Summer Dining Sampler

Delicious food and eating outdoors adds up to a winning dining combination.

The crème brûlée at Pusadee's Garden has a Thai twist. (Photo: Rick Handler)

The crème brûlée at Pusadee’s Garden has a Thai twist. (Photo: Rick Handler)

It’s summertime and the living is easy, unless the heat index is over 100 degrees. Many fruits and vegetables are just starting to ripen and deliver full flavor. Eating outdoors with a summer breeze also enhances the dining experience. Please find following a few restaurants we are offering for your consideration for summer dining. C. Prentiss Orr (C.P.O.) and Mike Vargo (M.V.) also contributed to this sampler.

The Abbey Offers Outdoor Optics, Too.

What draws a lot of interest to Lawrenceville’s once-brass-foundry-then-funeral-home and now-multi-bar-restaurant-with-coffeehouse is its decor. It’s a lot to behold. The owners pride themselves in having employed only local designer-craftsmen to transform this grand facility into a gallery of industrial arts. But a recent drive along Butler Street proved that the outdoor dining area is no less popular. It may be one of the largest in Pittsburgh (that is, not wholly dependent on satisfying a craft beer or BBQ crowd) and it, too, features its own architectural intrigue. Central to its well-shaded patio is a large swan fountain. Of course, The Abbey’s patrons don’t just come to gawk; eclectic cocktails and culinary-to-casual cuisine are the call. Seafood, pasta, and chicken dishes all feature prominently on the brunch, lunch and dinner menus. Also commanding diners’ attention is the Abbey Burger (grass-fed beef patty topped with brown sugar, peppered bacon, sharp white American, and caramelized onion aioli) as well as the house mac ’n cheese (to which one can add any number of protein enhancers.) Current craft cocktails include Peach of Mind, Summer Sangria, and a tempting Szechuan-me-Daiquiri. Their espresso martini sounds good too. Afterall, The Abbey has its own coffeehouse indoors. But it may be the patio that pleases you most. 4635 Butler Street, Lawrenceville. (C.P.O.)

Alta Via: Outdoor Dining in Market Square

In catching up with a friend who works downtown we chose to have lunch at Alta Via in the crystal palace (PPG Place, 2). For an appetizer we both shared the fritto misto (calamari, rock shrimp, lemon aioli). As an entree I chose the bucatini (cacio e pepe, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Pecorino Romano). It was rich and delicious with the two cheese blend and just the right amount of ground black pepper. Just enough to drive the dish, but not too much to make it unpleasant. The service was impeccable, with a change of silver for the dessert course. We split the olive oil cake. It was a denser cake, not overly sweet, with a subtle flavor combination of olive oil and sugar. Adding to its tastiness was marmellata and whipped mascarpone. Other offerings include: branzino, Long Island Duck, tuna tartare, roasted beet salad, and steak fiorentina. There’s covered outdoor seating on one side of the restaurant. Alta Via has two other locations: Fox Chapel and Bakery Square.

Bosphorus Channels Mediterranean Fare Parkside

Lamb shish kebab at Bosphorus. (Photo: Rick Handler)

Lamb shish kebab at Bosphorus. (Photo: Rick Handler)

Geography-wise, the Bosphorus is a narrow sea strait that winds through the center of Istanbul. Food-wise, Bosphorus Mediterranean Cuisine is a Pittsburgh restaurant serving excellent Turkish and Middle Eastern dishes. A high quality meal at midrange prices can be had just from the appetizers at Bosphorus. The falafel is crisp on the surface and delectable once you dive in. The tabuli is lively and zingy but not bitter, a symphony of grains and chopped vegetables mixed and seasoned to cool perfection. The entrees range from familiar to not-so-familiar: yes, a visitor can have lamb shish kebab—but one might also try karniyarik, which is eggplant stuffed with ground lamb, onions, tomato, etc. Vegetarian and vegan diners will find ample choices. The desserts are luscious. If you’re dining in, the ambiance is comfortable and friendly. In warm weather, there’s seating outdoors, and carryout and delivery are available year-round. This culinary gem is located at the corner of Frick Park, where Braddock Avenue meets the mighty Forbes across from Frick Park. 7600 Forbes Ave., East End. (M.V.)

