Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Perfect Fusion of Barbeque & Mexican- Smoke Barbeque Taqueria

225 East 8th Avenue- Homestead

Blink and you might miss this little hidden gem along the main drag of Homestead.  (Well, we actually did during our first passing by & had to turn around & come back! ;) )  If you are looking for an alternative to the big name chains of the Waterfront, then take the short hop across the bridge to 8th Avenue and seek out Smoke Barbeque Taqueria.  Smoke offers 7 delectable tacos (including 2 breakfast versions served all day) for $2.75 to $4.00 a piece.    You can also include any of their 5 amazing sides to your taco order.  I strongly advise adding their housemade bacon to anything and everything that you can.  It is that good.  ;)  

From top left, clockwise:
  • I chose the Red Potato Salad to accompany my 2 tacos.  The potato salad was creamy and very flavorful with the addition of the sauteed leaks.  The salad is topped with tender chunks of Smoke's housemade bacon, lending the dish a nice smokiness and just the right amount of salt.  
  • My first taco was the Pork Taco- slow barbequed & shredded pork topped with an apricot harbanero sauce & caramelized onions wrapped in one of Smoke's handmade tortillas.  The apricot harbanero sauce is what lured me into ordering this taco.  I was intrigued.  The sauce was slightly sweet, a bit acidic, with just a tad of heat.  I enjoyed it, but really could have used just a bit more sauce in my taco. 
  • My husband ordered a side of the Mac 'N Cheese to go with his Pork taco and his Brisket taco.  The mac 'n cheese was creamy, but not heavy.  It is a perfect blend of elbow macaroni, mascarpone cheese, roasted garlic, and shallots.  It was topped with a generous helping of shredded sharp white cheddar.  The only thing that would have made this mac 'n cheese better would have been the addition of Smoke's housemade bacon (which by the way you can do!).  ;)
  • The second taco I ordered was the Veggie one.  This vegetarian version is quite substantial with black beans, roasted poblano pepper, a corn relish, crispy potatoes, & their housemade chili de arbol sauce.  Warning:  the chili de arbol sauce is not for the faint of heart.  It is spicy.  I ordered a side of the Avocado Cream to help counter the spiciness of the sauce.  It worked. ;)
What you need to know before you go:
  • Parking is on the street.  You will need change if you visit Smoke for breakfast or during the day.  The meters are free in the evenings.  
  • Smoke is presently a cash only establishment.  Make sure you bring enough!  My husband and I ate for under $30 with each of us ordering 2 tacos, 1 side, and a drink a piece. P.S.  2 tacos & 1 side is more than enough for a substantial meal for one person. 
  • Smoke is also a BYOB establishment.  If you choose to eat in and want to partake in some adult beverages with your tacos, bring your own beer or wine.  Otherwise, Smoke offers Aqua Fresca (honeydew melon was the flavor the night we visited), Horchata, & Lemonade ($3.00), all made in house with organic sugar.  If you are ordering breakfast tacos, try their Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice or Mexican Chiapas Coffee.
  • Seating is very limited (an eclectic mix of 3 tables and various chairs), so you may want to plan to call ahead and order takeout- 412-205-3039.
  • Smoke Barbeque Taqueria does not presently have a website, but you can read other great reviews and get info on their hours on Yelp here:

Friday, November 18, 2011

D's SixPax & Dogz (Monroeville)

4320 Northern Pike- Monroeville

A few weeks back I implored my Twitter pals for a few good (and budget friendly) recommendations for a restaurant to grab a quick lunch at in Monroeville.  More than one person replied with D's SixPax & Dogz.  "Hot dogs?" was my first thought.  Since I have found myself with child, I have written off all and any meat products that harbor even the slightest chance of my acquiring listeria poisoning.  Hot dogs & lunch meats have pretty much been ruled out for the 9 month duration.  So I was delighted to find that D's offers veggie dogs.  I can't lie.  I get a craving for hot dogs something fierce occasionally and veggie dogs still allow me to indulge that craving.

