Believe it or not, even though it feels like Winter Restaurant Week 2013 just ended, the summer celebration is right around the corner! (If you’re late to the PRW party, check out their website and get in on the fun! It’s a week-long celebration of the best food and drinks in the ‘Burgh, and you have plenty of time to make some reservations.)
This season, in addition to a full week of dining deals, a rocking Kick-Off Party, and the ever-awesome Blogger Dinner, there was a Blogger Happy Hour co-hosted by the good folks of Pittsburgh Happy Hour at Braddock’s in the Renaissance Hotel.
It’s no secret that we love Braddock’s, and we were definitely expecting some top-notch bartending for a blogger happy hour. But what I wasn’t expecting was walking in to find a massive spread set out for us with goodies specially selected and crafted by Braddock’s new executive chef, Jason Shaffer.*
Chef Jason is an interesting guy, and he’s so passionate about food. We were fortunate enough to bend his ear for almost two full hours, during which he shared stories about his cooking past (spoiler alert: it involves the bustling restaurant scene in Las Vegas!), gave detailed answers about the food we were enjoying, and even let us in on some of his favorite Pittsburgh restaurants where he *doesn’t* spend all his hours in the kitchen.
First up was a hearty selection of charcuterie offerings (including my favorite, a sizable helping of prosciutto!!!!). Chef Jason explained to us how he’s moving more and more toward smoking and curing all of his own meats at the restaurant, which is ambitious but certainly fascinating to learn about. With the meat were two kinds of dips, a caraway mustard and a bacon caramel. Bacon caramel is JUST what it sounds like, and it’s even more heavenly than you could imagine.
And of course, no charcuterie plate would be complete without some choice cheese selections. One of our favorites from this plate was the red dragon cheese, a type of cheddar with mustard and ale (which Jason told us is one of his favorite options to put on a burger).
One of the stars of the happy hour show was this delightful little bowl (which got refilled many, MANY times) of chicken ‘wings’. These are not just any chicken wings, however: they are chicken legs slow-cooked in duck fat for 6 hours, and they are what every pretty-good chicken wing in this fair country wishes it could be. Holy cow! They aren’t on the regular menu just yet, but they’re coming, and when they do, grab a serving of these while you’re watching some Pittsburgh sports at the bar, and thank me later.
We’ve long enjoyed the way Braddock’s incorporates kielbasa (or keh-bossy as my Yinzer self prefers to call it) into their dishes (check out their Strip District Mussels if you don’t believe me), but sometimes, a simple kielbasa with kraut is just what you need.
But as delicious as all of these foods were, the two shining stars for me were the crab cakes and pierogies.
I’m not a crab cake girl AT ALL. But these crab cakes were something special. First of all, they’re shaped like giant scallops, and not traditional crab cakes, which says something. And that something is, ‘these crab cakes are 99% crab and only 1% that other junk that makes a crab cake all bready and un-tasty.’ As Jason explained it to us, he’s of the same opinion as me on crab cakes, and therefore put only about 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs in for every 10 cups of crab. Oh yeah. Let that ratio settle into your brain for a minute, right around that ‘I need a Braddock’s crab cake this instant’ cortex.
As for the pierogies… Well, I’m torn. I want to tell you all about them THIS INSTANT because they were amazing and had rock shrimp (which is like, the 4-minute-long version of “Rock Lobster”), and were almost like a pastry but really like a pierogie even though they had HONEY on them, but…
We have a Pierogie Playoff Achievement this year, and I don’t want to spoil anything for that. So I’m unfortunately going to have to be greedy and keep that photo to the 101 Achievements Vault (much like Prince’s vault, but far less funky) for now.
In addition to all of the amazing, bottomless dishes of food we got to sample, we also got to hang out with some other fabulous Pittsburgh bloggers!
Here’s the crew from Fork2Mouth, who won a Skinny Pete’s gift certificate before heading off to the Bucco’s game (PS, Braddock’s has drink specials if you show your ticket stub before the game!).
And here’s the rest of us lucky gift-certificate winning bloggers: me with our Hambone’s certificate, Lou from Pittsburgh Happy Hour with his certificate for Matteo’s, and Dana from Simply Romanesco with her certificate to Skinny Pete’s. The staff of Braddock’s was also gracious enough to send us all off with coupons for a future visit! I’d say we all made out pretty well.
If you’re in the market for a good Pittsburgh Restaurant Week experience that feels like gourmet Pittsburgh home-cooking, check out what’s cooking at Braddock’s. They’re featuring a $30 prix fixe 3-course menu that includes those yummy pierogies, but you can enjoy whatever suits your fancy from the full menu. Pair your meal with something from their wine, beer, whisky, or cocktail lists, and you’ve got a perfect downtown date night!
*disclosure statement: the food we sampled from Braddock’s was provided to us free of charge from the restaurant, while beverages were available for purchase at the event.