Archive for the 'Restaurant Reviews' Category

Photos From Macraw

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

I mentioned in my review of the restaurant that the last thing I did before leaving Macraw was to make reservations for my parents.  My dad (sometimes referred to as ‘Papa Razzi’) rarely goes anywhere without his camera.  So, as could be expected, he took some fabulous photos of their meals, which differed slightly from ours but still provide good insight to the level of cuisine being prepared there.  Here’s a link to his post about his meal:

A Very Large Small At Wendy’s

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

I stopped at a Wendy’s for lunch today.  Hadn’t planned on it, but circumstances necessitated it.  I don’t normally get combos if I’m eating at such a restaurant, but the chain has been touting their new fries so much, i figured–what the heck, I’ll get a combo.

Small, medium, or large? the order-taker asked me.

How big’s a small drink? I asked her.

20 oz, came the reply.

Say what?!  How big’s a large?

40 oz.

Are you kidding me?  They ought to rename the sizes extra large, mammoth, and ridiculously huge.  And they ought to offer a small, medium, and large to go along with them.  I don’t know about you, but I find 8 oz. of soda to be just right, 12 oz. to be slightly excessive, and 16 oz. to be too much.  To just jump right into the deep end and label a 20 oz drink as ’small’ is mind-boggling, annoying, and just plain rude.

I don’t know if you’ve looked at a soda nutrition facts label lately, but the caloric and sugar information is given based on an 8 oz. portion.  For the root beer I wound up getting today because it would have cost me more not to get it, 8 oz of soda is worth 110 calories and 30g of sugar.  Doing the math, a 20 oz. ’small’ if fully consumed provides 275 calories and 75g of sugar; a 40 oz. ‘large’ is 550 calories and 150g of sugar.

Why is the average American fat and either diabetic or pre-diabetic?  In part because they can save money by consuming more sugar and more empty calories.

I’m sure Wendy’s isn’t alone in trying to pass off 2.5 x the suggested serving size as being ’small,’ but I’d allege that every corporation that has policies in place that push such ridiculousness on the public is culpable for the related health problems that accompany them.  I’d also allege that trying to advertise their way into being perceived as a healthful choice on the basis of offering fresh fruit on the menu is akin to taking one straw off the camel’s back and claiming to have lightened the load.

Deity-smitten, maternal-intercoursing, smug, nonsensical fast food corporations can stick their healthy images in their rectum so long as they participate in such undeniable and insulting foolishness.  I’d go so far as to allege that they were born out of wedlock and deserve to dine on fecal matter and decease.

I’m just saying.

Live at the Waffle Shop

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

They’ve got limited hours, and an unusual business model, but the Waffle Shop really does have what they advertise: waffles.

Located at 124 S. Highland Ave., the Waffle Shop is a “community arts venue and restaurant” that is a joint venture of the Carnegie Mellon School of Art and several community action groups.  The venue is open late nights Friday and Saturday plus brunch Saturday and Sunday, and features a live, web-streamed talk show in which a rotating cadre of hosts interview restaurant guests on camera.

I (as many already know) love waffles, but because the Waffle Shop’s hours are so irregular, I had never actually  been to the restaurant until last night.  But, after Haris Krijestorac, the Waffle Shop’s assistant marketing coordinator, emailed me to ask if I would visit their shop and write about it for this page, I decided to make a special effort to visit.

I was careful not to tell anyone at the venue who I was or what prompted me to visit.  Nevertheless, I was recruited by the evening’s first talk show host, Matt, to serve as an on-camera guest.  And despite Matt knowing nothing about me besides my first name, the conversation quickly turned to food as Matt asked me to recount my earliest memory of eating waffles.  Soon, we were discussing kumquats (their taste and the merits of grilling them); eating kumquats that the kitchen staff was kind enough to ‘grill’ on their waffle irons for us, and by the time I was preparing to return to my seat, we were talking about the merits of pure maple syrup (offered in a 2-ounce portion with your waffle for an upcharge of $1, which, if you’ve looked at maple syrup prices lately is a bargain—generally one can anticipate that pure maple syrup retails in the neighborhood of $1 per ounce).

