Restaurant Reviews: Cornerstone, Frescos, and New Amsterdam

I’ve fallen a little behind with the restaurant reviews again, but I kinda like the rapid fire format anyway. Once the year ends and our dining cards expire, Dana and I are planning to cook for ourselves on Fridays rather than eat out, so at that point I’ll probably go back to the single review format. Or I might do it with the next place we go to. Who can say?!?!?!

Anyway, I’m about to make history on this blog with my first ever negative review. As a general rule, I’m relatively easy to please but difficult to impress, and I think that’s reflected in previously posted reviews. Over 14 reviews, the average score has been just under an 8, with a low of 6.5 for two restaurants. Only two places thus far have earned a 9,  and Gaucho stands alone in perfection. While I do take things like service, ambiance, presentation, and creativity/ambition into consideration, to put it bluntly, what really matters is the quality and cost of the food.

Unfortunately, Cornerstone was a colossal disappointment for me on both fronts. Dana liked her roasted beet salad and loved her tomato and goat cheese soup, but my duck breast just didn’t do anything for me. Maybe I was spoiled from enjoying the best duck of my life at the cooking class I attended (on which I haven’t forgotten promising a post), but this offering was overcooked, bland, and rather small for the $25 price tag. The braised greens were tasteless mush, and the maple arbol chili glaze barely imparted any flavor to the dish. The sweet potato puree was good, but I could have done that at home myself with minimal effort. It’s tough to remember the last time I was so underwhelmed by a meal. I’m usually willing to give any restaurant a second chance unless it was a complete disaster, but with so many other establishments in the queue, I’d be surprised if I ever return. Rating: 3/10


We took a break from the dining cards because I noticed a Groupon to Frescos, where Ben, Abbott House Adventurer Emeritus, recently took a job as sous chef. (Technically, I think he works at their sister banquet facility next store, the Chadwick. Six of one, etc.) Since they’re in the neighborhood, we’d planned to pay his lovely wife Annie and their daughter Lil’ Jim Opal a visit afterwards. While that didn’t pan out, dinner was worth the trip out to Wexford on its own. The Groupon gave us $40 to spend, so we started with the parmesan zucchini fries, which came with a fantastic tomato cheddar fondue dip. I would have loved to try the duck tenderloin skewers, but the zucchini fries was a worthy alternative. And hey, just a reason to go back, right? Dana opted for another roasted beet salad and the roasted veggie flatbread (which, of course, I tried and liked), while I ordered the pork ribeye. My pork was delicious and perfectly cooked; the blackberry pomegranate cilantro sauce really popped, and I will never say no to sweet potatoes. As much as I enjoyed it, I caught a glimpse of the braised short ribs at someone else’s table on our way out and felt a pang of longing. Next time. Rating: 8.5/10


Last but not least, our most recent dining experience in Pittsburgh was at New Amsterdam. On another dining card and with apps half-off during happy hour, Dana and I both got our own. She loved her cauliflower nuggets, served with curry mayo. I got the chicken tenders with the “honey” habanero “sauce”. The scare quotes are merited, trust me. It was straight capsaicin. I’m reasonably certain I have never had anything hotter, and I’ve tried suicide or atomic wings at a few different places. I was quite literally on the verge of tears and sucking down both my and Dana’s waters through the numb, useless flaps that had once been my lips. (Yes, I know water doesn’t help. Shut up.) Utterly defeated, I flagged down our waitress and asked for their garlic butter sauce. Once I’d recovered, I added sriracha to it and enjoyed the rest of my chicken. For an entree, Dana had the tofu tacos – another win in her book – and I got the Jamaican burger. I didn’t get much of the jerk seasoning flavor, but the house salsa and mango marmalade were really tasty, and the burger itself was one of the better ones I’ve had. It came with sweet potato fries that were thicker than any I’d ever seen before. They didn’t reheat very well as a result, but it was an interesting change of pace from the usual. Rating: 8.5/10

Depending on what Dana wants to do, we’ll either have a comprehensive post on our recent trip to Cleveland, or I’ll review the two restaurants we visited in a separate post.


Restaurant Review: Rapid Fire Edition, Part 2

If you missed Friday’s post…well, you don’t actually have to read it. But you should! Otherwise my feelings might be a little hurt.

