The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina.

A curious thing happened this morning. At URBN, there is an adorable man on a bike – Greg – who delivers coffees, juices and small food items to my building at 9, 12 and 3 o’clock every day. He parks directly under the chandelier and rings his bell, letting everyone know he’s open for business. Since my first day in the office, I was intrigued by him. He plays the part well. He dresses like you would imagine a newspaper delivery boy would dress in the 1950s. A smile is permanently plastered across his face, even when too-busy-to-eat-lunch, fast-paced fashionistas are swarming him, impatiently tapping their feet because God knows they’ll just die if they don’t get their coffee right now. (To be fair, I’ve been that person before.) Yesterday morning, I noticed a drawing on the opened (and dry-erase) lid of his cart. He had a quote written on the left, and abstract sketches of faces to its right. A single bird feeder was drawn, dangling from the top, and a small bird was flying towards it. On the very far right side, he had drawn a camera on a tripod, as if it were filming the entire scene: the faces, the bird feeder and the bird.

To write a good love letter, you ought to begin without knowing what you mean to say, and to finish without knowing what you have written.

– Jean-Jaques Rousseau

This morning, I was standing in line behind a woman and a man, who were talking about making their beds every morning. ”You don’t make your bed every morning? How can you even start your day?,” she asked. “Who has time to make their bed every morning?,” he retorted. They were next in line. Black coffees for both of them. All of a sudden, she stopped and pointed to the opened lid of the bike cart. “I want to make that into a lampshade.” She was pointing at another abstract face in a sea of abstract faces that Greg had drawn on his cart this morning. She asked if he was an artist, too. He blushed and kept his eyes towards the floor – he’s shy, I’m guessing – and said, “I’m actually a filmmaker.” She skimmed over his response, and insisted to the man in line with her that she needed that face to be on a lampshade. As she walked away, I caught a small half-smile on his face. “I guess this is the future of lampshades,” he said. “Anyways. Black coffee for you too, right?” I nodded at this curious man, and watched the woman and the man scurry back to their desks to sketch this abstract face onto a lampshade design. It struck me that inspiration really does come from the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times.

So, as I walked back to my desk, sipping on my coffee, I realized that I’m the kind of person who is inspired most by people. My friends, my family, people like Greg. And I’m inspired by food, and the culture and history and creativity and hard work that goes into the really, really good stuff.

Argentine diets are historically known for the overwhelming presence of meat. Vegetarians, beware. But what has always drawn me to their cuisine is their simple and unwavering adoration of it. Plain and simple. Social gatherings are almost entirely centered around sharing a meal, and Sunday lunches are a common weekly tradition among many families. Their passion for food rivals my own. So, when Molly (Susan) and I decided to check out Gaucho Parrilla Argentina for the finale of the Pittsburgh Food Diaries, I was ecstatic. I had heard amazing things about the menu from friends of mine who had gone before, and I stalked their menu, trying to determine what I would order ahead of time.


Fast forward a teeny tiny bit, and Suze and I are sitting on the floor of my living room with an opened bottle of wine, and a massive spread of Argentine food in front of us. There’s a Rosemary Braised Beef sandwich (with carmelized onions and horseradish sauce on thick, seasoned ciabatta bread), a Carne sandwich (made with flank steak, and served with chimmi, caramelized onions and peppers), two vegetable empanadas, a bowl of humitas (corn pudding with chiles, onion and fresh herbs), a bowl of papas cuna (a potato salad made with feta cheese, pickled onions, oregano, mayonnaise and red wine vinegar), and two small servings of each of their infamous dipping sauces (cebolla, chimmi, ajo and pimenton). We take a deep breath, clink our glasses and dive in.

Within moments, there is a dark red and deeply delicious trail of pimento dripping down my chin, and a small blister forming on the roof of my mouth from the heat of the Rosemary Braised Beef sandwich. I switch gears and fill a spoon with humitas, and immediately my eyes start watering from the spice of the chiles. I take a bite of the pickled and tangy potato salad to cool my palate, and then dip my empanada in the cebolla and pop it in my mouth. In less than a minute, I’ve tasted everything on the table, and I’m messy. My hands (and face) are sticky with sauce, and my mouth is still reeling from the heat (both temperature and spice), but my taste buds are celebrating. Everyone was right – Gaucho stood up to the hype. Susan and I took turns eating everything, and cleaning up after ourselves with an endless amount of paper towels. We couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves, elbows deep in an obnoxious amount of delicious food. I had to think that the people of Argentina really got it right. There is something to be said for spending time with the people you love over a good meal. And a bottle of red wine.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Pittsburgh Taco Truck & Round Corner Cantina.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Pittsburgh Taco Truck & Round Corner Cantina.

