Best of the 'Burgh 2012

Our editors pick the best of the best in Pittsburgh.

(page 1 of 5)

Best Pupcake:
Doggie Delights

When a loved one’s birthday rolls around, chances are you head to your favorite local bakery to pick up a cake. But what about your furry friend? What should you do on his special day? Well, if you're in the know about Doggie Delights, you can call owner Erica Lowry and order one of her fine pupcakes (available in full-size or mini). Lowry uses only human-grade ingredients (except sugar!) in her batches of carob- and peanut-butter-flavored cakes. What’s more, she’ll donate a portion of profits to a local charity benefiting canines. When placing your order, don't forget to spring for a bone-shaped candle, too — after all, your pooch has been good all year; the least you could do is humor him for a day.  — Kristina Martin


Best Way to Wake Up:
Morning Visit to Espresso a Mano

When considering options for an energizing morning, head to Espresso a Mano for much more than a caffeine boost. Friendly owner Matt Gebis knows most patrons by name and gladly chats with each one as he makes cups of organic coffee (from regional businesses like La Prima Espresso and Commonplace Coffee!). And who said morning networking was off-limits? Many patrons treat the barista station as a bar; with coffee cups in hand, they lean against the countertop engaged in good conversation as if they were at Happy Hour. Rise and shine. — K.M.

3623 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/918-1864,

Most Fabulous Nightlife Lounge:
5801 Video Lounge & Café

One generally doesn’t associate the words “fabulous” and “bingo,” but you don’t become the busiest gay bar in a city like Pittsburgh by virtue of sheer pretension. Staff members characterize 5801 as a “Cheers-like” neighborhood bar, where all are welcome — as long as you don’t bat an eye at the likes of Marsha Mellow, the drag queen who plays host to Tuesday night bingo. This place is no bingo hall, though — during summertime weekends, 5801’s two indoor bars and open-air back patio are shoulder-to-shoulder with revelers soaking up a festive atmosphere energized by applesauce shots and Lady Gaga. — Matt Sober

5801 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside; 412/661-5600,

Best Jewish Penicillin:
Phyllis' Matzo Ball Soup at Smallman Street Deli

Science, shmience — the only known cure for the common cold (and many other ailments) is a hot bowl of chicken soup, preferably with noodles or, even better, matzo balls. The best in the ’Burgh, the kind even a Jewish grandmother might confess is authentically tasty, is at Smallman Street Deli. Being the ideal color and having the perfect blend of spices — this is chicken soup for the body and soul. The deli has other traditional favorites, too, like corned beef, pastrami, chopped liver and excellent potato latkes. You should eat and be well! — Jonathan Wander

2840 Smallman St., Strip District, 412/434-5800;
1912 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill, 412/471-DELI,

Best Palate-Pleasing Program:
The Café at the Frick

Tired of cooking dinner every night? Sick of the same old restaurants and menus? Then spice up your culinary life with something special every now and then. Sign up for an evening or more of the Special Dinners Program at The Café at the Frick. Savor a five-course meal (with wine-pairing available) set on the scenic grounds of Frick Art & Historical Center. Past programs have included a Craft Beer Dinner, a Spring Wine Dinner and an Earth Day Celebration, showcasing sustainable and organic foods. Oh, and let’s not forget the Valentine’s Day Dinner. As of press time, details were not finalized for the upcoming 2012-2013 program; call or check the website for updates. — Mike May

7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze; 412/371-0600,

Best Bubbly That's Actually Good For You:
Pittsburgh Seltzer Works

Chances are, you’ve never had “real” seltzer water. We’re not talking about the stuff in screw-top plastic bottles they sell in supermarkets. We’re talking about the siphon-topped glass bottles like you’ve seen in old movies. (Yes, the high-pressure ones used in slapstick seltzer battles.) Founded in 1898, Pittsburgh Seltzer Works is one of the few bottlers of “real” seltzer water left in the country. And what makes the seltzer “real” is more than colorful, vintage bottles — it’s the taste and the experience: refreshing, delicious, and tickle-the-nose fizzy. This shpritz is “The Best Fizz In The Biz.” — J.W.


