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Archive for the category “food reviews”

Croque Madame, Salt of the Earth, Pittsburgh

Croque Madame, Salt of the Earth, April 2014

Croque Madame, Salt of the Earth, April 2014

I’ve already hinted elsewhere that, for being a French food fan, I’ve eaten surprisingly few French classics. Somewhere between my busy schedule and the price of the Euro, when in France, I have tended to stick to lunches of baguette, butter, and ham sandwiches (which are pretty incredible) instead of white wine, escargots, and oeufs coquette.

However, this wasn’t good enough for Chef Chad Townsend at Salt of the Earth, Pittsburgh. After mentioning that I’ve never had a croque madame — a sort of elevated grilled cheese with ham — I was brought this delicious rendition of the old French favorite. Two buttery brioche slices are grilled with melted gruyère cheese and thick wedges of house-cured ham, then are crowned with a farm-fresh egg and slathered with béchemal. In every bite, the firm body of the bread gave way to the luxurious sauce, egg, and cheese; the smokiness of the ham cuts through the layers of butter. A green salad with fresh herbs and a bright, strong vinaigrette gives balance.

It’s not always on the menu (although it is right now), but — as this May 1 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states — any dish of Chad’s is worth trying.

Salt of the Earth
5523 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15602

Monday-Saturday 5pm-1am

Not like Mom’s: Authentic Belgian waffles, Waffalonia, Pittsburgh

"The Antwerp"

“The Antwerp” with speculoos ice cream, April 2014

I happen to be intrigued by almost everything about Belgium. Geographically, politically, and historically lodged between Holland (the country that introduced me to Europe) and France (the primary country that speaks the language that I study), Belgium is the intersection of Europe at which I feel most myself. The French accent seems softer here, and the humor, brighter. In Belgium, Lynn and I began our walk along the Western Front in 2010, and I had my first argument in full-blown French (avec “vous” et tout) with a bartender in 2007. Wine as the national beverage is traded for the beer that links me to my boyfriend, and the land smooths into long wide fields that carry me back to my family’s Pennsylvanian farm.

So of course I was going to love the authentic Belgian waffles Waffalonia (Oakland and Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh), which serves up hearty, sweet waffles stunningly unlike those onto which my central Pennsylvania grandmother douses chicken and gravy. Instead, these Liège-style waffles are made from a yeast-driven dough and stuffed with imported sugar crystals that caramelize under heat.

It may be lost on many Pittsburghers that these waffles are named after Belgian cities and displayed on a menu that recalls a European railway schedule, but I used pass through Antwerp (here with speculoos ice cream and chocolate syrup) by train in 2007, and I was enchanted by the cobblestones streets of Bruges (here with strawberries and whipped cream) when I was fifteen.

Beyond the memories, the waffles are to die for. Pressed to order, the waffles are topped with fresh fruits, syrups, spreads, or locally-made Dave and Andy’s ice cream.

French student-approved

French student-approved, April 2014

Squirrel Hill
1707 Murray Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
(412) 521-4902

4212 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
(412) 685-4081

Fresh, authentic, flavorful: Garden Vietnamese Restaurant, Harrisburg

Garden Vietnamese

Weekend special, Garden Vietnamese, March 2014

Garden Vietnamese, Harrisburg, is one of those odd kind of restaurants that I love to recommend. Painted mint green and positioned just on the edge of Midtown, the Garden looks just as unassuming as its Harrisburg reputation is omnipresent. When we moved to Harrisburg five years ago, the Garden was one of the first restaurants that we were recommended, and it remains one of the only restaurants that I legitimately miss from Pittsburgh. It’s also one of the only restaurants at which I like my favorite dishes so much that I barely ever want to order anything different.

Skip the soups with the chicken or shrimp (which is often too tough or rubbery) and go for authentic.

Begin with spring rolls — shrimp, vermicelli noodles, fresh basil, and mint tightly bound in rice paper and served with peanut sauce.

Next, order a pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) or the sweet, slightly charred slide pork with a fried egg roll, vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs, ground peanuts, and a tangy sauce.

On Fridays and Saturdays, go for the specials. Above is the beef soup: a sweet, savory, yet slightly-spicy broth of ginger and green and white onions, dunked with chunks of beef, carrots, and your choice of egg, rice, and vermicelli noodles.

Finish with a cup of Vietnamese coffee pressed into sweetened condensed milk.

And then you tell me what intrigues you here — the hearty portions, the noodles that slurp, or the blend of fresh and flavor that evokes both home and places far away.

