TasteBuds 2012, Year in Review

As the broth for our Christmas Eve Cioppino simmers, we sit on the couch reminiscing over the past year. The TasteBuds have now celebrated 19 wine exchanges and already have #20 ready to announce. Here are the highlights of 2012 from the PghTasteBuds

  • Hosting Wine Exchanges throughout the year and making new friends. over the year we held dinners #14-19 at Abay Restaurant, Piccolo Forno, James Street Gastropub, Solstice, Arpino Trattoria and Cornerstone Restaurant and Bar.
  • Launching Pittsburgh Restaurant Week. January 2012 saw the revival of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week with great support, which resulted in a second Summer 2012 celebration in August. Winter 2013 is right around the corner. There were PghTasteBud appearances on KDKA-TV and radio commercials on KISS-FM. The TasteBuds are passionate about the program and attribute the success to a lot of hard wrk, but also wonderful support from fellow bloggers.
  • Best Meal of 2012. Lola Bistro on the Northside opened in the second half of 2012 and knocked the socks off PghTasteBudA. Review coming soon!
  • TasteBud Travels to Milwaukee and Seattle. The two trips that peaked the TasteBuds foodie interests, like cheesy surprises like the Mars Cheese Castle and a unique-find Russian pastry from Pike’s Place Market

For any items that don’t have full reviews, expect more posts over the holiday season as we close the book on 2012 and look forward to 2013. Cheers to everyone who comes to the wine dinners and reads our blog. We look forward to continuing forward and welcoming any recommendations folks would like to suggest to make the TasteBuds even more fun for everyone.

TasteBuds head to Conneaut Lake Park

Conneaut Lake Park Entrance
Conneaut Lake Park Entrance

Conneaut Lake Park is still open! After a recent visit to Lago Winery in Jamestown, the TasteBuds made the short drive to Conneaut Lake Park to ride the Blue Streak.

Sure, the park may be in need of a fresh coat of paint, but the historical significance and the passion by the local community to keep the park running provide enough charm to keep riders coming back and keep Conneaut Lake Park open. Rides at the park are pay-per-ride, very reminiscent of a carnival. Not every ride in the park is open, but the classic Blue Streak is still in commission. As an amusement park buff, TasteBudA has always wanted to ride the Blue Streak, the 6th oldest wooden coaster in all of the United States.  Check out our photos below from this very memorable experience.

Are you a rollercoaster tycoon too?  Help contribute to the restoration of Blue Streak.

Mini Golf at Conneaut Lake Park
Miniature Golf is open at Conneaut Lake Park
Blue Streak Tickets at Conneaut Lake Park
Pay-per-ride, the Blue Streak is just $3 per ride.
Blue Streak Station Cars
The cars of Blue Streak are nearly identical to those on the Thunderbolt at Kennywood.
TasteBudB and TasteBudA on Blue Streak
TasteBudB and TasteBudA on Blue Streak.
Blue Streak Hill
The angle at which you are drawn up Blue Streak is quite intense.
Blue Streak Hill Down
But not as intense as the decline, where you practically fly out of your seat.
Conneaut Lake Park Sign
Conneaut Lake Park and Camperland sign in the parking lot. Park for free and pay per ride.
Lago Winery - Tasting Bar

A touch of Italy in western Pennsylvania

Lago Winery - White Pizza
Wood-fired pizza, made white

When one thinks of western PA they normally don’t think fine wine but over the years Pennsylvania has started to make itself know across the country as a place where a fine wine can be bought. And, for the locals, wineries are becoming a staple for a place to enjoy a weekend afternoon for lunch and tastings.

Lago Winery - Tasting Bar
Lago Winery buzzing on a summer Saturday Afternoon

With this we want to introduce to you Lago Winery in Jamestown, Pa: not far from Conneaut Lake and Pymatuning State Park.

If you are coming from Pittsburgh it’s just a ninety minute drive up I-79 and is well worth the drive.  The drive during the fall months would likely be beautiful with all of the autumn scenery.

When you enter the main dining and entertainment area you are greeted by the friendly and knowledgeable staff who will provide you tastings of different wines for just a dollar a piece. Since it is a small winery the selection isn’t very big but you can tell that they take a lot of time and pride into each wine. From sweet blush wines to dry red’s there is something for everyone.

