Best of the 'Burgh 2010: Food & Drink
Our editors pick the best of the best in Pittsburgh food and drink.
Best Gelato: How can something low fat taste so much creamier than ice cream? Mercurio’s Mulberry Creamery in Shadyside has the answer in a bouquet of silky, delicious flavors. The family-run shop specializes in artisan gelato and “bringing the sweetness of Italy” to its fans. They have 30 customer favorites that are always available and a menu of others that rotates daily, including “no sugar added” choices. The flavors include standards like Death by Chocolate and also mouth-watering specialties like tiramisù, mango, raspberry & truffles, dulce de leche and mint chocolate chunk. 733 Copeland St., Shadyside; 412/621-6220, mulberrystreetcreamery.com. —Jonathan Wander
Readers' Poll: Best Take-Out: Armstrong's To-Go, 5301 Grove Road, Whitehall; 412/885-1033
Best Barbecue: Savvy fliers know the best layovers in the world are at Douglas International Airport in Charlotte. Why? Because of the finger-lickin’ southern BBQ in the food court, of course. But thanks to The Pittsburgh Barbeque Company’s hickory-smoked racks of ribs that are glazed with a vinegar-based, Carolina-style marinade, you no longer need to use beef as an excuse to fly into Charlotte. This is authentic BBQ in the ‘Burgh, thanks to a mammoth smoker that owner Arthur Cohen had custom built. It’s takeout only, so bring along some wet naps because you’re never going to make it home before succumbing to the sweet aromas of a succulent beef brisket. 1000 Banksville Ave., Green Tree; 412/563-1005. — Sean P. Conboy
Photo by Laura Petrilla
Best Pastry Shop: Located in the heart of Zelienople, Carol’s Pastry Shop is worth the 30-mile drive north for one reason: doughnuts. The shop’s doughnuts, which run the gamut from cream- and jelly-filled to sugar to glazed, are all rolled and baked on site each morning at 5:30 before the shop opens. In addition to some of the best doughnuts in the area, Carol’s also bakes wedding and special-occasion cakes, cookies, breads and other pastries, as well as weekly specials that are posted online. If a trip north isn’t in the cards any time soon, call the shop to make special arrangements for shipping. 142 South Main St., Zelienople; 724/452-7920, carolspastryshop.com. — Kaitlyn Johnston
Readers' Poll: Best Caterer: big Catering, 5740 Baum Blvd., Friendship; 412/361-3272, bigburrito.com/catering
Best Fro-Yo: Squirrel Hill is always in need of another ice cream shop, so, earlier this year, Razzy Fresh opened its doors on Murray Avenue. But Razzy isn’t just another ice cream shop—it’s a frozen yogurt shop. Choosing from a handful of fruity flavors like honeydew and mango then topping it off with fresh fruits like berries, watermelon or pineapple is sure to satisfy any sweet tooth while not tipping the scale. If you’re not digging such a low-cal treat, pile on dry toppings like Fruity Pebbles, Captain Crunch and M&M’s or more-traditional favorites like peanuts and sprinkles. Not everyone tries to cut calories from dessert, right? 1717 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/521-3145, razzyfresh.com. — K.J.
Readers' Poll: Best Coffee Shop: Coffee Tree Roasters, 5524 Walnut St., Shadyside; 412/621-6880, coffeetree.com
Best Place to Brew Your Own Brew: Consider the go-to neighborhoods for going out in the ’Burgh: South Side, Station Square, Oakland … Greenfield? It’s true. The oft-overlooked neighborhood is now on the list of destinations for a great night out for 20- and 30-somethings, thanks to brothers Greg and Matt Hough. The duo is the namesake of Hough’s, the bar and restaurant known for its impressive 300-plus bottle selection. This fall, Hough’s will open an adjacent brew-on-premises shop, where customers can select their own recipe, prepare the ingredients, wait a few weeks for fermentation and then bottle the results. Sounds like the brew-your-own shop—one of just a handful in the country—might make the list of hot hops spots for Pittsburghers and out-of-towners alike. 563 Greenfield Ave., Greenfield; 412/586-5944, houghspgh.com. — K.J.
