Meet Our New Restaurant Critic
Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to welcome Hal B. Klein. In addition to becoming our new restaurant critic in 2015, he will blog regularly about Pittsburgh’s evolving food and drink culture.
PHOTOs BY LAURA PETRILLA
I’m bullish about what’s happening with Pittsburgh’s food culture. There are passionate and accessible culinary communities in Pittsburgh that are helping to slowly turn a french-fry sandwich town into a city of excellent eating.
Chefs Justin Severino of Cure and Trevett Hooper of Legume are running restaurants worthy of inclusion in national conversations about how we dine out, and Grow Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Permaculture are exploring the cutting edge of urban agriculture. Farther afield, the farmer cooperatives Clarion River Organics and Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance have diligently built networks that expand chef and consumer access to western Pennsylvania produce, meat and grain. On the homefront, instructors at Phipps Conservatory and the organizers of the Pittsburgh Canning Exchange are teaching us how to be better growers and preservers. Pittsburgh also is an extraordinarily good place to get a drink.
Of course, there’s room for growth. Although there are some outstanding CSA programs, our farmers markets still can push forward both in terms of quality and affordability of what’s offered. Let’s look to Freshfarm Markets in D.C. for an example of how to do this. I’d love to see more butcher shops in the region, and I’d like to see those existing ones work more closely with local producers to source delicious, humanely raised meat. And I’d like to see more mid-cost and vegetable-forward dining options; Legume’s lunch service and the Amazing Cafe are terrific examples of how this can work.
In this new column, I’ll track our city’s gastronomic progress. Each week will be a little different: I might preview a new restaurant, offer tips on how to shop and cook for special occasions or talk to a bartender about the latest cocktail trends.
I’m looking forward to seeing where we go from here. Maybe we’ll even see a french-fry sandwich with better bread sometime soon. (I’m looking at you, Bread & Salt Bakery.)
Here are a few things I’m excited about this week:
Cocktails vs. Beer:
Wigle Whiskey and East End Brewing are engaging in their fourth battle of beverages, this year at the Wigle Barrelhouse on Nov. 19. Legume chef/owner Trevett Hooper will be cooking dinner on site. Beef tartare, borscht and goat cheese and leek tart are all on the menu. After three years — and two wins — at the East End, home-field advantage rests with Wigle this year. Can Wigle even the score? Or after so many courses of cocktails and beers, will anyone really care?
Pennsylvania Game Dinner:
The joint forces of Bar Marco and The Independent Brewing Company are going big, getting deep into the Pennsylvania game on Nov. 23. Chef di Cucina Adam Leonti of Vetri restaurant in Philadelphia is cooking in the Bar Marco kitchen, and he’ll be joined by a heroic legion of Pittsburgh chefs — Stephen Felder, Stagioni; Sam DiBattista, Vivo; Justin Severino, Cure; Jamilka Borges, Bar Marco; Justin Steel, Bar Marco; Rick Easton, Bread & Salt; Chris Bonfili, Avenue B; Michele Savoia, Dish Osteria and Bar; Chad Townsend, Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream — to raise funds for the Food Revolution Pittsburgh Cooking Club. Vetri Sommelier Bobby Domenick will be pouring wines, and The Brew Gentlemen will pair beers with two courses. The goal is to purchase a “sincerely tricked-out food truck” that’ll give the cooking club students at Barack Obama Academy hands-on culinary experience (and us some tasty food-truck cuisine).
Making Fresh Cheese at Home:
Now that my garden is pretty done of the season, I’m looking for some wintertime culinary adventures. Making cheese is something that’s been on my mind recently; I’m about to start teaching myself how to make cultured mozzarella. Matt Rychorcewicz, chief toastie maker at The Allegheny Wine Mixer, also is thinking cheese. He’s a fan of Chevre, a goat’s-milk cheese that’s easy to produce at home. On Nov. 24, bring a notebook (and a suggested $5 donation) to the BUNKERprojects to learn how to curd, cure and ripen this soft French cheese. You’ll leave with everything you need to make your own.