Best of the 'Burgh 2011: Food and Drink
From the best cream puff to the best microbrew, our editors pick the best in Pittsburgh food and drink.
Andy’s Sushi Bar inside Wholey Fish Market
Those who walk past Andy Nguyen’s sushi counter are missing out on some of the freshest, most original sushi dishes in Pittsburgh. During the lunch rush, Nguyen, whose post is just inside Wholey’s front door, addresses numerous regulars by name and makes everyone in line smile and giggle with succulent free samples and a stream of jokes. From the toro (fatty tuna) in special sauce to the fresh mint in some of his rolls, Nguyen’s creations are always refreshing and unforgettable. Grab your takeout box and stroll over to Wholey’s seating area, or pedal home for a back-porch sushi feast. —Celanie Polanick
1711 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412/281-8272, wholey.com
Best authentic Szechuan that’ll make your ears steam
China Star at McIntyre Square
Upon entering China Star for the first time,
you may wonder what all the fuss is about. It looks like other strip-mall Chinese restaurants that serve dumbed-down versions of traditional cuisine. But this place is different. Among Pittsburgh foodies, it’s identified as the go-to place for a true Szechuan meal, but the trick is knowing how to order: Skip the regular menu, and ask your server to help you order from the authentic Chinese menu, which includes brief English translations. Don’t miss the double-cooked pork (nothing like the bland, tofu-laden dish you’ve had elsewhere) and the crispy dry-fried beef. Even simple appetizers like pickled vegetables are sublime. —Melissa Rayworth
3200 McIntyre Square Drive, Ross Township; 412/364-9933, chinastar-pgh.com
The Grand Marnier French Toast at Point Brugge Café
The words “Grand Marnier French Toast” would jump off any restaurant’s menu. But what if that breakfast option wasn’t on the menu anymore? This extraordinary meal caught on with quite a few Pittsburghers during its (very) short lifespan, so perhaps, with this Best Of billing, Point Brugge Café will consider including it with its permanent offerings. Belgian-brunch overindulgers love the thick, moist pieces of French toast drenched in the signature bitter-orange liqueur. Overindulgence? Perhaps. Unnecessary? If you’ve had it, you know the answer. Try asking the chef for a special request. —Melinda Urick
401 Hastings St., Point Breeze; 412/441-3334, pointbrugge.com
Best vegan brunch
It seems like a gimmick: Eat lunch here, and then buy the chair you’re sitting in. But for all the quirky charm of Zenith’s antiques and vintage clothing, the vegan food is the true star. Savory and sweet menu items garner equal praise, and the lengthy list of teas would even impress newly minted Duchess Kate. The New York Times already gave its nod of approval in a brief review included in its Pittsburgh travel guide. Sunday brunch, which costs $10 per person, can fill up quickly, so prepare to stand in line or cut down on your wait-time by sharing a table with strangers—it’s encouraged. —M.R.
86 S. 26th St., South Side; 412/481-4833, zenithpgh.com
The Pittsburgh Dog at Franktuary
Pittsburghers love their quirky sandwich concoctions. And with hot dogs, that fanaticism is seemingly no different. On your next lunch break, head downtown and opt for local gourmet with Franktuary’s Pittsburgh Dog: a massive all-beef hot dog (you can also sub in an organic Locavore or veggie-tofu frank as your base) topped with smushed, mini potato-filled pierogies and overloaded with a creamy coleslaw, resting in a perfectly toasted, fresh bun. It’s a sinfully comforting taste that combines our Polish and Yinzer heritages. —M.U.
325 Oliver Ave., downtown; 412/288-0322, franktuary.com
There are dozens of havens for coffee drinkers—but how many establishments cater to the tea
connoisseur? Té Café has more than 100 loose teas to choose from; you can grab them on the go, or take a seat with a tiny teapot and timer that’ll alert you when it’s finished brewing. The café has everything from exotic blends like cherry rose rooibus and ginger peach to classics like Earl Grey and gunpowder green. Not sure what to pick? Staff members are knowledgeable and would be more than happy to share their extensive tea-loving knowledge. —Katie Booth
2000 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/422-8888, te-cafe.com
Best unexpected spot for wings and beer
Giant Eagle Market District at Settler’s Ridge
I am, at best, a low-level beer snob, but when I saw the collection at the palatial Market District in Settler’s Ridge, I dropped to my knees in awe. It’s instantly the best bottle shop in town (with single bottles of a globe-trotting variety available), but it’s also a somewhat awesome bar. There are limits on how much you can purchase and when, but if you play your cards right, you can grab several varieties of wings (or just about anything else) from the hot bar, select a perfect bottle and head to hoppy heaven. Best grocery store ever? Quite possibly. —Sean Collier
100 Settlers Ridge Center Drive, Robinson Township; 412/788-5392, marketdistrict.com
Most forgivable way to cheat on your diet
European pastry on “Secret Saturday” mornings at Food Glorious Food
When you wake up on a summer Saturday morning, there are few more delicious first steps than to meander over to Food Glorious Food—because that’s when owners Tom Hambor and Brad Walter offer individual servings of their 50-plus freshly baked delicacies. Prices range from $1 for cookies to $4.50 for slices of the famous White Lily Cake or key-lime and sour-cream apple pies. Whether you go sweet or savory—like a thick slab of artichoke-and-olive focaccia or sausage-studded egg strata—it’s worth the calories … every time. —C.P.