I’ll wait.



…Okay! Here are the other five capsule reviews, as promised.



While most of the pizza shops in Pittsburgh are pretty lousy, there are some quality pies to be found here, and Mercurio’s is definitely one of them. After splitting a good but not great pesto pistachio flatbread for our appetizer, Dana and I got the bianca and prosciutto pizzas, respectively. Wood-fired pizza is just so far beyond any other kind. I do the best I can at home with an oven that maxes out at 500 degrees, but you simply can’t achieve this kind of crust at anything below 800. As much as I wanted to keep eating my pizza, I knew I needed to save room for gelato, and I’m glad I did. A medium grants you up to three flavor choices, so I went with the tiramisu, vanilla caramel cashew, and dulce de leche, all of which were fantastic. Shadyside isn’t exactly my favorite neighborhood, but you can bet I’ll be visiting here again soon. Rating: 9/10

Piper’s Pub


Another neighborhood I’m not overly fond of is the South Side. Since I’m not much of a drinker anymore, this makes sense. But amongst the never-ending stretch of shitty dive bars, there are some good places to eat. Again, Dana and I needed to each get an appetizer to hit the $30 dining card minimum, so she got the artichoke red pepper hummus, and I opted for Piper’s version of French onion soup. Both were quite good, although I prefer a non-Stilton cheese. For the main course, I decided on the chorizo mac and cheese, which I enjoyed, but ultimately I regretted not going a little more British Isles and trying the lamb and smoked chestnut or the Guinness stew. Dana’s order was even less British than mine – a Thai chili seitan wrap. I didn’t see bread pudding on the menu, sadly. It wouldn’t have mattered though, because in addition to being quite full, we had to rush to the hospital to meet baby Opal (AKA Lil’ Jim). Rating: 7.5/10

The Porch

For many years, I refused on principle to eat here or at any of the food kiosks that sprang up in Schenley Plaza when I was an undergrad. This is because I viewed them as the direct cause of the demise of Scotty’s cart. Scotty was an incredibly nice, funny dude in his fifties who grilled fantastic barbecued chicken and sausage sandwiches outside of Hillman Library, right across the street from the plaza. The sandwiches were three or four bucks, and usually he’d throw you a free drink, whether you were a regular or not. While he apparently didn’t have express legal permission to grill in that spot, he’d been there more than a decade when I arrived at Pitt as a freshman in 2005. But just a month (and a dozen or so chicken sandwiches) into my first semester, suddenly the Man could no longer look the other way, and Scotty was forced out. The kiosks were open a few months later. This is what is known as “not a coincidence”.

Nonetheless, scars do fade, and armed with another dining card, I let go of my grudge and ate at The Porch. To start, we got the cast iron cornbread and an order of crispy taters, both excellent. The potatoes were served with a delightful curried ketchup. I never use ketchup anymore, but this stuff was different. Unable to decide between the Porch burger and the prime rib sandwich, I asked our server for his thoughts, and took his recommendation of the former. While it was a tasty burger, I didn’t find it terribly impressive given its $16 price tag. Dana had the veggie burger, which she liked a lot. Scotty, wherever you are – this place ain’t got shit on you. Rating: 7.5/10

Round Corner Cantina


I’d only been here once before our double date with Alyssa and Brian, and that was just for drinks the night of Dana’s departmental graduation ceremony. A cursory glance at Yelp reviews told me to expect solid, albeit overpriced, food and lousy service. Fortunately, we got only the former, as our server was capable. After getting the chips with all three types of salsa they offer (two of which were middling at best – not a great return on nine bucks), I had an order of brisket tacos. They were decent, but nothing exciting. Perhaps the lamb barbacoa, which I strongly considered, would have been more satisfying. On the whole, I feel like this is one of those notorious “more popular than it has any right to be” Pittsburgh establishments. Rating: 6.5/10

Tin Front Cafe


Cam had promised to take us to brunch many moons ago, and we finally got around to going toward the end of the summer, on what ended up being a double date with him and Jess. Tin Front has a buffet brunch for 13 bucks wherein you receive an entree and access to a small buffet, which included breakfast potatoes, mini muffins, and a few other items. I ended up going with mac and cheese for my main dish (good, not mind blowing), and ate my weight in potatoes and corn muffins (both amazing), with a mimosa to wash it all down. I also tried a bit of Dana’s Bloody Mary, made with habanero-cilantro infused vodka, and reconfirmed that I fucking hate Bloody Marys. Dana forced everyone at the table to help her finish her banana Nutella French toast, which makes her just the worst. Rating: 7.5/10

Restaurant Review: Rapid Fire Edition, Part 1

Hi, everybody! (Hi, Dr. Nick!)

