Sunday, October 14, 2012

Join the Fight for Pittsburgh Food Trucks

I don't know about you, but I've had my fill of political ads, debates, speeches and pundit predictions.  It's become nauseating.

There is a current issue of political importance, however, that renewed my appetite and rallied my hunger for change.  The Pittsburgh Mobile Food Coalition have been working in conjunction with The Saxifrage School and Councilman Bill Peduto to educate the community about the current legislation restricting the operation of food trucks in Pittsburgh and to encourage the community to show their support for enacting legislative change.

To this end, many of Pittsburgh's food trucks participated in a rally today in East Liberty to collect signatures of community supporters for their petition to improve the vending laws:


Passing out information to the crowd regarding the legislative changes the Coalition has proposed.

As I understand things, the most difficult hurdles the food truck vendors face under current laws are the following:
  • vendors may not park near any other establishments that sell similar wares (ie-no bars or restaurants where hungry people walk)
  • vendors must move their parking spot every 30 minutes (not exactly easy to do with hot fryers and sharp knives)
  • vendors must cease serving patrons at midnight (bar patrons are the bread and butter customers for food trucks)
  • vendors must have a stationary prep site and may not prep on the truck (easy to sell out and have to sit out the rest of the night)
Councilman Bill Peduto explaining the need for community support of the proposed legislation changes.

A petition was circulated and signed, but Councilman Peduto explained that the community needs to continue their food truck support and attend the city council meeting when these legislative changes are discussed.  I'm not entirely sure when that will be yet, but check my twitter for updates @Pittsburghlar.


In closing, here's a friendly reminder of what's at stake to put a little pep in that politico step of yours:

BRGR Truck

Fire in the Hole BRGR- gauc, jalapenos, siracha, chipotle mayo, and pepper jack cheese
(TO DIE FOR)

BRGR Food Truck on Urbanspoon

OH My Grill

OMG Mac N Cheese

Oh My Grill Mobile Food Truck on Urbanspoon


Haluski



Bourbon Bread Pudding

Here is my plea:  November is far away and that election is only giving you a headache. 

BUUUT you get hungry every day and you can have any and all of these delicious treats if you use your political clout to go to Pgh Mobile Food and enter your email address to show your support for Pittsburgh's food trucks and keep the scene moving forward!


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Week in review: Poor planning and good eating



I procrastinated the weekend before the start of the new job.  I went shopping with my parents instead of doing laundry.  I made sure to watch everything left in the DVR instead of grocery shopping.  I cuddled with the dog instead of cleaning the floors he sheds on.  I milked it.

And on Monday there was no milk or cereal to eat before dressing professionally and arriving early to the new job.  This lack of caloric fuel led to lackluster first impressions and a socially awkward, incredibly loud growl coming from an already anxiety ridden stomach.

Lunch break was here:


And consisted of (most) of this:

Chicken on a stick, veggie lo mien and two (shame face) egg rolls

Cost this: $6 ish

And was delicious.  Hindsight being 20/20, however, a Chinese lunch on a nervous stomach on the first lunch of a new job might not have been the wisest choice.

I continued my grocery shopping procrastination the next day and trekked it to Wholey's planning to get some sushi, but when I saw this:

Grilled salmon salad with blue cheese and balsamic (plus loads of fresh veggies)


for only a little over $5, I was easily swayed and very impressed.  This salad's price point is comparable to those of the fast food giant that lives up the street, but Wholey's manages to offer a beautifully grilled salmon filet with fresh produce and a flavor punch that the other guys can't touch.  I didn't even feel like I missed out on the whaler or Andy's sushi.  Procrastination win!

RA stopped the first week madness and went to the store, or I probably would've pre-spent my first paycheck in parking and lunching.  He actually researched, acquired and cooked the ingredients for a delicious chicken parmesan that I got to brag about in the cafeteria the next day :)  I could get used to homemade meals on hump day!

I packed my lunch on Friday but I came across a re-tweet on Twitter mentioning #FoodTruckFridays at Bar Marco and I couldn't resist. 

Franktuary and Dozen Bake Shop

Lucy making vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches

On top of those street vending giants, Bar Marco was on scene cooking up a butternut squash risotto al fresco.  I was almost paralyzed by the plethora of choices.  I wanted to try everything but I was short on time (because I walked past the meet up at first) and short on money because... well, I don't get paid for three more weeks.  I stood around awkwardly taking pictures for awhile (do any other bloggers feel awkward looking like food tourists??), but eventually my nose led me to this:

 Okonomiyaki from Fukuda

I've been following Fukuda on Twitter for awhile now and, when I was actually standing in front of them, I was too foodie struck to be able to remember all of the layers of ingredients and flavors that go into Matt and Hoon's okonomiyakis. I'll give you the wikipedia cliff notes here.

