Restaurant Week at Butcher and the Rye

One of the hardest restaurants to get a reservation for for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week was Butcher and the Rye. From the creators of Meat and Potatoes, initial feedback on Butcher and the Rye involves a surprising menu. Considering the “Butcher” name, you would think it would be a steak-heavy menu, but in fact it is the vast array of meats that compliment the whiskey selection (the Rye). Beef, pork, duck, rabbit … if you can hunt it, I bet it will probably appear on the menu at some point.

So for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, a $35 tasting menu was the perfect way to get to know this new restaurant. Unlike some restaurants, it was great how Butcher & the Rye championed the Pittsburgh Restaurant Week celebration and hung a special banner near the entrance for all to see.

PRW Menu Wall Hanging

Because the items changed daily, new menus were printed each day with the tasting combination of the day.  On January 17, the courses were Salmon Crudo, Pumpkin Risotto, Skirt Steak and Carrot Cake.

Butcher and the Rye
Butcher and the Rye PRW Winter 2014 Menu, Friday January 17, 2014

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Executive Express Lunch perfect for downtown business people

Some restaurants have what it takes to put out multiple courses in a lunch hour and some don’t. Habitat Restaurant in Downtown Pittsburgh has it. Their clever 4-courses-1-plate approach is genius for the downtown worker trying to get in, get lunch and go during the lunch hour.  They call it the “Executive Express” lunch which is regularly priced at $18, but for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Winter 2014 is discounted to just $14.

Executive Express Lunch at Habitat Restaurant
Executive Express Lunch at Habitat Restaurant on January 14, 2014.  Only $14 for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week.

Pictured above, the Executive Express Lunch items are a chef’s choice selection of a cup of soup, small salad, small sandwich and small dessert. In my opinion, you may not find better portion control anywhere else in the city.  Four courses at other restaurants take over an hour to eat and contain large portions.  At Habitat restaurant, I think it’s actually quite refreshing to have all four courses served at once.  Have a rough morning at the office? Gorge on the dessert course first.

Best of all, Habitat takes reservations on OpenTable so you know before you leave the office what time you’ll be seated so you can plan – and if necessary shift – your lunch hour accordingly.

BT Brunch on Mount Washington, starting 2014 strong

TasteBudA and I are trying to brunch more in 2014.  So, we started off 2014 with a weekend brunch with a couple friends at Bigham Tavern in Mount Washington.  Being near the Chatham Village side of Mt. Washington instead of along Grandview Avenue makes dining at Bigham Tavern (BT) a little more special because you have the sense that the people around you came for the food (and drinks) and not as part of a Pittsburgh sightseeing tour.

Right off the bat, brunch started off great with a $6.50 BT Ultimate Bloody Mary made with Absolut Peppar, garnished with meats, cheeses, pepperoncini and your typical olive and fruit.  The drink was amazing.  The clever addition of meat and cheese take this drink from being a beverage into being a starter for my brunch meal.

Bloody Mary from Bigham Tavern
BT Ultimate Bloody Mary from Bigham Tavern in Mt. Washington for brunch

Browsing the menu, the thing that caught my eye the most was the Breakfast Flatbread for $7.50.  Being a “flatbread” can sometimes be vague so I asked the server about the thickness of the bread.  Discovering this was not a thin crust pizza, but rather a handtossed dough, I decided to go for it.  This “breakfast pizza” had sausage gravy in place of tomato sauce, and was topped with scrambled egg, bacon and cheddar cheese (pictured below) You have to figure that for a dish like this the sausage gravy would make or break the dish.  It was great.  The bacon was cooked not too crispy, as per my preference and the dough was light and fluffy.  As a hungry boy, I was able to finish the entire thing on my own, but could picture it as a brunch starter to share.

Breakfast Flatbread at Bigham Tavern
Breakfast flatbread at Bigham Tavern in Mt. Washinton for brunch

Bigham performed beyond expectations and was a great start to our Brunch Tour of 2014.  I’d like to brunch at least once a month, whether in Pittsburgh or the cities we’ll be visiting in 2014.

Bigham Tavern on Urbanspoon

In 2014, Pittsburgh TasteBuds have plans for Columbus OH, Jacksonville FL, Tucson AZ, Cancun MX, and New Haven CT.  Feel free to leave suggestions on where we should head in those cities in the comments below.

