaurants, as you can see from the loads of reviews posted here. But, these are mostly sit-down with entrées and service, best for dinner. When it comes to lunchtime, ‘burghers are often at the mercy of national chains like Subway, Quizno’s, McDonald’s, Qdoba, Chipotle, etc. Don’t get me wrong, those chains have a place and a time (maybe), but I want more from my lunch. Where’s all the delis in this town anyway? I’m on the hunt, and my first stops are naturally emanating outwards from my location of actual employment (no, I do not get paid one iota for this website, whatever an iota is). First stop, for no other reason reason, is Eat Unique. It may not be fast, or particularly cheap, but their sandwiches are eponymously creative, and when they are good they are eminently satisfying.
5700 Centre Ave
M-Th: 11:30-10; F-Sat 11:30-11; Sun 3-9
Gotta say – this has been an interesting month. And on top of that, I’ve been hitting up an unusual category of restaurant: the kind that you’ve noticed around town and that sticks in your mind but that you never even think to actually go to. They give off some kind of vibe, like ‘don’t come in here, we’re full of old people and haven’t changed our recipes in 40 years’. I’m saying places like Duranti’s on Craig and Fifth, Lombardozzi’s on Liberty, and Tokyo, that place next to the Shur-Sav in Bloomfield. Typically, the food is as stale as the recipes, but not bad – I call it ‘fine’. I have always kind of figured Jimmy Tsang’s was in this category — it’s just that Chinese place with the somewhat elaborate blue tile veneer and the liquor license, somewhere on Baum or Centee, maybe near Negley, that I have never personally known anyone to go into or come out of and just somehow never made it to myself. Well this weekend I went, and though some of that vibe is correct (on a Saturday night their clientele was a handful of tables flocked with the elderly), the food was better than I expected and the menu selection was much better that I expected. Perhaps even more pleasing, the prices weren’t too shabby, and their selection of import and micro beers was quality. I think I might even go here again sometime.
4917 Penn Ave
M,W,Th: 11-2, 5-9; F-Sat: 11-10; Sun: 12-8; Closed Tu.
I’ve been meaning to go to Pho Minh for a while, and frankly I’m not sure how I went almost 12 years in the city, never going there. I have to admit, I’ve been a Tram’s enthusiast for some time now and really just haven’t gotten around to breaking the habit. However, I am aware that there are all these diners out there who prefer Pho Minh adamantly, and so I finally took the time to find out why.
Panther Hollow Inn (a.k.a. PhiBar, a.k.a. PHI)
4611 Forbes Ave
M-Sat: 11am-2:30am; Sun: only during Steelers season
Well due to recent happenings in my life, not only am I a graduate student, but I am a *poor* graduate student. So while dining at finer establishments has been fun, I have to refocus my efforts on finding good deals when eating out. I’m not quite down to the level of a free-gan, scoping the basement hallways of Pitt and CMU for the abandoned pizza of concluded meetings, but I do need to keep a bit of an eye on my budget to make sure I still have enough money left over for beer. Here enters PhiBar. PHI offers some really cheap food. It is not fine dining, nor is it even stellar bar food, but it is dirt cheap and it qualifies as definitively good enough, maybe even better than most for what it is. And of course, it is a classic Oakland locale to go get diza-runk, so consider going here if you want to eat cheap (but decent) pizza surrounded by wasted (but eye-pleasing) Pitt and CMU kids. Read more »
GET VEGGIES AND FRUITS FRESH FROM THE FARM DELIVERED TO YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD! (It’s not too late to sign up!)
What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it is a service where a local farm will deliver its fresh vegetables and fruits directly to your part of town just for you. This happens usually on a weekly basis, and the veggies are only those that are in season at that moment. The veggies are always freshly picked, and you get them for much cheaper than you would at the store. An additional benefit is that you are spending your money on your community by supporting the local farmers.
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