As Dana already covered, we pretty much abandoned the blog this summer in the interest of spending as much time as possible outside. No regrets there. However, we have been to a bunch of restaurants in the last couple of months that I’ve meant to post reviews for, since we decided a while back to make Friday our “dinner date” night. I figured it would be easiest to do a capsule on all of them in one post. Then I decided to milk it for all it was worth split it into two posts, because it was getting long. I expect to return to the usual format going forward (beginning with tonight’s visit to Cornerstone), but here are short and sweet critiques of five different restaurants in the Burgh, with five more coming in my next post.

Blue Dust

In order to reach the $30 minimum to use our discount from City Dining Cards, Dana and I got separate appetizers – though, as usual, I helped her finish hers off. After all, can’t review what I haven’t tried, right? (Really I’m just a glutton). The red bean dip had a nice flavor (I detected a good amount of curry, among other spices), but the texture was a little too mushy for me. I mean, it’s bean dip, but still. My smoked drumsticks could have used some sauce – they weren’t bad by any means, just a bit bland. For entrees, Dana went with the caramelized walnut salad (goat cheese, red onion, arugula, balsamic vinaigrette), while I opted for the Hot Italian sandwich. Dana loved her salad. My sandwich was decent, but I regretted not going with the brisket instead, and I found the salsa that came with the side of chips to be massively disappointing. Service was good, and when it turned out that Dana’s app was half off during happy hour and brought us below the $30 threshold, they took the discount card anyway. Rating: 6.5/10



Stop me if you’ve heard this before: To hit the $30 minimum, Dana and I got separate apps – bean dip for her and wings for me. This time it was a white bean dip, which Dana liked but I found kind of gross. My honey sriracha wings were tasty, though. They were a bit small, but there were eight instead of the half-dozen specified in the menu, so it probably came out in the wash. Because we are clearly old people (cf. opening sentence of this capsule), Dana and I ordered the same thing for dinner…well, sort of. She got the vegetarian version of the banh mi sandwich, while I got the pulled pork, because this is America. I forgot to ask for mine without aioli (aioli is something that I always find more appealing in theory than practice), but I liked the sandwich a lot anyway. Except for the part where I managed to get three jalapeños – a strange addition to a banh mi, frankly – in a single bite and nearly died. That sucked more than the bean dip. But everything else was good. Rating: 8/10

Double Wide Grill

Dana and I had been here several times already, but with my brother bringing his family out for a weekend in Pittsburgh (a visit long-awaited and eagerly anticipated by yours truly), I realized that there is a startling lack of non-chain restaurants with kids’ menu in our area. Double Wide was one of the few places I could think of that could accommodate Chris’s carnivore diet, Dana’s vegetarianism, and my nieces’ innate, insatiable lust for chicken fingers and macaroni n’ cheese. Perhaps recalling my earlier error at Blue Dust, I went with the brisket sandwich with sweet potato fries, while Dana enjoyed her usual vegan pulled pork. I’m not as big of a fan of the Memphis sauce (used for beef and chicken) as the Carolina (pork), but that didn’t keep me from inhaling my sandwich – the level of hunger that can be achieved when you spend the day trying to keep up with little girls is astounding.  The fam all seemed to enjoy their food as well. We finished the meal by sharing a slice of chocolate peanut butter pie. Rating: 8/10


Fiori’s Pizzaria

As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a high standard when it comes to pizza that most joints in this city don’t come anywhere close to satisfying, but this place is always mentioned in discussions of the best pizza in the city, and was vouched for by a native New Yorker. As was the case with Slice on Broadway back in May, I went with my buddy Ryan, after we attended an awesome cooking class (a birthday present to me from Dana, and one which I will further discuss in a future post). Noticing that roasted red peppers were a normal topping, rather than a double-priced deluxe like at most other pizza shops, we decided to get a pie with those and capicola. Our girlfriends, who were spending the day hooping, asked us to bring them one with onions (like Dana, Eva doesn’t eat meat). I’m pleased to report that Fiori’s lived up to the hype. Rating: 9/10


