Best of Pittsburgh 2007

From the best morning drive team to the best bartender, our editors pick the very best in the 'Burgh.

Entertaining Menu: Bound in a wooden folio, the Mad Mex dinner menu is like a class clown’s scrapbook: There’s a photo of a pudgy man wearing a far-too-small pink T-shirt, with the caption, “Mad Mex Diet: Week 5.” Many items are described in a punched-up Southwestern dialect. For example, “Kristy’s Big Sister’s Red Velvet Quesadilla” is “so good you want to nuzzle it.” The menu also offers a range of unusual gifts and services, from novelty shot-glasses (costing $2) to “Your Friend’s Date’s Phone Number” (costing three margaritas). It even reveals the secret technique for preparing chicken wings: “Before lopping ’em off, we follow a time-honored tradition of spinning the chicken at 4,000 RPM, forcing the flavor into the wing tips.” ¡Buen appetito! Several area locations, —Robert Isenberg

Hydrotherapy for Dogs: Zen and the art of canine maintenance… this is the charge of the Cozy Inn Pet Resort. You can expect the usual tune-ups (the veterinary exam, personal trainers), plus a smattering of exotic New Age options. Caretakers may opt for a hairstyling session, pedicure, Swedish massage and full-body bath treatment. But the real dog treat: hydrotherapy sessions with skilled orthopedic specialists. No matter what Fido’s ailment (arthritis, hip dysplasia, hypertension), your pet will trot the road to Wellsville at the Cozy Inn. Handiest of all, vacationers skipping town can leave their dogs at the Cozy Inn’s boarding center. Cozy Inn Pet Resort & Orchid Spa: 1600 Pet Place, Plum Township, Venango County; 412/798-5297, —Robert Isenberg

Street to Live On: Yes, every man (and woman’s) home might be his (or her) castle, as the saying goes, but if you could choose to be lord (or lady) of the manor in any castle on any street in these environs, where would it be? Many mention Woodland Road, but there are at least two arteries that bear that descriptive name and have bragging rights to some pretty swanky castles along them. One, in Shadyside, almost seems like a country road, winding through the lovely Chatham College campus (right), affording unusual perspectives of the architectural treasures along the hillsides. Starting its journey in Sewickley and heading west into Edgeworth is another Woodland Road, which showcases its Georgians and Tudors along a street that is mainly long, straight and wide, and enhanced by a procession of tall, stately oaks. Given a choice between those two Woodlands, even King Arthur or Queen Guinevere would have to flip a coin.—Mike May

Outdoor Massage: Ah, the great outdoors. Lush, green foliage. Cool breezes. Water gurgling over rocks. It’s kind of hard to think of anything that could make it better. Unless, that is, you visit Spa In The Hollow for an outdoor massage, right in the middle of it all. Start your visit by filling out a questionnaire so your massage therapist can cater to your every ache and pain; then, visit the locker room to change into one of the spa’s signature, oversized robes. Sip a cup of tea while you wait for your masseuse, then make your way to a breezy gazebo fitted with a massage table. The therapists here use an unscented, hypo-allergenic massage cream instead of the standard-issue heavily scented oils. While you’re enjoying your pampering, a small waterfall beside the gazebo provides soothing sounds. It’s a simple way to reconnect with yourself, banish toxins from your muscles and let the  sights and sounds of nature wash over you. Massages for two are also available in the outdoor gazebo. The treatments are offered early spring through early fall, weather permitting; indoor massage is offered year-round. Spa in the Hollow: 3075 Washington Road, McMurray; 724/969-0993, —Liz Dice