From left to right:

  • We started with the beer battered french fries.  I really loved the battered crisp on the outside of the fries.  A small basket was more than enough for two people.
  • I ordered the Mason Dixon veggie dog.  Being from West Virginia, I am used to a good hot dog topped with chili and coleslaw.  I also decided to order yellow mustard with mine (a hometown thing for me).  While I never received my yellow mustard (even when I stopped the server to ask for it), the veggie dog itself was substantial.  It was topped generously with their homemade chili & coleslaw. I loved the addition of red onion to their coleslaw.  
  • My husband had the Bacon Cheeseburger.  Unfortunately, there wasn't very much to say about the burger.  It was average at best.
*It is in my typical style to avoid much negativity in my blog features.  Usually if I don't have anything nice to say, then I don't write a blog feature on an establishment.  This visit to D's SixPax & Dogz left me torn.  It is difficult to find a good veggie dog within 30 minutes of the Greensburg area.  My Maxon Dixon was a damn good veggie dog.  (The only thing that would have made it better would have been that yellow mustard! ;) )  But the service and timeliness of the food was very much lacking.  We did wait nearly 20 minutes for our basket of fries.  The restaurant was steady, but not slammed.  As a former server, I am always conscious & understanding of most situations in which a server or a restaurant might fall short at no fault of their own.  None of those situations were visibly present on our visit.  Will I return?  Maybe.  But I will only be ordering veggie dogs & taking them to go.  
I don't want to judge the entire franchise on just one of their locations though. I have a feeling that I would definitely give the D's in Regent Square a go.  They seem to have it a little more together there:

I will post their website here: , though it is not very helpful.  The only page to the website is a very small print menu that you need a magnifying glass to read.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Have You Met The Headkeeper's Older Sister Yet, J Corks?

26 East Pittsburgh Street- Greensburg

If The Headkeeper is the fun, more casual younger sister, then J Corks is the more mature, sophisticated older sister.  As many of my followers know, my husband and I have been a fan of The Headkeeper & it's laid back, yet modern tapas menu & amazing beer selection since I moved to the Greensburg area in January.  For my birthday this past September, my husband and I decided to give J Corks, The Headkeeper's sister restaurant, a go.  We found that we loved the menu just as much as The Headkeeper's, but just like when you date an older sister versus a younger sister make sure your wallet is a little thicker. ;)

From top left, clockwise:

  • My husband & I started our meal with the Pepper Jack Spinach Dip with Soft Pretzels & Adobo Chips.  The spinach dip itself had just the right balance of spinach and creamy cheese, and just a hint of spice.  All too often, a restaurant will serve you a spinach dip that is cheese heavy or spinach dry.  J Corks gets the balance just right.  The soft pretzels & perfectly salted blue and red chips are the ideal accompaniment for the dip.  My husband & I loved the chips so much that we had to ask for a second helping.
  • For my birthday girl dinner, I ordered the Black Tiger Shrimp Carbonara.  The shrimp were tossed with snow peas, applewood smoked bacon, & a romano cream sauce over linguine.  The dish itself was a sublime balance between light and heavy.  The applewood smoked bacon brought a nice smokiness to the cream sauce.
  • My husband ordered the Dry Spicy Rubbed Center Cut Pork Loin Chop with Adobo Compound Butter.  This is not a chop for the light eater.  This 2 inch thick chop was tender and juicy, cooked perfectly.  The chop itself was lightly spiced, but the spice rub was not overwhelming.  The pork loin chop was served over a generous helping of tomato basil couscous.  *It appears that this item is not on their fall menu.  J Corks does change their menus seasonally.  
  • You can't have a proper birthday dinner without a dessert.  ;)  The dessert choice was a no-brainer for us.  I love gingerbread; he loves carrot cake, so went with the Gingerbread Carrot Cake with a Vanilla Bean Icing.  The cake was moist.  The vanilla bean icing went perfectly with the gingerbread and carrot cake flavors.  What more is there to say? 
What you need to know before you go:

