The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina.

A curious thing happened this morning. At URBN, there is an adorable man on a bike – Greg – who delivers coffees, juices and small food items to my building at 9, 12 and 3 o’clock every day. He parks directly under the chandelier and rings his bell, letting everyone know he’s open for business. Since my first day in the office, I was intrigued by him. He plays the part well. He dresses like you would imagine a newspaper delivery boy would dress in the 1950s. A smile is permanently plastered across his face, even when too-busy-to-eat-lunch, fast-paced fashionistas are swarming him, impatiently tapping their feet because God knows they’ll just die if they don’t get their coffee right now. (To be fair, I’ve been that person before.) Yesterday morning, I noticed a drawing on the opened (and dry-erase) lid of his cart. He had a quote written on the left, and abstract sketches of faces to its right. A single bird feeder was drawn, dangling from the top, and a small bird was flying towards it. On the very far right side, he had drawn a camera on a tripod, as if it were filming the entire scene: the faces, the bird feeder and the bird.

To write a good love letter, you ought to begin without knowing what you mean to say, and to finish without knowing what you have written.

– Jean-Jaques Rousseau

This morning, I was standing in line behind a woman and a man, who were talking about making their beds every morning. ”You don’t make your bed every morning? How can you even start your day?,” she asked. “Who has time to make their bed every morning?,” he retorted. They were next in line. Black coffees for both of them. All of a sudden, she stopped and pointed to the opened lid of the bike cart. “I want to make that into a lampshade.” She was pointing at another abstract face in a sea of abstract faces that Greg had drawn on his cart this morning. She asked if he was an artist, too. He blushed and kept his eyes towards the floor – he’s shy, I’m guessing – and said, “I’m actually a filmmaker.” She skimmed over his response, and insisted to the man in line with her that she needed that face to be on a lampshade. As she walked away, I caught a small half-smile on his face. “I guess this is the future of lampshades,” he said. “Anyways. Black coffee for you too, right?” I nodded at this curious man, and watched the woman and the man scurry back to their desks to sketch this abstract face onto a lampshade design. It struck me that inspiration really does come from the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times.

So, as I walked back to my desk, sipping on my coffee, I realized that I’m the kind of person who is inspired most by people. My friends, my family, people like Greg. And I’m inspired by food, and the culture and history and creativity and hard work that goes into the really, really good stuff.

Argentine diets are historically known for the overwhelming presence of meat. Vegetarians, beware. But what has always drawn me to their cuisine is their simple and unwavering adoration of it. Plain and simple. Social gatherings are almost entirely centered around sharing a meal, and Sunday lunches are a common weekly tradition among many families. Their passion for food rivals my own. So, when Molly (Susan) and I decided to check out Gaucho Parrilla Argentina for the finale of the Pittsburgh Food Diaries, I was ecstatic. I had heard amazing things about the menu from friends of mine who had gone before, and I stalked their menu, trying to determine what I would order ahead of time.


Fast forward a teeny tiny bit, and Suze and I are sitting on the floor of my living room with an opened bottle of wine, and a massive spread of Argentine food in front of us. There’s a Rosemary Braised Beef sandwich (with carmelized onions and horseradish sauce on thick, seasoned ciabatta bread), a Carne sandwich (made with flank steak, and served with chimmi, caramelized onions and peppers), two vegetable empanadas, a bowl of humitas (corn pudding with chiles, onion and fresh herbs), a bowl of papas cuna (a potato salad made with feta cheese, pickled onions, oregano, mayonnaise and red wine vinegar), and two small servings of each of their infamous dipping sauces (cebolla, chimmi, ajo and pimenton). We take a deep breath, clink our glasses and dive in.

Within moments, there is a dark red and deeply delicious trail of pimento dripping down my chin, and a small blister forming on the roof of my mouth from the heat of the Rosemary Braised Beef sandwich. I switch gears and fill a spoon with humitas, and immediately my eyes start watering from the spice of the chiles. I take a bite of the pickled and tangy potato salad to cool my palate, and then dip my empanada in the cebolla and pop it in my mouth. In less than a minute, I’ve tasted everything on the table, and I’m messy. My hands (and face) are sticky with sauce, and my mouth is still reeling from the heat (both temperature and spice), but my taste buds are celebrating. Everyone was right – Gaucho stood up to the hype. Susan and I took turns eating everything, and cleaning up after ourselves with an endless amount of paper towels. We couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves, elbows deep in an obnoxious amount of delicious food. I had to think that the people of Argentina really got it right. There is something to be said for spending time with the people you love over a good meal. And a bottle of red wine.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Sunday Brunch at Round Corner Cantina.