I know, I know–what about the waffles?  I’m pleased to report that they’re good.  The most interesting waffles on the menu were their daily specials (which I almost didn’t see despite the fact that the specials are emblazoned in 4-inch letters across the wall of the restaurant).  I opted for the blueberry-mint waffle as I was in the mood for something sweet, but the coconut chicken curry special was mighty tempting.  Additionally, they offer a savory waffle on their normal menu: encased with a layer of egg on one side and melted cheese on the other, this tasty waffle (which I sampled) features an inclusion of crumbled bacon.  Other menu options include the bananas foster waffle, the classic waffle, an omelet in the shape of a waffle, and a chocolate chip waffle.

I wish that they had a couple more inclusions available for what might go inside the waffle (like pecans–I really love a pecan waffle.)  But, I suppose that’s what the rotating daily special board is for.  In the end, I was really quite pleased.  I got a tasty waffle for a good price, and I got to participate in the evening’s entertainment as well (though I wish to stress that there is no requirement one dining in the restaurant appear on camera–that’s a strictly voluntary activity).  having already volunteered to sit in the guest chair and talk, I must say, I think I’d be even more entertaining performing a Corduroy Orange cooking show live from the Waffle Shop–now, that would be some high quality entertainment!

Worst Service Ever

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette had a column on Sunday about how tipping is down.  It includes a quote from one expert who says, “‘the good old days of 15 percent even for mediocre service are probably gone for now.’”

While I’m definitely not an advocate for stiffing folks who count on tips, I feel like there’s a definite social contract implied by the tip: if service is good, you give more; poor service merits less.  Only once have I been in a situation where i thought a waitress deserved no tip whatsoever, but I was pressured by my dining companions into leaving something for her.

It was a couple of years ago, when Aurora and I were visiting New Orleans for a friend’s wedding.  With our friends, we went to Lebanon Restaurant for what we thought would be a quick lunch.  the one previous time i had been, service was poor; but that had been a couple of years, and there was no reason in my mind to hold the restaurant responsible for one bad dinner server.  Turns out I might have been wrong.

A good half hour after we were seated, we were still waiting for the waitress to return to take our orders.  We were getting hungry, and we had places to be; so I took our orders back to the kitchen and gave our list to them, saying that I had no idea whether our waitress would ever get around to handling it for us.

The food, once prepared, sat in the window long enough for us to stare at it and wonder if it might be ours before our waitress picked up the order and delivered it to us.  That was the last we saw of her until we tracked her down and asked for the bill.

I wanted to leave her a total tip of $0.02; but my friends said we had to leave her at least 10-12% out of common decency.  Instead, i got approval to leave the two pennies on top with a note that said “this is the only tip you deserve” even though we had actually left more than that.

The waitress was gathering up the money from the table as we drove past; she was complaining to a coworker that “This is all the tip they gave me!”  As Aurora tugged on my shirt and tried to pull me back into the car, I leaned out the window and yelled to her that “We left you a better tip than that but you didn’t deserve it!”

I can’t imagine service worse than having to place the order myself is the only reason i advocated for stiffing her as penalty for her dismal service.  Otherwise, I can’t imagine dining at a sit down establishment and not leaving a resonable tip.  In Pennsylvania, state law allows tipped employees to be paid as little as $2.83 per hour, in expectation that their tips will draw them up to a livable wage.  Other states’ minimum wage laws can be determined by visiting and clicking on a state on the map.  Once you see how little the person filling your coffee mug might be getting paid, perhaps that will make you feel somewhat more generous with your gratuities.

Like Good Beer? Try Hough’s.

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

If you like bars that feature beer that’s worth drinking, step out to Greenfield and raise a glass at Hough’s. Of their 8 draft selections, only two (Miller Lite and Yuengling) represent the run-of-the-mill; the rest, which rotate based on what the Hough family has in stock, represent a range of craft-brewed options. Recently, they’ve added Edmund Fitzgerald, my favorite offering from the Great Lakes Brewing Company; and they’ve also had a Peak Organic Maple, which has been aged in maple and bears that wood’s distinctive, sweet flavor.