  • Parking is on the street, so make sure to bring change for the meters.
  • Dinner entrees range in price from around $14-$26.  If you are wanting to try J Corks, but are looking for something a little more budget friendly, try coming for lunch.  Their lunch entrees range in price from $9-$16.
  • To be in the know about upcoming specials (such as Wino Wednesdays) & events, become a fan of J Corks on Facebook-

For directions, hours, & menus, click here:

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Suburghia Girl Recipe- Pumpkin Ricotta Ravioli with a Pumpkin Tarragon Walnut Sauce

The very first thing I think of when I hear the world is fall is pumpkin.  It embodies so much of what I love about this season.  The seasonal foods, the hint of cinnamon & nutmeg, jack-o-lanterns...  Besides colorful crunchy leaves, what says fall is here more than pumpkins?

Lately, I have been on a real pumpkin kick.  Maybe it is because I am so excited for the fall (if you haven't guess it yet, fall is my favorite season!).  Maybe it is because I have been having hormone-induced cravings for the orange fleshy stuff (Yes, pumpkin IS a pregnancy super food! BabyMed- Pumpkin During Pregnancy ).  And yesterday evening I embarked on an adventure to make homemade pumpkin ravioli.

Yes, I did venture to make my ravioli dough from scratch.  I found an easy and fantastic recipe for the dough from the Food Network's Tyler Florence here- Tyler Florence's Ravioli Dough Recipe , but I am going to suggest that you do not go this route unless you already own a pasta machine.  I do not own one and try as I may, I was not able to roll out my pasta dough thin enough using a rolling pin.  But it is a great upper body and arm workout! ;)  Until I own a pasta machine (which my husband now knows is on my Christmas wishlist this year), I will stick with the wonton wrappers you can find in your grocery store's frozen food section.

If you do own a pasta machine or if you just have incredible upper body strength & feel you can dominate the dough to the right thickness, you should start your dough first.  The recipe above calls for the dough to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes before you begin rolling it out.  If you are opting for the wonton wrappers, make sure you thaw them out in the fridge or on the kitchen counter before using them. 

While your pasta dough is in the fridge, you can go ahead and make the pumpkin ricotta filling for the ravioli.  I kept the filling very simple since we will be topping the ravioli with a rich and flavorful sauce at the end.  To make the filling, scoop about 1 cup of canned pumpkin into a small mixing bowl.  Add 3/4 cup of ricotta cheese, and mix together.  Next add 1 egg and beat into the pumpkin/ricotta mixture until well incorporated.  To season the filling, just add a 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, 1/4 tsp of pumpkin pie spice or nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp of salt.  Mix well and set aside.

Now prepare your ravioli dough (using the instructions in Tyler's recipe) or take out your wonton wrappers.  No matter which you are using make sure to brush the edges of the ravioli squares with an egg wash (just beat an egg with a little bit of water).  The egg wash will make the edges stick better and keep your pumpkin filling from spilling out.  I would also suggest at this point you start a pot of salted water to boil. Drop a little less than a tbsp of the pumpkin ricotta filling into each ravioli, but make sure not to overfill.  Fold over your wrap or dough, seal the pocket of filling with your fingers, and cut the edges of each ravioli.  You can easily do this with a pizza cutter.  But if you want to be fancy, you can pick up a pasta dough cutter with the crimped edges like the one I have pictured below. ;) Set aside your assembled ravioli.