Last week, I was on a taco-eating frenzy. No rhyme or reason, I just happened to eat tacos… two days in a row. (Actually, it was probably in celebration of the rumored taco emoji that will soon be gracing iPhones everywhere. ‘Bout time.)

On Wednesday, Molly (Susan) and I hopped on down to Gus’s Cafe, a bar on Butler that has recently paired up with PGH Taco Truck to serve the infamous tacos from their kitchen! I ordered two: Slow Roasted Pork Carnitas with Cotija Cheese, Lime-Pickled Onions and Cilantro, and Korean Flank Steak with Kimchi Salsa and Toasted Sesame Seeds. Can we taco bout those flavor combinations though?! Seriously.


Molly went with two classics: Ground Beef and Chicken, both made with Cheddar Jack cheese, salsa and sour cream. Messy, drippy goodness. And then we both went with a bottle of wine. Because duh.


Fast forward 24 hours, and Zach and I are sitting at Round Corner Cantina, sipping on sweet sangria and devouring their amazing chips and guacamole. It had been a long day – a day that required a drink when it was done – and we knew Friday would also be madness. Fun, fast and fashionable madness. So, we decided that tacos were completely necessary. Obviously.


I’ll admit, I was disappointed. My favorite tacos at Round Corner were no longer on the menu. Since they reopened last month, gone are the days of the lip-smacking, mouth-watering, ooey-gooey-cheesy shrimp tacos. Instead, it’s namesake is now a tempura mahi mahi taco with cabbage, pickled onions, queso fresco and cilantro. It’s light and fresh and perfectly acidic. I’ll admit, it was delicious. But you know me — I’ve never been one to deal well with change. Zach got the chorizo tacos, which came served with radishes, queso fresco and cilantro. Also delicious. But let’s be honest, the real hero of the night was that sangria, and the lonely girl with no diploma.


The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Mezzo & Il Tetto.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Mezzo & Il Tetto.

Last night was one of those nights. You know the type: the kind of night when everything makes you smile from ear to ear. Pittsburgh was lookin’ mighty fine — the air was cool and crisp, there was a palpable energy pulsing through the city (the kind of energy you can only feel in a sports city with two teams playing at the same time), and Batman’s presence was projected across the sky, loud and clear. I woke up this morning and my stomach hurt. Not from what I ate or what I drank, but because I laughed for hours and hours on end. It was just one of those nights.


So, thanks to technology and small towns, I ended up at Sienna Mercado with Rob (sans purple sweatshirt), someone I knew from my long-gone days of high school. Sienna Mercado is a three-story eatery with a unique dining option on each floor. The first floor, Emporio, is a meatball joint; the second floor, Mezzo, offers Italian cuisine; and the third floor, Il Tetto, is an open-air (in the summer) rooftop bar.

We arrived an hour before our reservation and took the elevator up to Il Tetto for a drink. We talked and talked and talked until we walked to the second floor restaurant, Mezzo, where we talked and talked some more. And then our food came, and we were completely silent. My pork risotto (braised pork, peas, onion, pancetta, parmesan) was salty and cheesy and creamy and mind-numbingly delicious. Rob’s steak (done rare — the only way to eat a steak) came doused in an oniony, garlicky, to-die-for demi-glace with caramelized onion, charred radicchio and arugula. He compiled the perfect little bite, with just a bit of everything, and watched my eyes widen as the flavors danced across my tongue. I’ve eaten a lot of Italian food, but never anything like this.

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Until next time, Mezzo. Until next time.

Mere’s Whole30 Shrimp Zucchini Pasta.

I met Meredith when I was in 7th grade. I was the new kid in town, experiencing public school for the first time. Fast forward 13 years (through high school, college, the beginning of adulthood, and all of the wild adventures in between), and here we are. She’s the kind of friend that I see only a few times a year, but it’s so easy to pick up right where we left off. She’s a fiercely talented woman, and she’s loyal to her core. She’s a bright ray of sunshine on any gloomy day, and I’m so thankful to know her. (Fun fact: She once took to her own blog to celebrate 30 of her friends in 30 days. I was fortunate enough to be one of them, and I reread the words she wrote every time I need a reminder of who it is that I am and want to be.)

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been following Meredith’s Whole30 journey on Instagram. The Whole30 program is essentially a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system by removing sugar, alcohol, grains, most legumes, carrageenan, MSG or sulfites from your diet for 30 days. From the research I’ve done this morning, the concept seems like less of a fad diet and more about healthy living (and eating). So yesterday evening when I saw Mere’s photo of her Whole30 dinner, I asked if she’d write about it. Thankfully – because she totally rocks – she agreed.


Follow her food-filled Whole30 journey on Instagram @MeredithJanel or #MeresWhole365!

Hey y’all! Meredith here. I’m just a good-time-seeking, adventure-loving foodie, who began this “eat good and good-for-me food” thing a few months ago. That also means I haven’t had wine in over two months, so please forgive me if I seem crankier or more cynical than usual. Wine is my love language, after all.

I live in a small town north of Pittsburgh, and my job doesn’t create much room for consistency. In fact, it creates the opposite of consistency. That’s where Whole30 came in! My first year in role was one of the most chaotic years of my life. I had like 3 friends in town (and one of them was french fries), and trying to get a grasp on paying every institution in the country back for my Bachelors/Masters programs created a less than ideal situation for self care. I finally decided that in a job that I have so little control over, what I cook and what I eat could totally be in my control. It’s changed my life… and not in the same way yoga pants did.

Something important to know about me: Making food for my friends and family is one of my top five favorite things (right under drinking wine, and right above avoiding anything that requires hand-eye coordination). So as I began this take-control-of-my-health thing, taste was a must. A non-negotiable. I’m convinced the best way to get people to eat healthy is to have them try good, fresh, unprocessed foods, and the rest will fall into place.

That’s how this recipe came into play. It’s Shrimp Zucchini Pasta. Due to my unnatural love for Italian food (as I am German and Irish), creating something that even looked like pasta is a gigantic win for me!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 10-12 shrimp
  • 1 zucchini
  • 2 tsp (4 cloves) chopped fresh garlic
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • Optional: Artichoke hearts and mushrooms

Here’s what to do:

  • Get yourself a Zoodle or Veggetti. (I happen to have one of each, because my dear friends celebrate me by buying kitchen gadgets.)
  • Cook the shrimp over medium heat and set aside.
  • Use your Zoodle to create thin pasta strands from your zucchini.
  • Heat your EVOO in a large skillet. Add zucchini noodles, garlic, basil, and any optional, flavorful, Whole30-approved additions you’d like.
  • Cook for about 5-7 minutes, then add your shrimp back in. Toss well.
  • Let everything blend real nice.
  • That’s it! ENJOY!


Seriously, it only takes about 20 minutes. The longest part of your dinner making will be telling your neighbors they can’t join you once they catch a whiff of its gloriousness (1. Because you wanted to binge watch Breaking Bad tonight; 2. Because you’re gonna eat it all).

With love and olive oil,
Mere J

California Cafe’s Chinese Chicken Salad.

California Cafe’s Chinese Chicken Salad.

Before Carlisle was a cool town littered with foodie-esque restaurants, there was the California Café, a small French restaurant built inside of an old firehouse on Pomfret Street. It was where my mom took me for lunch on days she’d let me play hooky from school, and it’s where my very first boyfriend took me on our very first date. In all the years that I went there to eat, I always got one of two things: one of their decadent, perfectly crusted slices of quiche, or their exorbitantly flavorful Chinese Chicken Salad.

I was so sad the day that my mom told me they were permanently closing their doors in 2011. Would I really never be able to have their quiche or Chinese Chicken Salad again? I know it may seem strange, but it felt as though some of my most wonderful memories would disappear with the restaurant. That’s the thing when you love food: you so closely correlate them to memories and occasions and most importantly, people. You never have one without the other. Most of the time, it’s the best thing about food. But other times, it’s physically heart-wrenching. (As an example, I will spend the rest of my life trying to replicate my great-grandmother’s recipe for her Christmas cookie pressed cookies. If I ever get it right, it’ll be like she was right there with me in the kitchen all along.)

So, when my mom told me she had gotten her hands on the recipe for my favorite salad – the original recipe from the family who passed it along to the owners of the California Café – I felt a sense of relief, and a welcome excitement for all the things I knew it would remind me of.

I’ve had the recipe since May, but it wasn’t until today that I decided to tackle this dish in my own kitchen. Armed with a lengthy list of ingredients, both regular and slightly obscure, I hit the grocery store.


Ingredients: 1 Package Vermicelli / ½ Cup Shredded Cucumber / 1-2 Cups Cooked + Shredded Chicken / 1 Tablespoon Minced Scallions / Hot & Sour Dressing Ingredients: 4 Tablespoons Chunky Peanut Butter / 2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce / 4 Teaspoons Vinegar / 1 Tablespoon Hot Red Pepper Oil* / 1 Teaspoon Cayenne* / ½ Teaspoon Black Pepper / 1 Teaspoon Sugar / 1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil / 2 Teaspoon Peanut Oil / 1 Teaspoon Minced Fresh Ginger / 1 Tablespoon Minced Scallions / 1 Tablespoon White Wine or Vermouth / 1 Teaspoon Hot Mustard / 1-2 Cups Chicken Broth

*Using these suggested quantities will give you an extraaaaa spicy dish. Adjust according to your taste preference, or enjoy your dinner with a glass of milk to wash out the fire occurring on your taste buds. Can’t say I didn’t warn ya. (I learned the hard way.)



Directions: Cook the vermicelli according to the directions on the package. / Combine all ingredients necessary for the Hot & Sour Dressing, and cook over low heat. / Marinade the shredded chicken in some of the Hot & Sour Dressing for as long or as little as you’d like. / Layer the vermicelli, shredded cucumber and chicken onto your plate. / Top with Hot & Sour Dressing and minced scallions. / Serve warm or cold – California Café served it cold, I ate it warm – with a cool glass of Riesling. / Enjoy. And then call your mom to reminisce.


The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: The Vandal, Pt. 2.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: The Vandal, Pt. 2.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of joining a room full of Pittsburghers to sample the menu of The Vandal, a restaurant owned by Joey Hilty that was planned to open in Lawrenceville this summer. Well folks, it finally happened: Butler Street has been Vandalized. I received a text one day last week that said (something along the lines of), “The Vandal has soft open hours from 11-3 until next Wednesday when they open for real. You should go and be one of the first to write about.” So, I took the advice, and adjusted my Saturday plans accordingly.

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I’ve always been a sucker for light and airy spaces, and as soon as I stepped inside, I smiled. A raw and exposed brick wall stood to my right, and a European style counter rose from the floor several feet in front of me. A sparse menu hung from the ceiling, and sleek, modern furniture peppered the floor. This place is cool. (Turns out, Emily Slagel, owner of the amazing Lawrenceville boutique Mid-Atlantic Mercantile, was the mind behind the design. You go, girl.)

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I ordered the fried eggplant wrap, which was served on a bed of hummus with pickled radish, greens and skhug, a variety of Middle Eastern hot sauce. It was light and refreshing and wonderfully flavorful. D ordered the burger, which was made with marrow, greens, cheese, pickles and a tomato mayo. Joey was also kind enough to bring a side of the mac x cheese to our table. It was decadent and creamy, made with pecorino (my favorite) and parmesan, and topped with crispy breadcrumbs and maldon. It was like your favorite childhood comfort food on fancy steroids.

Check out The Vandal on Twitter and Instagram at @thevandalpgh, and for those of you in Pittsburgh, be sure to stop by 4306 Butler Street for lunch or dinner (it’s BYOB, btw) following their grand opening this Wednesday! Huge congrats to Joey and Emily — Lawrenceville thanks you.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Eleven.

The Pittsburgh Food Diaries: Eleven.

For the past two years, Eleven Contemporary Kitchen has graced the list of Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurants, but it wasn’t until last week that I was able to finally cross it off of my list. And let me tell you: it was well worth the wait.

Located in the Strip District, Eleven is found inside a rehabilitated old warehouse, and nestled next to some of Pittsburgh’s oldest rail lines. The interior pays homage to this history with a strong industrial theme throughout the whole building. Even while we were seated, I found my gaze drifting towards the smallest stunning details — including the glass room where all of their wine is stored, nestled high above the diners. Swoon.

(C) Big Burrito Restaurant Group

And the food. To die for. As an appetizer, we ordered the Sea Scallops, which were served over grits with grilled scallions, Surryano ham and topped with lemon juice. If memory serves me correctly, this entire plate was licked clean in the blink of an eye. I’ve never had grilled scallions before, but helloooooo, wonderful. The scallops were perfectly creamy, and the saltiness of the ham tied the whole dish together brilliantly.


(It was at this point in the evening that I had to step outside for a brief conference call with a few business partners from China/Hong Kong, which left me feeling simultaneously really badass, but also very sad that my dinner might be cold by the time I returned.) As I walked away from the table, I left strict instructions with D: “If our food comes before I get back, you HAVE to take a picture of your dinner before you eat it.” He nodded nonchalantly, probably thinking that I’m some sort of food-crazed nutcase. (If that is what he was thinking, he’s not wrong.)

D ordered the Grilled Swordfish, served with clams, mussels, calamari, pearl cous cous, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic and a slice of toasted baguette. It was a seafood lovers dream. Unfortunately, he devoured 90% of it while I was chattin’ with China, but fortunately, he hates calamari… More for me.


My dinner, in all its glory, was graciously waiting for me when I returned to the table: Seared Salmon on a bed of polenta with roasted cauliflower, radicchio, toasted focaccia, parmesan and a Sherry vinaigrette. The salmon was cooked to a perfect medium, and the crunchiness of the focaccia combined and the roasted cauliflower with the creamy polenta — stahhhp. This was quite possibly the best meal I’ve had in Pittsburgh in months. I paired my dinner with a 2013 French Pinot Noir, and I was the happiest and most well-fed clam in town.


Eleven – Hats off to you. You’ve earned your spot on that list, and you’ve earned it well.

Baked Gnocchi With Basil, Prosciutto & Cream Sauce.

Baked Gnocchi With Basil, Prosciutto & Cream Sauce.

Comfort foods come in all shape and sizes. A hearty beef stew or chili. Meatloaf or your grandma’s classic casserole. But last weekend, I had the good fortune of adding a new meal to the comfort food list: Baked Gnocchi with Basil, Prosciutto & Cream Sauce.

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Ingredients: 3 pounds cooked gnocchi / 2 cups heavy cream / 4 tablespoons butter / Salt + white pepper / 1/4 cup chopped basil / 1/4 pound prosciutto / 1/2 Pecorino Romano cheese / (Other suggested additions: Spinach, peas, bacon, etc.)

Directions: Preheat oven to 350. / Warm cream and butter over medium heat until butter is melted. / Remove from heat, and add salt, pepper, basil and half of the cheese. / Lightly butter a 9×13 pan (or small, individual casserole pans), and add gnocchi. / Chop the prosciutto, and add to the gnocchi. / Pour cream sauce into the pan, and top with remaining cheese. / Bake for 25-30 minutes. / Pair with a crisp Pinot Grigio, and enjoy.


Baked Cheddar Eggs & Potatoes.

Baked Cheddar Eggs & Potatoes.

Every morning, I eat a salad for breakfast. A bean salad, to be specific. Coffee bean salad. Okay, every morning, I drink coffee. A ton of it. I don’t actually eat breakfast.

I know, I know. It’s the most important meal of the day. But during the week, breakfast just isn’t a priority. But on the weekends? Well, that’s a different story. I love breakfast (and especially brunch) on the weekends. So, when my sista from anotha mista Brittany came into town, we decided to spend our Saturday morning in the kitchen, whipping up some breakfast grub. (I mean, what else is there to do the morning after the Pirates take down the Braves 3-2? Besides binge watch How I Met Your Mother on Netflix, of course.)


Armed with a short grocery list and hungry stomachs, we hit the grocery store for the supplies we needed to make Baked Cheddar Eggs & Potatoes.

Ingredients: 3 tablespoons of butter / 1.5 pounds of diced red potatoes / Minced parsley / Salt + pepper / 8 eggs / Extra sharp cheddar cheese, or your preferred flavor

Directions: Preheat oven to 400˚F. / In an ovenproof skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat. / Add potatoes, and cook until golden and tender. / Stir in parsley, salt and pepper to taste. / With a spoon, create four wells in the potatoes. / Break two eggs into each well. / Bake for 9-11 minutes. / Remove from oven, and sprinkle with cheese. / Bake for an additional 1-2 minutes. / Serve immediately with a mimosa. Or a manmosa. Or a bloody Mary. Or just your favorite breakfast cocktail. / Enjoy with a good friend.

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