Lago Winery - Cheese Platter
Meat and cheese platter.

Also, they have a nice menu of wood fired thin crust pizzas and a meat & cheese platter.  The pepperoni on the platter was even heart-shaped, how cute.  Feel free to have a seat outside and enjoy a nice summer breeze and a cool band playing while enjoying some cheese and a glass of wine.

All wines can be purchased by the glass and bottle and don’t be afraid to take a bottle home for your next dinner party or game night with friends…we left with a few bottles ourselves!

New York Nook, cozy space produces excellent food

View from outside

This post is long overdue.  Our apologies to our readers and the restaurant.

Following a wonderful day of sightseeing and spending some time in central park, TasteBudA and I set out to find a unique location for a Saturday night dinner in Manhattan.  We purposely went into the trip planning on just “winging it” when it came to food.  So not having done much research for dinner options, we aimed for a dinner time after the shows would have started, in hopes to avoid the rush.  Thanks to a little help from my Urbanspoon app on my Andoid phone, we were ecstatic to have found a BYOB restaurant, Nook, just west of our hotel in Hell’s Kitchen.  Although, I didn’t picture Manhattan to have many (or any) BYOB locations, I figured it was worth a shot to check.

The name Nook explains the size of this restaurant.  It is a restaurant nestled in between some other businesses.  I’d estimate, the dining room couldn’t have been more than 15 feet wide and maybe 30 feet deep with table tops for about 24 diners.  Fortunately it was a nice night outside, and there was a bench to wait for our table to open up.  And although we waited probably 20 minutes to be seated, it was well worth the wait.  The food was prepared wonderfully and the owner/waiter/manager/host seemed to have everything completely under control and the restaurant ran without a hitch.

Spicy citrus-marinated shrimp

Selecting our entrees was quite difficult as everything looked so good coming out of the kitchen – and yes, while sitting there, we saw almost every entree offered come out of the kitchen.  To start we had the Mushroom Cigars, pan-seared portabella mushrooms mixed with sage and goat cheese, wrapped in filo dough and lightly drizzled with white truffle oil.  It is the only thing not pictured below due to an unflattering picture of TasteBudB holding one.  They were like nothing I’d ever tasted and probably the only kind of cigar I’d even venture to pose with.

Stuffed pork with chive mashed potatoes and salad greens.

For our entrees, we decided on a spicy, citrus-marinated shrimp for TasteBudB (pictured above) and the stuffed pork with chive mashed potatoes and salad greens.  We found them both to be filling to our stomachs, tasteful in our mouths and even visually pleasing to the eye.  I guess overall, that would mean well satisfied.

As you might expect, dining in such close quarters allows you to get to know the folks dining near you, especially for outgoing individuals like ourselves.  So, even though we had no room for dessert, after some brief after dinner conversation with the table next to us, we asked if we could get a shot of their dessert, which they happily obliged.  Alas, we ate it soley with our eyes.

Nook is a wonderful gem to find on the streets of New York.  I think you would be hard-pressed to find somewhere as quaint, delicious, and affordable (under $75 including the pre-purchased bottle of wine).

A picture perfect dessert from the nearby table.

Nook Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Music and Food Collide at Skully’s

On my recent trip to Columbus, Ohio, I decided to sample more than what is familiar to me and branch out without TasteBudA on my side.

I was attending some meetings in Columbus and looking for some lunch options.  After pulling over on North High Street to pull up my new Yelp app for Android and get some suggestions, I actually had pulled over right in front of Skully’s.  The exterior reminding me of a cross between an old-school diner and a movie theater.  Browsing over the reviews I decided I’d give it a shot.  Despite being the only patron in the restaurant for the majority of the lunch hour, I was surprised that this restaurant-turned-music-venue could produce food worthy of my lunch money.

I started with a side salad which contained fresh vegetables and a nice dip-able balsamic vinaigrette – with only a little pepper it was perfect for me.

As per the suggestion of the server, who doubled as the bartender, I tried the Skully Burger with curly fries – partly because I was in the mood for a burger and partly because it was listed on the menu as Tuesday’s lunch special for only $4.95.  The half-pound cheeseburger with pepperjack cheese satisfied my burger-craving and the curly fries added some “fun” to the plate.

