Sunday, August 26, 2012

Station Street Hot Dogs: Welcome to the World of Gourmet Dogs

I’ve eaten my fair share of bad hot dogs, especially as a kid.  My mom was notorious for buying the cheapest off-brand and then boiling those meat sticks until they had doubled in size.  The scary part is that I didn’t know that there were good hot dogs out there until I ate at my fancy friend’s house one day and she had these things called casing dogs.  Let’s just say, my world was changed and I became a lover of those skin-snapping dogs from that day onward.
            Since moving to Pittsburgh in 2006 I was rather disappointed in the gourmet hot dog scene.  Trust me, I tried the place in the church basement (stay tuned for review) and a few other shops with cult-like followers, but I wasn’t drinking that Kool-Aid.  I wanted better.  Well my frown was turned upside down when I visited Station Street Hot Dogs recently.  Station Street’s doors opened in 1915.  Over the decades, it’s changed owners and location a time or two.  I can’t say what it was like in the past but the Sousa brothers are doing it right this time. 

Menu: Prices range from $4 to $8

Upon entering, you get an old school feel, think 1950s era.  The inside seating consists of a counter top that wraps along the perimeter of the shop, accompanied by vintage style soda fountain stools.  There are also picnic tables outside that looked perfect for a warm sunny day.  The menu is listed on a large mounted chalkboard describing various hot dog combinations (all dogs are 100% beef, with natural casing but can be subbed with a vegan dog upon request).  You can order anything from the simple House Dog  (basic condiments like mustard, ketchup, relish, etc.) to the adventurous Bahn Mi Dog (pork liver, pickled cucumber and onion, jalapeno, sweet chili, and cilantro).  On my first visit, I had the classic New York Dog.  I wanted to see if they had mastered the art of blanketing a crispy dog with sauerkraut and grainy mustard.  My conclusion?  They had not only mastered it they had perfected it.  The hot dog was piping hot and snapped with each bite.  The sauerkraut is hands down, the best I have ever eaten.  It was lightly browned, tender, and beautifully sour.  I know a couple of German eateries in the area who should take some notes from Station Street on how to make an awesome kraut.  And the mustard’s spiciness tied it altogether.  It was literally the best hot dog I had ever eaten...until…I tried my hubby’s hot dog.

New York and Chili Cheese Dogs with Fresh Cut Fries all for $13
The hubby ordered the ever-so-manly Chili Cheese Dog.  What made this dog out of this world was the chili.  No my friends, this wasn't some Hormel chili slop.  This dog was smothered in smoked brisket chili (vegetarian chili is available too).  I wanted to bathe in this stuff and kept sneaking bites.  And the cheese?  No, not bomb shelter canned nacho cheese.  There were Wisconsin-style cheese curds hiding in there!  My one tiny qualm is that the bun was falling apart towards the end.  The bun needs to remain consistent with the quality of the other amazing ingredients on hand.  Overall, our hot dogs were so filling and scrumptious we couldn’t even finish our boat of goldenly, delicious hand cut fries.
Do yourself a favor and go to Station Street Hot Dogs today.  You’ll never be able to eat a boiled dog again...sorry Mom.

I give Station Street Hot Dogs: 4/5 forks

Will I Return? Yes!

6290 Broad St.
Pgh, PA 15206
412-365-2121 Station Street on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Simple Gourmet is Simply the Best

            I haven’t used the name of my favorite sandwich shop in quite some time.  I never say, “Hey, do want to go to Simple Gourmet?”  Instead, I simply ask, “Do you want to go to Julie’s?”  It’s not that I dislike the given name, in fact, it's quite fitting.  Rather, I feel like Julie, the endearing owner and chef of this Forest Hills eatery, is an old friend.  Not only does she greet you by name, but she also asks about your day and truly wants to hear your response as she makes a delicious, made-to-order sandwich or salad for you. 

Chalkboard Menu

            Speaking of food, the menu is extensive and creative.  You can choose from specialty sandwiches, to wraps, to paninis. You can even create your own sandwich…ya know, if you’re boring.  Did I just say that?  Moving along.  And let’s not forget to mention that the accompanying sauces, pestos, and salad dressings are made in-house.  There’s also a daily soup, daily-made sides like pasta salad, and some sweet treats for dessert. My favorite go-to order is the Southwest Chicken Panini.  (It is so good I forgot to take a picture of it the first 5 or so times I ordered it!)  It’s loaded with marinated roasted chicken, Havarti cheese, and jalapeño peppers.  It's then dressed with chipotle mayo and cilantro pesto and sandwiched between sunflower honey whole wheat bread.  And here’s the real kicker: it only costs $5.95!  In fact, the only sandwich that costs more that $6.95 is the Crazy Dave 6 Foot Under (a double decker sammie that I dare anyone to consume alone).

