Browsing Tag

mac and cheese

Pittsburgh Restaurants

Casellula

Casellula, specializing in cheese, is located on Pittsburgh’s North Side on North Avenue near Federal Street.

The Food

Casellula has a broad menu and specializes in cheeses and wines.  The cocktail menu offers nine unique options.  I tried their Decadent & Depraved with rye, sweet vermouth, orange, and luxardo and their Poe Died of Rabies made with aged Brandy, Applejack, White Port, Lemon, with an absinthe rinse.  Both were delicious!  There is also an extensive wine menu with options of buying by the glass or the bottle.  There are 15 options of wines by the glass and over 60 options of by the bottle.  The wine menu gives year and place of origin and boasts some impressive names..  Casellula offers an extensive variety of cheeses.  Patrons can choose from over 20 options of fresh, bloomy, washed, pressed and cooked, and/or blue.  Each cheese is served with a pairing whether sweet or savory that compliments the flavor such as butters, pesto, fruit spread and more.  After the cheese course, I had Casellula’s Greens which was a mix of spring vegetables, Grana Padano cheese, breadcrumbs with an anchovy vinaigrette.  It had a refreshing flavor, but was served with both too much breadcrumb and dressing.  I couldn’t finish it.  I was at Casellula with a party of three.  We each chose an item from the plate menu and all sampled each others entree.  I had the Pig’s Ass Sandwich, which essentially Casellula’s twist on a Cuban Sandwich.  It was so greasy that the flavor of the ham, pork, cheese, and even the pickles was lost.  If it did not have chipotle aioli on the side to spread on it, there would have been no flavor at all.  I could not finish it.  My one friend tried the Mac and Cheese baked with caramelized onion and a variety of cheeses.  We all tried it and agreed it was bland and too greasy, as there was about half a centimeter of oil at the bottom of the craft that it was served in.  My friend who ordered it could not finish.  Lastly, my third dinner mate ordered the salmon with Tahini, over bulgur,  with snap peas.  I tried it and wished that I had ordered that.  It was delicious.  For dessert, I had the cheesecake made with Italian Mascarpone cheese, with sour cherry, on a graham crust.  It was delicious as well.

           

The Service

Our server at Casellula was very knowledgeable of the vast cheese and wine menus.  She patiently guided our party through both lists answering our questions and making suggestions that articulated a wide depth of understanding.  The cheese course with its pairings took a little longer amount of time, but that was to be expected.  The drinks took a little longer amount of time as well, but again, they were specialized drinks.  Unfortunately, as the dinner progressed, my friend ordered a second drink and it took 20 minutes for it to be served.   The restaurant was not that crowded so it was a little perplexing.  Water was refilled and plates were cleared with efficiency by our server or one of the runners.  Here is the clincher of the evening.  I ordered a second drink from our server.  About 15 minutes later, it was brought by a runner who said to us, “I don’t know who ordered this” and placed the drink in the middle of the table, shrugged her shoulders, and walked away.  She actually shrugged her shoulders!

The Ambiance

Casellula is a gorgeous spacious venue that shares a space with Alphabet City and City of Asylum Books.  There is a great blend of natural and artificial light, with tasteful artwork.  Acoustically, it is easy to hear conversation of your fellow table mates.  The venue has a very Parisian feel to it and it is most welcoming.  There is open space between the restaurant portion of the venue and the bookstore with a small stage.  This is the perfect place to listen to a reading, or a small music ensemble, accompanied by great cheese and wine while being entertained.

Casellula

Overall

What Casellula is great at, they are great at.  What they are bad at, they are bad at.  The cheese, wines, specialty cocktails (although served very slowly), and desserts are all terrific and worth the visit.  The other dinner items we all had were at best pretty good and at worst, unable to be finished.  Normally, I make multiple visits to restaurants or other venues before I review them just in case there was an “off” night or some other circumstance that might have made a dining experience undesirable.  However, the Saturday night I visited, the venue was not crowded as there were tables available, but the drink service was consistently slow.  Casellula boasts on its menu and web page that they do not allow tipping because the restaurant staff is compensated well and provided with health benefits and retirement plans.  I am in complete support of any restaurant that treats its employees as the professionals that they are.  Normally a meal experience like this would garner a rating of “It’s worth a shot, but it could be a miss,” but so jarring was the cavalier, millennial-ish act of not asking who the second drink belonged to, but rather shrugging their shoulders and walking away that even though the cheese course was fantastic, I will not be going back again.  This is the first restaurant that I have reviewed to get the rating of:

“Avoid At All Costs!”

Contact

40 W. North Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
(412) 226-9740
Visit Casellula

 

 

Pittsburgh Restaurants

James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy

The James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy is located at the corner of James and Foreland Streets on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.