The thing about moving away is that I’d much rather spend my last few days creating memories with my friends than packing. And that’s totally okay with me. (At least, it will be until the day I have to move and frantically realize that there are so many things I overlooked. I’ll just take that as it comes. #Priorities.)


So, this weekend, I celebrated my years in Pittsburgh with some of the best people I know at a pretty weird dance party on Friday night, and then at Thrival on Saturday. Saturday’s weather was perfect. Bright and warm until the sun went down and the crisp air became the kind of weather that makes you wish you had a sweatshirt to cozy up in. But, since I was sweatshirtless (thanks anyway, Q), I warmed up with a little wine.


And what’s the best thing in the world the morning after a night of wine? Brunch. Christina lured me out of bed with the mention of brunch at one of my favorite Lawrenceville spots: Coca Cafe. But, since it was a Sunday, the wait was way too long for someone who just really, really needed a cup of coffee and some bacon. So, we hopped across the street to Round Corner, a place that had previously offered a pretty delicious brunch (and the occasional bottomless mimosa) before closing for a few months this summer. But word on the street was that Round Corner’s brunch post-reopening was out of this world.


And out of the world it was. Christina ordered French Toast with ancho syrup, and served with Benton’s bacon and a side of chipotle butter. It was sweet and spicy, just as the Mexicans do best.


Being a savory breakfast eater, I went with the Brisket Hash (and Ryan did, too) and a Mexican coffee. Perfectly soft and salty potatoes were topped with melt-in-your-mouth brisket, which was then topped with a fried egg, cotija, bacon and cilantro. Perfection in every bite – truly – and just what I needed to make my last Sunday in Pittsburgh a good one.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Pittsburgh Taco Truck & Round Corner Cantina.

Last week, I was on a taco-eating frenzy. No rhyme or reason, I just happened to eat tacos… two days in a row. (Actually, it was probably in celebration of the rumored taco emoji that will soon be gracing iPhones everywhere. ‘Bout time.)

On Wednesday, Molly (Susan) and I hopped on down to Gus’s Cafe, a bar on Butler that has recently paired up with PGH Taco Truck to serve the infamous tacos from their kitchen! I ordered two: Slow Roasted Pork Carnitas with Cotija Cheese, Lime-Pickled Onions and Cilantro, and Korean Flank Steak with Kimchi Salsa and Toasted Sesame Seeds. Can we taco bout those flavor combinations though?! Seriously.


Molly went with two classics: Ground Beef and Chicken, both made with Cheddar Jack cheese, salsa and sour cream. Messy, drippy goodness. And then we both went with a bottle of wine. Because duh.


Fast forward 24 hours, and Zach and I are sitting at Round Corner Cantina, sipping on sweet sangria and devouring their amazing chips and guacamole. It had been a long day – a day that required a drink when it was done – and we knew Friday would also be madness. Fun, fast and fashionable madness. So, we decided that tacos were completely necessary. Obviously.


I’ll admit, I was disappointed. My favorite tacos at Round Corner were no longer on the menu. Since they reopened last month, gone are the days of the lip-smacking, mouth-watering, ooey-gooey-cheesy shrimp tacos. Instead, it’s namesake is now a tempura mahi mahi taco with cabbage, pickled onions, queso fresco and cilantro. It’s light and fresh and perfectly acidic. I’ll admit, it was delicious. But you know me — I’ve never been one to deal well with change. Zach got the chorizo tacos, which came served with radishes, queso fresco and cilantro. Also delicious. But let’s be honest, the real hero of the night was that sangria, and the lonely girl with no diploma.


The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Mezzo & Il Tetto.

Last night was one of those nights. You know the type: the kind of night when everything makes you smile from ear to ear. Pittsburgh was lookin’ mighty fine — the air was cool and crisp, there was a palpable energy pulsing through the city (the kind of energy you can only feel in a sports city with two teams playing at the same time), and Batman’s presence was projected across the sky, loud and clear. I woke up this morning and my stomach hurt. Not from what I ate or what I drank, but because I laughed for hours and hours on end. It was just one of those nights.