Barcelona’s Tapas Are Only Outnumbered by The Wines

Potato tortilla and other small plate offerings. (Photo: C. Prentiss Orr)

Potato tortilla and other small plate offerings. (Photo: C. Prentiss Orr)

Recently opened on Penn Avenue Downtown is one of the newest locations for Barcelona Wine Bar, an American collection of tapas restaurants that spread from Texas to Massachusetts. But there’s nothing “chain” about Pittsburgh’s new link to this stunning Spanish cuisine. With ample seating outdoors and a bustling interior, Barcelona has commanded popular attention. Whether it’s the create-your-own charcuterie board or more than 30 different tapas plates to choose from, patrons who also enjoy sipping Spain’s great “Rojas” will have many tough decisions to make. Charcuterie fans will be delighted with a selection of chorizos and jamons, and a choice of nine different cheeses, including manchegos and mahón, all aged in Spain. Standouts on the tapas menu include a potato tortilla (think frittata or pie, not a flat taco,) albondigas (spicy meatballs in jamón-tomato sauce), mussels with house-made sausage, or spinach and chickpea en cazuela (a small baking dish). In addition to 21 rojas, 23 blancos, and a full cocktail menu, the bar offers both dry and sweet sherries, flights of aperitivos and Grenache, and a brilliant red sangria stuffed with fruit. Perhaps by design, savoring an assortment of different tapas can do damage on a wallet faster than fewer hearty entrees, but Barcelona is worth every single bite. 922 Penn Avenue, Downtown. (C.P.O.)

Outdoor dining at Barcelona on Penn Avenue on the Cultural District. (Photo: C. Prentiss Orr)

Outdoor dining at Barcelona on Penn Avenue in the Cultural District. (Photo: C. Prentiss Orr)

Coughlin’s Law Opens an Appealing Court of Friendly Fare

At first glance, one might think it’s a very upscale office for attorneys who want to impress their clients with spectacular views from atop Mt. Washington. On second glance, the law firm sure seems to attract a large crowd of beer lovers, happily sharing plates of nachos, wings, and egg rolls outdoors. That’s because, despite its street presence, Coughlin’s Law is a Kitchen and Ale House and its perch above Pittsburgh is a popular spot for nearby neighbors and Natrona or New Castle natives, alike. Coughlin’s patrons come from far and wide. The lunch and dinner fare is mostly casual cuisine; there’re plenty of “handhelds” like a “smoked” Reuben sandwich, lobster sliders, and an assortment of burgers, or for those who prefer to use a knife and fork later in the evening, there’s smoked brisket, Moroccan lamb ragout or Norwegian grilled salmon (for all of which you only really need the fork.) Coughlin’s Law is not a craft brewery, but, perhaps because it’s not, they boast having more than 30 brews on tap. The wine and cocktail menus offer proportionately ample options, too. And, just opened, Coughlin’s Law has a second kitchen and ale house at Mount Nebo Pointe. Now you can hold court with friends at either location. Mt. Washington’s is at 10 Virginia Ave and Mt. Nebo’s is at 138 Green Valley Road. (C.P.O.)

Mole! at El Campesino

Mole Rancheros and a Margarita at El Campesino. (Photo: Rick Handler)

Mole Ranchero and a Margarita at El Campesino. (Photo: Rick Handler)

Hungry for Mexican food, but looking for something besides tacos, burritos, and enchiladas? Then try El Campesino’s Mole Ranchero. The dish is composed of shredded chicken in a brown sauce (with chocolate, bananas, finely ground peanuts, and Mexican spices, according to the server). The dish has a deep, complex flavor that is very savory and satisfying. It’s served with three tortillas, rice, and choice of guacamole salad or tossed salad. On a recent trip I paired it with the Campesino Perfecta Margarita (Gran Centenaria Reposado Tequila, orange liqueur, pineapple, lime, and Tajin Rum. It was sweet, refreshing, and had a good kick. Another favorite is the Fajitas Campesino: a combination of beef, chicken, and shrimp, cooked with onions, tomatoes and bell peppers with lettuce, cheese. Served with guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream. Choice of flour or corn tortillas. And of course El Campensino has a full menu of all your favorite Mexican foods, and much more. There is also a nice selection of vegetarian items. El Campesino is a Pittsburgh chain with several locations around town. The Waterfront location has outdoor seating on their patio which is right across from a colorful mural about Homestead. 149 W. Bridge St., Homestead. (R.H.)