Southwest Chicken Panini
            I’m exceptionally lucky to have Simple Gourmet so close to my house.  Especially on Saturday mornings when I sleepily wander in to get a breakfast sandwich.  This monster will make you ashamed that you ever ate one of those so-called breakfast items from the golden arches.  Julie’s breakfast sandwich literally fills me to the point that I can’t eat lunch, and instead, have to wait for dunch (come on guys, ya know, when you eat between lunch and dinner…jeez).  I usually get the ciabatta roll with ham, Havarti cheese (yes, guilty, I love Havarti), 2 eggs, and chipotle mayo served up Panini style.

Breakfast Panini
            Do yourself a favor, and stop by Simple Gourmet (yes, even if that means going through the Squirrelly because you don't know how to get to Ardmore Boulevard any other way) .  Although, be warned, you will never be able to happily eat a sandwich from anywhere else ever again.  You’ll decide to “eat fresh” (pssst…that’s Subway’s slogan), and then kick yourself, thinking, “I should’ve went to Julie’s!”

I give Simple Gourmet: 5/5 forks

Will I Return?  Yes! (Probably tomorrow.)

Simple Gourmet
2203 1/2 Ardmore Blvd
PittsburghPA 15221(412) 271-2246

Simple Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Does E2 Have the Right Equation?

I’m a bit of a brunch addict.  So I, had to make a stop at E2 one Saturday, not too long ago, to see if the hype I'd heard was warranted. 

In my experience, if you’re serving up a killer brunch menu, there will indefinitely be a line of hungry folks waiting for your door to open.  This is why I was peeved at the hubby because he had hit the alarm too many times.  So rather than being sensibly early for the 9 am opening, we were obnoxiously late…pulling in to a parking spot at (gasp!) 9:01 am.  I noticed a group of 5 or 6 people approaching E2 which caused me to power walk to the front step.  To my surprise, however, the group kept on walking.  Still feeling triumphant none-the-less (I would’ve beat them) we were greeted outside by the host. 

He brought us into the empty, dimly lit dining area and sat us at one of the 10 or so tables.  We were handed a menu that contained several choices of donuts and ooooo beignets!  While my sweet tooth was delighted, my stomach was wondering where to find the “real food”?   I soon noticed a chalkboard with the brunch entrees listed in various colors.  Some of the colored chalk was hard to read but we managed to discover some yummy sounding selections.  I was torn between trying the French Toast with Nectarine and Raspberry Jam and the Egg Sammy.  To ease my decision, I had to ask the tough question: What kind of bread is the French Toast made from?  Our waiter (also the host) was unsure and had to ask the kitchen.  As I awaited his answer, I crossed my fingers and hoped that he wasn’t going to tell me Texas Toast*. I was soon informed it was sourdough from Breadworks.  Yeah for local goods!  I was sold.  The hubby ordered the omelet, which came with potatoes and salad.  

We enjoyed some good strong coffee while we waited for our eats to come out.  It wasn’t much of a wait considering we were only one of three occupied tables.  In no time at all, I was taking in the presentation and smells of my fancy French Toast.  Three thin slices of golden pieces of sourdough were the stage for a generous cascade of jam.  Atop it all, was a delicate dollop of mascarpone cheese.  Hello!  It looked picturesque but would my eyes and taste buds agree?  Fork to mouth…absolutely!  The toast was perfectly crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.  The jam, although not deseeded, was some of the best I’ve ever eaten with a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness.  And the mascarpone was a genius addition to this dish.  It’s light creaminess slowly melted over the hot jam.  It was down right sexy. 

Now if my dish was sexy like George Clooney, then my hubby’s dish was more like Phillip Seymour Hoffman…in Twister.  The omelet was dense and rather flat, not light and fluffy.  The mozzarella inside wasn’t melted either, although the egg itself was overcooked.  The potatoes could’ve been awesome-should’ve been awesome!  They were red potatoes, probably left over from the previous night’s dinner service as they should be and they were…absolute mush.  Why not fry them up a bit before serving them?  Breakfast potatoes should be crispy!  (It says so right here, on pg. 39 of the Breakfast Potatoes Bible.)  And the salad, which looked the best of all that was plated, was coated in black pepper and salt.  It was literally as if the S&P were spooned on top of the greens. 

After finishing my entrée, I wanted to try their beignets for dessert.  Being in the south from time to time, I know a good beignet and the thought of being able to eat a scrumptious fritter so close to home seemed too good to be true…and it was.  They actually compared their beignets to CAFÉ DU MONDE!  I guess the chef is banking on the fact that most people have never been there?  Two of the beignets were almost burnt and all of them tasted of old frying oil.  And they were not square as is tradition in NOLA; they looked more like snow-capped hush puppies.  Total let down. 

I give E2: 2.5/5 forks 

Will I return?  Maybe.  There are a lot of awesome brunch spots in the Burgh so I don’t know if it’s worth the risk.  The French Toast was awesomely good, though.   Stay tuned for a dinner review.

5904 Bryant St
PittsburghPA 15206

*I enjoy Texas Toast when patronizing diners.  If I’m paying $11 for French Toast, it better be a little more gourmet than that.