Baristas: This is a place with the national, award-winning baristas. It must be a snooty coffeehouse, right? But the silver water dish on the sidewalk—open to all passing canines—doesn’t compute. And the scarred hardwood floor, fitting neatly with framed burlap coffee-bean sacks, isn’t off-putting at all. And then there’s the coffee. The Aldo Cappucino ($2.99) is unlike any other you’ll have outside Italy. Or maybe New York. Try an ultra-thick, cinnamon-nutmeg-spiced brew that will disappear so fast you’ll consider a second. Linger. Take in the chocolate-bar-colored tin ceiling. The wi-fi crowd. The Mediterra Bakery-made biscotti. You are definitely coming back. Aldo Coffee Co.: 675 Washington Road, Mount Lebanon; 412/563-1220, —Betsy Benson

Coffee to Go: Every day, 200 to 300 cars pull up to a little log cabin on Ohio River Boulevard. The drivers roll down their windows and take a deep breath. They crave caffeine, but what kind of caffeine? They can choose from coffee, espresso and cappuccino (the usual culprits), or they can order specialty drinks modeled on supermarket confections: the “Peppermint Patty,” the “Heath Bar Crunch” or the “Almond Joy.” Owned and operated by two former Washington staters, Jon and Amber Hollerman (from the coffee capital of Spokane), Mocha Mountain is truly an Everest of options. The Seattle suburbs are flooded with drive-throughs, but here they’re a completely foreign concept. Thanks to Jon’s knack for carpentry, Mocha Mountain is a commuter’s panacea. Mocha Mountain: 4221 Ohio River Blvd., Bellevue; 412/761-0755. —Robert Isenberg

Sports Bar: You want Bud Murphy’s in a nutshell? ’Ere it is: “Where good friends meet for good food, good drinks and good times.” What d’ya you wanna know? The place has been around for 60 years. Ever since its earliest days as a dairy bar, Bud’s has assembled a wide-ranging menu for the discerning sports fanatic: Tuscan lettuce wraps, beer shrimp and the “junkyard dog,” a jumbo hot dog with chili, cheese, bacon, sauerkraut and onion. The biggest seller? Pizza, pizza and more pizza. For the 12-and-under crowd, Bud’s offers a special “Little Leaguers” menu. And while you wait for your “Take-and-Bake” pizza pie, take a gander at the assortment of trophies and ribbons. It’s a veritable museum of local sports life. Bud Murphy’s: 718 McCormick Ave., Connellsville, Fayette County; 724/628-9884, —Robert Isenberg

Recycling: When it comes to recycling, Pittsburgh has been a little slow on the conservational uptake. Still, we’re making progress: In most public buildings throughout the city, you can find a hip-high blue can printed with a white recycling logo on the rubberized plastic. Some of us use and discard hundreds of newspapers and thousands of sheets of printer and photo-copier paper every year. Given how many cubic tons of waste this produces, it’s nice to know that these bins are often handy. Local recycling got a special push from the Abitibi Paper Retriever Program, a national initiative to collect magazines, catalogues, newspapers and office paper. Using green-and-yellow bins and a competitive spirit, Abitibi pitted schools against one other in a competition to retrieve the largest bundle of recyclable materials. The words “Think globally, act locally” never rang truer. Abitibi Paper Retriever Program: P.O. Box 607, Carnegie, Pa. 15106; 412/279-3001, —Robert Isenberg

Fashionable Couple: John and Bonnie Levey are the definition of fashionable. Owners of Dress Circle boutique in Shadyside, the Leveys take the responsibility of dressing women with the agenda of helping them find their potential for looking their personal best. This married couple started Dress Circle in the early 1980s, and it was  John’s confidence in her that encouraged Bonnie to open the store. “Bonnie’s eye for fashion is almost perfect—she has changed the way I dress,” expresses John. The Leveys carry both American-and European-designer collections, including Michael Kors, Zac Posen, Jil Sander and Proenza-Schouler. Never tired of seeing a fabulous collection, Bonnie adds, “We love to dress women to look their most beautiful.” Dress Circle: 738 Bellefonte St., Shadyside; 412/681-7799. —Reese Randall 