TasteBuds Seven Fishes Cioppino

Cioppino, our Feast of Seven Fishes

Our Feast of Seven Fishes has been a tradition since TasteBudA and I have been together. Even though neither of us are Catholic where this tradition stems, on Christmas Eve we gather and enjoy our version of a Feast of Seven Fishes, but we do it in one pot – a Cioppino.

Read The Making of a New Christmas Eve Tradition >>

TasteBuds Seven Fishes Cioppino
Pittsburgh TasteBuds Seven Fishes Cioppino

So, after 4 years of making it, it’s time to document the recipe.  In 2013, this resulted in the best recipe because we made the broth, then went to a candlelight Christmas Eve mass.  Upon returning from mass, heated the broth to boil and added the fish.  The more time your broth has to simmer, then sit, the better the flavor develops.

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Avenue B for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Winter 2014

During Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, Avenue B offered an unpublished lunch special of a “Main Dish” plus a “Beginning” or “Dessert” for $20.14.  Because many items on Avenue B’s lunch menu aren’t pricy, you could feasibly be under $20 without the special.  So in all honesty the $20.14 combination is subject to what you choose.  Today for lunch I chose to sit by the window which provided for great lighting for photographs.

Avenue B Lunch Menu
Avenue B Lunch Menu for January 15, 2014

My dining partner couldn’t resist ordering the Pork shoulder poutine as a beginning. She twisted my arm asking that I partake.  So as a good friend, I obliged. The pork was so tender and juicy as a result of the braising process. Like many of the other items on the menu, this is served with sweet potato fries which appear to have a light dusting of sea salt for seasoning.    The onion straws were better to eat with your hands as they didn’t wrangle easily with a fork.  If we knew the portion size, I may have likely ordered a smaller entree for lunch.  Definitely a steal for only $10.

Pork Shoulder Poutine from Avenue B
Pork shoulder poutine, BBQ Demi, cheddar and fried onions.

Though the poutine had my stomach beyond 50% capacity, the burger arrived looking stellar.  You can see from the pictures that plating is a strength of Avenue B.  Ordered medium, the burger arrived cooked well and still hot.  The juices poured from the burger with each bite.  Luckily the bun was soft because I needed to pinch the sandwich together to fit it in my mouth.  After having sweet potato fries with the poutine, I opted to pick lightly at them and save room for dessert.

Burger from Avenue B
Burger with cheddar, arugula, truffle aoili served with sweet potato fries

And the dessert …

Blondie Torte from Avenue B
Blondie Torte dessert with a salted pretzel ice cream and crisped apple slices and caramel sauce

A whole-hearted fan of blondie brownies, I enjoyed the deconstruction / reconstruction of the blondie elements into this sweet dessert.  Officially listed as a torte, the item was basically two squares of a caramel-chocolate-shortbread cookie with salted pretzel ice cream between served atop some crisped apples covered in a lighter caramel sauce.  Don’t you want to just eat the picture?  I didn’t leave a trace on the plate and immediately needed some water to wash it all down.  Ideally, this would replace my afternoon coffee if the sugars carry me through the day.

Avenue B on UrbanspoonIn the end, a very positive experience at Avenue B.  My dining companion shared an adversion to goat cheese and her flatbread was served with goat cheese, even though it wasn’t listed in the description.  The waitress gladly removed the item from the bill and offered to correct it.  Luckily the poutine was filling and our minds were tuned toward dessert, so she opted not to get another dish.  The flatbread was visually delicious, though I can’t speak to its taste.  The service was great, the food was great and the company was great.  Great new restaurant experiences is what Pittsburgh Restaurant Week is all about.

5 Must-Try Meals for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Winter 2014

300x250_GeneralPittsburgh Restaurant Week has become a heralded celebration of great meals with more restaurants participating with each season.  On Monday January 13, the Winter 2014 celebration starts lasting through Sunday, January 19.  The list of restaurants currently has 76 registered to participate, so selecting what restaurants to go to with only 7 days of these special menus is key. Here are my top 5 picks from me, PghTasteBudB, for this winter.

  1. Terrace Room: For a full $35.14, the maximum PRW price, the Terrace Room is locked in at my #1 spot for a fine dinner during restaurant week.  The thought of a Roasted Pumpkin and Smoked Maple Bisque sounds like the ultimate first course for a brisk winter restaurant week meal.  Completing the course, I would select the Jurgielewicz Farm Duck Breast as an entrée and the Crème Brûlée for dessert.Never having dined at the Terrace Room, restaurant week seems like a great time to get all three of those courses for only $35.14.