At this point, your water should almost be at a boil.  While you are waiting, go ahead and start the Pumpkin Tarragon Walnut sauce.  You will start by heating about 1 tbsp of olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat.  Finely chop 1 small shallot and add to the pan once the oil is heated.  Saute for about 2 minutes.  Add 2 tbsp of flour to the shallot and cook for another minute.  The flour will work to thicken the sauce and cooking it first will make sure there isn't a raw flour taste to your sauce.  Pour 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream into the pan with the shallot and the flour and whisk often.  Once the cream is heated through, add about 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin and continue to whisk until well mixed and creamy.  Your water is probably boiling now.  Add your first round of ravioli to the pot.  Do not overcrowd them.  Your ravioli are done when they float to the surface.  Now, let's finish the cream sauce. :)  Continue whisking and add 1 tsp of dried tarragon, a few dashes of cinnamon, and a few sprinkles of pumpkin pie spice or nutmeg.  Whisk in 1 tbsp of sugar.  By now your sauce should really be thickening up.  If it is too thick for your taste, just whisk in a little water to thin it out a bit.  Throw in about a 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Never forget to taste your sauces!  To finish the sauce, add 1 tbsp of butter and whisk until melted and well incorporated. 

Drain your ravioli.  Plate 4-5 ravioli and cover with the your Pumpkin Tarragon Walnut Sauce.  Enjoy and say hello to fall!

P.S.  The Pumpkin Tarragon Walnut sauce is so good that I also suggest just making it and serving it over prepared, store bought cheese ravioli or over a spinach fettuccine. :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Suburghian Girl Recipe: Italian Chili

Fall is just around the corner.  College football season is already upon on us.  And here is a fresh new twist on a cooler weather, game day favorite- an Italian Chili.  The addition of basil, oregano, orzo, and red wine gives this chili it's Italian flare.

This is actually a crock pot recipe (perfect for your game day get-together!), but can easily be adapted to the stove if you don't have the time for the slow cooking or if you don't have a crock pot in your kitchen. But I think every well-equipped kitchen should have a crock pot. ;)

First start by browning 1 lb of ground beef in a large frying pan with 1 tbs of olive oil.  Once browned, drain the beef of any fat and place into the crock pot.  In the same frying pan, heat 1 tbs of olive oil.  Add 1 medium onion, chopped and 1 medium green pepper, chopped to the pan.  Saute for 2-3 minutes until slightly soft.  Add 4 cloves of garlic, minced to the pan.  Saute for another 1-2 minutes.  Place the sauteed veggies in the crock pot with the ground beef.  Pour one 29 oz can of tomato sauce and one 29 oz can of crushed tomatoes (diced tomatoes will also work) into the crock pot.  Using one of the empty cans, pour 1 can full of beef broth and 1 can full of water into the crock pot.  You could use 2 can fulls of water, but your chili will be much richer with the addition of beef broth.  Drain and rinse a 15 oz can of cannellini beans in a small colander.  Add the beans to the crock pot.  Sprinkle in 2 tsp of dried oregano.  Add salt and cracked pepper.  Add in 3/4 cups of red wine.  You could also use 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar in place of the wine.  I actually used a little of both in mine. ;)  At this point, you could sneak in some extra veggies by adding some fresh or frozen spinach leaves to the chili.  Mix all the ingredients together in the crock pot and turn it to the low setting.  Let it cook in the crock pot on low for at least 6 hours. 

When you are about 30 minutes from serving your chili, turn the heat setting up to high.  Add 1 1/2 cups water to the simmering chili.  Now pour in about 8 oz of orzo or any other small pasta.  Chop up about 8 fresh basil leaves and add to the crock pot during the last 5 minutes of cooking.  Before serving, taste your chili!  Add more salt or pepper to taste.  If the chili seems to be missing a little something, add a few tbsp of sugar.  Just a touch of sweetness can bring out the robust flavors. 

Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and a crusty Italian bread.  Touchdown!