The Food

To start with, the beer menu has a nice blend of Ales, IPAs, Belgians, Stouts, Wheats, Ciders, and  some Domestics.  In the spirit of a Speakeasy, the drink menu offers vintage choices like a Side Car, Brandy Alexander, Gin Rickey, as well as staples such as Old Fashioneds and Sazeracs, and unique drinks to James Street such as the Smoked Jazz, made with cognac and scotch.  The food menu offers a variety of small plates, wings, burgers, salads, and entrees.  Broadly speaking, the menu overall offers classic nods towards Pittsburgh.  The city loves Mac and Cheese, and James Street has a Build Your Own Mac option.  If you’re hungry, definitely try the Mac and Cheese with some of the unique add ons.  I get mine with chili, tomatoes, and spinach.  Another menu item that stands out are the James Street burgers.  There is also an option here to build your own burger, but there are two choices on the menu that I recommend.  The Big South burger has Pimento cheese, bacon pepper jam, and fried green tomatoes.  It is a unique mix of flavors.  And in a nod to the city, there is the Yinz Gotta Try This Burger, which has perogies, cheddar, and coleslaw on a pretzel bun.  From the entree options, I recommend the Cajun Shrimp and Grits or the homemade Meatloaf Devonshire over broccoli, smashed redskin potatoes, with a whiskey cheddar sauce.  Both are hearty and delicious.

The Service

On the several occasions that I have visited the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy, the service has been consistently terrific.  The greeters, bartenders, servers, and runners have all been efficient, well organized, and friendly.  If there is a wait for a table, just saunter up to the bar and order a pre dinner drink.

The Ambiance

The James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy provides a warm nostalgic ambiance.  The decor upstairs is a shrine to some of the great performers who have visited.  Depending on where one sits, the feel of the entire venue is different.  If you’re in the booths by the bar, you have an elevated view of the whole upstairs portion of the restaurant.  The main dining room is open and there is plenty of space between the tables where diners are not on top of each other.  Downstairs, in the speakeasy section of the venue, there is a small stage and small bar.  The intimate setting, with the lighting and decor, provides for a very sentimental, nostalgic setting.  It is a must visit!

Overall

Everything about the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy is nostalgic nod to a different time, but also an homage to our great city of Pittsburgh.  I recommend embracing the speakeasy ambiance by starting with the Side Car or Gin Rickey, have a great dinner, then go downstairs and listen to some great live jazz.  I easily give the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy an overall rating and recommendation of:

“Absolutely Must Visit!”

Contact

422 Foreland St
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
(412) 904-3335
Visit the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy

Other Cities

[Boone, NC] Vidalia

Vidalia is chic restaurant in the college town of Boone, North Carolina.

The Food

Vidalia has a terrific menu that features a wide variety of Southern cuisine.  The menu is also seasonal with a Summer/Fall menu that is different from its Winter/Spring one.  The appetizer menu has a variety of fry options, cheese and cracker plates, and other items with a Southern flair.  My recommendation is to try the Cracklin Mac n’ Cheese Au Gratin.  This hearty dish is sharp cheddar mac and cheese with tomatoes and sriracha cracklins.  Delicious!  If you are craving something lighter, the Georgia Pate is a great choice as well.  There are a variety of salads to choose from.  I suggest the Fig and Prosciutto salad that has a nice combination of sweet and savory.  All of the salads have the option of adding chicken, shrimp, or tofu.  The entree choices include a variety of dishes that are both hip and Southern.  Just as a heads up, if you’re from the North and you order the Chicken and Waffles, it is dry, not wet like Northerners are accustomed.  I give my strongest recommendation to trying either the North Carolina Catfish or the Shrimp and Grits.  The catfish is served with ham risotto, hoecakes, and remoulade.  The shrimp and grits come with ham, creole grins, green onion, greens, red peppers, and a sunny side egg.  Both hearty dishes are great!

The Service

Vidalia’s greeters, wait staff, and bartenders are spot on.  In the two instances I visited, I was there once with a large group and again with a small one.  At each visit, the staff was great.  And the waitress was accommodating with a large check being paid for on several cards.  It was more than 20 people and she didn’t flinch.  Bravo!

The Ambiance

Vidalia sits on the bustling King Street in Boone’s east side.  The tasteful decor is bright and welcoming.  Although a little loud acoustically, the venue is quite pleasant.  I recommend having a drink at the bar before getting seated to soak in the great experience of dining at Vidalia!  Bon appetite!

Overall

I give Vidalia the overall rating and recommendation of:

“Go For It!”

Contact

831-835 West King Street
Boone, NC 

Visit Vidalia