Last night was our second round of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week dinners, and it was our second official ‘blogger dinner’ for the celebration (the first one was at Braddock’s back in January). The blogger dinner this season was held at The Porch at Schenley, a new-ish restaurant in the Land That Used To Be A Parking Lot.
(Seriously, has anyone called Joni Mitchell to let her know that there are actually places that tear down parking lots to put up little bits of paradise?)
And now, here’s the real truth behind why, despite there being a new restaurant across from one of my favorite places on earth (Hillman Library, it’s nerdy, embarrassing, and 100% true) that serves booze and has outdoor dining, I had never been there: it’s an Eat n Park restaurant.
(Now don’t get me wrong, I have spent many, MANY hours at EnP. Rachel and I were regular fixtures at the Squirrel Hill location late at night for many years. And I spent probably almost as many hours at the Bellevue location in high school after band and winterguard competitions. And I even had Steeler smiley cookies on my wedding day.)
But… come ON! It’s Eat n Park! That’s a middle-of-the-night sort of place, or a, “I really want a whole pot of coffee, but I don’t want to make it myself” sort of place. (Or a “bunch of writer nerds getting together at midnight to write” kind of thing – thanks, Squirrel Hill EnP for letting me host the yearly NaNoWriMo midnight kick-off there since 2008!)
So I wasn’t going to go there for dinner.
I refuse to go to Applebees when we’re on road trips. I wasn’t going to go to an Eat N Park restaurant for dinner!
So, TL;DR: boy am I glad Brian decided to host the Restaurant Week blogger dinner at the Porch so I could get over myself and see what’s really going on at the old Schenley parking lot.
The fabulous ladies of Buy Fresh, Buy Local invited us to an early happy hour before the dinner. We were treated to some wines from Engine House Winery (a local winery, be still my heart), and this delicious spread of fresh fruit and my favorite cheese of all, brie.
Also on the drink menu? These Wigle Whiskey cocktails, made with lavender, blueberrry, and ginger beer. Spicy and fruity and refreshing on a hot, humid day!
Before dinner, we heard from Jamie Moore, who is the head of sourcing & sustainability for the company. He talked about the push to buy and eat local in Pittsburgh, and how the Porch is really striving to go local as often as possible.
#1) Make a damn good meal.
#2) Be passionate about your craft.
Kevin definitely has both of those areas covered. You can just tell from listening to him talk how dedicated he is to the cause of good food made locally. He told us about the farms they use for their meals, including local meat for their beef and pork, and about how, although he doesn’t like to boast, he ‘did a pretty good job with a pastry’ (more on THAT to come).
For Restaurant Week, they were offering a three-course prix fixe menu, but also had the full menu open as well. Since we like to sample as much as possible, Michael went with the prix fixe, and I… well, I had my sights set on a burger. I’m a firm believer in that ‘happy cows make better meat’ philosophy, and I had to test it out with their locally-raised beef.
Oh. And they had calamari. And you know I can’t resist calamari. What I loved about this one: little strips of fried zucchini mixed in with the tubes and tentacles. While the marinara was decent, I fully believe Chef Kevin has a good spicy mayo recipe up his sleeve somewhere that would fit just perfectly with this dish. Good breading and good seasoning.
Somewhere along the way, there was a little snag with the ‘extra’ appetizers being ordered at our table, and the guys who were getting the fixed menu wound up getting their beef tartare late. Here’s another moment where I was impressed with the Porch experience: when our server, Fred, realized the beef tartare hadn’t shown up, he immediately took care of it and had them sent right over, but also brought us a round of wine on the house to ‘tide us over’.
By the end of the night, Fred was totally my favorite dude around. My wine glass was never empty on his watch. Totally won over!
I got the burger, done medium-rare, with swiss cheese, on a brioche bun. Man, oh man, oh man. I’ve always been a Tessaro’s girl in this city, but I’m going to say it right now: this might very well have been the best burger I’ve had in Pittsburgh. Dang. Cooked to perfection, sooooooo juicy, bun-of-just-the-right-proportions, and a hearty serving of Swiss on top. The little potato bites were amazing too, and even better, they were served with curry ketchup.
Curry ketchup!! I haven’t had this stuff since we lived in Los Angeles and got it at this British Steeler pub down in Santa Monica!!
I loved this entree. I saved half of the burger and potatoes to go home, and it heated up as an excellent leftover. Point proved: happy cows make better burgers.
Oh. Mah. Gawd. We got to meet the bees.
First though, we got to see this awesome rooftop garden. Kevin grows herbs, tomatoes, and even a stevia plant up here! You also get a sweet view of the Forbes Quad (no one calls it that anymore, do they?).
But also, there are bees.
As much as I love how Michael re-watches The Wickerman every year, the real reason I was so excited to meet the bees was because of this LOLCat, regarded in my mind to be the funniest LOLCat of all time.
I say it in a special voice. If you ever meet me on the street, I mean, even when I’m grocery shopping, or out in my embarrassingly-short running shorts (air-drumming to the Chili Peppers, probably), you can stop me and ask me to say this LOLCat in my special voice.
Oh gaaaaaaaaaaaawd I can’t stop giggling now.
And I told everyone that some of these bees were going to grow up to be lawyers.
I was so, so, SO happy to meet the bees.
Because… I has been finkin bout keepin bees.
We had SUCH a great time at the Porch. The service was just unmatched. I know I gave poor Fred a hard time, and he took it like a champ, refreshing my wine, and boxing up my hamburger, and listening to me talk about how I was going to meet the bees. And Kevin and Jamie were such good dudes, so passionate about their causes that I couldn’t help but feel passionate about them too.
And oh. That burger. Oh, that burger.
So, you know, don’t be like me — don’t be afraid to try the Porch just because you’ve been eating Breakfast Smiles since before you had all your teeth. They’re a great addition to the Oakland dining scene, and the next time I get a burger craving, I think I know where I’ll be headed.