Garden Vietnamese
304 Reily Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102
(717) 238-9310

Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery, Millvale, reinspires

Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French bakery in Millvale, PA, is just a stone’s throw across the river from Pittsburgh’s other well-known French boulengeries: La Gourmandine in Lawrenceville, Gaby et Jules in Squirrel Hill.

However, in contrast to La Gourmandine’s rustic coziness and Gaby et Jules’ glittering elegance, Jean-Marc Chatellier’s bakery better gives the impression of being a small-town cake shop of 20 years ago: a turquoise-colored awning, neon OPEN sign, florescent indoor lighting. There’s no “bonjour” when you enter; there are no frilled aprons or chef’s hats; there are just pastries — and good ones at that.

Paris-Brest, Jean-Marc

Paris-Brest, Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery

My purchase of the Paris-Brest — made of hazelnut or praline cream between two rings of choux pastry — was supposed to be the last time I was going to try this traditional pastry (which was inspired by a bicycle race between the cities of Paris and Brest in 1891). All too often, I’ve been let down, finding the choux pastry unable to live up to the flavor of the filling, due to the pastry having been too old or too refrigerated for too long.

Jean-Marc’s Paris-Brest proved me absolutely wrong. The light, firm pastry was the vehicle for the rich, powdered-sugar-dusted cream. Too big for my hands, I ate my Paris-Brest with a spoon. It was like eating a cloud occasionally studded with toasted almonds.

This pastry was not just good enough to revive my hope in pastries in general, but also to reignite my belief in humanity. Who would have guessed that such a jewel of a pastry could sit in the case next to humble American favorites like key lime pie, and be served so cheerfully in the corner of this town?

Did I really not realize that French pastries can sell not just because they are French — but because they are good?

I will be back to Jean-Marc Chatellier’s — and be back and be back.

Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery
213 North Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA
(412) 821-8533

The Princeton: Ginger, lemon, and honey cappuccino, Little Amps, Harrisburg

It is a coffee that I’ve been waiting since August to taste — since I left Harrisburg for a semester in Pittsburgh and only came back on the weekends.

Known as the Princeton, this drink is the downtown cousin (only available on weekdays) to the Uptown Ginger Brown at Little Amps, Green Street.

It’s a cappuccino featuring a shot of espresso pulled into honey then graced with lemon zest and ginger. (The Uptown Ginger Brown swaps in brown sugar and orange zest).

On this December day, the bright citrus dances through the foamed milk and rich espresso, more reminiscent of ocean shores than snowdrifts on Second Street. Well worth a semester’s wait.

The Princeton, Little Amps, Harrisburg

The Princeton, Little Amps, Harrisburg

133 State Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101
(717) 635-9870
Mon–Thu 6:45am–5:30pm
Fri: 6:45–9pm
Olde Uptown:
1836 Green Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102
(717) 695-4882Mon–Fri: 7am–2pm
Sat: 8am–9pm
Sun: 8am–2pm

Au Bon Lieu, Harrisburg: Crêpes that I actually stand behind

Au Bon Lieu, August 2013

Au Bon Lieu, August 2013

My students at the University of Pittsburgh recently asked me what an authentic crêpe was like, and I realized I have no good answers. I only have impressions. In my head, it goes like this: a crêpe must have a simple batter made of flour, eggs, milk, and occasionally some sugar, vanilla, or salt. The filings may be sweet or savory, but the crêpe must be folded in a triangle. I’m willing to admit that crêpes are versatile and easily made American, especially when they’re done well, but I’m least skeptical of crêpes when they harken back to Avignon, France, in 2005 when I was taught to flip crêpes by holding a coin in my left hand for luck.

Due to my dealing only with impressions, Au Bon Lieu in Harrisburg, PA, strikes me as the real deal, offering crêpes that are actually hearty, elegant, and soul-friendly. (No ham and provolone crêpe here — that’s for the deli down the block.) The batter is made daily out of unbleached flour, and many ingredients are organic, including many of those pictured above — artichoke hearts, plump olives, basil, fresh tomato, a freshly-fried egg, and herbed feta cheese.

What do I look for in an authentic crêperie? A savory crêpe that is less about avocado and more about shrimp. Sweet crêpes that are less about Nutella and bananas (although definitely include Nutella and bananas) and more about powdered sugar, jams, butter, and honey. (Our dessert was a crêpe with organic honey and pine nuts; also on the menu were sweet crêpes featuring chestnut paste and Belgian chocolate.)

Eating on the sunny front patio facing Third Street, I assert that Au Bon Lieu felt juuuust about right.

Au Bon Lieu
1 North Third Street
Harrisburg, PA
(703) 608-0871

Monday-Sunday: 10 AM – 10 PM

Pork BBQ and pickled jalapenos, Kristy’s Whistle Stop, Enola, Pennsylvania

All About burger and Porky Pig fries, Whistle Stop, August 2013

All About burger and Porky Pig fries, Whistle Stop, August 2013

So I lost a bet on these two cleverly-named dishes at Kristy’s Whistle Stop, Enola.

But give me some credit. Both are slathered in pork BBQ and thrown with a handful of pickled jalapenos.

How was I supposed to remember that the Porky Pig was the one with the fries, the hot sauce, and the nacho cheese, and that the All-Aboard was a burger with the BBQ, the jalapenos, as well as the cole slaw and a giant, crisp onion ring?

The worst part about this photograph is the fact that I already wrote about Kristy’s Whistle Stop in 2010, and my own article confirms that it has been my mind, not the names “Porky Pig fries” and “All-Aboard burger,” that have undergone a transformation.

Maybe brain freeze from a giant mint Oreo hurricane — Kristy’s version of Dairy Queen’s blizzard, or McDonald’s McFlurry — will redeem my mental state.

Kristy’s Whistle Stop
600 S. Enola Rd
Routes 11 & 15
Enola, PA

(717) 909-3881

Monday-Saturday, 11am-9pm
Sundays, 12pm-8pm

Kyoto drip, Bank Square Coffeehouse; Beacon, New York

koyto drip

Bank Square Coffeehouse. July 2013

Okay. I cannot say that I actually tasted this coffee when I stopped at this gem of a coffeehouse in Beacon, New York — but the sheer appearance of the brewing apparatus of Kyoto drip coffee certainly caught my attention. At Bank Square Coffeehouse, founded in 2009, this Kyoto drip steeps coffee through a thick bed of grounds at one drip per second.

Since they were out of Kyoto drip when I was there (although they were brewing more, IV-style), I turn to In the article “Some Like It Cold (Brewed),” writers call the process of Kyoto drip “breathtaking,” “mad-scientist-style,” and a “spiraling one-drop-at-a-time” method of cold brewing.

Of the taste of the Kyoto drip at Blue Bottle Coffee (Oakland, San Francisco, Brooklyn), they wrote: “Kyoto’s brew is an intense, flattish-tasting brew that has that guilty pleasure flavor of canned iced coffee. The cup we tried was a bit ice-cube flavored, but the sturdy, almost woody quality to the brew suggests it might get better and better as that melty ice goes on.”

Road trip to New York, anyone? (Coffee’s on me.)

Bank Square Coffeehouse
129 Main Street
Beacon, NY 12508

Sunday-Thursday, 5:30am-9:00pm (6:30am on Sunday)
Friday-Saturday, 5:30am-10:00pm (6:30am on Saturday)

Friday Photo: Morano Gelato, Hanover, New Hampshire


These whipped cloud-like mounds of gelato display the dessert’s luxuriousness. July 2013.

Being the daughter of a dairy farmer, I have an incredible weakness for dairy products, especially ice cream. However, even I admit that once you taste gelato, like that of Morano Gelato in Hanover, New Hampshire, there’s no turning back.

According to the Morano website, gelato differs from American ice cream in three main ways: gelato has a lower butterfat content (4-9% verses 14-25%), is less dense than traditional ice cream (20-30% air verses 50%), and is served at 10-15 degrees warmer than traditional ice cream is. These qualities allow gelato to pack an incredibly rich, creamy mouthfeel, so decadent that only a few spoonfuls are endlessly satisfying. No triple-decker cone is needed here.

Called “the best gelato in America” by Forbes magazine, the gelato at Morano is made fresh daily and sells out every evening. Come early to try out flavors like Almond, English Custard, or Dark Chocolate — which was too rich for even me — or to sample classic Italian espressos and sandwiches amid the boutique’s chic décor and outdoor seating.

57 South Main Street
Hanover, New Hampshire

Friday-Saturday, 11:00am-10pm
Tuesday-Thursday & Sunday, 11:00am-9:30pm

Hours change seasonally.

Cupcakes fit for spring, Dozen Bake Shop, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh


Vanilla cupcake with passionfruit and coconut, Dozen Bake Shop, April 2013

I have a weakness for good cupcakes, especially those, like this one from Dozen Bake Shop, that taste like springtime and are made from scratch daily.

This moist vanilla cupcake with deliciously thick passionfruit icing was crowned with coconut for a not-to-sweet but altogether beautiful crunch.

Be sure to call ahead for the day’s flavors and read up on their “best bakery” praise in Pittsburgh City Paper, Pittsburgh Magazine, Forbes, and

Dozen Bake Shop
3511 Butler Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
(412) 683-2327

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