Gaucho Parilla Argentina

I’ve been here four times since Ryan introduced me to it in the spring, and that is not enough, because this is bar none my favorite restaurant in the city. I quit the job I had in the Strip District before they opened last winter, which is probably a good thing on the whole, because I would have been broke and morbidly obese from eating lunch there every motherfucking day. A filet mignon sandwich? On really good bread (a rarity in Pittsburgh)? With roasted red peppers and sauteed onions? And chimichurri? With three other bomb-ass sauces (ajo, cebolla, and pimentón) freely available on the counter? For 12 bucks? Fuck and yes to all of that. As a bonus, unlike a lot of restaurants, there is a palpable sense that the employees enjoy their work and are having fun. How many other places have you seen with a cumulative five-star Yelp rating after 200+ reviews? I haven’t even tried any of their other stuff, apart from the roasted potatoes (which are excellent, but the sandwich is so filling that you don’t need to order anything else). It’s not because I don’t want to; it all sounds amazing. I just can’t pass up the filet. On my next visit, I should probably get something else to go. I should probably get everything else to go. This place fucking rules. Rating: ∞/10

Enjoy the weekend! Ours is looking pretty busy, so the second part of this post probably won’t be up until Monday at the earliest. But hey, at least we’re posting again.

Restaurant Review: Chick’n Bubbly

My buddy Katz and I started playing a weekly racquetball game after work a few months back. After one of our first games, he invited me to join him for dinner at Oishii Bento, a Korean restaurant on campus which I’d never been to before. At his recommendation, I got the Galbi Bento (beef short ribs). While they were quite good, at $13 with tax I wasn’t thrilled with the value of the relatively small portion.

Still, I’ve been looking forward to the debut of their sister restaurant, a Korean fried chicken joint called Chick’n Bubbly, which just opened right next door. When I heard they were rolling out a soft opening, I suggested to Katz that we go there for dinner after our game this week. We ended up not playing (Pitt is really, really bad about advertising when the gyms are closed) but we stuck to the plan anyway.


During the soft opening – the grand opening won’t happen until the first day of fall semester, which is a smart move on their part – they’re only serving wings and bubble tea. The drumsticks, sides, and other drinks on the full menu aren’t yet available. That was fine with us, since we planned to split a medium (20 piece) order of wings. At around $20 with tax, it’s not the best value, but it’s not bad. The two sauce options offered, soy garlic and sweet and spicy, both sounded good to us, and we ultimately opted for the former.

The space is a converted nail salon, so there’s not much room for seating – only a couple of small tables. The digital menu boards are bright, colorful, and easy to read, and it’s an open kitchen, which is always nice to see. Fortunately, there wasn’t a crowd. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate to quick service, as we had about a 15 minute wait. Not being in any particular hurry, this didn’t bother me too much, and in the second week of a soft opening, I don’t hold it against them. It’s something they’ll need to improve upon before the full opening, of course, but that’s ostensibly what this trial run is for.

When the food did arrive, Katz and I eagerly dug in. The wings themselves were quality – large, meaty, and moist – and the tempura batter was quite pleasant. The sauce, however, needed some work. While the menu does say that you can request added heat, we both expected the sauce to have more of a kick than it did. There were hints of garlic, but the flavor profile was overwhelmingly sweet. Ultimately, I took some of my wings home and added sriracha to them, which definitely balanced things out and made the wings tastier. I would suggest that bottles of sriracha be made available so that guests can adjust the sauces to their desired level of spice. One other minor gripe – during the bus ride home, the bottom of my box sprung a relatively large leak. The boxes themselves are attractive, but structural integrity may be an issue. I should probably have asked for a bag.

On the whole, while there are some kinks to be worked out, the experience was a positive one, and seeing as how I’ll be getting dinner on campus before my two night classes every week, I definitely plan to return in the near future to try the other sauce. I’ll make sure to ask them to kick it up a notch, just to be safe.