Escape From a Pittsburgh Winter: Pittsburghers have long sought refuge from icy blasts and winter blahs at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Now, with the opening of the 12,000-square-foot Tropical Forest Conservatory last December, there’s another great getaway at this cultural crown jewel. The wonders of Thailand are the first focus at the new space, which houses not only palm trees, ferns and exotic species of plants, but also roaring waterfalls and tranquil pools. While you’re at Phipps, also make sure to take in the work of world-famous glass artist Dale Chihuly as part of the year-long “Pittsburgh Celebrates Glass” event. “Chihuly at Phipps: Gardens & Glass” continues through Nov. 11. Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: 1 Schenley Park, Oakland; 412/622-6914, —Mike May

Stress-Free Bear Encounter: Billed as “nature in high-definition,” the Pittsburgh Zoo’s Polar Bear exhibit is the closest you’ll get to a live polar bear—without flying to the Arctic and walking around in a seal costume. Your journey begins as you pass through a 30-foot tunnel; through its acrylic ceiling, you can see the underbellies of the bears as they slink across the crystal-clear, sunlit waters. Majestic as these enormous carnivores may be, don’t miss the pair of sea otters splashing around the (aptly named) Sea Otter Cove. Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium: One Wild Place, Highland Park; 412/665-3640. —Robert Isenberg

Light Lunch: Sometimes you wake up and—Zut alors!—no crêpe batter. How are you going to entertain your Francophilic friends from out of town? Where will you find fresh crêpes folded with fruit and topped with whipped cream and walnuts, served in an intimate setting? Well, allez over to Crêpes Parisiennes, a fashionable lunch joint in Shadyside (or try the Oakland location.) Beneath the prim blue awning, down a set of steps, you will find this quaint European enclave, where the décor is bright, the menu will make you dizzy (spinach or salmon with chives?) and somehow, magically, a table will always open up, no matter how packed the house. Some snooty ami doesn’t find it authentic? Tell him or her the cooking equipment was imported from France. Et voilà! Crêpes Parisiennes: 732 Filbert St., Shadyside, 412/683-2333; 207 S. Craig St., Oakland; 412/683-1912. —Robert Isenberg

Radio Personality: Music “aficionados” and local lunatics—Jimmy Krenn wears a thousand faces, if only his listeners could see him. Boyish and deadpan, Krenn is a vocal chameleon, playing dozens of recurring roles for WDVE’s talk segments. To call Krenn a radio “personality” feels somehow too singular, but a listener always knows when the stand-up veteran is talking: The DJs immediately start cracking up. Outside the radio booth, Krenn still performs old-fashioned stand-up; he is master of ceremonies at various events, and has a history of opening for such greats as Jerry Seinfeld and Gilbert Gottfried. —Robert Isenberg

Cure for a Hangover: The salty, savory mix of tomato juice and vodka makes the Bloody Mary a downright heavenly tonic, especially after a lively night on the town. The bartenders at Walnut Grill and Shady Grove (the Grill’s downstairs counterpart) combine Bloody Mary mix, Tabasco, A1 Steak Sauce, Worcestershire, pepper, red-pepper flakes and a dash of Old Bay Seasoning, then pour the mixture over one shot of vodka on the rocks. It’s served garnished with a seasoned shrimp. You can try it at home, but the bartenders here insist that the secret’s in the proportions. Walnut Grill and Shady Grove: 5500 Walnut St., Shadyside; 412/697-0909, —Liz Dice 

Liquid Pumpkin Pie: With ingredients such as cinnamon liquor and coffee-flavored liqueur, this “pumpkin pie” sure isn’t the way Grandma used to bake it. The talented bartenders at lovable South Side bar the White Eagle Tavern (you’ll know you’re there when you see the cardboard sign out front) mix up something almost culinary amid the dartboard, jukebox and $2 Yuenglings. It starts with an ingenious mix of kahlua, Bacardi 151 and cinnamon liquor. Then, the whole shebang is set on fire and sprinkled with cinnamon. Blow out the fire when it’s achieved the optimum temperature, and give it a gulp. You’ll swear you just had a bite of Thanksgiving dessert—with a little kick. White Eagle Tavern: 2300 E. Carson St., South Side; 412/481-1374. —Liz Dice

