Two Pittsburgh Food Favorites

A Heinz ketchup dinosaur in the courtyard of PPG Place.


Pittsburgh’s largest (and most fun) food event, GoodTaste! Pittsburgh, has something new this year.  A chance to be a food star! Make a video highlighting your stellar cooking skills and your entertaining personality and send it to the folks at GoodTaste!    Four semi-finalists will be chosen at a cookoff on September 17 at the Carnegie Science Center’s Kitchen Theater. Two finalists  will them compete for the title on stage on November 5 at the show. And the prizes are good . . . . $1000, a professional video (you know, to promote yourself to the big leagues at The Food Network or  on a morning show), the opportunity to become the 2012 face of GoodTaste!Pittsburgh and other goodies, too.  There are a few rules and guidelines, so make sure to read the details here before you get going.    The deadline is coming up soon, so hurry and get your video sent into the nice folks at GTP.  Good luck!  Hope to see one of my readers on stage on November 5.

Cooking knife demo at the 2009 GoodTaste! Pittsburgh show.


My favorite Pittsburgh food destination is the Pittsburgh Public Market.  From Friday, September 2 through Sunday, September 4, they are celebrating their first birthday.   You’ll find samples, live music, giveaways, and a special Public Market birthday cake.  I have loved watching the market grow and grow, and I’ve met some wonderful people who sell their products there .  The folks at The Berry Patch and at Glades Pike Winery are near and dear to me. And, oh, the Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory is just so heavenly.  Happy Birthday, Pittsburgh Public Market!  It’s been a great year.

Brenda and Scotty from The Berry Patch. Luscious local berry products.

Food Folks near Pittsburgh

Part of the fun of buying local food is meeting the interesting folks who bring it to us.  This Saturday, as the sun peeps out from the clouds for once, get out there and say hello to some of our area’s best. Here are my suggestions:

– Bank 40 Mercantile (2184 East National Pike) in Scenery Hill is celebrating Pike Days by serving up lots of  local cheese, meats, toffee and other goodies. It looks as if the sun might shine this Saturday, so enjoy it by taking a little drive to the south. After you eat some of her delish food, find Emerald Valley Artisans owner, Alisa Fasnacht, and say hello.  Alisa’s fromage blanc is a personal favorite.

Local asparagus at Farmers@Firehouse

–  The farm markets are up and running and some of the best are open on Saturdays.  The Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip ( stop at The Berry Patch and meet the super nice Brenda and Scotty.)

The hard-working owners of The Berry Patch

– The Farmers’ Market Cooperative of East Liberty, although open year round, is really hopping in the spring.  Give a shout out to David Lagnese at the California Olive Oil Connection’s table as you buy great oil, local cheese and Jamaican coffee.

David Lagnese and his son at the Farmers' Market Co-op of East Liberty


Farmers@Firehouse is open on Saturday mornings at 2216 Penn Avenue  .  Owner of Paradise Gardens and Farm,      Lucinda not only makes the freshest, cleanest goat cheese products I’ve ever taste, but she is a huge supporter of women in agriculture. Go there on Saturday and meet Lucinda, as well as the other farmers and artisan food producers.

Lovely Lucinda . . . and her out of this world goat products.


Beet Greens, Bees, Bardine’s and Babies – A Beautiful Day!

Yesterday was  my idea of a perfect day. It kinda started the night before at a wine tasting at Palate Partners/ Dreadnought Wines, where Eric Miller from Chaddsford Winery was signing his new book, and Debbie at Dreadnought was sampling six different wines.  Too fun.  Too much fun, maybe?  Look at the photo below.

My best photo from the wine tasting. Hmm. A little too much wine, maybe?

The joy spilled over into Saturday, when I met so many great people, got to wander around, tasted some new foods and saw an amazing pre-Mother’s Day event.  Saturday started with a visit to the Farmers’ Market Cooperative of East Liberty for some PA cheese and a few baked goods. A quick drive to the Strip for the season opening on Farmers@Firehouse was next, where I bought some asparagus, tender beet greens and chard, and got to meet Lucinda from Paradise Gardens and Farm. I’ve enjoyed her super fresh goat’s milk products for a while now and love putting a face to the name behind the goodies.

Finally, I meet Lucinda!

Then on to Salem’s (2923 Penn Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15201-1518,  412- 235-7828) for some Middle Eastern goodies and Greek treats at Salonika, both in the Strip.  I love these stores because the selection is great, the parking is easy and they’re a little bit away from the Saturday craziness of Penn Ave on a Saturday. And look at the happy exterior of Salem’s.