Mango Mango Dessert Cafe

The mango and coconut smoothie from Mango Mango. (Photo: Rick Handler)

The mango and coconut smoothie from Mango Mango. (Photo: Rick Handler)

Sometimes during the summer months some people (not me) say it’s too hot, that they’re not hungry for a regular meal. Mango Mango Dessert cafe can help you get some delightfully refreshing summer sustenance. The recently opened Squirrel Hill establishment is part of a national franchise group with over 30 locations. On a super hot Saturday afternoon I tried their frozen mango coconut smoothie. It was replete with many small chunks of fresh mangoes. On the way to the bathroom I spied many boxes of fresh mangoes through a curtain opening to the kitchen storage area. Caution: the smoothie is so good you may drink it too quickly, resulting in an ice cream headache. Besides smoothies, featured items include a wide variety of Asian influenced desserts and sundaes, classic cakes made with buttercream, French style Nutella sweet crepes and Belgian waffles, traditional Hong Kong sweet soup, and a variety of healthy teas. I look forward to trying more of Mango Mango‘s offerings. 5845 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill. (R.H.)

Mango Mango features a wide variety of specialty and Asian desserts. (Photo: Rick Handler)

Mango Mango features a wide variety of specialty and Asian desserts. (Photo: Rick Handler)

Pusadee’s Garden: An Oasis in the City

Pork belly appetizer at Pusadee's Garden. (Photo: Rick Handler)

Pork belly appetizer at Pusadee’s Garden. (Photo: Rick Handler)

A chef friend of the family had knee surgery and to cheer him up I was dispatched by my mom to one of his favorite restaurants, Pusadee’s Garden, to get him a gift card. I had never been there. When you walk in to the left is the hostess stand and then the walkway continues left and then right towards the rear of the property, passing dining areas in a structure on that side of the grounds. Upon walking to the back, a right turn puts you in the glass enclosed bar area that looks out onto a patio garden with outdoor seating. I sat at the bar and perused the menu. A friendly bartender, Amanda, guided me through the offerings, pointing out items she thought I would enjoy. Her suggestion of pork belly with a sweet chili garlic caramel sauce was triumphant. I didn’t do too bad myself in ordering the Elysian Fields lamb shank in a massaman curry sauce with potatoes. The curry sauce was very rich and exotic tasting, but let the tender lamb meat shine through. Dessert was another wonderful taste sensation: thai tea crème brûlée, whipped cream, and boba. Other interesting items for a follow-up trip are pan roasted halibut with three-chili tamarind garlic sauce, zucchini, and mushrooms; pumpkin curry, roasted kabocha, cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, tofu, Brussel sprouts, and mushrooms; and khao soi beef cheek, egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, red and yellow curry. Pusadee’s Garden chef Bootsaba Tongdee was nominated as a James Beard Awards’ semifinalist for the Mid-Atlantic region for Best Chef. Pusadee’s Garden also offers an extensive wine, beer, and cocktail menu. 5319 Butler St., Lawrenceville. (R.H.)

Redfin Blues Shines Under Sunny Skies

 With its smoky industrial history and steep river embankments, Pittsburgh has long yearned for open air eating establishments that offer river views under sunny skies. Of course, there’s no controlling the weather, but for casual dining outdoors Redfin Blues on Washington’s Landing is a qualified favorite. Featuring fresh seafood, crab cakes, peel-and-eat shrimp, as well as “handhelds” like their mighty, beer-battered fish sandwich or blackened mahi tacos, the restaurant has lots to offer. Buffalo shrimp, lobster rolls, and an all-you-can-eat steamed Alaskan Crab Legs plate are rare treats in western Pennsylvania. There’s even an outdoor section for diners who bring their pet canines. So popular is Redfin Blues among the boating and biking set that waiting lines are to be expected, especially when the weather is glorious. 100 Waterfront Drive, Washington’s Landing (accessible from the 31st Street Bridge). (C.P.O.)

Walters Southern Kitchen: Brisket, BBQ Ribs, and Cornhole

The outdoor dining area at Walters southern Kitchen is always a lively spot. (Photo: Rick Handler)

The outdoor dining area at Walters Southern Kitchen is always a lively spot. (Photo: Rick Handler)

For a Pittsburgh outdoor dining experience reminiscent of a family barbecue, try Walter’s Southern Kitchen in the “Ville” (Lawrenceville). They cook their brisket the traditional way, low and slow in a wood-fired smoker. For the brisket, diners have a choice of fatty or lean. Choosing the fatty gives you succulent, juicy slices of brisket. Other features are: smoked pork ribs, pulled pork, wings, and chicken; fried chicken; burger, and grilled chicken sandwich. Sides include: collard greens, mac and cheese, potato salad, and Brussel sprouts. Other interesting items are the Frito Pie, brisket queso fries, and Texas Red Chili. Ambiance is provided by picnic tables under cover and cornhole games. A bar, kitchen, and seating area sits inside the one story structure. The servers are as friendly as the food is delicious. A Sunday brunch menu is also offered at Walters. 4501 Butler St. (R.H.)

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.

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