Surprise Ending to a Meal: When out-of-town family or friends touch down here, and you’re the designated tour guide, one of the cool places to finish off a day of sightseeing is at Station Square with dinner at Pittsburgh Rare. First off, the restaurant offers a dazzling view of the Monongahela River and the cityscape, especially after dark. Then, you can impress your guests with a linguistic history of the term “Pittsburgh rare.” It supposedly harkens back to the days when steelworkers took a slab of steak to work and slapped it onto a slab of hot metal, searing in a red (rare) core around a blackened exterior. (The term even appears in Wikipedia!) Then, after the main course and dessert, wait for a surprise. A beautiful cloud of cotton candy is brought to each table for sharing. There’s something about this old-fashioned treat that brings out the kid in all of us. You’ll hear oohs and aahs. Everyone leaves happy. No kidding! Pittsburgh Rare: Sheraton Station Square Hotel, 300 W. Station Square Drive, South Side; 412/803-3824, Mike May

Kosher Restaurant: Are you tired of constantly scouring the supermarket for kosher food? Picking out just the right pita (minus whey), just the right wine (Manischewitz), and skipping past the unmentionables (how much pork does Giant Eagle sell?). You toil in the kitchen; your mother won’t get off the phone…no need for stress. Treat your significant other to Pinati Kosher Mediterranean Grill, where a dairy-less menu of falafel, hummus sandwiches and scrumptious pastries awaits the hungry mensch. Meaning “my corner” in Hebrew, Pinati has bright walls, large windows and friendly staff. Just remember: It’s BYOB, so the Manischewitz is on you. Observing Orthodoxy was never so delicious; Pinati might just become your corner as well. Pinati Mediterranean Grill, 2100 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill;  412/422-0404. —Robert Isenberg

Underground Rock Group: OK, Keystone State trivia buffs. Answer this: What’s the largest cave in Pennsylvania? The answer: Laurel Caverns, which, with 3 miles of passages, is also the 16th-longest developed cave in the United States. This geological wonder, with a temperature of 52 degrees year-round, was known to the American Indians, has been explored since the late-1700s and is the setting in popular folklore as a hideout for robber gangs. Today, it attracts casual visitors, spelunkers and those interested in rappelling (by special arrangement). But wait, there’s more! Don’t miss the other “cave” on this site—a faux cave, actually. It was built to house what might well be the world’s only 18-hole “underground” miniature golf course. How about that, Tiger Woods? Laurel Caverns: Skyline Drive, off Route 40, Georges Township, Fayette County; 724/438-3003, 800/515-4150, —Mike May 

Pet Boutique: Faux fur meets real fur at Animal Friends Supply Shop and Boutique, billed as a destination “for those who can’t shop and the people who love them anyway.” Located at the new Animals Friends location, this retail shop offers items for pets and pet-lovers alike. Look for jewelry for yourself as well as for Rex or Fluffy. Hand-painted glassware, candles, funky pet toys, greeting cards and more can be found in the pleasant space. Fur-get to buy Fido his chow? You can also purchase mundane items such as pet food and supplies here. Don’t have a pet to shop for? Consider adopting while you’re visiting this no-kill shelter. Animal Friends Supply Shop and Boutique: 562 Camp Horne Road, Ohio Township; 412/847-7000, —Mike May 

