giardiniera from Proper Brick Oven Tap Room

Proper Brick Oven Tap Room, great addition to cultural district

Proper Brick Oven Tap RoomDowntown Pittsburgh’s cultural district transformation is nothing short of impressive. While Butcher & The Rye and Grit & Grace are getting a lot of press lately, Proper Brick Oven and Tap Room has recently won me over as my new favorite spot downtown. Located on Seventh Street next to the Benedum Center, it’s impressive to walk in and see the brick oven right in front of you with seating should you want to watch the chef make each and every pizza by hand.

On my first visit to Proper, it was a quiet winter weekend afternoon with no large performances so as you would expect, the place was slow. TasteBudA and I sat at the main bar which boasts an impressive selection of rotating craft beers from breweries local and afar.  In fact, I learned there is a brewery I’d never heard of from Millvale!

Beer flights of four 4 o.z. pours are just $9 and a great way to taste a selection of new brews.  I ordered myself a flight to start and for my lunch ordered the Carnivore Pizza.

San Marzano tomatoes / house-made sweet and hot Italian sausage / spicy pepperoni / bacon / house-made mozzarella

Carnivore Pizza from Proper Brick Oven Tap Room
Carnivore Pizza from Proper Brick Oven Tap Room

The pizza was fantastic.  The crust was nice and soft but held the massive amount of meat toppings well.  I really enjoyed the mixture of sweet and hot sausage on the pizza.  Much to my luck, the pizza went well with the beers I selected on the flight too.  Next time, I may have to sit by the oven so I can see the artist – er, chef – at work crafting this pizza.   While I didn’t really want to share, I did find it in my heart to offer TasteBudA a slice, though he didn’t oblige.

TasteBudA got the Sausage & Pepper Puccia. While usually you envision Italian Sausage to be in link form, this sandwich was served butterflied and coated with melted provolone cheese. Flavor-wise the sandwich was on point.  TasteBudA’s only critical comment was that the sandwich may have sat and cooled off too much while my pizza finished cooking.

Sausage & Pepper
hot Italian sausage / roasted sweet and hot peppers / roasted garlic spread / provolone

 Sausage & Pepper Puccia from Proper Brick Oven Tap Room
Sausage and Pepper Puccia

I saved the best part for last.  By far, the most exciting part of my meal was the homemade side of giardiniera that I ordered with my pizza. The best way to describe the taste is to envision pickled vegetables drained of the salty, vinegary brine and tossed in an Italian dressing. The spicy pickled house vegetable mix was delicious and will surely keep me coming back for more. In fact, I stopped in on St. Patrick’s Day to have a flight of beers and a side of giardiniera.

Giardiniera from Proper Brick Oven Tap Room
Best Damn Part of the Meal: The Side of Giardiniera

Proper is a top-grade place that can certainly hold its own among other downtown powerhouse restaurants.  When you stop and think about it, it fits in nicely to compliment the offerings in the cultural district.  Fine-dining pizza isn’t something other cultural district restaurants hang their hat on, so I hope they take the opportunity to stand out for their pizza.  Personally, I look forward to going back for the pizza.  But if I’m being totally honest, I’d go back just for more giardiniera.

Proper Brick Oven and Tap Room on Urbanspoon

Returning to Cadillac Ranch for brunch

“I Resolve to Brunch More in 2014.” – PghTasteBudB.  Yes, I said it, but I haven’t exactly carried through. In hopes to get back on track, TasteBudA I met a couple of friends on their way to IKEA for brunch last Sunday.  Last summer we had a wonderful outdoor brunch at Cadillac Ranch in the Settler’s Ridge development, so I figured it’d be a great place to take these two newbies for brunch on their way to Robinson.

Cadillac Ranch Kettle Chips – thinly sliced potatoes, served with our garlic cream sauce, bleu cheese crumbles and topped with scallions and a balsamic drizzle. A signature item!

During brunch on Sunday there are $5 Bloody Mary cocktails, which make for a nice relaxing way to start a Sunday of shopping.  We each seem to have ordered something different with no complaints of the food around the table.  The conversation flowed great and the $5 Bloody Mary’s may have helped with that.  After gabbing about bowling, traveling, relationships and more we departed and went our separate ways shopping.

Egg Wrap at Cadillac Ranch
Egg Wrap – Scrambled eggs, tomatoes, green peppers and cheddar cheese. Served in a tortilla with a side of salsa, hash browns and fruit.
Crab Cake Benedict at Cadillac Ranch
Crab Cake Benedict – Fried crab cakes served over English muffin and spinach. topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. Served with hash browns and fruit.

Cadillac Ranch All American Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Lin’s Asian Fusion on South Side

Lin's Asian Fusion on UrbanspoonScouting for new Wine Exchange venues that we haven’t already been to can prove to be a little bit of a challenge. TasteBudA is currently on the hunt for a great place to invite our dinner group to in April and on Friday we went to Lin’s Asian Fusion on the South Side to see if it was up to the TasteBuds standards to host us.

Since the South Side isn’t exactly a hot bed of BYOB restaurants, Lin’s Asian Fusion has been overlooked by us for quite some time.  After TasteBudA was impressed by their soup offering during the South Side Soup Contest, he felt it was worth a dinner excursion to get a full sense of the restaurant.  Inconsistent reviews of the restaurant on Yelp and Urbanspoon left us wondering what side of the restaurant we’d experience.

Upon arrival, we were greeted nicely and promptly sat.  Our waitress was pleasant and quickly got us our beverages.  Since this was on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, so we omitted bringing wine knowing we had a big day ahead of us, but felt we could gauge the venue for our event anyway.

We started with Vegetable Gyoza, which was a cross between a mixed vegetable pierogi and a pot sticker.  It was nice and light and probably the closest you could get to a fresh spring roll, which is what I was ultimately craving.

Vegetable Gyoza from Lins Asian Fusion
Vegetable Gyoza from Lins Asian Fusion

Hungry for a mixture of meats, I waivered between the Ma La Trio and the Mixed Basil.  The waitress had never had the Ma La Sauce, so she recommended the Basil as a lighter sauce.  Yes, the basil sauce was light and not up to the default spiciness that I’m accustomed to from Nicky’s Thai Kitchen or the Silk Elephant.

Mixed Basil - Lins Asian Fusion
Mixed Basil Entree

TasteBudA got the Pepper Steak with Onion which comes in a brown sauce.  The dish wasn’t overly saucy, but the vegetables looked delicious as the popped off the plate.  Tastewise, the dish was just okay to TasteBudA’s standards.  Living on the northside, this beats China Taste by a long shot, but wouldn’t be special enough to invite our wine dinner crowd.

Pepper Steak with Onion
Pepper Steak with Onion

In the end, I don’t think we’ll be having a wine exchange at Lin’s Asian Fusion. The food was just okay and while the service was great, I felt somewhat rushed out the door. When you get that rushed feeling, it makes you wonder how a restaurant would handle a casual wine dinner crowd who are never in a rush.

Let the search for the April 2014 Wine Exchange Venue continue …