Readers' Poll: Best Romantic Restaurant: Eleven, 1150 Smallman St., Strip District; 412/201-5656, bigburrito.com
Courtesy of Capital Grille
Best Cocktail: The huge glass seems to glow behind the dark bar—its mysterious, golden liquid acting like a sun amid the rotating planets at the Capital Grille, which has one of Pittsburgh’s liveliest bars. Seeing the Stoli Doli for the first time, the uninitiated will ponder: What is that stuff and how do I get a taste? It’s a chilled martini glass, of course. But the magic of its contents somehow exceeds the basic math of its ingredients: fresh pineapple and Stolichnaya vodka. Don’t analyze. Just sip. 301 Fifth Ave., downtown, 412/338-9100. — Betsy Benson
Readers' Poll: Best Local Winery: La Casa Narcisi, 4578 Gibsonia Road, Gibsonia; 724/444-4744, narcisiwinery.com
Best Chocolate-Chip Cookie: Fans of the chocolate chip cookies from Nancy B’s Bakery in Homestead don’t say they’re the best in Pittsburgh. They say they’re the best in the world. Nancy B’s chocolate chip cookies are big, plump, moist marvels packed with gooey goodness and a flavor that begs the question, “What is the secret code of this cookie?” The bakery makes a full lineup of decadent cookies and other bakery faves, but the chocolate chip is the crown jewel. Call ahead to make sure they’re not sold out; the bakery’s open 9 a.m.-5 p.m, Mon.-Fri. 415 W. 7th Ave., West Homestead; 412/462-6222, nancybsbakery.com. — J.W.
Readers' Poll: Best Neighborhood Joint: Point Brugge Café, 401 Hastings St., Point Breeze; 412/441-3334, pointbrugge.com
Photo by Laura Petrilla
Best Beer Infusion: Microbrewing is one of the hottest trends in the city, but Bocktown Beer and Grill is taking lively libations to the next level. It offers new beer infusions whenever inspiration strikes Tera Bevilacqua, Bocktown’s self-titled “Beer Librarian.” My favorite is the Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter—a dark, intensely rich, malty Maryland microbrew named after the late Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson—infused with bourbon-soaked oak chips, elderberries and cocoa nibs. As Thompson would’ve said, “I hate to advocate beer and chocolate, but they’ve always worked for me.“ 690 Chauvet Drive, Robinson; 412/788-2333, bocktown.com. — S.P.C.
Readers' Poll: Best Vegetarian Food: Quiet Storm, 5430 Penn Ave., Friendship; 412/661-9355, qspgh.com
Best Place to Get Your Desserts at Lunch: The Café at the Frick is a cozy complement to all of the attractions at Frick Art & Historical Center. When you’re in such a pleasant environment, go ahead and indulge. Order dessert. You deserve it. Pastry chef Nadine Gindlesperber dreams up the selections and makes them fresh daily; the dessert menu changes about every four to six weeks. Here are some recent offerings: olive-oil carrot cake with cream cheese, coffee ice cream with poached oranges, lemon-pistachio cake, rhubarb walnut Linzertorte with honey-basil ice cream, baked chocolate mousse with strawberries and apple crostata with five-spice ice cream. 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze; 412/371-0600, frickart.org/start/cafe.php. — Mike May
Readers' Poll: Best Wine Cellar: Sonoma Grille, 947 Penn Ave., downtown; 412/697-1336, thesonomagrille.com
Best Spring Rolls: Tram’s Kitchen, an unassuming little Vietnamese restaurant in Lawrenceville, has received plenty of attention throughout the years. Devotees praise the fabulous pho and killer curry, while haters grouse about the not-so-glam décor and occasionally cranky service. But the simple, flawless star of the menu has to be the fresh spring rolls. Although a vegetarian version is available, Tram’s classic spring roll, featuring chilled shrimp and shredded pork nestled among the rice noodles, is not to be missed. Try two as a refreshing appetizer before dinner, or place an order of four (less than $9) for a satisfying, sublime lunch. If you’re seeking speedy takeout, they’re ready within minutes and far healthier than any fast-food fare. 4050 Penn Ave., Lawrenceville; 412/682-2688. — Melissa Rayworth
Readers' Poll: Best Bakery: The Pie Place, 1775 N. Highland Rd., Upper St. Clair; 412/835-4410, thepieplace.net
Photo by Chuck Beard
Best Place for ’Burghers Seeking Franks: The ’Burgh is really a burger-lover’s town. Frankly speaking, those ’Burghers with a hankering for hot dogs have to do some sniffing around to find the furtive frankfurter. Look no farther than Lincoln Avenue, Bellevue’s main street, and make tracks to Frankfurter’s Hot Dog Shoppe. You’ll find the basic dog here: the Ball Park Frank ($1.25), which includes an assortment of free toppings, or go for even more toppings, which can be piled on for another 25 cents each. But also be adventurous and sample the signature hot dogs, which include a Flaming Dog (with nacho cheese and pepperoni chunks), a Buffalo Dog (with Buffalo sauce, fries and ranch dressing), Sloppy Dog (with Sloppy Joe sauce) or, last but not least, the Pittsburgh Dog (with fresh-cut fries, cole slaw and tomato). 564 Lincoln Ave., Bellevue; 412/459-0400. — M.M.