Skully's Music Diner on UrbanspoonI would definitely go back, especially on a Tuesday for the lunch special.  Alas, as it turned out, when I got my bill I double checked and I was there on a Wednesday, so I paid full-price ($6.95) for my Skully Burger – which is still well worth it!  And if I am ever in town again looking to try out the music scene, I may have to check their music schedule at skullys.org and see what will be playing on the big stage inside.

Crystal Bonsai Sushi, “Bonsai Grill”

Bonsai Grill on Urbanspoon

Looking for dinner Crystal City? Venture outside of the Crystal City shops and across Route 1 along 23rd Street South for a series of diverse restaurant options.
On my most recent work travel to Crystal City, I had the pleasure of traveling with another co-worker that I had never met in person before, so I was happy to take the time to have a sit down dinner with her and get to know one another. Not knowing what she’d be in the mood for, I directed us down to the 23 St S block where we decided on sushi. (Which is a treat for me, because TasteBudA doesn’t care for sushi). To our amazement, we were seated immediately and our night began.
Sushi Boat for only $42
The Bonsai Grill staff were attentive and the sushi boat really is plenty of food for two people. Though, we didn’t know that upon ordering so we piled an additional Spider Roll onto the order. We wished for a more diverse wine selection, though became agreeable to the Yellowtail wine that is their standard (and only) option.
Our pre-sushi course

Dinner was very nice and I spent time not only getting to know a new co-worker, but also someone I can truly call a friend.

Pizza Pie in New York!

John's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
New York City is know for many different cuisine, but Italian flavors rank very high in the Big Apple.  On Friday night before seeing a Broadway show (The Addams Family)  we decided to try a well known Pizza spot in the city called John’s Pizzeria in Midtown West. 

John’s Pizzeria is a very busy spot with a lot of seating and quick service.  Our show started at 8pm and we had a bit of a late start to dinner, but John’s catered to us very well in the short time we had to eat.  We ordered a 8 cut pie with sausage and peppers. 
The Pizza came out very hot, the topping portions, cheese and sauce were perfect all around.  The best thing was when you took a bite, you didn’t have the annoyance of toppings falling off, which for me is a big deal.  The size of the slices were perfect and between the both of us was a perfect amount to fill us up before the show. 
When it comes to price it was the perfect split,  especially with our drinks and tip.  I definitely recommend John’s for service, taste and price!  Also, make sure to let your server know you are headed to a show nearby, which in my opinion helped time our table so we could enjoy our food and have plenty of time to walk over to the show. 
John’s also has beautiful architecture as well so you can not only enjoy the company but the view from all around.

Thank you John’s for an enjoyable dinner and a fun start to our evening!

Good Morning New York City!

Pershing Square on Urbanspoon

This past weekend TastebudB and I took a weekend trip to New York City.   This was my first visit to the Big Apple and I was excited to try all the good food you hear so much about!   We arrived very early in the morning, dropped off our bags at the Intercontinential Barclay and went walking the streets and came across Pershing Square. 

Pershing Square is located right across the street from Grand Central Station on 42nd Street.  I know we try to find you all more reasonable places to eat that won’t kill your wallet but lets face it, its New York City, everything is expensive but the good thing is that the food is very good! 

I ordered fresh squeezed orange juice, French Toast with Bacon and it came with a little side of some fruit.  Now, I already have my favorite place for French Toast here in Pittsburgh and no one has ever made it better than the Dor-Stop.  But,  the French Toast at Pershing Square was an excellent delight.  You can’t see in the picture but their are three pieces of French Toast, it was hot, thick and very delicious.  The bacon was not overlly salty and cooked well and the fruit added a nice touch to the rest of the breakfast. 

 Tastebud B ordered a Spinich, Bacon and Cheddar Omelette that came with homefries and wheat toast. The eggs were cooked gently into a thick omelette base and was very good and filling.  Both of our choices were a great way to start our adventure around New York 
And if you are a tourist stopping in like we were,  you will fit right in because the general crowd was a mix of people just in for breakfast, tourists and even some business men and women were having meetings or meeting up with fellow co-workers before work.

If you are in this area of town for breakfast I very much recommend this place!  Go check it out!