Next stop?  A quick drive ( it’s on the way home) to Lawrenceville to find the perfect last minute M-Day gift.  The Gallery on 43rd proved to be the right choice – not only did I find the perfect mosaic for mom, but I also had energizing conversations with Jennie from Bee Happy Honey, Zo Re of  ZoBaby and Mona of The Artful Tart.  Wonderful women.  By then, I was way behind schedule, and I needed to check the route for part of my upcoming Italian tour.  Mapquest wasn’t working for the backroads out near Latrobe, so I had to test the route myself. It was one of those afternoons with sun, rain, dark clouds and blue skies, all within minutes of each other. Fabulous.

The sky outside of Bardine's

With tour route nailed down,  I decided to pop into  Bardine’s Smokehouse in Crabtree to introduce myself, as I had written about them in the May issue of Frommer’s Budget Travel, and although I shop there frequently, I thought I should probably let them put a face to the name on the story.  Gary Bardine, the owner, was there and we had a long chat about sausagemaking and his passion for quality.  Thank goodness for people like Gary.

On the way back to Route 22, through gorgeous spring farmland, I noticed a cow standing in the field, looking kind of odd. I stopped to stare and right then and there she gave birth to a calf. Oh, my.  I pulled over and watched for a bit, then took some photos as the little one tried to stand for the first time.  It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

A mom's first Mother's Day!



Pittsburgh Public Market

Yesterday, I stopped  at the Pittsburgh Public Market to pick up some goodies from The Berry Patch (724.238.7214) for my upcoming Laurel Highlands culinary tour.  Brenda and Scotty’s stuff is always great – the jams, butters, jellies, pies, empanadas. Irresistable.

Oh my, what a berry pie!!

And their line of products keeps growing. Yesterday, they had adorable jars of  homemade blueberry lemonade with a hint of mint for sale. It was just out of this world.  I found out this morning that they sold out of the lemonade. I wasn’t surprised.

No artificial colorings here.

So, the market was really jumping.  And that made me so happy, because Pittsburgher’s can sometimes be difficult when it comes to accepting new things ( I grew up here, so don’t get in a tizzy over that comment)  and I did worry at first that us Burghers wouldn’t “get” this market. I was wrong.  It was a lively scene, with lots of people and best of all, lots of people buying things.

I also stopped by to chat with the folks from Clarion River Organics.  This organic farm cooperative  has  produce, meat, milk, cheese  . . all sorts of local products, every one of them raised or grown in a conscientious way.  I bought some of their Berkshire bacon and a few pork chops. The bacon was thick sliced and super lean (for bacon.)  And for the pork chops, they told me that the pigs eat organic watermelons and squash  rather then regular corn-based hog feed.  I’ll see if I can taste the difference.

Now THIS is bacon.

Oh, and I bought a bag of tiny winter greens.  They are going to make a perfect salad, paired with some shredded Parmigiano Reggiano, toasted walnuts, sliced pears and a Christina Maser Gingered Pear Vinaigrette dressing I purchased in Lancaster.

From the beginning, I thought the Pittsburgh Public Market was a great addition to the Strip District weekend scene.  So glad to see that others agree.

A Lesson in Coffee

Yesterday, we bypassed the Steeler frenzy on Penn Avenue in the Strip District and snuck into La Prima Espresso on Smallman Street for a coffee  tour.  Held on the first Saturday of every month at 10 AM, the behind the scenes roasting tour was a nice break from the craziness outside  for the six who  signed up. There are usually a lot more people, but hey, it was the day before the Super Bowl and most folks were thinking black and gold, not Arabica and Robusta.

In my house, the better half is the coffee connoisseur. I’m not sure if I can tell the difference between a gas station grind and a fresh roasted, high quality blend.  Since  the hubby has (in my opinion) some odd coffee buying habits, and my coffee palate could sure use some refining, I thought the class would be good for both of us.

Burlap Bags of Unroasted Beans

David and Johnny were our teachers for the morning, and they shared great information about coffee prices, organic and fair trade growers, and types of coffee beans.   We sampled two different blends and ate a few biscotti while we listened and learned.  Then we watched Johnny roast a 25 pound batch of beans.  Who knew that there were just a few seconds between the perfect roast and burnt?  Not me.  The whole coffee blending and roasting process involves lots of skill and experience.  I was impressed.