Best Fine-Dining Funnel Cake:

Funnel cake — no amusement-park trip is complete without it. Fortunately, you don't have to wait 'til you visit Kennywood to grab one: Order one off the dessert menu at Willow, a North Hills eatery known for its upscale American fare. Carnival-style and served with pastry cream and berries, it's sure to please — and will probably blow away any other funnel cake you've had. We know it looks good — but please resist the urge to attack face-first; keep forks and knives on hand to properly dig in. — K.M.

634 Camp Horne Road, North Hills; 412/847-1007,

Best Place for an Authentic Belgian Waffle:

The truth is, most people don’t know what a waffle is capable of. The authentic Belgian waffles from Waffallonia have redefined this breakfast treat, thanks to a 200-year-old Liège-style recipe. These goodies — baked with imported pearl sugar from Belgium — will overwhelm your taste buds.  To further satisfy your sweet tooth, choose from a variety of toppings, like strawberries, Nutella and/or ice cream.  Modeled on a Belgian train station, Waffallonia is a cute little hole-in-the-wall. And in the midst of summer, there’s no reason to stay inside. Feel free to walk around Squirrel Hill with your Low Country delight.
— Robert Isenberg

1707 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/521-4902,

Best Local Moo-ver and Shaker:
Turner Dairy

Sustainability has turned into a buzzword these days, but Turner Dairy certainly practices what it preaches. Founded with just two cows in Depression-era Pittsburgh, Turner now partners with 50 local dairy farms to produce a range of all-natural products. Many of these have won acclaim in the national dairy community — Turner received seven gold medals at the 2011 Los Angeles International Dairy Competition. And while it bills itself as a dairy farm, milk isn't the only product on Turner's menu: The company also produces Turner's Premium Iced Tea, an icon of local refreshment. A list of area stores stocking Turner's products is available online. — Nick Lewandowski

1049 Jefferson Road, Penn Hills; 412/372-2211,

Best Alcohol-Fueled History Lessons:
Wigle Whiskey and Arsenal Cider House

Alittle education with your beverage? Two local spots are happy to oblige. At Wigle Whiskey, your tour of the company’s Strip District distillery — currently the only place in Pittsburgh making whiskey — comes with an overview of the Whiskey Rebellion, where western Pennsylvanians fought for their right to throw back a few on their own terms. And up the road a bit, the (literally) home-brewed output from Arsenal Cider House will introduce you to some of your great-great-great-grandfather’s favorite potables; if you pay attention, you might even pick up a thing or two about local Civil War lore while you’re tasting the day’s offerings. Fanciful cocktail creations and modern microbrews are all well and good, but sometimes you have to get back to your (distant) roots. — Sean Collier

Arsenal Cider House, 300 39th St., Lawrenceville; 412/260-6968,
Wigle Whiskey, 2401 Smallman St., Strip District;

Best Place to Have the Cream of the Crop:
Legends of the North Shore's Coconut Cream Pie

The north shore of the Allegheny River boasts many legendary attractions. Among them: the sports stadiums, The Andy Warhol Museum, The National Aviary and Grandma Mary’s Coconut Cream Pie. That last item can be found exclusively at Legends of the North Shore. This scrumptious dessert — made in-house according to a family recipe handed down from the grandmother of Zoe Bartow, wife of owner/executive chef Dan Bartow — is the pie to die for. It builds on a graham-cracker walnut crust filled with coconut-cream custard. Next comes a white-chocolate whipped-cream topping finished with toasted-coconut. — M.M.