Delicious Spa Treatment: If you don’t consider yourself awake until you’ve had your morning coffee, you’ll relish the Café Mocha Body Scrub at the brand-new Above All Grand Salon & Spa. First, your skin will be exfoliated with a mixture of coffee grounds, sweet cocoa powder and shea butter. As the shea butter does its work, you’ll relax in one of the spa’s pleasant rooms; then, the scrub is rinsed off with a warm Vichy shower (a horizontal wand with four shower heads). Your skin will smell like café mocha all day, and one thing’s for sure: It’ll leave you buzzed.
     If you’re all about face, try one of the spa’s luxurious 60-minute facials to cleanse, exfoliate and moisturize your skin. A relaxing face, neck and shoulder massage is included as well as a personalized skin-care consultation. Above All Grand Salon & Spa: 1025 Wexford Plaza Drive, Wexford; 724/935-5288, —Liz Dice/Nicole DiMario 

Radio Talk-Show Host: In the jungles of daytime radio, WPTT’s Lynn Cullen is a rare tigress: Smart, serious and liberal, Cullen spends three hours, from 9 a.m. to noon, commenting on important events and discussing issues with incoming callers. Personable but stalwart, thoughtful but commanding, Cullen is an Olympian of airborne media. Unlike most radio hosts, Cullen doesn’t just love to hear herself talk—she also loves to have something to say. —Robert Isenberg

Out-of-This-World Art Gallery: Art is a many-splendored thing—so many disciplines, so much variety among their creators—but there is very little that Planet Art Gallery does not collect and display. Here you will find glistening pots, carved wooden bowls, still-life portraits, Impressionist landscapes and even mannequins fashioned and speckled in the spirit of Pop Art, all springing from the imaginations of more than 50 professional artists. The range of painting and sculpture is truly galactic, lining the smooth white walls, crowding into nooks or standing atop the cubed glass shelves by the front window. This isn’t just a market for perusing avant-garde vases, but a gathering place for potters and sketchers, where workshops help the craft-aspiring. Located in the far reaches of Mount Lebanon, Planet Art is a world unto itself. Planet Art Gallery: 632 Washington Road, Mount Lebanon; 412/343-3808, Isenberg

Wine Bar: Skirt the sidewalk tables perched on the edge of busy Washington Road to get to the glass door. Cross the rustic, Tuscan-tiled main dining room, anchored by a spectacular tile oven. Head out the back door, past the kitchen and a cluster of wait staff. Peek at a bustling back patio as you head up a short flight of stairs. Push open the scarred green-painted door, and you’ve made it: The Enoteca, or Italian wine bar, just another of Il Pizzaiolo’s myriad dining experiences. Survey the whimsical murals and smoldering fireplace as you sip a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Valle Reale ($9) with an order of mussels marinara ($9). Peruse an expansive and intriguing Italian wine list, paired with rustic pasta and pizza, all the while being tucked away in a warm, dark corner of Mount Lebanon. Who needs Rome? Enoteca at Il Pizzaiolo: 703 Washington Road, Mount Lebanon; 412/344-4123. —Betsy Benson

Yoga Studio: If peace and quiet (and maybe a little mind-body recentering) are what you crave after a long day, you’ll fall in love with East Carson Street’s breezy Breathe Yoga Studio. Perched above the busy bustle of South Side’s main drag, Breathe’s wide-open practice space, high ceilings and original hardwood floors make for a retro-cool place to get Zen. But the best part is, these folks really know what they’re doing. Co-owners Jody Schurman and Kristi Rogers only hire instructors who have completed their yoga teaching certification, and most have studied with the yoga greats of our time (see the Web site for detailed instructors’ profiles). If you’ve never tried yoga before, no worries—classes at all levels are offered almost every day of the week, and no matter what, the mantra here is: Accept what you can do and appreciate yourself for it. The studio also offers workshops on the weekends—try meditation, YogaRhythmics (a combination of yoga and dance) or Capoeira, a Brazilian martial-art form—and pre-class massages with certified massage therapist Erin Albert by appointment. Come prepared to unwind, and most of all, to breathe. Breathe Yoga Studio: 1113 E. Carson St., Third Floor, South Side; 412/481-9642, —Liz Dice