Should none of the draft beers strike your fancy, consult their list of 60+ bottled beers. If you like hops, I suggest either Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute IPA or an Arrogant Bastard. Of course, there are plenty of choices for those who prefer their beer less bitter. My wife has recently been enjoying an Ichabod Pumpkin Ale from New Holland Brewing Company.

Hough’s has a nice menu of solid bar food, as well: the benko burger is fantastic; as is the barbecue bacon burger, which I usually will order with blue cheese instead of swiss. The steak hoagie holds its own, too–though I usually get it with provolone, instead of the american cheese that’s listed on the menu. Hough’s makes its own chips and fries; or, if you want a side that’s not deep fried, they’ve got applesauce from a jar for you. The menu is expanding, and now features chicken parmesan and spaghetti and meatballs in addition to their variety of sandwiches and appetizers. I’d like to see them go a little bit further in the knife-and-fork direction and feature offerings such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes; steak and eggs; and red beans and rice. But I haven’t yet been disappointed by anything that is available that I’ve ordered.

Where is Hough’s? In true Pittsburgh tradition, I’ll tell you it’s where Pickles used to be, at the corner of Greenfield and Nantasket. Don’t let the small number of changes to Pickles’ old storefront fool you, though–the entire inside has been renovated and improved. There are lots of big-screen TVS you can watch your favorite sporting event on, especially if your favorite sporting event happens to be the Steelers or the Penguins. Otherwise, you still have a pretty good chance of watching it; I was able to get one TV tuned to a Red Sox-Rays game last week even as the rest of the bar was cheering on the Pens.

I really like the family feel. at least one of the Hough family members, if not 2 or 3, is likely to visit your table and make sure that everything is okay. I haven’t had reason to complain, but I have a definite feeling that if there were something wrong, the Houghs would be very quick to correct it. Quite honestly, sometimes when I’m sitting there sipping an ale, I half-expect the entire bar to chant “Norm!” when George Wendt walks through the door. It just feels like that kind of place.

Rating: 3 Oranges.

Hough’s is located at 563 Greenfield Avenue in Pittsburgh.

Firkins at Piper’s Pub

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Way back in May, I read in the Post-Gazette that Piper’s Pub on the south side had started to serve ale from firkins.  Though I didn’t know that word until I read the article, I was familiar with the concept: this is ale which is carbonated by active yeast in the kegs and is hand pumped into the glass: draught beer the natural way.

As I was curious to try the ale, and as Piper’s Pub is hands-down my favorite casual dining restaurant in the city (I highly recommend the lamb-and-chestnut shepherd’s pie above all else; and if your dining companions suggest splitting an order of scotch eggs, the correct response is ‘don’t mind if I do’), I was certain that I would try it within a matter of a couple of weeks.

As it turns out, i just finally got out there again last week; but I did have a firkined ale, and it was definitely worth a mention.  It’s not anywhere near as carbonated as we’re accustomed to having our beers; but it’s definitely not flat, either.  And it’s not ‘ice cold’ the way many Americans think beer ought to be served, but because it has such an enjoyable flavor, it’s actually better warm because more of the complexity comes out.

So, if you enjoy a good beer and you appreciate a fine British ale, I suggest checking out what Piper’s has in their casks and trying a pint of whatever it might be.

Piper’s Pub is located at 1828 East Carson Street in Pittsburgh; (412) 381-3977.

Get the Jerk Chicken

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Last week I enjoyed a reasonable meal at Pepper G’s in homestead; I suspect that Aurora, who ordered the jerk chicken, enjoyed hers more.

We somewhat confounded the waitress by bringing our own napkins and using them instead of the paper napkins (she for some reason seemed to think it was a germophobia thing as opposed to a waste reduction obsession and brought an extra stack of paper napkins to our table despite my protests that we were fine, we’d really prefer not to waste the paper.

When I arrived at the restaurant/bar/jazz lounge (they advertise frequent live music shows), I had already decided, based on reading their menu online, that I would be ordering the ribs. Unfortunately, they no longer had ribs on the print menu or at the restaurant at all. “The last case we ordered spoiled because no one ordered them,” the manager explained after our meal, “so we took them off the menu.”

I decided to go with the curried shrimp; Aurora got the jerk chicken; another of our dining companions got the lemon-pepper chicken. I also got a side of macaroni and cheese.