5906 Bryant St., Highland Park; 10 a.m.–6 p.m. (or until they’re sold out); 412/363-5330, foodgloriousfoodonline.com
Best achievement in ballpark cuisine
Chicken nachos at PNC Park
The Achievement in Ballpark Cuisine Executive Committee was forced to consider a late contender in this category: For the 2011 season, the culinary mavens behind Bucco grub introduced a pulled-pork sandwich … with pierogies on it. While that entry is decently epic, nothing can match the chicken nachos. A bed of tortilla chips is nearly crushed under the weight of chili, cheese, sour cream and seasoned, juicy shredded chicken. A plate this good causes one to fall into a chicken-chomping frenzy, emerging a few innings later with a very messy face bearing a satisfied expression. Amazing. —S.C.
115 Federal St., North Shore; 412/321-BUCS, pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com
Best cream puff
The cream puff, known as “choux a la crème” in France, is a flaky pastry—not overly sweet—found in quaint patisseries. And La Gourmandine creates these beauties to perfection. Freshly baked in the Lawrenceville shop, the Parisian treat is made with choux dough, split in half and generously filled with a sweetened whipped cream then finished off with a dusting of powdered sugar. For hazelnut fans, try the Paris-Brest. If you’re hoping to snag one (or a few) of these pastries, plan your visit in advance because when the cream puffs are gone, they’re gone … until tomorrow. Bon appétit! —M.U.
4605 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/682-2210, lagourmandinebakery.com
Best mac & cheese outside the box
Kelly’s Bar & Lounge
It’s no secret that Kelly’s has great cocktails, but let’s be honest about what really keeps people coming back: the mac & cheese. Of course, that changes the biggest question (“Which cocktail should I get?”) to the more perplexing: “Which cocktail best complements mac & cheese?”—which is something worth pondering. Whether you go for the reasonably sized mini mac or you’re the kind of enthusiast who goes full-force, just about anyone will love the crispy top layer, the bubbling cheese underneath and that crust that lines the brim. Forget your manners, and pry that cheesy goodness off the ramekin with your fingers—it’s that kind of joint. —K.B.
6012 Penn Circle South, East Liberty; 412/363-6012
Best way to get your chocolate fix-it
Lincoln Bakery’s edible chocolate toolset
Remember that classic Easter song about Peter Cottontail? You’ll recall that when he comes hoppin’ down the bunny trail, he brings things for every girl and boy—even gifts for your Mommy—but nothing for Dad. No need to have Dad feel left out on Easter, though. Make tracks to Lincoln Bakery for a treat that fathers and boyfriends (or other guys in your life) will cotton to: a molded-chocolate toolset featuring a saw, hammer and pliers. That’s just one of the highlights among the novelty Easter candy offerings—including trolls and dinosaurs as well as traditional items like chocolate rabbits—created at this Bellevue landmark, which has been family-owned since 1945. Also, don’t miss the delightful, imaginative cakes that are available during holidays and other times throughout the year. —Mike May
543 Lincoln Ave., Bellevue; 412/766-0954
Best way to feed your inner 9-year-old
Waffles and ice cream at Oh Yeah! Ice Cream & Coffee Co.
Imagine, if you will, that you are a single-digit age, and you are offered whatever you want for dessert. Is your pick something along the lines of cookies-and-cream ice cream with Twix, Kit Kats, candy corn, Cap’n Crunch—and magic? Well, you can get that exact treat at Oh Yeah! Ice Cream & Coffee Co. in Shadyside. (Yes, even magic is on the menu.) And if you’d like breakfast instead, you can order the same thing and sub in awesome waffles for the ice cream—or, better yet, have waffles under the ice cream. —S.C.