P.S. If you happen to have a lot of leftovers with this chili (like I did), this dish freezes well.  Just pour into freezer safe containers and freeze up to 2 months.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Braddock's Brasserie And Bar- Swank and Upscale Food Without the Pretentiousness

107 6th Street- Pittsburgh

Influenced by a recent Groupon purchase and a raving and tempting blog post from my friend & fellow foodie blogger, Food Collage (click here to see her blog post on Braddock's Food Collage- Braddock's American Brasserie), my husband and I decided to forgo the Pirates game and the sweltering heat and stepped into the lobby of the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel.  Yes, Braddock's is located just inside and straight back from the lobby of this classy hotel.  The first thing you notice about the place is the atmosphere- swanky and modern. You begin to wonder if you dressed up enough for the joint! ;)  But no worries.  Braddock's caters to all, even those patrons who stop in for a bite to eat before heading to a Pirates game.  Little black dress and heels, or a Pirates jersey and jeans- everyone is welcome & fits right in.
So, let's get to it.

From top to bottom:
  • We started out our meal at Braddock's quite simply- with a order of their Frites served with a side of Roasted Garlic Aioli.  The frites were perfectly salted and seasoned with rosemary.  They were light and crisp.  The roasted garlic aioli was creamy, but not heavy- the perfect accompaniment for the frites.
  • I ordered one of Braddock's dinner features of the evening as my entree- Filet Mignon served with Lump Crab Meat & a Bearnaise sauce.  The entree was served with a generous side of their Fingerling Mashed potatoes & their fresh vegetable of the day- asparagus.  My filet was grilled to a perfect medium-rare.  I cannot even express how happy this made me.  Lately, my experiences with a steak actually being prepared to a real medium-rare has been few and far between.  The crab meat was actual lumps of crab.  Actual sweet lumps of crab meat.  (You can clearly see that in my photo above. ;) )  The mashed fingerlings were creamy and garlicky.  My one and only complaint was the asparagus.  It had been sliced instead of left in spears, and in the cooking process had lost it's crisp bite.  I am not a fan of mushy asparagus. But the steak, crab, and potatoes were MORE than enough to satisfy me.
  • My husband ordered the Braddock's Caesar salad topped with a grilled Gerber Farms Amish chicken breast.  The salad itself consisted of two large and crisp whole Romaine hearts topped with shredded Parmesan cheese, croutons, lemon zest, and a bright Caesar dressing.  We loved the addition of the lemon to the salad.  It really brightened up the entire entree.  The chicken breast was juicy and tender.
What you need to know before you go:
  • You will more than likely have to pay for parking.  There is a parking garage that my husband & I always park at for Pirates games directly across the street from Braddock's.  It costs $5 to park there.  Even on game days- it is still only $5. :)
  • Most dinner entrees are priced anywhere from $13 to $30.  Lunch at Braddock's is a bit more budget friendly with burger and small plate options available.
For hours, directions, and menus, visit below:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Quick (& Sweet) Bite in Suburghia- The Cupcake Shoppe

20 West 2nd Street- Greensburg

If you are in need of a quick sweet treat while in the downtown area, stop in at The Cupcake Shoppe at 20 West 2nd Street.  We ducked in for some cupcake yumminess before heading to the farmers market at the Westmoreland Art Museum to pick up local goodies.  The shoppe is cute, quaint, and very clean.  This was my first visit to the Shoppe, and I was very impressed with how affordable the cupcakes are- just $2 each! :)  (Please remember, I am girl who moved here from a larger Midwestern city & had grown used to paying up to $5 a pop for a gourmet cupcake.)

So here is the lowdown...

From left to right:
  • The Cupcake Shoppe's selection of cupcake flavors changes daily, so come back often for new choices. ;)  It does seem though that the Chocolate, Very Vanilla, and Peanut Butter Cup are regular offerings.  On this particular day, the special cupcake offered was Snickerdoodle.
  • My son ordered the Peanut Butter Cup, a moist chocolate cupcake topped with a peanut butter frosting that is reminiscent of homemade peanut butter fudge.
  • I went with a classic, the Chocolate cupcake, mainly because it is topped with a rich buttercream frosting and sprinkles. (I am a sucker for a good buttercream!)  The buttercream was amazing.
I definitely see more trips to The Cupcake Shoppe in our very near future. ;)
For more information and for the Shoppe's hours, visit below: