Happy New Year! I hope 2018 is finding you well and that you enjoyed my Holiday Guide to North Columbus! Over the Holiday break, Megan and I took a quick 48 hour trip to Pittsburgh to catch up with friends and get an insiders tour of the Steel City.
Pittsburgh is city that has many old school neighborhoods, serves traditional and contemporary comfort food, hosts many universities and sports intricate architecture. It also is the home of entertainment legends George A. Romero, Mr. Rogers and Michael Keaton and the birthplace of the American Pierogi. In fact, as far as I can tell, the only glaring deficiency the city has is that the Steelers reside there. Okay yinz, let’s gets started.
Located on the ground floor of a multi-story building in the Shadyside neighborhood, Girasole is progressive Italian comfort food served in a friendly, warm and cozy environment. After our experience, it was easy to understand why Girasole has thrived for the last 18 years.
Seating roughly 40 patrons, Girasole is the type of place where neighboring patrons start conversations, share wine and realize they attended the same middle school.
Megan and I were seated in the back of the dining area, which gave us a view of the action in both the front and back of the house. In fact, we became best friends with owner and proprietor Jimmy Gerasole. Friendly, charming and wine consuming, I am inclined to believe that Gerasole makes friends like us on a nightly basis.
We were also lucky enough to be at Girasole on a night that local musician, Jaime Wright, was serenading tables with his warm and diverse blend of popular American and Italian songs. Here he is serenading Megan to an outstanding cover of ‘Fly Me To The Moon’.
So, just to check the boxes, without even mentioning the food yet, we have:
- locally owned and operated community staple
- friendly and cozy environment
- human jukebox
- ornery, ‘grandfather-type’ owner
Impressive checklist and fortunately, our experience only got better.
The bread was warm and fresh and my Tito’s Martini (dirty/up) was perfectly chilled. At this point in the evening it should be noted that service at Girasole is second to none. Three servers took care of the entire restaurant, made their own drinks at the service bar/station and did so with grace and style. If you know anyone who thinks good service is easy to find, take them to Girasole.
After enjoying our bread, drinks and company, we realized that an hour had passed and decided to order an appetizer.
The Pane di Fungo was as advertised: warm mushrooms and fresh arugula on top of fluffy ciabatta with a creamy mascrapone. This was certainly a winner and frankly, I could have eaten another serving if no one was watching.
As our empty appetizer plate was taken from the table, a very fairly priced bottle of Ripassa arrived. Girasole should also be praised for its concise and well-chosen selection of white and reds.
As far as the entrees are concerned, Megan chose the Mezza Rigatoni.
Hearty and robust, the dish was January comfort food at its finest. There are certainly more exotic choices on the menu, but there is nothing wrong with going conservative and picking this value laden ($18) entrée.
I chose the Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli, based on the referral of my friend Bill Dotzauer. In fact, Bill and his wife, Kat, recommended Girasole, because Kat previously lived within walking distance and has always been a big fan. Thanks you two!
The sauce was thick, creamy and the perfect combination of white and red. The house made ravioli were filled with cheese and the bargain of the century at $16.
As our entrees were taken away, we faced our chairs toward our new friends, Jimmy and Jamie, seated at the table behind us and shared some laughs and wine. After the wine was finished, we ordered coffees and spent another hour with our new friends. At the end of the evening, I felt comfortable asking Jamie if I could take a photo of his lamb lollipops. He obliged while Jimmy regaled us with stories and photos of Sophia Loren.
I can’t say enough good things about Girasole – the ambiance, service, food and drinks were all off the charts! If you are in western Pennsylvania, do yourself a favor, make reservations at Girasole for a great meal, top-notch service and a great ambiance.
Church Brew Works
Located in Lawrenceville, Church Brew Works is a brewery and restaurant located in the former St. John’s Catholic Church. Founded by Scottish and Irish immigrants in 1887, St. John’s went through many transformations and locations until it eventually shuttered its doors in 1993 and eventually, the building reopened in its current incarnation in 1999.
The interior is ornate, beautiful and tastefully redone.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect is the altar.
The bar is long and seats roughly 25 while getting natural sunlight from beautiful stained glass windows.
If you are in Pittsburgh, you should stop in Church Brew Works at least once. It is a cool, elegant and stylish concept with an impressive beer selection.
At Roundabout Brewery, what you see is what you get – and that is a compliment. Opened in the Lawrenceville neighborhood in 2013, Roundabout initially filled just growlers, but now functions as a tap-room as well.
I chose a Shared Constellation Pale Ale. At 5.9% ABV, it was one of the lower alcohol content beers offered, so watch your step! It was crisp and refreshing and had just the right amount of hops.
Roundabout also fills 32 ounce cans of beer (Crowlers), which Columbus should adapt. The unopened cans stay fresh longer than unopened growlers because the cans are sealed tighter and allow less light. Plus, they are pretty kick ass.
