Yum’s Favorites – Targeting the favorite bistros of NITS’ intrepid food critic The Best of Yum (Part I) Readers of Neighbors in the Strip’s monthly Nits-e-gram are already familiar with the audacious antics of resident food critic Yum and Yum’s plucky sidekicks, Sib, Chum and, the newest addition to the entourage, The Steel Magnolia. For newcomers, however, Yum and associates are constantly on the lookout for the tastiest treats to be found in the Strip and firmly believe that “diet” is a four-letter word. What follows are some of their finest moments… 1. First stop is Pamela’s P&G Diner, a welcome addition to the Pittsburgh “hearty breakfast” tradition. Yum remembers with fondness a brief shining moment in the ‘70’s when it seemed that crepe restaurants were springing up on every street corner and in every suburban shopping mall. In fact, Yum’s first legal glass of wine was imbibed at The Magic Pan in Chicago on a memorable 21st birthday. Yum delighted in those thin French pancakes filled with wonderful things and mourned the passing of the “creperies”. But what, you may be asking, has this to do with Pamela’s P&G Diner? Read on… YUM Yum and the always-famished Sib took a break from the various Strip festivities for a taste of the Strip’s newest eatery, Pamela’s P&G Diner. You, dear reader, may be familiar with Pamela’s from its other iterations around Pittsburgh, but to Yum (who seldom makes it out of the Strip) this delightful reminder of a 1950’s diner was a revelation! The turquoise and pink color scheme, “scribble” lampshades and Fiesta dinnerware combine with an oldies musical background to create a fun and funky “Back to the Future” atmosphere. To add a grace note to the scene, the walls are adorned with family photos (purportedly of members of the staff – see if you can identify them) drawn from those “Happy Days”. (By the way, Yum could swear that one of those photos showed the apartment of Yum’s earliest yumhood memories…but with a different family ensconced! Guess all those apartments in the ‘50’s looked alike). Oh, and the shiny turquoise and pink Thunderbird convertible parked in front of the diner was stunning! But Pamela’s is so much better than those diners of yore. Owners, Pamela Cohen and Gail Klingensmith, have taken the traditional diner fare of hearty breakfasts, burgers and sandwiches and kicked it up a notch (actually ten notches is more like it). Sib chose the triple cheese omelet. Now, it is axiomatic in our family that there is “cheese”, “more cheese”, and “lots of cheese,” but there is no such thing as “too much cheese”. The triple cheese omelet comes close. Loaded with cheddar, swiss, and American this omelet is a cheese-lover’s dream. But lest we forget about the egg part of the omelet, it was prepared perfectly – not undercooked and runny, not brown and crusty, but golden, beautiful and just right. (And now we get to the crepe part…) Yum selected the Banana Walnut Hotcakes, expecting the traditional pancake with some bananas and walnuts on top. Not a chance. Pamela’s version of the hotcake is thin and plate-sized with the fillings tucked neatly inside and rolled like a crepe. It was so wonderful, it brought tears to the nostalgic Yum’s eyes. Seriously, these hotcakes (which come in three different versions) are really, really good. Not heavy and doughy, not flat and leathery, but light, a little crisp, and just right (hey, we have a theme emerging here – “Everything at Pamela’s is ‘just right’” – feel free to use it, it’s Yum’s gift). Yum and Sib were in a brunch state of mind, but while lingering over their delectable repast, an enthusiastic lunch crowd began flocking in. The sandwiches being hauled to their tables looked very fine indeed and a look into Yum’s crystal ball predicts an imminent follow-up visit for lunch. And one more thing…naturally enough, Yum enjoys reading menus and was charmed by the sweet humility displayed by Pamela’s menu – no “world-famous” this and that’s for Pamela’s…instead there are the “pretty famous” lyonnaise potatoes, the “semi-famous” homemade hash, the “soon to be famous” Jeff’s egg salad, and so on. See how many you can spot. (Yum may recommend Pamela’s menu for next month’s book club reading selection!) Pamela’s P&G Diner is conveniently located at 60 21st Street (that’s right across the street from St. Stan’s – hey, there’s an idea…what about going to Pamela’s for an after church brunch?). A Four “Yum’s up” for Pamela’s. Be sure to go and take your appetite. P.S. Yum was just remembering a family dinner at The Magic Pan. When it came time to order dessert, Daddyum, who is a devotee of vintage movies about “high society”, was fixated on his first opportunity to experience the elusive “Crepe Suzette.” So, while Yum, Sib and Mumyum were presented with fluffy dessert crepe concoctions filled with ice cream, fruit, nuts, whipped cream and other tasty morsels, Daddyum gazed with chagrin at his pathetic little triangles topped with orange sauce. They were delicious, but certainly not the visual fantasies he spied elsewhere at the table. It all ended happily, however, since Yum and Mumyum shared liberally with Daddyum and put the beaming smile back on his face. We won’t discuss Sib’s actions on this occasion. Anyway, Yum must recommend Pamela’s hotcakes to Daddyum. He’s sure to be SIB pleased! 2. And while we’re on the subject of breakfast, let’s not forget another Pittsburgh tradition, DeLuca’s. On a dreary winter morning, Yum, Sib and Chum ventured forth to the Old House Fair sponsored by the Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation at Bloomfield’s Victoria Hall. For Yum and Chum this was an interesting and valuable experience for the simple reason that they are either in the process of purchasing or have recently purchased (respectively) old houses. Sib tagged along to meet and greet, charm and alarm, flibbertigibbet around and otherwise expand an ever-increasing sphere of influence. Following this rewarding experience, the three intrepid, but weary and ravenous adventurers proceeded to The Strip District for a late breakfast at De Luca’s. Yum lagged behind the younger, fitter, and longer-legged Sib and Chum and was momentarily distracted by a display of cookbooks on a table outside Bradley’s Books. By the time Yum’s glazed eyes were finally torn away from the splendors of photographic cuisine in favor of the real thing, Sib and Chum had disappeared. Frightened and forlorn, Yum ventured timidly into the clamor and chaos that characterizes Saturday morning at De Luca’s. The familiar visages of Sib and Chum did not readily present themselves and Yum’s heart, set on hot coffee and a substantial breakfast, sank at the thought of returning to the bleak and bitter streets to search for the lost duo. Just then a strident “YUM!!!” rang from the remotest corner of the restaurant. This stentorian tone was unmistakably coming from Sib, who inherited it as part of a genetic package from Mumyum (thus it has been affectionately dubbed, “The Mom Voice”). Use of “The Mom Voice” in Pittsburgh has been known to register on the Richter scale as far away as Chicago and it is absolutely guaranteed to attract the attention of its intended victim no matter what the nature and volume of the ambient noise might be. So, while an unearthly silence descended on the restaurant patrons and all heads turned to the hapless Yum, Yum lurched for the table at a furious trundle, anxious to prevent a second instance of that discordant bray. With a complexion alternating between a deathly pallor and a charming crimson red, Chum, inexperienced with “The Mom Voice,” was sinking slowly beneath the table muttering “Oh…My…God” while Sib waved both arms and bounced frantically just in case the vocal bullhorn had been insufficient to attract Yum’s attention. The waiter, quickly recovering from the buffeting caused by the shockwaves radiating from Sib, spoke with quiet aplomb: “It’s quite all right to shout across the restaurant,” he said. And in that instant Yum knew why De Luca’s is consistently honored for having the Best Breakfast in the CHUM ‘Burgh. On many occasions Yum has bemoaned the passing of eateries where the coffee is hot, the cup is always full, and the waitresses call you “Hon.” De Luca’s is the present day version of that time honored tradition – friendly, cheerful, noisy and welcoming. You just want to BE there – preferably with friends. It feels good. And guess what…the food is good too. Not fancy, but comfortable…this is food you know, food you crave, food that satisfies the soul. So go to De Luca’s…go soon and go often…never mind the lines. It’s worth it. 3. From time to time Yum finds it necessary to recover from a particularly extensive stint of over-feasting and is unavailable for restaurant reviewing chores. At such times, the NITS-e-gram is fortunate to have the services of Fluff, who can frequently be found planning and attending the best parties in the Strip. On this occasion, Fluff, accompanied by Sister Slug and Auntie Meem, took some time off from party planning to lunch at Roland’s Seafood Grill. Hi! Fluff Hi, Fluff here! It’s been so-o-o-o long! I’ve missed you! Well, I’m sure it will be Here! no surprise to anyone to learn that Fluff was tapped to plan Daddy-Yum’s 81st birthday party (Yum has always known where to turn in times of crisis). This was to be a simple en famile gathering, in contrast to last year’s unforgettable extravaganza, but it still required the incomparable touch of the Party Planner Extrordinaire (i.e., yours truly, Fluff). Since Yum is not much of a chef (“I’m an eater, not a