Rating: 7/10

Restaurant Review: The Beerhive

A couple of years ago, when I was working a long-term temp gig in the Strip District, my boss would routinely invite me to join him and my fellow temps at The Beerhive. I never ended up taking him up on it before I quit that job, but after hearing nothing but good things about it from anyone I talked to, I was quite happy to see it amongst the restaurant participating in the City Dining Cards program. Dana, Cam, and I went there for a late lunch on Saturday, and I’m pleased to report that we were all quite happy with our meals. To wit:


That rapturous expression came after Cam took a bite of his Fried Pickle burger (sharp cheddar, spicy ranch, and…well, duh). He also enjoyed a bourbon porter they had on tap. Dana and I sampled it, and while I’m usually not big on darker beers, this one was pretty great.


Dana had already been to The Beerhive previously and loved the seitan tacos (pico de gallo, seasoned sunflower seed, and hot BBQ). After some hemming and hawing, she decided she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to enjoy them again.


As for me, I’ve been on a wings kick lately, and this bar had a lot of appealing sauces. Initially I had been leaning toward the Green Hornet (cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, and lime) but Dana said she’d tried it previously and found it disappointing. Then I noticed the Great Wall, which is a combination of the other two sauces I had been considering (jalapeño-infused buffalo and ginger orange teriyaki). I figured hey, best of both worlds, as they say. And they were, in a word, fan-fucking-tastic. The wings themselves were meaty and tender, and the sauce hit that perfect balance of sweet and spicy that I love.

I wanted to try the Clown Shoes Swagger (an amber/red lager) almost entirely because of the name, but the bartender told me that they were out, and that was exactly why. I settled for the Clown Shoes Clementine, which was quite good – kind of a hoppier Hoegaarden. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.


We also ordered an app of sweet potato fries to share. The fries were good on their own (though Dana thought they could use a little salt), but the maple bacon sauce they were served with was excellent. In my younger days, I probably would have slugged back what was left in the ramekin.

I don’t often make it out to the Strip District these days (and it’s hard to pass up Gaucho, which I will almost certainly review in the future), but I might make it a point to go back to The Beerhive some night. It’s certainly worth the trip, and there’s plenty of stuff on the menu I still want to try.

Rating: 8.5/10

Restaurant Review: Slice on Broadway

Okay, so the title’s a bit of a misnomer here – a pizza shop is not really a restaurant. As such, the rating system will have to be a little different. But the basic principle is still the same – I went somewhere that makes food, paid them to give me some of it, ate it, and will tell you how I felt about it. But first, indulge me as I go off on one of my favorite rants.

I have eaten more pizza in my life than any other food. Probably more than any other five foods put together. As I was growing up, my family had pizza night every Saturday. Sometimes we went local, sometimes chain, sometimes homemade, but always pizza. There were usually leftovers, so pizza would be my lunch on Sunday more often than not. On the rare occasion of a birthday party, wedding, or some other anomaly falling on a Saturday, we’d invariably just shift the pizza schedule back a day. If the rest of the week went by without me eating pizza at least once more, it was a weird one. Yet I’ve never gotten sick of it. The closest I came was after eating it for, I think, eight consecutive meals once. I remember thinking to myself, “Man, I kind of want to eat something else.” Then I realized I was being a fucking idiot and ate more pizza.


You get the idea. I love pizza, and I’ve eaten enough of it that I’m not afraid to call myself an expert, or connoisseur, or aficionado. Depends how pretentious I’m feeling at that moment.

Anyway, I’ve been in Pittsburgh for almost nine years now. Which is a shame on a few levels, one of which is that the pizzerias in this city are woefully mediocre*. Now, it’s still pizza, so it’s still worth eating. But the majority of the local joints in this city barely rise above the level of a piss-poor national chain like Papa John’s, and the worst part is that, by and large, they all taste exactly the same. It is fucking eerie.

*To clarify: I am not including places like Piccolo Forno, Dinette, Il Pizzaiolo, etc. Why not? Because those are restaurants, not pizza shops. They have tablecloths and menus and take reservations and won’t send food to my house when I’m too fucked up or lazy or unwilling to put on pants to go out. This is an important distinction.

