Monday, September 23, 2013

Café Raymond: Overlooked by Those Seeking the Overrated

I always shake my head as I pass the line of tourists who are waiting for their turns to scrounge on greasy plates from a certain local breakfast spot in the strip… no doubt taking their recommendations from a re-run of Man vs. Food.   Apparently many out-of-towners are fans of the overrated.  In fact, they are so blinded by plates covered with entire cans of Reddi Whip, that they are missing out on one of the true “best breakfasts” in town just a few blocks up the strip.  If you prefer quality over excessive quantity, it’s time to skip the line and give Café Raymond the attention it deserves. 

Café Raymond is fittingly named after Raymond Mikesell.  He’s a yinzer from the Northside with some serious food credits.  He’s baked for famous peeps like Cal Ripken Jr. and has lived in romantic places like France…he also lived amongst the dirty birdy fans of Baltimore for a decade, but let’s move on.  He could have opened his café anywhere, but we’re lucky enough to have Chef Raymond back in the ‘Burgh. 

As you approach the café, you’ll see some al fresco tables where patrons are often found freely advertising the fresh, local ingredients to be had.  Once inside, you can peruse the chalkboard menu of breakfast and lunch items.  On Saturdays and Sundays they offer up two breakfast specials, most often a specialty omelet and pancakes, in addition to the regular menu.  A few weeks ago I had the most amazing breakfast sandwich.  It was egg, applewood smoked bacon, mixed greens, tomato, and chipotle mayo on perfectly toasted slices of brioche.  I seriously could’ve eaten an entire loaf of that bread… causing all the gluten heads to cover their eyes and hide their children.  I also love their seasonal pancake specials…the Blueberry Ricotta are deceivingly light and fluffy considering they are made using buckwheat.  I’m looking forward to this fall when I can fulfill my pumpkin pancake cravings. 

Brioche Breakfast Sandwich...yes, I had already eaten half when I remembered to snap a pic.
Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes
The hubby is a fan of omelets and Café Raymond serves them up right…wildly fluffy and filled with savory treats like spinach, fresh mozzarella, and pesto or perhaps some smoked salmon and scallions.  And better yet, omelets are served with oven-roasted potatoes.  When he’s in the mood for a meatier brunch, he orders the Pastrami Sandwich.  While this is technically on the lunch menu, Café Raymond will add an egg to this already behemoth of a sammie if you say, “Please.”  You could easily split this bad boy with a friend.  (While I'm usually there to munch on breakfast goodies, I must note that all of the sandwiches I've tried have been yummy, fresh, and filling.  You can choose from a variety of salads or dine on a daily lunch special as well.)

Spinach Omelet and Oven Roasted Potatoes
Pastrami Sandwich with Egg
Once you’re stuffed and feeling like you need to loosen your belt, there’s only one thing left to do…get dessert of course!  As mentioned, Raymond is a first class baker and his pastries are more than delicious.  My old faithful is the Blueberry Custard Croissant.  The dough is flaky and crisp, making the perfect basket for the creamy custard and perfectly sweetened berries sitting inside.  I’d recommend getting there early because they usually sell out. 

Blueberry Custard Croissant
I am always a fan of eating local, but some local eateries are just better than others.  I can honestly say (without any hoopla) that Café Raymond is doing it right, and you’d be wrong to pass up this gem during your next visit to the Strip. 

I give Café Raymond: 5/5 forks
2103 Penn Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Weekday Lunch Specials

Neighborhood: Strip District

Cafe Raymond on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Blue Dust: A Family Affair

We all have that uncle in our family, you know, the one that headlines every epic family reunion.  Wouldn’t it be sweet if your favorite uncle opened a bar? Well look no further my foodie friends!  Uncle Jerry is serving up craft brews and mouth-watering dinner plates at Blue Dust.  Whether you’re a Homestead-lifer or a curious first-timer, you’ll feel like part of the family in no time. 

I’m not sure what I was expecting the first time I entered Blue Dust, a name that pays tribute to the steel industry, but I was pleased from the start.  It isn’t “cold” or industrial in style; rather, it’s homey and has a bit of a southwest feel.  If you prefer sitting tableside there are various spots to eat comfortably both inside and outside (weather permitting).  Honestly though, in a local spot such as this, you’re going to want to sit at the bar and participate.   Besides, the bar itself is quite lovely, Jerry Miller’s daughter, Sarah, created a work of art using mosaic glass.  If you look closely, you might see the sea monster at the end of the bar. 

Once seated at the bar, you can take a gander at the row of craft taps waiting for you to imbibe upon…26 to be exact.  Therefore, if your beer of choice is produced by those Clydesdale lovers (man, those commercials get me every time), you are better off elsewhere.  Blue Dust is for patrons who actually like to savor the flavors of brews like Eylsian Immortal IPA at 6.2% or Sierra Nevada’s Imperial Red at 8.1%.  If you don’t see a draft you love…um, I guess that’s possible…they have a wide range of bottles in the wall coolers too.  And if beer isn’t your thing, or you need something stiffer to ease the woes of a long workday, Frank (Jerry’s son-in-law), will make you a mean cocktail.  Frank may stir up something using their house-flavored vodka or may go out back to grab fresh mint from the garden to muddle into your mojito. 

Draft List
The Taps!
So you get the picture, Blue Dust is a must on the watering-hole list, but it’s also one of my favorite locales to get my grub on.  Everything you order is made in-house, from scratch, using local ingredients.  And the menu ranges to please all, vegan and meat-lover alike.  For starters, I usually get a cup of soup and a farm-fresh salad.  The last soup I tried was Curry Crab Bisque.  The balance of rich spices and sweet crab was pure bliss.  The house salad is a nutritious blend of mixed greens, red onion, slivers of almonds, dried cranberries, and house-made balsamic vinaigrette.  I order this side salad for a small upcharge in lieu of the chips and salsa that accompany the sammies and tacos.

Curry Crab Bisque
Side Salad
Speaking of which, I now have a serious craving for the house-smoked meats that fill those empty slices and shells.  The pulled pork is a homerun in both forms, completely tender and deliciously seasoned.  When it’s presented as a sandwich, it’s rightfully named Porkzilla and comes out on toasty bread with a blanket of gooey Muenster cheese.  As the Eric Pastor, two corn-shell tacos are loaded with that Mexican spiced pork and topped with fresh salsa and scallions.  You can also order the Fish Tacos.  The grilled tilapia is complimented with flavorful lime cilantro sauce and crunchy cabbage.  But I digress, back to the smoked meats.  The Hot Pastrami and the Smoked Brisket Sandwich will literally melt in your mouth.   Blue Dust even smokes their own turkey in order to create their version of a Rachel.  You can also order from the “Specials” menu that changes monthly.  This past month, you may have chosen the Balsamic Glazed Short Ribs or the Pork, Squash, and Mushroom Empanadas.

Eric Pastor Tacos (Pulled Pork)
Fish Tacos
After you stifle your hunger pains, you can stick around to take your turn at the dartboard.  The dartboard is real, meaning you’ll want to be somewhat sober if your dart skills are lacking (no one likes to get punctured by stray darts), and it’s free to play.  You can feed the TouchTunes machine and sing along to your favorite 80s band as well.

Blue Dust is an example of what a great bar should be…amazing drinks, delicious food, and a welcoming atmosphere.  Come on over and join the family!

I give Blue Dust: 5/5 forks
601 Amity Street
Homestead, PA 15120

Happy Hour: Thursday and Friday 5-7pm Half Off Apps & Taps

Neighborhood: Homestead

 Blue Dust on Urbanspoon