Our secret is getting out — this year, BBC Good Food announced something that Fox and I already knew to be true: that Pittsburgh is a top-tier foodie destination that can compete with any other food scene in the world.
We’ve been lucky enough to be in on the ground floor as the Pittsburgh restaurant scene rose, and these days there are more cool and delicious events happening in the city than we can even keep up with. This past week, though, we had the good fortune to make it to one of those cool and delicious events: a ticketed seven-course dinner at Spork. The theme of the dinner? One of our favorite duos: wines and cheeses. Each course was centered around a different Pennsylvania-made cheese, and each wine was carefully selected by Spork’s in-house sommelier, Olivia Lindstrom.
We’re always happy to make it over to Spork, both because it’s a great restaurant with a top-notch beverage program, but also because the building that houses Spork has special significance in Fox’s and my history — in an establishment that previously lived at that address, the two of us had our very first date. We went for coffee and live music, and I made us go dutch (I was really broke back then, and also, I didn’t know shit about dating). Somehow, that first date ended up not also being our last date, and so I always enjoy the chance to enjoy a meal on the spot where I first worked my quite improbable magic.
Once all the guests had arrived and taken their seats, our glasses were topped off with more cava and out came the first course: gougères (puff pastry) stuffed with Clover Creek Grateful Ched, which is a cheddar marinated in barleywine beer. The gougères were topped with a little rollup of bresaola (air-dried beef) and dressed with chive aioli. This delightful little bite was the perfect way to rouse our appetites.
The course that followed was a bit more substantial — a delicious melted raclette (again from Clover Creek) dressed with microgreens and served alongside house-cured ham, roasted potatoes, and tart pickles. The pairing was another excellent choice — a pinot gris that might have been a little too sweet for me on its own, but which tempered the pungent raclette just so.
The third course was a salad made with Hidden Hills Boltonfeta, smoked vegetables, cracked wheat, served with a silky celeriac puree. This course came with a pair of pairings — a gruner veltliner that was to die for and a white blend from Domaine Michaeli Pyli.
The fourth course kicked things up a notch, with a delicious souffle made from Goat Rodeo Cowboy Coffee, which is an aged goat-cow cheese rubbed with espresso from local roastery Commonplace Coffee. It came with a bit of swiss chard and a sweet, savory vanilla coconut milk reduction. The pairing? A surprisingly full-bodied pinot noir. It had this green pepper note that I’d typically associate with a cabernet franc, but which cut wonderfully against the grain of the dish.
By this point we’d had quite a bit of superb food with spot-on wine pairings, but nothing could have prepared us for the grandeur of course five: — a pasta course during which the chef continuously tossed the spaghetti inside a Parmesan-Reggiano barrel, allowing the hot noodles to wick away and integrate tendrils of delicious melted cheese.
The wine pairing with this powerhouse of a course was a Pertinace Barolo, an Italian wine made from nebbiolo grapes that had an appropriate dryness and the tannins necessary to stand up to a dish so rich in fat and oils. Wow!
Of course, while the star of the show was definitely the pasta course, I don’t say this to slight our dessert: a fabulous, fluffy cheesecake made with Goat Rodeo Hootenanny (a goat’s milk gouda) and presented with wildflower honey and spiced apples. Crafted by Spork’s pastry chef, Kevi Lee Furgason, the dish was a lovely capper to the dinner proper, and the wine pairings of moscato and a late-harvest riesling provided a very interesting side-by-side lesson in the ways one can complement a savory dessert.
After the meal, we received one final course: a board of assorted cheeses, with more of that fantastic bread. The cheeses were reprises of ones we’d had as part of earlier courses, such as the Grateful Ched and the coffee-aged goat-cow cheese, but it was nice to get to try them “naked” after seeing how they can be transformed in the context of a dish.
As we enjoyed one final beverage and nibbled on the last of the cheese, I could not help but think what a fabulous time it is to be a foodie in our city. What an auspicious start to another year of dining out!