The curried chicken had a flavorful mix of spices on them. Unfortunately, the chef had ordered the easy-peel shrimp (peel split down the back and the alimentary canal removed, but peel left on; designed to make it easy to peel [hence the name]) and had not removed the peel before she tossed them with the curry. As a result, most of the flavoring got discarded to the side as I had to peel the shrimp before I could eat them.

This problem could be easily rectified: if the chef were to order the pdv (peeled and deveined) shrimp; or to peel the easy-peel shrimp before coating them with spices, this dish would immediately rise in quality from mediocre to pretty darn good. The mac and cheese was obviously homemade and was really quite tasty.

The jerk chicken, on the other hand, is excellent. The chicken is seasoned just right: not too salty, with a good kick of flavor. It’s braised to melt-in-your mouth perfection. It’s perhaps the best jerk chicken I’ve tasted in years.

The lemon-pepper chicken apparently didn’t stack up. Though I didn’t try it, our dining companion was less than satisfied with her meal. “It was good,” she shrugged, non-committedly. This impression was conformed by the manager’s response when he asked us what we ordered. When she said what she got, the manager replied by saying that he gets the jerk chicken.

We opted to sample the mango pie for dessert. The individual, 3-inch round pies are surrounded by a mushy crust and filled with a somewhat bland concoction of mango puree. The crust is their definite weak part. There was no evidence of any crispiness to the crust whatsoever.

Still, I might go back and get me a plate of the jerk chicken and a side of the mac and cheese—really, that’d be a darned fine meal.

If you go, make sure you bring your own cloth napkin. Maybe if they see more people doing so, the idea of not wasting paper will confuse them less.

  • Rating: 2 oranges

Pepper G’s
106 E. 8th Avenue (immediately across the Homestead Grays Bridge)
Homestead, PA 15120
(412) 462-8450

If Your Sign Says “Pies”…

Monday, March 17th, 2008

Call me old fashioned, but if your restaurant has a large sign above the door that says “Freshly Baked Pies,” your restaurant should stock freshly baked pies.  The Market Caffe on Route 228 in Seven Fields, PA doesn’t agree.

I stopped there entirely because they have a large sign proclaiming that they have pies.  No pies were to be seen.  Not even a list of pie flavors could be found.

I asked the woman behind the counter.  “We have pies,” she said, “but they’re special order.  You have to order them 24 hours in advance.”

The restaurant had many other baked goods and full espresso bar capabilities.  I have no idea how any of their offerings taste, though, because I left rather than succumb to the bait-and-switch of their pie sign.

Rating: 0 Oranges, for lying to me with deceptive advertising.

Nine on Nine

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Last night, I enjoyed perhaps the best meal I’ve eaten in Pittsburgh. I probably shouldn’t be surprised by that, as the restaurant where I was eating, Nine on Nine (corner of Ninth and Penn, downtown), was named Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurant of 2007.

The restaurant’s format allows diners a chance to sample from each of three menus. Three courses will cost you $45; six will cost $78. Each course is plated in an artistic style, in an arrangement that complements the shape of the platter it is served on. The courses are Amuse bouche, Second, and Third.


Cornhusker Club: Oxford, NE

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

Don’t go to the Cornhusker Club expecting chandeliers, maitres d’, or even a printed wine list. Do, however, expect warm mid-western hospitality and a tasty meal, though it may not include anything I ate as the menu changes daily.

The restaurant is somewhat tough to find, down a country road into Oxford, Nebraska (pop. 876). It has a bit of the feel of a church social hall or the basement of the Elks club that has been dressed up for a fancy occasion (tablecloths and cloth napkins accompany the orange upholstered bingo hall chairs),but when combined with the hearty welcome of Cornhusker Club owner Gary Barile, this somehow works to create cozy charm. The day’s menu is written on several white boards posted on easels, one of which will be placed by your table as you arrive so that you can see what the day’s options are: a creative, paper-wasteless way to offer an array of dining options throughout the week.