So, thanks to technology and small towns, I ended up at Sienna Mercado with Rob (sans purple sweatshirt), someone I knew from my long-gone days of high school. Sienna Mercado is a three-story eatery with a unique dining option on each floor. The first floor, Emporio, is a meatball joint; the second floor, Mezzo, offers Italian cuisine; and the third floor, Il Tetto, is an open-air (in the summer) rooftop bar.

We arrived an hour before our reservation and took the elevator up to Il Tetto for a drink. We talked and talked and talked until we walked to the second floor restaurant, Mezzo, where we talked and talked some more. And then our food came, and we were completely silent. My pork risotto (braised pork, peas, onion, pancetta, parmesan) was salty and cheesy and creamy and mind-numbingly delicious. Rob’s steak (done rare — the only way to eat a steak) came doused in an oniony, garlicky, to-die-for demi-glace with caramelized onion, charred radicchio and arugula. He compiled the perfect little bite, with just a bit of everything, and watched my eyes widen as the flavors danced across my tongue. I’ve eaten a lot of Italian food, but never anything like this.

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Until next time, Mezzo. Until next time.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: New Orleans Edition.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans to remember the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. A few months ago, AEO sponsored a denim drive in each of our stores to collect used jeans, which we would eventually turn into insulation to be used in conjunction with the Make It Right Foundation in the houses they are building in the Lower 9th Ward.


So, last Friday morning, my friend Cheryl and I boarded our plane and jet-setted our way to NOLA. Being that we were the first of the team to arrive, our first order of business was to find somewhere to eat lunch. It was my mission to eat true Nawlins cuisine… and as much of it as humanly possible.

We wandered down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter and ended up at Desire Oyster Bar, a stunning restaurant with a tin ceiling, black and white checkered floors, oversized windows and antique mirrors. It was gorgeous. We ordered Crispy Fried Alligator with Louisiana Pepper Jelly as an appetizer. Pepper jelly is a southern staple, made with peppers (obviously), vinegars, sugar and liquid crab boil. And, in my opinion, it was the highlight of the appetizer. It was lovely and bright and delightfully tangy. I thought about just eating it with a spoon.


Then, we both ordered Catfish Po’Boys, successfully filling our fried food quota for the day. (But the side of greens has to count for something, right?) The catfish was light and gummy and the bread was sour and warm and flaky, and everything I’ve ever wanted in a Po’Boy. We left happy, considering our first Big Easy meal a raging success.


The next night, we dined at NOLA, Emeril Lagasse’s French Quarter eatery that fuses  traditional Creole, Acadian and Southern cuisine with global influences. The three-story restaurant featured a wood-fired brick oven, an open kitchen and a stunning collection of wine. I ordered a Fleur-de-Lis cocktail (orange vodka, St. Germain, chambord, chardonnay, lemon juice and ginger ale topped with a lemon wedge), and Shrimp & Grits for dinner. Oh my lawd. The sautéed shrimp sat on top a bed of smoked cheddar grits, with grilled green onions, applewood smoked bacon, crimini mushrooms and doused with a lemon butter sauce. I don’t think a single word escaped through my lips while this plate was in front of me. Each bite was creamy and tangy, and it was everything it should have been when you’re eating Shrimp and Grits in the south.


On Sunday morning, Cheryl and I dragged ourselves out of bed bright and early, so we could hit up the infamous Cafe Du Monde for beignets and a morning cup of joe. The line was long, the sun was strong, but the hype was all worth it. The coffee — chicory and iced — was the perfect pick-me-up and the beignet was like a bite-size funnel cake.

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After a few hours of meandering through the French Quarter, shopping for trinkets and art and exploring the sights, we asked a few locals for one last restaurant recommendation. Before we knew it, we ended up at Oceana Grill for our final meal of the trip. We started with an appetizer of Oyster Rockefeller, which Cheryl hated and I loved. Stuffed with spinach, bacon and parmesan cheese, there was nothing to hate about them. Nothing at all.  Then my Cajun Jambalaya Pasta arrived, and every spicy, alligator sausage and shrimp filled bite was better than the last.