500 E. North Ave., North Side; 412/321-8000,

Best Spot for Celeb Sightings:
Meat & Potatoes

Hollywood has made itself at home in Pittsburgh, to the point that celebrity sightings have become (almost) commonplace. But some of the most consistent stargazing has taken place at a rising star in the local restaurant scene: Meat & Potatoes. Diners have included Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (several times), Anne Hathaway, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Gary Oldman, Casey Affleck, Scott Cooper, Katherine Heigl, and celebrated chef Gordon Ramsay (more than once), according to chef/owner Richard DeShantz. With a killer cocktail menu (featuring Repeal- and Prohibition-style drinks), awesome gastropub fare and a space expansion in the future, who can blame VIPs for wanting to visit? — J.W.

649 Penn Ave., downtown; 412/325-7007,

Best ’70s Flashbacks:
Wacky Packages

The collecting phenomenon of the ’70s takes Boomers back to the days of flower power and lava lamps. Produced by the Topps Co., Wacky Packages, a series of trading cards and stickers featuring parodies of popular household products (think Crust toothpaste, NeverReady batteries, Cap’n Crud cereal and Skimpy peanut butter), has been revamped for the 21st century. Available at Village Candy ($2.25 per pack). — Julie Talerico

344 Beaver St., Sewickley; 412/741-1490,

Best Choice for the Hottest in Cold:
Fried Ice Cream at Hoffstot's Café Monaco

Maybe Stephen Hawking could figure it out. Something about the concept of fried ice cream seems to break all the laws of thermodynamics. No need to think about it, though. Just chill out and enjoy this hot dessert at Hoffstot’s Café Monaco. A generous ball of vanilla ice cream is coated with graham-cracker breading and then deep-fried. Choose amaretto chocolate sauce, caramel sauce or strawberries for the topping. Not often is fried ice cream found at restaurants specializing in Italian and American cuisine such as this Oakmont landmark, so don’t miss the opportunity to complement your flavorful meal with a thermodynamo dessert. — M.M.

533 Allegheny Ave., Oakmont; 412/828-8555,

Best Spot for Doggone Good Eats:
Woof Stop Barkery

If one of your pet peeves is not being able to find healthy, hearty doggie delicacies to delight your pooch’s palate, then make tracks to Woof Stop Barkery. The Barkery’s low-calorie goodies (which are baked to order) are created from human-grade, organic ingredients and contain no additives, fillers or animal byproducts. What’s more, they’re taste-tested by dogs! Fido or Fifi can enjoy treats in traditional flavors such as beef or chicken; for the more adventuresome, there’s pumpkin & cinnamon or peanut-butter sandwiches. Check out the website to see how your pet could earn barking rights as “Dog of the Month.”  — M.M.

Best Macaron:
Paris 66

There seems to be some confusion about the difference between macarons and macaroons. While macarons are scrumptious little French confections that resemble mini sandwich cookies, macaroons are coconut-based and spherical in shape. There is no confusion, however, about where to get the best macarons this side of (North) Versailles. At Paris 66, master pastry chef David Piquard lovingly creates a colorful array of 18 varieties, everything from chocolate and pistachio to lavender and lemon. With delicate shells around a soft, sweet center, some might say chef Piquard’s macarons have a certain je ne sais quoi. Others among us would say they’re particularly yummy. — M.S.

6018 Penn Circle South, East Liberty; 412/404-8166,

Most Eccentric Local Bar:
Bar 11

Bar 11 is tucked away in an unimpressive building well off East Carson Street, a location that belies the personality inside. This is not your typical watering hole; it's more a crazy fusion of dive bar and performance art. Upon entry, guests receive a "Hi, My Name Is ..." sticker and a highlighter, with which they may create a clever introduction or plumb the depths of obscenity (whichever they prefer). The staffers, meanwhile, are fond of hijinks, including adding plastic toys to patrons' drinks, providing them with costumes and (occasionally) setting the bar on fire. — N.L.

1101 Bradish St., South Side; 412/381-0899

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