What makes your typical Pittsburgh pie so middling? Oh, let me count the ways:

1. The crust. Look, after decades of industry, the water here is probably still at least 50% chemical runoff, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the joke that passes for pizza dough around here. Imagine if cardboard had even less flavor and a more unpleasant consistency. And this is not me being a New York style/thin crust snob, because I’ve enjoyed all manners and styles of pizzas and crusts. This crust? Worse than AIDS. Scientific fact.

Your protestations only prove my argument! #logic’d

2. The sauce. Tomatoes, at least the good ones, have an excellently balanced flavor of sweetness and tang. Here is what should go into your sauce to compliment them: a few basic herbs, a decent grated cheese (no, that powdered Kraft garbage at the grocery store does not count; buy some fucking romano, you moron), a little bit of dry red wine. Here is what should not: Two five pound bags of sugar. Sweet Christ almighty (sorry…for the pun, not for blaspheming), what is wrong with you, yinzers? Besides the obvious, I mean. I feel like I need to eat a bag of pork rinds and chase them with a gallon of seawater to cleanse my palate of this sickly sweet slime you call pizza sauce. Or I would, if you put more than a few drops of it on each slice. It’s the cheapest part of the pie, and you’re bogarting it! Are you afraid it might overshadow that rubber cement crust? At least the sauce has flavor, even if it’s the wrong one.

3. The cheese. You know how when cheese cools, it congeals? Well, Pittsburgh pizza chesse is typically congealed fresh out of the oven. Either they’re using fat free cheese, they’re buying it wholesale from the world’s shittiest dairy farm, or they’re using papier mache and wood pulp as filler. The flavor isn’t awful (just boring), so it can’t be fat free, and I’m reasonably sure nobody uses papier mache anymore except to build parade floats, and fuck parades. I can’t figure it out. Defies physics. And reason. And morality.

All of which is to say, I have spent much of my time here searching for a pizza that is actually good, or at least different. I have heard natives extoll the virtues of this or that shop, only to come away disappointed most of the time. Mineo’s? A soggy mess. Spak Brothers? Weird sauce. Aiello’s? Lousy toppings. Blue Grotto? It was their last day of business ever when I finally got to try it, so maybe they just didn’t give a shit at that point, but what I got was a far cry from great. While I’ve found a few places I actually wouldn’t be embarrassed to take an out-of-towner, they’re few and far between.

So when I hear good things about a joint I haven’t yet tried, I tend to be skeptical. I still go, because without hope, life is meaningless. And even if it falls short of what I concede are high standards, in all but the most calamitous instances, it remains pizza, so I’ll eat it.

Yesterday, because I’d gotten multiple tips on the place and because they’re one of the eateries participating in City Dining Cards, I went with my buddy Ryan (who, after living in New York, feels my pain and is on a similar never-ending pizza quest) to Slice on Broadway in Beechview. I’m pushing a thousand words here already without one being about the actual food and nobody really gives a shit about the decor of a pizza shop, so I’ll cut to the quick:

Slice is good. Like, not just good for Pittsburgh. Legitimately good.

The crust is thin and crunchy, with the oft-overlooked but absolutely vital cornmeal dusting. It also has a nice, buttery taste to it. The sauce, while still less present than I would like, was naturally sweet rather than sugary, and the spice blend was, if not quite perfect, close enough for government work. The cheese actually had that stringy, melty look and feel that is one of non-shitty pizza’s signatures.

Ryan and I needed to spend thirty bucks to get the discount from the card, so we decided to get two large pizzas – one pepperoni, which is my default “show me what you got” topping, and a specialty pie called The Slaughterhouse Five (pepperoni, sausage, bacon, capicola, and prosciutto). Yes, I loved the name. They also have a sandwich called the Ultra Mega Chicken.


With our Boylan creme sodas (another point in favor of Slice) and tax, the total came to $32, which is entirely reasonable and consistent with the pricing of most Pittsburgh shops. We took it back to my house to eat, rather than stay at the shop, which just added upstairs seating to combat the cramp of the first floor. We knew we’d need a box anyway, and the 15-minute drive back was just enough time for the pizza to cool to perfect temperature. After years of impatience, the roof of my mouth is tough enough that I can basically eat it straight out of the oven, but overall, waiting is the way to go.