cooker” is a noteworthy “Yumism”), Fluff envisioned an uncomplicated repast centered around a Lemon Pepper Pasta with Shrimp and Alfredo Sauce, accompanied by garlic bread and a salad of spiced pears, glazed walnuts and bleu cheese on a bed of fresh young spinach and topped with Fluff’s signature Vinaigrette a la Fluff dressing. A small antipasto of plump figs, a little mozzarell’ and tomatoes, some prosciutt’ and an assortment of exotic olives would serve as hors d’oeuvres. Easy enough. (Fluff has definitely been watching too much of The Sopranos.) As time was of the essence, it was determined that the lively, lissome Fluff, rather than the trundling, truculent Yum would do the shopping and so Fluff set out for the Strip District with the ever apathetic Sister Slug and the always enthusiastic Auntie Meem on what turned out to be the first lovely spring day of the year (well, lovely for Pittsburgh, which, you know, means it threatens to rain all day, but never actually does rain). Auntie Meem, better known as “The Consummate Shopper,” provided expert Auntie advice and able assistance, so the party provisions were swiftly gathered. Sister Meem Slug (who believes that Sloth is the most fascinating of the Seven Deadly Sins) provided minimal assistance and appalling advice, but did manage to pose a very intriguing question: “Isn’t it time for lunch yet?” Indeed it was, and, as luck would have it, the three gallant shoppers found themselves immediately in front of Rolands Seafood Grill. Fluff was delighted to note that Rolands has expanded and not a moment too soon! A large and lively lunch crowd filled both old and new space, but Fluff and entourage managed to secure a table on the second floor outdoor balcony. (There were some naysayers who felt it was still a trifle cool to eat outdoors, but Fluff would not be deterred). Rolands balcony is a perfect perch from which to view the festive crowd seeking treasures in the Strip. Fluff also enjoys the interior, however, which somehow manages to convey the impression of a charmingly funky seaside bistro (which is a challenge in landlocked Pittsburgh). Sister Slug encouraged Fluff to order Rolands’ world-famous lobster roll which justified its reputation, like totally! Excellent choice! Sister Slug also persuaded Fluff to partake of a rather healthy sample of her filet mignon sandwich and it proved to be equally delicious. (Slug professed that her offering was prompted by generosity, but Fluff privately believes that it was more likely a nefarious scheme to add excess poundage to Fluff’s lithe frame and was prompted by jealousy!) Ah, well…sibling rivalry…what can one do? Auntie Meem, by the way, shared nothing and silently gobbled up every bit of her meal. Fluff was pleased to learn that Rolands orders the freshest meat and seafood daily from markets in the Strip District (Bravo! Fluff says “Shop Local”). In addition, Rolands offers the most prodigious assortment of bottled beer in Pittsburgh, a healthy selection of draft beer and premium cocktails. And did I mention the jukebox? The musical selection is c’est magnifique! If this goes on, a further expansion will be needed soon. Four Yum’s Up to Rolands! (Yum said it was okay to say that since Four Fluff’s Up sounds absurd). So that’s all for now…let’s try to get together real soon…maybe we can do lunch. Ciao! P.S. In case you were wondering, the party was a stunning success. The table setting was dazzling and even Yum’s meager culinary skills could not injure the foolproof menu and excellent ingredients. One more thing…Daddy-Yum is not a big fan of birthday cake, so dessert was a bit of a quandary. But one must always trust in the serendipity of the Strip and as Fluff was strolling to the car she came upon a gentleman selling sweet potato pies. The sample was heavenly and, without much ado, sweet potato pie was selected for dessert. So always keep your eyes open for the unexpected, but inspired choice, as you stroll the Strip. 4. On the other hand, when Sib fills in, anything can happen. Hey diddle diddle the cat and the fiddle . . . and the dish ran away with the spoon. Well, this time Sib, Yum's much, much younger sibling absconded not only with Yum's spoon, but with the knife and fork as well. Sib is not the epicurean expert or literary wit that Yum is, but may be capable of providing a few eloquent insights into this charming neighborhood restaurant. Let's see what Sib has to say . . . Sib: My mission - visit one of the Strip's newest restaurant venues - Crystal. This little "Cheers-like" bar/restaurant, located at 1211 Penn Avenue, provides a warm, friendly atmosphere where everyone will know your name. Sib must tell the truth, Sib has been to this spot not once or twice, but maybe eleventy-twenty times. The food is good, the staff is