Christmas Eve Cioppino 2012

P(Gh)osts of Christmas Pasts

Christmas Eve Cioppino 2012As I searched the Pittsburgh TasteBuds blog history today for the recipe that I used for our traditional “Feast of Seven Fishes” Cioppino that TasteBudA and I have adopted as our Christmas Eve tradition.  The only remnant was The Making of a Christmas Eve Dinner Tradition. I’m puzzled. I have taken pictures of our Cioppino each and every year.  Have I been slacking that much?  Apparently, yes.

Each year I think I’ve gone through the same motions: Find recipe.  CHECK! Select 7 fishes. CHECK!  Combine and cook. CHECK!  Take a photo. CHECK!  Post about it.  Oops.

This year will mark the 4th year that we will have made our Cioppino, but apparently we never really blogged about our experience making it.  As I go back through the timewarp that is my photos folder, I share with you what little I found today.

XmasCioppino2012XmasEveCioppino2011

Benjamin’s Western Avenue Burger Bar, the good, the bad and the ugly

Benjamin’s has been subject to the prophecy “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.” Each time we go we have a different experience, which typically discourages us from going back. Alas, because we live so close, it’s always on the top of our minds. This results in repeat visits of ranging happiness.

Overall, I’ve been to Benjamin’s about ten times. The notes below represent experiences, but may also be contradictory.

The Good:

  • I love the decor and ambiance.  The fireplace adds a level of calm, casual and cozy to the room.  There is something about eating to “fire-light” that is almost romantic, but in a platonic sort of way.
  • Happy Hour prices are great.  Every drink is discounted during happy hour and all of the appetizers are as well.  I also enjoy that there is no fryer, so I can avoid the greasy unhealthiness that bar-food typically is.
  • The BLT is served with an egg.  a BELT? a BLET?  Regardless, the B(acon) L(ettuce) and T(omato) sandwich is amazing because the bacon is cooked just right and there is no lack of it either.  Dare I saw there is borderline 1/2 a pound on one sandwich?
  • A meeting room is available if you need to meet with a group for a post-work pow wow.  It’s very nice and private. but is available with pre-reservation only.

The Bad:

  • The service is only good if they are either not busy, or you are with a large crowd.  It’s almost as if you need to make it a point to get yourself noticed by the bartender/waitress (usually the same person).  Most times they could use an extra person working.  I don’t dislike the people working there, they just have too much distance to cover and they have a hard time providing equal levels of quality (or not) service.
  • Twisted sides.  Mind you that their menu is mainly burgers – the sides don’t seem to pair well with the burgers for me.  The coleslaw is curried, the broccoli is asian-fied with soy and wasabi, homefries don’t hit the spot when you want french fries and potato salad has blue cheese.  While I understand the lack of a full kitchen limits the menu, most burger eaters are more traditional with their palates.  Can I get a bag of local potato chips or even just carrots and celery?

The Ugly

  • The place has two rooms – the bar with the fireplace and a lounge with a few tables, a couch, TV and pool tables.  When the bar area fills up, the waitstaff has point blank indicated “we don’t serve in that other room.”  With other walkable options on the block, it’s unfortunate that they’d limit themselves to serving just one room and not strive to reach their full serving capacity/potential.  The rude attitude we got when we asked (and denied) to sit in the couch area and watch the penguins game caused us to flat-out leave.
First batch of pretzels was extremely salty.
The appetizer basket of pretzels was extremely salty.
Benjamins BLT
Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato … and Egg. It is amazing.
Rosemary-Balsamic Goat Cheese & Green Apple
The Rosemary-Balsamic Goat Cheese & Green Apple Burger always has too much goat cheese for me, but the apple is a great burger topping that I now use at home.

Benjamins Western Avenue Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Reaching beyond Pittsburgh humbles me

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week has become a great passion of mine.  As a food blogger, I always wanted to be in the business of sharing all of Pittsburgh’s great restaurants with my friends.  That circle of “friends” grew further than I could have imagined when I started Pittsburgh Restaurant Week and had the first celebration in 2012.  Just today I had the pleasure of speaking with a restaurant week organizer from another city.  She belongs to a large organization where Pittsburgh Restaurant Week is just one of many things they do.

I want to share that I am humbled by the way in which not only Pittsburgh has embraced the program that I’ve put my time in to grow and foster, but further humbled to hear she has been monitoring the Pittsburgh Restaurant Week program and looks to use Pittsburgh as a model to improve her own celebration.

Anyone who works with me on Pittsburgh Restaurant Week knows how much effort I put in and that I’m always trying to make thoughtful decisions to further the program’s success.  With that, if you have any ideas on what I can do to improve PRW, never hesitate to send them along.  You can think of your idea not only helping your local community, but helping restaurants weeks across the nation.  Just one idea can go a long way.

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