Other than the sauce being a bit light in volume, as I mentioned, I had few complaints. I did feel that bacon overpowered the rest of the flavors on the Slaughterhouse, and the pepperoni were the tiny discs common to the area rather than the larger and thicker slices I prefer, but I was mostly just stoked to be eating a pizza from a shop that actually seemed to understand how to make it.

Unfortunately, Slice doesn’t deliver to our neighborhood, but it’s definitely worth the occasional trip out. My next trip will hopefully be to Fiori’s, which has the endorsement of my buddy Mike’s brother, a native New Yorker. Until then, Ryan elected not to take any of the leftovers…so if you’ll excuse me, it’s dinner time.

Rating: 8.5/10

Restaurant Review: Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar

While our diets are quite different, Dana and I share a love of food that borders on obsessive. Pittsburgh may not be the greatest city in the world for a foodie, but there are a lot of restaurants worth trying. To prove it, we decided that as much as we love our favorites (looking at you, Nicky’s Thai Kitchen), we should really start making an effort to try the long list of places we haven’t been yet, and documenting our experiences here. I bought some City Dining Cards to aid us in this quest.

Toast! isn’t participating in that program, but a friend recommended it to us a few months back and we’d wanted to try it ever since. We actually tried to go back in March, but since it was Friday night and we had foolishly not made a reservation, the wait proved prohibitive. This time around, I made sure to book a table in advance.

I liked the atmosphere immediately. Dana makes fun of me for this all the time, but one of my biggest pet peeves is if a restaurant is too noisy. I shouldn’t have to shout to be heard over the music by the people sitting right next to me unless I’m at a bar. On the other hand, if you can hear a pin drop, that’s not really ideal either. Toast! did well here – there was music playing, but it wasn’t intrusive. I also enjoyed the decor, which was tasteful without being stuffy or pretentious, and the large windows let in plenty of natural light. The service was likewise attentive without being overbearing.


Of course, all of that is of secondary importance to the food, so let’s get to the real attraction.

Dana and I ordered the tomato and mozzarella flatbread for an appetizer. The flatbread was light and crisp, and the mozzarella was perfect – as Dana pointed out, eating fresh mooz really makes you wonder why anyone bothers with that shredded nonsense. The tomato sauce was a bit thin for my tastes, but the flavor was on point: hints of roasted garlic accentuated nicely by fresh basil. Dana asked why we don’t put fresh basil on all of our homemade pizzas, which is a good question. If our plans for an herb garden come to fruition, we’ll have no excuse.

For my entree, I decided it was time for me to finally experience the culinary nirvana of chicken and waffles, and friends, I have seen the light…albeit with some partly cloudy skies.


The chicken was tender and juicy without being overly greasy, and adding cumin to the waffle was an inspired touch. I also  liked the restraint the kitchen showed with the molasses butter; rather than drenching the plate, they opted for a light drizzle, with a ramekin for dipping. The collard greens, while not the best I’ve ever had, helped temper the sweetness of the dish. However, serving the chicken atop the waffle made the waffle unpleasantly soggy, and as much as I liked the molasses butter, I needed more heat from the chicken to balance out the plate – the hot sauce marinade was a little too understated. Overall, I enjoyed the dish quite a bit, but felt that it fell short of chicken and waffles’ magical flavor profile potential.


Dana’s dinner: I ordered the sweet potato falafel, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had the unique experience of getting a dish that I had no idea how to eat! At first, I was a little disappointed because the falafel seemed a bit dry. My opinion changed when I gave up trying to be a lady about it and ripped the flatbread into chunks so I could eat all the parts of the dish together. It was also served with a barley salad (which tasted a lot like something I’ve made at home before, and I mean that in a positive way) that balanced out the sweetness of the falafel nicely.


For dessert, we went with fried dough over creme brulee, a decision I came to regret, and which I can totally pin on Dana’s aversion to lactose.  Again, I loved the idea of the dish, but the execution fell just a bit flat. The combination of cinnamon sugar and ginger syrup was really interesting, but the dough was dry and bland. A little more butter, or a bit less time in the oven, would have gone a long way. Dana enjoyed it more than I did, but that’s mostly because she’s ginger-crazed.

Rating Time!

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4/5

Ambition: 4.5/5

Execution: 4/5

Pricing: 3/5

Total: 20/25