friendly and they have nice stemware. Editor: Wait, wait, wait, Sib you have to be a little more descriptive than that. Folks want to know more about the culinary experience they might encounter. Sib: Okay, then the food is really, really good and the staff is really, really nice. And, the glasses are really, really neat, too. Ed: Not quite what I meant - tell me more about the really, really good food. Sib: Every time, my friend Chum and I eat there, our taste buds stand up and scream in paroxisms of delight, which makes it very noisy when we chew. It also gets kinda messy, cause sometimes Chum drools. Ed: We are still not quite there - more about the actual food, and not its effects on Neanderthals, please. Sib: Should I talk about the Portabella Appetizer, stuffed with jumbo, lump crab meat and topped off with Colby Jack cheese, or how about the low carb, but tasty options, or the bacon cheese burger designed for manly men or a very hungry woman on the South Beach diet? Ed: That's more like it. Tell me more . . . Please continue... Sib: Those regular foods are really, really good, but what I really, really want to tell folks about is the "Family Favorites" - a melody of Mediterranean delights. I have been humming a "hummus" refrain ever since tasting their amazing mixture served with deep fried pita. The harmony created upon tasting their combo of Grape Leaves, Kibbee and Tabbouli is akin to hearing angelic refrains. I think I might have to stop now, I'm beginning to slobber. Ed: I will be glad when Yum is back, Sib & Chum are idiots. Nevertheless, they are idiots with good taste. I have been to Crystal, too! So, please go soon and enjoy. The food is homemade with loving care and the Mediterranean delights really do make you salivate. The staff is really, really friendly and, as noted above, the stemware is really, really cool. Yum where are you??? Please come back! 5. On the subject of lunch, the Strip has an abundance of attractive possibilities. Consider, for example, Reymer’s Cafe in the Heinz History Center. Yum trundled down to the Strip this week, partly for another peek at the wonderful exhibits at the Heinz History Center , but mostly because rumors of an excellent café at the History Center had piqued Yum’s interest. It has been Yum’s experience that the cuisine found in most museum cantinas is sufficient to keep one alive, but has all the flavor and excitement of those not-so- fondly remembered high school cafeteria entrees. And to make matters worse, because the audience is captive, the purveyors of said mediocre victuals take an evil delight in charging premium prices! But that is a subject for a separate rant. Reymer’s Cafe takes a quantum leap from the typical museum eatery. The menu presents a wide variety of delectable sandwich choices. On the recommendation of Sib, Yum ordered the #1 Corned Beef with Coleslaw, Swiss Cheese & Russian Dressing with a side order of Macaroni Salad. In recognition of Yum’s continuing excess of avoirdupois, a half sandwich was elected. Fortunately. Because, guess what - this half sandwich was enormous! (Sib neglected to mention that the #1 Corned Beef with Coleslaw, etc. was a double decker). No doubt about it, Reymer’s believes in continuing the Pittsburgh tradition of the two-fisted sandwich. Of course, size isn’t everything (so Yum has been told) and Yum is pleased to report that the taste is superior as well. Yum has always secretly thought of this type of sandwich as a “Summer Reuben” and Reymer’s version is deliciously light and fresh with lean corned beef (from Jo Mar, another wonderful Strip business) and thick, tasty bread. The Macaroni Salad was creamy and smooth and a marvelous complement to the sandwich. The ever-miserly Sib provided teensy samples of her Turkey Melt sandwich and Linguini Salad – also scrumptious. Yum has been advised that the breakfast offerings are equally appealing and the homemade soups and other lunch specials (stuffed green peppers were available during Yum’s visit) provide savory alternatives to the ever-popular sandwich. And here’s the best part – no confiscatory pricing schedule! This is great value for money. Congratulations to Reymers for creating something unique…a museum café that is worthy of being a destination. FOUR YUMS UP! As a bonus, there is no museum entrance fee to visit the Deli. So stop in for lunch whenever, take it back to your desk, or dine at the expanded café table space. Hey, here’s an idea for those working or visiting in the Golden Triangle area…take a brisk walk down to the History Center, pick up an astonishing lunch at Reymer’s Cafe and do some shopping at the Museum Gift Shop. The Gift Shop has trinkets and treasures and tomes to delight all of those hard-to-buy-for individuals. 6. Another good lunchtime alternative is Spaghetti Warehouse with its very affordable lunch specials…it was almost the undoing of the hapless Yum. Read on… Sib, Chum and their new pal, the Steel Magnolia, went searching high and low (the "low" part was easier since they have many friends in low places) for the missing Yum. As you may or may not have noticed, Yum's column reviewing the many fine dining and other culinary establishments in the Strip has been strangely absent from recent NITS-e-grams. Where could Yum be? The clues were few and the challenges were great as the intrepid trio scoured the Strip, but it soon became evident that the slow-moving Yum could be only slightly in the lead, as the pals began following tomato sauce stains leading to…The Spaghetti Warehouse! Aha! Where else would one expect to find Yum who likes nothing better than a really big portion and a really moderate price. Sure enough, there was Yum, snuggled into the Trolley Room (an actual mid-twentieth century Port Authority Streetcar plopped in the middle of an actual Warehouse) digging into a healthy-sized serving of 15-layer lasagna and warm sourdough bread. “Where have you been!” cried Sib, “We missed you.” “Mpg-h-h-h,” replied Yum without interrupting lunch. Since there obviously would be no answers forthcoming until Yum finished lunch, the seekers decided to join in and additional portions of 15-layer lasagna and sourdough bread were ordered all around and speedily devoured. Well, the conversation following lunch was, to put it delicately, heated, and our gentle readers will be spared the details, but to make a long story short, it appears that Yum had discovered the $4.99 lunch specials at Spaghetti Warehouse and was, shall we say, “indulging” big time. Yum did manage to scribble out a few notes between bites as follows: “This place is great…the taste of Old World Italy with American abundance! I love the casual, nostalgic atmosphere and colorful memorabilia – it’s a feast for the eyes, as well as the palate. I’ve been spending a lot of time here recently (No Kidding!) and there have been some great parties and the food is always yum, yum, yummy! Sometimes there’s even entertainment - participatory murder mysteries, performed by Mystery’s Most Wanted.” Sib mentioned that Yum was gushing and ended up with a bowl of pasta on her The Steel head for her trouble. Chum interjected that Yum seemed to be a little out of practice Magnolia in reviewing, but said it so sweetly that Yum could not take offense. The Steel Magnolia, always the perfect lady, politely excused herself and escaped to the car (parking is free at the Spaghetti Warehouse, by the way). It was left to Chum and a very messy Sib to lure Yum out of the Spaghetti Warehouse with a chocolate macaroon from Enrico Biscotti and Yum is currently undergoing carbohydrate detoxification and will be rejoining the NITS-e-gram staff in August. In the meantime, take our word for it, Yum gives Spaghetti Warehouse “Four YUMs Up!” 7. On rare occasions, Yum and Fluff depart from the Strip to explore a particularly intriguing venue…this is one such occasion… Hi, Fluff here! Well, the social season is an absolute frenzy and Fluff is just s-o- o-o-o busy, but I just had to take a few minutes to regale you with tales of the most delightful wedding at The Priory. You may remember that some months ago Yum, Sib and Mom of Bride (MOB) visited The Priory in an effort to ascertain whether it would meet the rigorous standards of MOB for the marital festivities of # 1 Daughter. Needless to say it passed with flying colors and Fluff is here to report on all of the stunning details (or as many as can be reported in ten minutes). Sad to say, Yum was laid up with a severe case of chocolate bloat and was unable to attend, but this circumstance was most fortunate for Fluff, who was invited to attend in Yum’s place. So without further ado, let me report that this was one of the most memorable weddings Fluff has ever attended. Naturally, a good deal of the credit must go to the bride and groom for having the good sense to be born into amiable and interesting families (always important for a successful social affair!) as well as to all those who participated in the planning of this gala (most particularly, MOB) for the exquisite taste and refinement displayed (attire, floral arrangements, musical interludes, wedding traditions embraced/scorned, and so on were all superb). BUT, in Fluff’s humble opinion, the most important selection of all (except for the bride and groom’s selection of each other, I guess) was choosing The Priory as the locale. The Priory’s Great Hall was dazzling. The soaring ceilings, which in its previous incarnation, served to lift the heart and soul of congregants, creates a similar sense of awe in a more secular gathering. The site is just all one could ask for…totally elegant! AND, the menu was equally amazing! The individual food stations allowed guests to circulate among the offerings in a relaxed and civilized manner. Fluff has been to entirely too many affairs where guests are summoned to the buffet by table numbers…as if they were attending summer camp…and at one particularly gruesome affair, Fluff was actually at a table whose number was never called…I mean, really! But, I digress. The cuisine was purely outstanding. From the classic Penne Pasta and Cheese Tortellini (Pasta Station) and Pepper Crusted Tenderloin of Beef (Carving Station) to the more exotic Blackened Catfish Provencal and Spicy Langostino Beignet (Cajun Station) and the Stuffed Jalapeno Peppers with Fresh Salsa (Mexican Station), the dining options were all fresh, original, beautifully presented and, last but not least, scrumptious. Of course, there were many other equally delectable choices (including those at the incomparable Pastry Station), but Fluff (unlike Yum) must show some concern for her figure and, alas, was unable to partake of all the tempting treasures she may have wanted to test. Suffice it to say that, with respect to the untasted delights, word of mouth from other guests was very positive indeed. Good company, beautiful location, wonderful dining…wait, Fluff is forgetting something. Oh yes…the attentive and enthusiastic staff at the Priory, who seem to accept it as a personal mission to ensure that each guest has an unforgettable experience. Bravo! Fluff and Sib opted to stay overnight at The Priory to allow for maximum enjoyment of the festivities and a relaxing post wedding debriefing (i.e., delicious gossip) but regrettably, time and space constraints prevent further description. Nevertheless, Fluff would be remiss if she did not advise her faithful readers in The Strip that while enjoying breakfast in The Priory’s enchanting courtyard the next morning, she overheard guests at the next table discussing their plans for the day. They had been reading the “Landmarks of Greater Pittsburgh” book placed in their room and decided that The Strip District was The Place to Go! Fluff says: It pays to advertise. That’s all for now…except, if you are planning a wedding or any other major event, check into The Priory…you’ll never want to leave. Kisses, Fluff P.S. Yum’s Chum was not invited to the wedding. (This postscript is apropos of nothing except that Chum is disturbed about not appearing in a Yum or Fluff column. So, are you satisfied, Chum?) 8. When it comes to the worst of all possible meetings, the “Staff” meeting, in order to persuade Yum to attend it’s essential to provide the best of all possible venues – and that would be Eleven! Yum is back, prowling the Strip in search of the finest in food, fun and frivolity. Did anyone miss Yum? Yum returned to the Strip eagerly anticipating mellow days and lively nights filled with the tastiest food and drink the Strip can provide, accompanied by Sib, Chum, and assorted other hangers on, but alas, much has changed and not for the better, Yum fears. First off, Sib announced that there would be weekly staff meetings (groan). It has been Yum’s experience that staff meetings are a throwback to the days of high school, when everybody tries to say something to impress the teacher and it makes no difference that those somethings are inevitably redundant, or just plain stupid (sigh). But then Yum (in self defense) proposed an utterly brilliant idea – the staff meetings should be held over lunch, away from busy phones and rude interruptions from drop in visitors. Since “Staff” likes to eat even more than they like to talk, the lunch meeting suggestion was quickly approved. When Yum ventured that the first meeting should be at Eleven, however, there was some confusion because the frazzled Chum felt that 11:00 was too early for lunch. After patiently explaining to Chum that Eleven referred to the restaurant and not the time of day, the Staff trooped off to strategize over some of the finest food the city has to offer. Fortunately it was one of those rare Pittsburgh days when it was not too cold, not too hot, not too humid, and not raining, snowing, or otherwise precipitating. In short, it was an ideal day for al fresco dining and Staff opted for a sidewalk table surrounded by huge pots of flowers and greenery. The lunch orders were simple: Crabcake, Gyro, Burger, and Reuben - but the Eleven version is far from simple. The complex balance of flavors and textures in each dish and the unusual combination of ingredients elevate these menu-staples to gastronomic elegance. Sib was initially attracted by the Tuna Melt (seared yellow fin tuna, adorned with soy mayonnaise, Widmer two-year cheddar, and sweet potato fries), but finally decided on the Crabcake Sandwich that came on