The Final Step of the Roasting Process

This was a great way to spend a few hours.  I always make a stop at La Prima on 21st Street, sometimes for a coffee, but more often for their Bitter Combo, the Miller females’ favorite citrus-y pick-me-up. Now that I know what goes on just to get their terrific coffee into my hubby’s cup, I might now opt for a cuppa Joe.

Perfect for a Valentine's Day treat!

To sign up for La Prima’s  next tour on March 5, call   412.565.7070 or register online at

Yikes, where did December go??

The Christmas plates are waiting for the Buche De Noel.

So, my last post was Foodie Gift #7.  I still have to do 8, 9 and 10 and there are just a few days left until Christmas. I’m not sure where the time went, but the last few weeks just disappeared.  Because of this, I’m putting 8, 9 and 10 all into one post.

#8.  Go to Jean Marc Chatellier’s Bakery in Millvale and buy a few chocolate croissants for your family on Christmas morning.  Get there early on Christmas Eve, because the goodies will sell out.  I place my order a few weeks ago for croissants, macarons, mini croissants and a Buche de Noel.  Your family will love you for this.

#9.  Take a trip down to the Strip District, armed with a little patience and a lot of holiday cheer. The Strip will be crazy during the next few days, but if you go with the right attitude, it will be a blast.  Pick up a few of my favorites for last minute gifts –  fresh salsa and locally made tortilla chips from Reyna Foods (2023 Penn Avenue –  (412) 261-2606),  the BEST marshmallows from The Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory at the Pittsburgh Public Market, or a prosciutto end    (the end pieces are really inexpensive but still the same sweet meat) from Pennsylvania Macaroni.

#10.  I love local, even when it comes to alcoholic beverages.  My choices?  A bottle of wine from Glades Pike Winery

(and you can buy it at the Pittsburgh Public Market),  East End Brewing Company beer ( also at the PPM) and a bottle of Boyd and Blair vodka ( made in Glenshaw).

Even if you’ve checked everything off your list, definitely pick up a few of these items just for yourself.

Happy Holidays!!!

Pittsburgh Public Market

The line waiting for the opening bell at the Pittsburgh Public Market.

Yippee!  Yahoo!  The Pittsburgh Public Market is finally open for business, beginning this Friday, September 10.  It had a soft opening last weekend, with only some stands up and running, but this weekend is the grand opening.  Philadelphia has its Reading Terminal Market, Lancaster has the Central Market and now all of out in the western end of the state get our turn at strolling through aisles of local products in an terrific indoor venue. Pittsburgh’s market is located in the old produce terminal building at 17th and Smallman Street in the Strip District. I am so excited.

When I stopped by last week, I got to taste some super delicious (and whole grain-y) treats from Sustenance Rustic Bakery, with a little Big Hop IPA from the East End Brewing Company to rinse them down. I also tried some tangy barbecued pork from Rowdy BBQ and a smooth nibble of duck pate from Crested Duck Charcuterie. A nice perk is that there is a small seating area where folks can  sit and eat their goodies.  But it’s not all about food.  Other market products that caught my eye were beautiful knit wraps from Edith and Eartha Textiles and natural shea butter soaps and scrubs from Tracy’s Treats.    Some stands are as simple as card tables stacked with the vendor’s items, but others, notably the Sito’s Foods area (where you can get a fantastic and healthful salad,) are  more ornate.

The colorful background at Sito's.

On my second visit to the market, I bought some precious little fingerling sweet potatoes  from Clarion River Organics, a bag of LaPrima Espresso‘s coffee beans,  a few Mallo Cups ( frequent readers know Mallo Cups qualify as my addiction) from the Pittsburgh Candy Buffet and a few Pittsburgh “pockets” – soft and buttery pierogies – from Gosia’s pierogi booth. Oh, and I taste tested olive oils at  Cosimano e Ferrari.   This is gonna be good.

Try before you buy at Cosimano e Ferrari.

Right by Nature

On Saturday, it was “all right” or “all wrong” at Right by Nature, the food store in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. It all depended on who you were. For the management, it was a nightmare, because the computers that run the cash registers went down.  There was a very long line of customers for the one working register and those standing in line were getting antsy.  Nice workers passed out watermelon cubes and cool ginger lemonade to us while we waited.  But then the store folks started bagging our food and told us there would be no charge. Our groceries were on the house!  Wow!  This was really above and beyond what any of us in the line expected and it made my day. Made everyone’s day who was there except, I’m sure, for the store owners.  I  will certainly go back to Right by Nature and spend a lot of money just to try to make it up to them somehow.  It was such a nice gesture on their part.