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After a short and sweet, fun and food-filled weekend in New Orleans, Cheryl and I started our walk back to the hotel. We were surrounded by the stunning of architecture of the French Quarter when Cheryl said, “New Orleans is visually delicious.” I looked around, and couldn’t help but agree. It’s visually delicious… and also just the regular kind of delicious, too.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: The Vandal, Pt. 2.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of joining a room full of Pittsburghers to sample the menu of The Vandal, a restaurant owned by Joey Hilty that was planned to open in Lawrenceville this summer. Well folks, it finally happened: Butler Street has been Vandalized. I received a text one day last week that said (something along the lines of), “The Vandal has soft open hours from 11-3 until next Wednesday when they open for real. You should go and be one of the first to write about.” So, I took the advice, and adjusted my Saturday plans accordingly.

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I’ve always been a sucker for light and airy spaces, and as soon as I stepped inside, I smiled. A raw and exposed brick wall stood to my right, and a European style counter rose from the floor several feet in front of me. A sparse menu hung from the ceiling, and sleek, modern furniture peppered the floor. This place is cool. (Turns out, Emily Slagel, owner of the amazing Lawrenceville boutique Mid-Atlantic Mercantile, was the mind behind the design. You go, girl.)

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I ordered the fried eggplant wrap, which was served on a bed of hummus with pickled radish, greens and skhug, a variety of Middle Eastern hot sauce. It was light and refreshing and wonderfully flavorful. D ordered the burger, which was made with marrow, greens, cheese, pickles and a tomato mayo. Joey was also kind enough to bring a side of the mac x cheese to our table. It was decadent and creamy, made with pecorino (my favorite) and parmesan, and topped with crispy breadcrumbs and maldon. It was like your favorite childhood comfort food on fancy steroids.

Check out The Vandal on Twitter and Instagram at @thevandalpgh, and for those of you in Pittsburgh, be sure to stop by 4306 Butler Street for lunch or dinner (it’s BYOB, btw) following their grand opening this Wednesday! Huge congrats to Joey and Emily — Lawrenceville thanks you.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Eleven.

For the past two years, Eleven Contemporary Kitchen has graced the list of Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurants, but it wasn’t until last week that I was able to finally cross it off of my list. And let me tell you: it was well worth the wait.

Located in the Strip District, Eleven is found inside a rehabilitated old warehouse, and nestled next to some of Pittsburgh’s oldest rail lines. The interior pays homage to this history with a strong industrial theme throughout the whole building. Even while we were seated, I found my gaze drifting towards the smallest stunning details — including the glass room where all of their wine is stored, nestled high above the diners. Swoon.

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And the food. To die for. As an appetizer, we ordered the Sea Scallops, which were served over grits with grilled scallions, Surryano ham and topped with lemon juice. If memory serves me correctly, this entire plate was licked clean in the blink of an eye. I’ve never had grilled scallions before, but helloooooo, wonderful. The scallops were perfectly creamy, and the saltiness of the ham tied the whole dish together brilliantly.


(It was at this point in the evening that I had to step outside for a brief conference call with a few business partners from China/Hong Kong, which left me feeling simultaneously really badass, but also very sad that my dinner might be cold by the time I returned.) As I walked away from the table, I left strict instructions with D: “If our food comes before I get back, you HAVE to take a picture of your dinner before you eat it.” He nodded nonchalantly, probably thinking that I’m some sort of food-crazed nutcase. (If that is what he was thinking, he’s not wrong.)

D ordered the Grilled Swordfish, served with clams, mussels, calamari, pearl cous cous, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic and a slice of toasted baguette. It was a seafood lovers dream. Unfortunately, he devoured 90% of it while I was chattin’ with China, but fortunately, he hates calamari… More for me.


My dinner, in all its glory, was graciously waiting for me when I returned to the table: Seared Salmon on a bed of polenta with roasted cauliflower, radicchio, toasted focaccia, parmesan and a Sherry vinaigrette. The salmon was cooked to a perfect medium, and the crunchiness of the focaccia combined and the roasted cauliflower with the creamy polenta — stahhhp. This was quite possibly the best meal I’ve had in Pittsburgh in months. I paired my dinner with a 2013 French Pinot Noir, and I was the happiest and most well-fed clam in town.


Eleven – Hats off to you. You’ve earned your spot on that list, and you’ve earned it well.