a brioche accompanied by red pepper aioli, mixed greens and french fries, appropriately flavored with Old Bay seasoning. Chum chose the Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Gyro, suitably enhanced by tomato salad, cucumber sauce, and spicy fries. The Steel Magnolia opted for the Eleven Burger, which piles braised veal, applewood-smoked bacon, thin and crispy onion rings and a choice of four cheeses on top of a mountain of Angus beef…needless to say Before After the Steel Magnolia is “blooming” after that feast! Yum went with the Reuben Sandwich. At Eleven the Reuben is complemented with the traditional sauerkraut and swiss cheese, but with a fresh twist of thousand island dressing and Penn Pilsner mustard, all served on a delicious potato pancake. Eleven has received justifiably favorable reviews in the all of the local publications as well as in numerous weblogs, but Yum feels compelled to contribute just one more. Eleven creates meals worth lingering over – worth relishing – worth remembering. Yum is particularly impressed by the fact that many of Eleven’s ingredients are seasonally selected and come from local farms whose names are proudly proclaimed in the menu. (And, on a personal note, Yum is a major cheese freak and would like to comment that the cheeses selected by the chefs at Eleven are without peer and there is not even a hint of that bland, synthetic, but somehow ubiquitous, abomination called “American Cheese.”) Four “Yums Up” to Eleven! If this is what “American Contemporary Cuisine” means, then Yum has renewed faith in American culture (despite the cheese). Staff wants to know: when is the next meeting? 9. …and sometimes Yum just needs to get away from it all. Long ago and far away, Yum frequently escaped from reality by fleeing to Key West. The sultry Pittsburgh summer has made Yum nostalgic for those halcyon days of youth and so, one particularly steamy day, after a morning filled with travail, Yum trundled off to Kaya to try to find a bit of Caribbean magic. Since it was too darn hot to contemplate a full meal, Yum decided that an appetizer would suffice. Fortunately, Yum was accompanied by some like-minded friends, agreeable to the concept of sampling and sharing. The menu presents such a broad and appealing selection of Tropas, it was difficult to select only three, so four were chosen (and the absence of the Spicy Salmon-Crab Cake from our repast was lamented). The Black Tiger Shrimp with coconut rum sauce is a “must order” and did not disappoint. We also enjoyed the sauce that accompanied the Conch Fritters and Calamari. Yum and companions are not especial devotees of the “hot and spicy” school of cookery, and we were delighted to find that the tropical spiced tartar sauce announced itself firmly, but politely, to the palate and then departed before its presence became bothersome. The unanimously selected favorite, however, was the Crab Meat Quesadilla, which was very yum indeed! To complete the fantasy, Yum and pals indulged in tropical drink concoctions - Hurricane Kaya for Yum and the Lava Lover and the Rum Runner for pals. All were excellent choices (and come by the carafe, as well as by the glass if one is feeling particularly decadent). Yum was sorry to end this mini-escape to paradise, but duty called. Four Yums for Kaya! 10. And, since sometimes the best meal is one you prepare yourself, here are Fluff’s thoughts on where to shop in the Strip for a fantastic romantic dinner for two. Hi! Fluff here, back by popular demand from my adoring public, with a scathingly brilliant idea for Valentine’s Day. Now, Fluff is most assuredly a devotee of the ancient adage, “if god had meant women to cook he wouldn’t have created restaurants,” but sometimes “a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do” and “nuthin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven” and so on and so forth. . . yawn, yawn, yawn. Nevertheless, in a moment of aberrant weakness, Fluff found herself yielding to Sweetie’s wretched entreaties for a romantic, home-cooked meal on Valentine’s Day (although in Fluff’s opinion, the words “romantic” and “home-cooked” should not even be in the same county, let along the same sentence!). So it was off to the Internet for some recipes. Well, Fluff could have settled for something prosaic like meatloaf, but Sweetie deserves only haute cuisine (even though he can’t tell haute from hot). After a lengthy, painstaking search, Fluff settled on the following menu: Fluff’s Valentine Extravaganza Awesome Crab Soup Green Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette Alaska Salmon Bake with Pecan Crunch Coating Pear Conserve with Cherries and Hazelnuts Kartoshnik with Cheese and Onions Mancini’s Hand-Braided Twist Bread White Chocolate Cheesecake with White Chocolate Brandy