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This is the NEW Cornhusker Club, as the restaurant’s business card proclaims. Ask Mr. Barile what brought him and his New Orleanian chef Carlos to rural Nebraska and he may quip, “Witness protection,” but he’ll follow up quickly with a tale about Carlos being displaced to Mobile by Hurrican Katrina, where he worked in a restaurant called La Pizzeria. “We used to do some catering down there, and we got to know Carlos that way,” he explains. Then, some friends offered him the chance to buy a house in Oxford Nebraska. “We saw a business opportunity in the restaurant, so we bought it, too, and after that it was a done deal.” They lured Carlos from Mobile with the opportunity to set his own menus and cook his style of food, and they’ve been in operation since Father’s Day of this year.

This is not straight New Orleans cooking; it’s more of a creole-corhusker fusion (think 12-ounce ribeye served over jambalaya and topped with shrimp creole; the jambalaya features shrimp, chicken, and kielbasa). For being housed in such a small, rural setting, though, it’s surprising (to me anyway) to find food that draws from such a wide range of influences. They make their own, tasty rolls in house every day. Many of the dishes are served in baskets formed from deep-fried flatbreads. The authenticity of the New Orleans-inspired dishes is unquestionable.

As I am wont to do, I wore a jacket and tie to the restaurant. As it turns out, I had something in common with the Caesar salad: we were both overdressed. Several of the diners were sporting baseball caps and/or sweatshirts; the romaine lettuce leaves were wet with a thick layer of tangy sauce.

The shrimp napoleon appetizer was outstanding, though: an artfully arrayed stack of puff pastry accompanied by several shrimp cooked just right: neither under nor over done and dressed with a succulently spicy bernaise.

Mr. Barile prompted us to also order the deep fried farfalle pasta, promising us that if we didn’t enjoy it, he’d buy it for us. I’ve never heard of deep-fried pasta before, but I was pleasantly surprised. Cooked pasta was breaded and fried and the result was very hearty; it would make a great vegetarian substitute for chicken nuggets. I was somewhat disapointed by the salmon-white cheese sauce that accompanied the pasta. The cheese flavor was a bit strong for the salmon, and the pedigree of the cheese was uncertain. The sharp flavor suggested some cheddar; though Aurora thinks she detected some velveeta-like consistency, a claim that I believe may hold some water based on the fact that there was no oily film atop the sauce. The sauce having been listed only as “white cheese salmon sauce” on the menu provides no evidence either way. As a whole, though, the pasta with the cheese sauce was an enjoyable appetizer.

The entrees were tasty and well-prepared. My ribeye was cooked to a perfect medium rare; and though I am not a huge fan of kielbasa, I did like the jambalaya that the steak was served atop. Aurora’s seafood-stuffed deep fried catfish was tasty, though it’s uncertain what seafood was in the stuffing. My inkling is that the seafood stuffing was composed of scraps leftover from trimming other fish; perhaps some crab meat; and a healthy portion of bread crumbs. It worked well with the fish and if it is a method of using seafood scraps, it’s a great way to make use of what some less disciplined chefs would allow to go out in the trash.

The grilled blackened salmon was grilled, not blackened, and not as spicy as we would have expected. It was also cooked a bit more done than I prefer my salmon; I think salmon ought to be served cooked to a medium doneness. The gentleman ordering the salmon is among those who prefer their salmon more done than that, though; so I expect that he had no issues with its being well-done.

Other diners in our party enjoyed the shrimp creole served atop the jambalaya (my entree minus the steak). The several variations on the theme of jambalaya and shrimp creole on the menu provided for a range of options depending on one’s appetite and tastes; plus allows the kitchen to get three entrees out of two preparations (jambalaya alone; with creole; or with steak and creole). I wish more restaurants would think in terms of menus for a day or for a week rather than for a season or a year. It allows the kitchen to be more flexible in their ordering, thereby achieving (with any skill) a lower food cost and more seasonally-inspired dishes.

The portions were generous and our party was too full to sample any of the desserts. I hope to return to the Cornhusker Club on my next trip to Nebraska so that I can find out if their pastry creations are as skillfully prepared as the rest of their menu.

Rating: 3 Oranges (Though as compared to other dining experiences I’ve had in other low-population rural areas, this definitely ranks somewhere between 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 oranges as compared with other restaurants in similar locales–a cut above your average country road dining experience).