Use of an Old T-Shirt: When inspiration struck one day to creatively rework an old Steelers T-shirt, Annette Pace, of Bombshell Boutique, started a whole new aspect of her high-end, cutting-edge fashion boutique where she carries such lines as Frankie B. and Lure, and which she owns and operates with daughters Ali McMutrie and Sarah Pace. It’s been fun creating Bombshell Originals—their most creative T-shirt transformation. It’s a black-cotton men’s T-shirt Annette reinvented into a short dress with embellished crystals and a low-cut back. Price ranges for these reincarnations are: T-shirt-turned dress, $60; reinvented T-shirt, $35; T-shirt or sweatshirt-turned jacket, $75. Bombshell Boutique: 206 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside; 412/365-2133, —Reese Randall 

Fried Pickles: It’s a difficult reality to face if you’re watching your weight, but it’s true: Everything is better deep-fried. The next time you’re craving something salty, crunchy and “Diet? What diet?” delicious, take the drive out to the rustic Hollow Tavern and order a plateful of deep-fried pickles. With just the right breading, fried to just the right golden color, a perfect fried pickle is a glorious thing. The Hollow has plenty of beer choices to go with your pickles, some great wings, sandwiches, entrees and can’t-miss desserts, too—for when you really need a break from that diet. The Hollow Tavern: Route 30, Latrobe; 724/520-1210, —Kristy Johnson 

French Encounter: It’s pastry heaven at Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery, where these sweet concoctions are categorized into four types: breakfast, dessert, American and miniature. Although they all deserve applause, a standout is the croissant, the French word describing the roll’s crescent shape.  These fat, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth wonders are serious stuff at Chatellier’s. In fact, the bakery’s Web site includes the pronunciation “kwah-sahn,” a (very un-Pittsburgh) tongue-twister worth memorizing.  Gobs of butter are the secret behind the “puff” at baking time. And while the plain croissants are divine, the filled crescents make decision-making a challenge, with almond, cheese, cherry, and raisin and cream, to name a few. Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery: 213 North Ave., Millvale; 412/821-8533, Talerico

Bartender: With his sleek, surfer’s haircut, impeccable fashion and effortless cocktail-mixing, Ova Shofa is like a one man Esquire ad. Now in his late 30s, Shofa has a winning smile that is youthfull and engaging as ever—the kind that says, "Don’t worry; have a martini." Shofa bartends at South Side’s Z Lounge with such fluid confidence that he might be mistaken for the proprietor. Few South Siders have traveled so far (from Indonesia to Philadelphia and Oklahoma) nor have most South Siders pursued so many fields. (Shofa has studied accounting, architectural design and international business.) Nor have most Pittsburghers caused so much swooning. (Shofa is a veteran model who has graced the pages of Maniac magazine.) Still, he remains modest. "I like to give good service, a good drink," he says simply. "I like to meet new people, you know?" Next time you visit South Side, sidle up to Z Lounge’s aerodynamic bar and order the most complicated mixer imagineable; in Shofa’s world, the harder it is to make, the better. Z Lounge: 2108 E. Carson St., South Side; 412/716-3920. —Robert Isenberg

Pet Store: If you’re looking for some new newts, live crickets, cockatiel cages or chinchilla dust baths, look no farther than Elmer’s Aquarium & Pet Center, named for its late owner, Elmer Knabe. Ferrets go in and out of style, but if you’re looking for truly obscure fauna, Elmer’s offers fiddler crabs and redtail boa constrictors. There’s also a wealth of animal feed and good advice. Don’t come to Elmer’s for an ordinary cat or dog; Elmer’s leaves that to the local Humane Societies. Since 1969, Elmer’s has found homes for every kind of species, from reptiles to amphibians and conversant birds. It’s a jungle in there. Elmer’s Aquarium & Pet Center: 4005 William Penn Highway, Monroeville; 412/372-6535, Robert Isenberg