232 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside; 412/253-0955
Best place for a free dinner
Pub in the Park
I've variously called Pub in the Park one of our best neighborhood bars, best hidden gems, best true Pittsburgh joints and more. But none of that truly describes how appealing this place is. Even if it's your first time dropping in, you'll feel like you're at a buddy's house who turned his den into a bar and opened the doors to the whole neighborhood. Basically, it feels like home. And on Friday nights, they'll throw in dinner—just to make the deal too good to pass up; I've had ham barbecue, shepherd's pie and chicken parm on the house. Stay a while, and make some friends. —S.C.
7034 Blackhawk St.; 412/241-9242, pubintheparkpgh.com
Best dessert invention
Crumbly, buttery chocolate-chip cookies are delicious, right? And gooey fudge brownies are irresistible, right? So, what would happen if you combined their undeniable power into one incredible hybrid confection? Introduce yourself to the Brookie Delight, the invention of Tina Paletta and Sue Luschini from The Cookie Tray Inc., a wholesale bakery in Mars, Pa. The Brookie isn’t just good—it’s possibly the greatest midnight-munchy indulgence ever. Finding this rare treat in the wild is half the fun. It’s currently sold at Shadyside Market, Cafe Monaco in Oakmont and T-Bones Martketplace in Wexford. To take the Brookie to the next level, throw it in the microwave for a few seconds, and it will turn it into a warm, rich blend of cookie dough and fudge. A perfect nest for a scoop of ice cream, perhaps? If you eat the last one, don’t leave a crumb trail. Family members will hunt you down. —Sean Patrick Conboy
Best place to fill your growler
East End Brewing Co.
Craft-beer fans know their local brews. And during designated growler hours, they’re at East End Brewing Co. The location is nondescript, but look for a keg on the sidewalk that leads to the brewery’s tasting and filling quarters. Session ales and seasonal favorites are available, and before you buy, be sure to sample any of the rotating brews on tap. Can’t make it to the East End? Get your growler filled at the Pittsburgh Public Market. If you’re not in the mood for lager, you should definitely try the homemade root beer or ginger ale. —M.U.
6923 Susquehanna St., East End; 412/537-BEER, eastendbrewing.com
Best pizza toppings
The “Vinnie Pie” at Vincent’s Pizza Park
Somewhere buried in the laws of physics is the following rule: all the best pizza places are tucked away off the beaten path. So it is with Vinnie’s Pizza Park, which sits in an unassuming location just outside Forest Hills. Vinnie Pies, however, are anything but unremarkable. They come in 9,” 11” and 19” inch sizes, with deep-dish crust and quilts (no, not blankets , quilts) of cheese. One shudders to think of the pigs sacrificed in the name of heaping meat atop Vinnie’s fresh pepperoni pies (though the greasy, cheesy goodness goes a long way toward easing any lingering guilt). Customers choose their own toppings for each pizza, so there’s no reason for the vegetarian crowd to miss out. The size of the pies and tables make Vinnie’s perfect for large groups. A good thing, too: once you get a taste of the Vinnie Pie you’ll want to share it with everyone you know. — Nicholas Lewandowski
998 Ardmore Boulevard, Forest Hills; 412/271-9181, thevincentspizzapark.com
Best bacon achievement
Bacon Night at Harris Grill and Shiloh Grill
Fervor over that succulent meat emerged throughout the past few years, which has led to bizarre concoctions incorporating bacon into pancakes, cookies, cake—and who knows what else. But let’s face it: The best way to eat those crispy, awesome strips of heaven is as, you know, plain. On Tuesdays, the Harris Grill and its sister establishment, Shiloh Grill, will give you all the bacon you want. If you’re sitting at the bar, it’s free at the bar, and it costs $1 per basket when seated at a table. They also have a bacon-tini with a bacon stirrer (soon to be replaced with a bacon bloody mary), but we’ll leave that to the truly adventurous. —S.C.
Harris Grill: 5747 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside; 412/362-5273, harrisgrill.com.
Shiloh Grill: 123 Shiloh St., Mt.Washington; 412/431-4000, theshilohgrill.com
Best student-brewed cup of Joe
Chatham University’s Eden Hall Blend
Medium coffee – hold the trade imbalances. Two grad students at Chatham created Eden Hall Blend as an environmentally friendly, politically palatable alternative to the big-name brands. This rich fair trade blend is a winner by any standard. It’s roasted in partnership with Pittsburgh’s La Prima Espresso, and all proceeds benefit the Chatham Food Studies scholarship fund. (We mentioned it’s delicious, right?) The only problem is there’s not nearly enough to go around. Eden Hall was originally sold directly at student events and conferences, it’s only just emerging on the retail scene. For now the best bet for a steaming cup of Eden Hall Blend is still Chatham’s Café Rachel. But fear not, coffee aficionados, an online order form and monthly pick-up will be available soon. —N.L.