To me, as both a diner and a sushi lover, this dish ate like an omelet with all of the fresh flavors and textures I crave from sushi.  It was exciting and comforting at the same time.  This was the highlight of my first week in the strip and a great start to the weekend... where I actually managed to get some chores done :)

Sam Bok on Urbanspoon

Wholey's Fish Market on Urbanspoon

Fukuda on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Nice Day for an Iced Coffee

Even though he might not be a foodie, RA knows his coffee and tea.  At IUP where we met, it's Commonplace Coffee Co., who have been roasting in their Squirrel Hill location for awhile now too.  Bellevue plays home to our favorite drive through joint, BeanThru.  When I was sick with a cold for what seemed like forever, RA headed to Prestogeorge Coffee & Tea in the Strip District to pick me up a custom blended loose leaf echinacea tea and infuser.

It wasn't long before our limited kitchen counter space began housing canisters of varieties of whole bean coffee, a coffee grinder and a french press.  I have to admit, the resulting coffee was worth the counter space sacrifice... but I didn't want to go down to the Strip by myself every time I wanted to pick up some beans for RA.

Thanks to the "nearby" feature of my Urbanspoon phone app, I found Niko's Coffee located in a strip mall in Robinson Township and decided to give it a go.  I remember when my town got our first coffee house in the early 90's, before Starbucks gave coffee shops a corporate make take over.  It was the kind of place you hung out in, sipping multiple cups of coffee and trying a pastry or two.  Sometimes a daring soul would brave the open mic night.


Niko's has that kind of atmosphere.  I asked the barista a couple of questions about the roast and flavors of the whole beans before making my selection, which can be ground for you behind the counter or kept whole to grind yourself.  In similar situations at other coffee houses, I've encountered baristas who seem too rushed or pretentious to answer my (stupid?) questions.  The staff at Niko's, however, were really friendly and, judging by RA's approval of my selections, they know their stuff.

Niko's self-serve whole bean station.

Niko's plays a good host with their tasty treats, delicious dark roast and comfy, worn-in leather chairs, so I wasn't surprised to learn that they hold cover-free events throughout the month including open mic nights on Wednesdays and jazz nights once a month.

Dark roast iced coffee with a shot of almond roca. 

Next time Ikea lures you outside the city boundaries, skip Starbucks and hit up Niko's instead.  You'll be glad you did!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Maki at Misaki (alternate title: Full Frontal Disclosure)

***UPDATE***

RA and I returned to Misaki as promised (at lunch time no less) and found the entire experience much improved.  The hot dish options had increased in both quantity and quality.  I sampled some veggie and shrimp tempura that were excellent.  Both RA and I agreed that the peppered beef was the star of the hot bar.

There were more patrons in the dining room and better ambience music.  The wait staff seemed more relaxed but just as attentive as the last time we were there.

The sushi was just as fantastic as I remembered.

I'm glad to see Misaki finding its niche and ironing out the glitches!  We'll be back!

***


Today was the last day off RA and I will share together in the foreseeable future.  The bittersweet symphony of my new status as an employed 9-6 M-F person and his working weekends/looming shift swap schedule.

To celebrate, I forced him to eat sushi.  He hates sushi.  It's not about the raw factor or a weird wasabi aversion (although after today, it might be), he thinks it all tastes the same and bland.  I can kind of understand where he's coming from because I'm not a sushi aficionado.  I started out casually sampling california and spicy tuna rolls, building ever so slightly from those roots, and I'm still not a nigiri person.  I mix wasabi and soy sauce... I do it all wrong.  But I like it.

I don't think I have a particularly refined palate.  I'm pretty sure of this because one time a friend and I ate a Pup-peroni stick just because it looked like a Slim Jim (explanation of the alternate title should be fulfilled at this point).  I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to have eaten a Pup-peroni because it means I'll try new things.  Even if they're dog food.

So I bullied RA into going to Misaki after I'd gotten a Groupon email offer.  I didn't take the Groupon deal because it was for dinner only (still a really good deal at half off though) but I did want to see if Misaki's sushi/seafood/Chinese buffet had anything to offer.  Most people, especially foodie people, cringe at the thought of a buffet, but this is where my unrefined palate and limited budget shine.

Any maki roll outside of the california comfort zone costs at least $10 dollars.  I've tried a number of local sushi establishments touted by the Urbanspoon community, paid through the nose and been unimpressed.  With a lunch buffet cost of $11, Misaki was worth a shot... to try a variety of rolls.  To try a restaurant that hadn't yet been Urbanspoon blogged to death.  To temp food poisoning gods and fate.

The exterior of Misaki is foreboding... and so is the interior.  It's located on a weird stretch of Saw Mill Run in a building that used to be an Italian restaurant, and redecorating doesn't seem to be a top priority.  The dim dining lighting, out-of-place decor and general lack of customers made my anxiety kick into high gear off the get go.