Theme Garden: It’s a botanical wonder of Biblical proportions, yet it comprises just one-third of an acre. Even so, Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden boasts of being the largest of its kind in North America. This fascinating space lets you experience the land of the Bible without leaving Pittsburgh. Follow the River Jordan as it meanders from Lake Galilee to the Dead Sea, and while you’re on the journey, take note of the more than 100 temperate and tropical plants, all of which have connections to the Bible and are labeled with scriptural verses.  This Biblical landscape also includes a waterfall and desert. Now celebrating its 20th birthday, this garden boasts ongoing research, exhibits and programs—there’s a special introduction to the garden tour on Wed., Sept. 5, at 12:15 p.m. The 2007 season concludes on Sept. 15. Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden: 4905 Fifth Ave., Oakland; 412/621-6566, Mike May

Coconut Cream Pie: For 28 years, it’s been the best-selling dessert at Millvale’s Grant Bar and Lounge, says co-owner and baker Frank Ruzomberka, and one can easily taste why.  This coconut cream pie is like something from Grandma’s kitchen.  Ruzomberka says there are no secret ingredients, just fresh dough and nothing from a can.  But baking the pies does take “a lot of work,” he admits, including long hours in the early morning.  Hundreds of $2.75 slices are served weekly, and the truly addicted can order whole pies (a day in advance, please).  But sweet lovers, don’t stop there—try Frank’s other made-from-scratch pies: apple, egg custard, banana cream and chocolate cream. Grant Bar and Lounge: 114 Grant Ave., Millvale; 412/821-1541. —Julie Talerico

Fruit Tarts: In France, villagers wake up each morning and take a stroll to the local patisserie. There, they load up on freshly baked baguettes and sweets. For many Shadyside and Mount Lebanon folks, the ritual is much the same, except their one bakery offers a cute double entendre. In this case, the titular “French Tart” is literal—the bakery offers tarts, as well as quiches, cream puffs and organic breads. The French Tart Bakery occupies only 300 square feet (in the spirit of European petiteness), but at any given hour, you can walk in and expect to find a refrigerator full of small chocolate-mousse cakes. If your premier amour is chocolate, prepare to be seduced. French Tart Bakery: 731 Filbert St., Shadyside, 412/681-3270; 1717 Cochran Road, Mount Lebanon, 412/561-3270; —Robert Isenberg

Exotic Extracts: Frozen Eggs and Fruit  Co. is one of those hidden treasures of Pittsburgh. Only insiders seem to know about this magical little shop on Boggs Avenue up on Mount Washington. But when you walk through the door, you are met with an extraordinary display of supplies for the professional baker as well as for the home cook and candy maker. The incredible selection includes colored sugars, exotic extracts, bags of premixed cookie dough, chocolate disks and molds and heavy-duty parchment paper to make holiday cookies a breeze. If you don’t feel like doing it yourself, co-owner Christina says you can order cookie trays for the holidays and even fancy party favors here. Frozen Eggs and Fruit Co.: 121 Boggs Ave., Mount Washington; 412/431-6828. —Chris Fennimore 

Coolest Dessert: Ciao Baby restaurant boasts of “passionate cuisine.” But when your dinner is over, you might want to cool off that ardor a bit. If so, order the lemon truffle for dessert. This palate-cleansing confection, made in Milan, Italy, and shipped to the restaurant, features an icy crust offering lemony hints of an underlying core of dense, rich limoncello, all covered in meringue. It’s a scrumptious way to cap off an evening and say ciao. Ciao Baby: 435 Market St., downtown; 412/281-7400, —Mike May