Sauce And then it was off to the Strip for provisions. Fluff must admit that she briefly considered following the example of Sister Slug, and ordering a meal from one of the many fine eateries in the Strip, wafting the delectable scents around her apartment at the last minute, and passing it off as home-made (ugh, there’s that word again). For a change however, Fluff’s better nature prevailed, and besides, shopping in the Strip is fun, and maybe it will all turn out okay after all . . . and maybe pigs will fly. First stop was Wholey’s for the main ingredients. . . nice fresh crabmeat and a lovely pink, plump salmon (which is almost too pretty to eat!) . . . along with some general grocery staples like milk, eggs and butter (which most people already have, but Fluff does not like to clutter her refrigerator). Fluff next proceeded to Stan’s Produce for the requisite fruit and vegetable items…juicy Bosc pears, adorable salad greens, Yukon Gold potatoes, garlic, cranberries and darling little green scallions. Pennsylvania Macaroni provided spices, nuts and dried cherries. Fluff loves their expanded space and particularly all the little bins filled with wonderful things. It is so nice for a person like Fluff to be able to buy just as much of some esoteric item as she needs and avoid having some pathetic unused leftover bit of spice stare reproachfully at her for years afterward, every time she fetches a coffee cup. Penn Mac also provided a perfect bleu cheese and, after examining the treasure trove of cheese selections, Fluff decided to forego the pedestrian cheddar and swiss called for in the Kartoshnik recipe in favor of something more exotic. Unfortunately, Fluff has forgotten the names of her final decisions (which is really too bad, if it turns out exceptionally well), but all of the samples were so wonderful that I don’t see how one can fail no matter what the choice! Next stop was Mon Aimee Chocolate for white chocolate for the cheesecake and, of course Fluff could not resist some delightful little Valentine chocolates for “atmosphere”. Fluff draws the line at baking bread with her own lily-white hands, particularly when the Hand-Braided Twist Loaves from McKees Rocks Bread are so luscious (and the heady aroma of freshly baked bread in the shop is such a thrill). Fluff also stocked up on aromatic, romantic candles from Collage and Roxanne’s (dear reader, see how nicely “romantic” and “candles” go together, while “romantic and “home-made” most assuredly do not) and bundles of fresh flowers from various street vendors (Fluff never can choose just one bunch). So, Fluff is now ready to prepare a Valentine’s Day gourmet feast for Sweetie, who volunteered to bring the wine…uh oh, hello Reunité. . .maybe Fluff better consult with the experts at Palate Partners/Dreadnaught Wines to get some suggestions for a back-up bottle, just in case. Wish me luck! Hope that Valentine’s Day brings you your heart’s desire . . . next year Tahiti for Fluff! P.S. All recipes for Fluff’s Valentine Extravaganza may be found at http://allrecipes.com/ (enter the dish name in the “Search” box for greatest efficiency) This is only the smallest sampling of the gastronomic wonders to be found in the Strip. Be sure to watch for the Best of Yum – Part II! Call or visit the websites of the businesses you plan to visit for reservations, additional information and hours. Collage Crystal dejAVu Lounge 2124 Penn Avenue 1211 Penn Avenue 412-434-1144 412-201-4291 412/434-0480 2106 Penn Avenue www.collage-pgh.com www.dejavuloungepa.com DeLuca’s Restaurant Eleven Kaya 2101 Penn Avenue 1150 Smallman Street 2000 Smallman Street 412/566-2195 412-201-5656 412-261-6565 www.bigburrito.com/eleven www.bigburrito.com/kaya McKees Rocks Bread Mon Aimee Chocolat Palate Partners 1717 Penn Avenue 60 21st Street 2013 Penn Avenue 412-765-3545 412-395-0022 412/391-8502 www.mckeesrocksbread.com www.monaimeechocolat.com www.palatepartners.com Pamela’s P&G Diner Pennsylvania Macaroni Company Reymer’s Cafe 60 21st Street 2010-12 Penn Avenue Heinz History Center 412-281-6366 412-471-8330 1212 Smallman Street www.pennmac.com Roland’s Seafood Grill Roxanne’s Dried Flowers The Spaghetti Warehouse 1904 Penn Avenue 2115 Penn Avenue 2601 Smallman Street 412-261-3401 412-281-6950 412-261-6511 www.rolandsseafoodgrill.com HU UH www.meatballs.com HU U Stan’s Market Wholey’s Market 1811 Penn Avenue 1711 Penn Avenue Strictly Strip Tours, a component of the Neighbors in the Strip Mainstreet program, are provided as a public service and is funded in part by Mainstreets Pittsburgh, a Program of the City of Pittsburgh, The Urban Redevelopment Authority and PA Department of Community and Economic Development. Additional funding has been provided by Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development.