If you haven’t checked out this store, please do.  When it opened about a year or so ago, it was a little off kilter, in my opinion, but it gets better every time I go.  My favorite items there at the moment are the olive oil and rosemary chips, the deli’s chicken sandwich with bacon and spinach  (sometimes avocado sneaks in, too) and the grass fed beef. And if you buy some stuff in the store, you can park in the attached  indoor garage for two hours for free!

Summer Food Fun in Pittsburgh

So many things to do. So little time. That’s how I feel about all of the foodie places in Pittsburgh. All those small cafes, food stores and farm markets that I love to visit. Saturdays are a fun time to explore because the markets and stores are bustling and it just adds to the excitement. So this would be my idea of a perfect Saturday morning. 1. Stop at the Farmer’s Co-op in East Liberty for some fresh squeezed juice from the Kew Coffee Stand. Taste some olive oil and cheese even thought it isn’t quite 8AM. 2. Drive to the Farmers@Firehouse market, 2126 Penn Avenue, for some free range eggs, local maple syrup, super delish pork pate and Sara Pozonsky’s salmon. I’m always looking for beet greens, and the local produce selection here is my best chance for finding them.

Yes, I like donuts, but greens, especially beet greens are tops in my book!

3. Stop to get a Bitter Combo at La Prima Espresso. Nothing like the sweet and bitter taste all in one sip. And hanging out in there make you feel like you are in Italy. 4.  Then, in a perfect world, I would get a mini donut or two at Peace, Love and Little Donuts. The coconut one and the donut with chocolate with the little cherry on top. 5. Since now I need something to rinse down the donies, I would stop at Espresso A Mano, found at 3623 Butler Street in Lawrenceville. The coffee artisans here make little swirly designs on top of your cappucino. Great coffee, too. 6. Next stop –  La Gourmandine Bakery and Pastry Shop. This new place in Lawrenceville (4605 Butler Street) is run by the real deal. An actual French pastry chef. Last week I drove past, noticed the sign, and the looped around the block until I could find a parking space. Their croissants were flaky and buttery and the mini pear tart was a slice of sweet heaven. I can never say anything bad about the other top notch croissant maker in town, but it’s always nice to have another option on the other side of the river.   Filled with caffeine, sugar and fat, it would now be time to go home and take a nap, dreaming of my next food adventure.  Something for lunch, maybe?

Top Chef comes to Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh's Strip District

Buoyed by my new faith in tv chefs, but tired from standing on my tip-toes for two hours (take note . . if you’re a tall man with a big head, please don’t stand in the front row at any event, but especially one filled with short women,) I wandered down Penn Avenue in search of some rejuvenation.  Two favorites always work wonders. First, the Bitter Combo at La Prima Espresso.   An icy cold mixture of bright red San Pellegrino Bitters, some fizzy water and fresh squeezed oj.  A minute ago, as I typed the words “bright red” in reference to the bitters, it occurred to me that maybe I should look into exactly why my favorite refresher is that freaky shade of red. I checked out the colorants on the label, E122 and E110, at What a mistake that was. Let’s just say  the words coal tar and napthalene were used. Let’s move on to another subject.

Don't let chemicals ruin your fun! (Just kidding.)

I took my Bitters Combo “to go”  and walked down 21st Street to get a taste of Peru at Chicken Latino before  the Top Chef demo.  Their poultry is marinated in red wine vinegar and spices before cooking.  No disrespect to KFC,  but this stuff  is truly  finger lickin’ good.  My last bite was downed just in time  for the start of Bravo’s Top Chef:  The Tour, which stopped in the ‘Burgh as part of  a 21 city trek around the USA.

Two contestants from past seasons (Eli Kirshtein, Season 6,  and Richard Blais, Season 4) were part of this roadshow version of Top Chef and they spent the better part of an hour cooking and answering questions about their lives and the Bravo channel hit.

Chef Eli Kirshtein and Chef Richard Blais

What’s it like in the Stew Room? “Six to 9 hours of hanging out with lots of beer and people who eventually become your buddies is like  a mix of jury duty and college.”    Where have you eaten in Pittsburgh? “Primanti’s, Lidia’s, Eleven.” What’s  head judge Tom Colicchio really like?  “A really nice guy.”  The pair prepared a tender sous vide cooked Jamison lamb entree with pureed apples and  caramel glaze and  a salad of micro-cilantro, pea shoots, fennel and apples.

After this weekend, I’m officially over my distaste  for the “star chef.”  Next up on the culinary speaking circuit, No Reservations star  Tony Bourdain, who’ll be at Heinz Hall of June 14.  See you there!