New Kids’ Clothing Store: With up-to-the-minute fashion for kids with an upbeat decor, Upstreet Kids (UK) is a boutique that knows what’s up in children’s style. UK, which opened in May, carries fashion-forward apparel from designers Charlie Rockets, Helena & Harry, Da-nang and others for infants to age 16; inventory includes sleepwear, swimsuits, casual suits, dresses and accessories. Depending on the item, a trendy tank can go for $20, and the prices vary from there up to about $200 for fancier frocks. Upstreet Kids: 5871 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/422-2410. —Reese Randall 

Kids’ Birthday Spot: Center for Creative Play (CFCP) is a definite birthday-party magnet for parents planning a fun celebration at a place where the birthday kid can have a blast. CFCP offers private, decorated party rooms accompanied by a party host to help set up, serve food and cake, organize gifts and clean up. CFCP provides a one-half-sheet birthday cake, and the Creative Cuisine Café offers a healthy and affordable menu that includes snacks, entrees, beverages and ice cream. After the activity has moved from the party room into the large, open floor of CFCP, kids can enjoy creative playtime in the tree house, play kitchen, music room, dress-up area and more. The party packages also include all-day admission for all guests and discount passes for each child toward his or her next play visit to CFCP. Center for Creative Play: 1400 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square; 412/371-1668, —Reese Randall 

Morning Drive Team: Maybe it’s the fact that they start their day at 4 a.m. Or that they’ve been best friends since elementary school years. Whatever it is, we’re willing to bet that they’re the most unbridled (and quite possibly the most entertaining) morning radio show in the area. Let’s just say you’re listening to 96.1 Kiss FM’s “The Morning Freak Show With Mikey and Big Bob” for the first time: The loud, throaty voice of Mike Dougherty comes through your woofers, followed by the infectious giggle of sidekick Bob Mason; it’s not the kind of deep, newscaster exchange you’re used to hearing on the radio. In fact, after listening for a moment, you might wonder how these two got onto the air in the first place. And they’re talking about underpants—and mustaches. Alas, the “Morning Freak Show”—during which any song is likely to be punctuated with belches, giggles and sound clips—is the brainchild of two real-life best friends whose show has garnered more than 150,000 devoted listeners over the past 31/2 years. If you don’t yet have a “Freak Show Listener Number,” well, it’s never too late to put aside the iPod and get hooked.—Liz Dice 

Year of Glass: According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2007 is the Year of the Pig. Pittsburgh’s culturati adhere to a different calendar, and 2007 has been designated as the Year of Glass. Established last year, the Year of Glass has proved to be a resounding success: Sculpture gardens at Phipps Conservatory and the 37th annual conference of the Glass Arts Society, to name a few. Stationed on its unassuming corner in Garfield, the Pittsburgh Glass Center is a powerhouse of education and production: high school programs, private lessons, artist residencies and an ongoing display of new sculpture work in the Center’s Hodge Gallery. Incorporating Japanese, Venetian and (naturally) a tightly knit clan of local artists, the Glass Center may rank as the most industrious studio in Pittsburgh, bringing new meaning to this city’s idea of “blast furnace.” Pittsburgh Glass Center: 5472 Penn Ave., Garfield; 412/365-2145, —Robert Isenberg 

Museum Café: If there’s such a thing as a Modernist lunch, no venue is better than the Carnegie Museum Café. This massive dining chamber is the first thing you see when you walk through the front doors of the Carnegie Museum of Art; its all-granite walls are smooth and featureless, and the sheet-glass windows admit a tsunami of light. The café is decidedly monochromatic (even the square tables are marbleized). Only a stone’s throw from the corner of Craig Street and Forbes Avenue, the Museum Café is the perfect spot for a relaxed business lunch. The selection ranges from pastrami pretzel rolls to the fire-grilled vegetable salad, all served cafeteria-style. Executive chef Kirk Kolich, Café chef James Darby and prep chefs James Rhodes and Wendy Miller make it happen! Carnegie Museum Café: 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/622-3225, —Robert Isenberg

Categories: Best of the ‘Burgh