Our first shot at the buffet reinforced the ominous foreshadowing.  To be fair, we arrived at 11:30 to a sushi buffet that begins serving lunch at 11:00.  I imagine, food costs being what they are, the owners are reluctant to put out a full spread until there are people to serve.  At the same time, as patrons, it seems silly that a half an hour into a three hour lunch service we had little more than four maki roll options to choose from and the entire hot line was lukewarm at best.

My first plate of mainly hot options since there wasn't much sushi.  Note the chipped plate... not a great start for a restaurant that's been open for less than a month.

Although the hot options were cold, we agreed that the flavors were pretty good.  We decided to stick around because more diners started arriving and more maki rolls were appearing on the buffet.  



By this point, whether from hunger induced delirium or shear awe for the spread, even RA tried some maki.  We both agreed that Misaki serves up some of the best maki we've had once it's game on.  I definitely wouldn't go to Misaki for the Chinese/American hot dishes because, hot or cold, they weren't very impressive.  The maki is definitely the star of the show:


... and it's prima donna tendencies made me wonder if it was worth the wait.  I would probably give Misaki another try, but I'd make sure it was during the dinner rush and with a half-off Groupon coupon.
 
Misaki  on Urbanspoon

If you write it, they will come...

Just three short posts ago, I was jobless, vacationless and taking breaks from unemployed job searching by living vicariously through the Travel Channel, Food Network, the Cooking Channel and reading other Pittsburghers' lifestyle blogs... causing me to blog... which turned into:

(Caused?) 

My GETTING A JOB, GOING ON A VACATION, and GETTING EVEN MORE BLOGGING MATERIAL!!! 

The best perk of the job?  It's located in the Strip so I can do blog recon on my lunch break.  The best part of vacation?  Food-wise?  The ocean = seafood... and the only reason I'm even posting pictures of the seafood carnage we exacted on Ocean City is because it isn't really cheating on Pittsburgh because Pittsburgh is pretty landlocked.  I mean, other than being betwixt three rivers.

As for the additional blogging material... mo' money mo' blogs.  Right?

Vacation!!!!

RA has been going to Ocean City twice a year, every year of his life and has always wanted to crack Maryland blue crabs but never had.  We spent two hours crab-cracking at The Crab Bag and it was everything he dreamed it would be and more :)

RA told me to say that these are the best french fries in the world.

O C Crab Bag on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Yinz Want Yucca Fries On'at?

Pittsburgh is a city known for putting fries in precarious places.  A simple sandwich?  Put fries and coleslaw in it- now it's a meal.  A healthy salad? Put fries on top- they cancel each other out.    

My relationship with fries got even more complicated upon a recent trip to the Strip District when RA and I visited 
Chicken Latino.  On our previous Strip trips, I'd eyed up their sidewalk chalkboard specials but we'd never made it a point to stop.  It can be hard to get RA's food craving focus to shift from Wholey's whaler sandwich.  

We agreed that the mission of this trip would be to sample and share the many street food offerings of the Strip that we usually have to forgo because we never come equipped with cash.  We hit up the ATM and set out on our adventure... which ended almost as soon as it started.  RA's days off are midweek and, unfortunately, the majority of the street food vendors wait for the weekend to set up shop.


RA stopped at
Reyna's taco stand to get a carne asada taco so our mission wasn't a complete bust, but we've had tacos there before and, though they're fantastic, I was determined to try something new.  


RA's carne asada taco at Reyna's- delicioso!

That's when I remembered that Chicken Latino hides down the side street right beside Reyna's.  There's a little walk up window for take out ordering on the side of the restaurant, which didn't look like it was being used the day we were there, but I think the existence of it makes Chicken Latino a restaurant/street vendor hybrid so I convinced RA and myself that it still counted for our mission.

Although there are other offerings on the menu, Chicken Latino is known for their Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken.  Our waitress was incredibly friendly and very helpful with providing some suggestions from the menu that we should try but, since RA had already filled up on his taco, we kept our order pretty simple: 1/4 dark meat chicken (waitress recommended), 1/4 white meat chicken and a side order of yucca fries.

(Sorry for the blur... I was shaky and ravenous with hunger)

The chicken was excellent.  Very moist and flavorful on it's own but, when dipped in the secret, mysterious green condiment the waitress brought with it, it was absolutely addictive.  The sauce is bright and fresh with a deep heat that leaves your lips tingling and your tongue begging for more.

The yucca fries, however, are the elephant on the table.  I've never had yucca before but it's been a basket ingredient on Chopped several times so RA and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try it.  The menu describes yucca as "a root vegetable with a distinctive flavor that is an excellent replacement for potatoes."  

I do not agree.  I found the fries tasteless on their own and, where a potato fry would absorb the delicious green sauce, the yucca fry was so fibrous and dense that the condiment just slid right off.  We barely made a dent in that huge basket of fries but the yucca takes up some serious stomach real estate.  Our taste tour was officially over after the yucca fries, but we will be back for more of the green sauce crack!

Chicken Latino on Urbanspoon