Best Home Fries and Ham Off the Bone: The first thing that strikes you about Nancy’s is the aroma. From 100 feet in any direction, you are captivated by the smells of ham and bacon and other delights of the morning grill. Once you get inside, the warmth doesn’t just come from the cozy kitchen where Nancy’s daughters are at the helm. You can sense the atmosphere of hospitality and familiarity all around you—from the warm welcome of the waitresses to the wall of photos with hundreds of pictures of loyal customers. (I’m up there!) If Cheers were a diner instead of a bar, this would be it. The home fries are perfectly crispy without being greasy, and the ham tastes like the kind you remember from holidays past. 616 South Ave., Wilkinsburg; 412/241-0163. — Chris Fennimore
Best Polish Deli: The S&D Polish Deli in the Strip District might also be the only Polish Deli in the city. But once you try the deli's homemade bigos (hunter’s stew), pierogies and stuffed cabbage, you'll realize we only need one if it’s this good. The food is homestyle and generous. But what really makes me want to go back is the warmth of the owners. They really seem glad that you came to visit. After sampling their prepared foods (all of which you can take home as well), you can stock up on special sausages, hams and bacons. My favorite is Weselna, the double-smoked wedding sausage. The deli carries an extensive line of authentic Polish products, including delectable fruit syrups, jams, candies, teas, soups, spices and special ingredients for Polish cooking. 2204 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412/281-2906. — C.F.
Photo by Laura Petrilla
Best Macaroons: If you’re having a big mac attack—meaning macaroons, not McDonald’s—make tracks to Oakmont Bakery. For those seeking this classic confection, here is a mac mecca. Very finely chopped coconut is built into a little hill that receives a golden finish and a cap of red cherry. In addition to plain macaroons, there’s also a variety that features a drizzle of chocolate on the crust. Want to take home something more? Not to be confused with the macaroons are the macarones, which aren’t easy to find in local bakeries. These treats, with roots in France, are delicate, almond-paste-based meringue sandwiches and come in flavors like almond, chocolate and pistachio. Bon appétit! 531 Allegheny Ave., Oakmont; 412/826-1606, oakmontbakery.com. — M.M.
Best Place for a Group to Eat When You Can’t Agree on What to Eat: It’s what a food court would be if the food court had fresh food, lots of salads, an amazing variety and beer. The Café at the Market District Giant Eagle at Settler’s Ridge fulfills the cliché of “something for everyone.” The smorgasbord includes salads, soups, fruits, pizza, rotisserie, sushi, crepes (with Nutella being an option), Rösti (hash brown-like potato pancakes), sandwiches and colorful desserts. In addition to standard beers and microbrews, the café also offers free Wi-Fi. 100 Settler’s Ridge Center Drive, Robinson Township; 412/788-5392, marketdistrict.com/departments. — J.W.
Best Marinara Like Mom Used to Make: All these trendy restaurants touting “Asian-Mediterranean fusion” and other globalized mumbo-jumbo are tasty and all, but where do you go if you want a simple, hearty meal that tastes like it came piping-hot straight from your mother’s kitchen? Try the quaint, roadside Spadafora’s Bar & Restaurant in Allison Park, where the ancient family recipes are imported from Calabria, the southern region of Italy famous for its sauces, pasta and seafood. Spadafora’s fried zucchini with chunky marinara sauce is good for the soul and practically heart-warming on cold, rainy days. What’s the sauce’s secret ingredient? Owner Paul Spadafora, who immigrated from Italy at age 12, says it’s passion. 3932 William Flynn Highway, Allison Park; 412-486-1800. — S.P.C.
Best Place to Get an Ice Cream Cone That Will Suit You to a Tea (Berry): You’ll search long and hard, near and far to find teaberry ice cream. So just chill out. Plan a nice fall drive and head to Harrisville, where the Penn-Gold Ice Cream Factory offers this rare treat. Many have encountered the cool, refreshing flavor in Clark’s Teaberry Chewing Gum (which originated in Pittsburgh), and that tantalizing teaberry flavor (derived from a plant native to Pennsylvania) succeeds just as well as a palate-pleaser in the ice cream at Penn-Gold. This ice-cream factory has been in business since 1928, and Gary Hughes, the third generation of his family to own Penn-Gold, continues the tradition today. 540 S. Main St. (Route 8), Harrisville, Butler County; 724/735-2121. — M.M.