If Roundabout was located in Columbus, it would feel at home in Italian Village. This small gem is definitely worth your time and serves $6 Round Pies (a pot pie, but better)! Pittsburgh knows it’s alcohol and carbs.
This is a progressive and inclusive concept that is beneficial to all participants. In a nutshell, Smallman Galley (Strip District) is a food hall with a rotating roster of four fast-casual concepts, a full service bar, coffee/espresso bar and community seating. The bars are permanent, but the concepts change and are reserved for graduating chefs. The chefs have to pitch their concept and if chosen, get a chance to showcase their skills while learning (on a smaller scale) the daily intricacies of the service industry.
Cameron Mitchell continues his legacy of heavily borrowing from successful concepts with his soon to be opened food hall, Budd Dairy in Italian Village. The owners of Pint House are also on board with their upcoming High Street location.
I chose the Venezuelan Breakfast from Colonia.
This breakfast was incredible and consisted of flank steak, chimchurri, beans and eggs over easy. It was not particularly fancy, but it didn’t need to be. The steak and eggs were both cooked perfectly, the beans were delicious and hearty and the chimchurri was bursting with flavor.
Megan was more traditional and ordered the Spicy Pizza from Iron Born.
Hot Sopressata, pepperoni, banana pepper and hot honey is a winning combination. This spicy pie may be too spicy for some and if it is, I recommend this breakfast pizza, which we didn’t order, but whose photo was made possible by our tour guide Gary!
The Carbonara Pizza, only available at brunch, consists of Eggs, Bacon and Parmesan.
Cameron Mitchell and The Pint House both have their work cut out.
Pennsylvania Macaroni Company
Also located in the Strip District, Penn Mac has been supplying Pittsburgh with Italian groceries since 1902. Penn Mac is cavernous and hosts tourists but is by no means a gimmick.
There are meat and cheese counters galore…
Aisles of pastas and grains…..
And wonderful breads, pepperoni rolls and foccacias waiting to be given a good home.
There is also a monstrous olive selection, fresh made pasta bar and about a million other Italian food items. When going to Penn Mac, take a cooler for the ride home.
For those unfamiliar, Pittsburgh has BYOB (breakdown) restaurants. Megan was very excited about this concept and asked our guide Gary to take us to a dinner where we could BYOB – which for our party was just wine at a very reasonable $3 corkage fee. Gary chose another winner with Sausalido.
Comfy, intimate and located in Bloomfield, Sausalido serves New American and European cuisine and is also a full service catering company. We started with the local artisan bread accompanied by the famous white bean and rosemary dipping sauce.
Both were winners. The dip is an interesting take on olive oil and balsamic and while it may not be for everyone, I am happy to eat your portion.
The house salad was also above-board. Especially if you like beets and tomatoes, which you should.
For an appetizer, we chose the smoked Gouda.
The Gouda certainly was smokey, the basil was fresh and balsamic and sun-dried tomato never hurt anybody. At $8, this was perhaps the most value laden selection of the trip.
For an entree, Megan choose the Lump Crab Cakes.
The crab cakes were robust and tender, the broccoli and cheddar risotto was second to none and the aioli provided a stellar finish.
I choose the Strip Steak and Fries special. I know, not very adventurous, but this is my blog and not yours.
I was not disappointed in this selection. The strip was a perfect medium rare, the steak fries were YUGE, tender and crispy, and the greens were fresh. However, the house made creme fraiche was the star of the show and Sausalido would be well served by selling retail containers.
All in all, this was another great meal. I would love for Columbus to adopt a BYOB policy for local restaurants. I would have no shame bringing a Cab Franc or Pinot Noir to Hyde Park, The Top or Jeff Ruby. Somebody start a GoFundMe.
Speaking of Pinot Noir…
Engine House 25
Another REALLY interesting and unique concept. Engine House 25 hosts a wine bar, wine cellar, winery, event/photography center and is attached to the Roberto Clemente Museum. All of these different ideas blend together well and this was perhaps my favorite stop on the trip.
We each had a wine flight consisting of Pinot, Zinfadel and Cabernet (in that order) and it is not hyperbole to admit that the Pinot was one of the best I have tasted.
Everyone is our party took a bottle (or three) home with them and had an excellent experience. My only complaint is that we could not make it into the museum as a reservation is needed. That rule could probably change, but Mr. Clemente was honored in many places and ways in the wine bar.
We truly did have a fun time. Thanks again to Kathy and Bill (lunch at the Casino was great!) as well as Gary, Eric, Brooks and Katie! Jerilyn, we will see you next trip!
When in a different city it always helps to have local tour guides, especially life long residents like Gary who are proud of their city. Pittsburgh is a shade over three hours from Columbus, has enough carbs to make an elephant diabetic and makes for a great weekend getaway. Let’s get that Hyperloop started!