The 2008 Munchies!



Shiftless [shift-lis] -- adjective
1. lacking in resourcefulness; inefficient; lazy.
2. lacking in incentive, ambition, or aspiration.
See also: anonymous food critic at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Here's a revelation: Munch is lazy. Big deal. It's the holidays. There's a lot of football on, and frankly it's either been too cold or too rainy to go to review a new restaurant anyway, and, given the belt-tightening in the newspaper industry, our meal per diem has been reduced to whatever change Scott Mervis can find in his couch cushions. Which isn't much.

So in the interest of frugality, and more importantly, not having to pry ourself away from the HD broadcasts of (to date) 17 meaningless bowl games and do actual work, Munch is shamelessly stealing from all of those other Best Of lists. Munch presents to you, in no particular order, the first annual, 2008 Munchies!

Best place to kick it old school, Pittsburgh-style: Nied's Hotel, Lawrenceville.

Simple formula: Icy cold Iron City + ginormously awesome fried fish sandwiches + an 89-year-old bartender whose forgotten more good stories than you'll ever know = Nied's Hotel on Butler Street, perhaps the most perfect neighborhood bar in a city full of 'em. Call 412-781-9853.

Best place for instant gratification: Bistro to Go, North Side.

Sometimes Munch is in a hurry and frankly doesn't feel like dealing with the surly waitstaff. What to do? Head to Bistro to Go on E. Ohio St. Part cafe, part cafeteria: you look at the food. You point at the food. They serve you the food. Bingo bango, you're out in minutes. Be careful not to slobber on the floor as you're reviewing the bistro's ever-changing menu -- last week's lineup featured lemon-ginger chicken, barbecue ribs, veggie mango couscous, apple cider chicken, beef-stuffed cabbage and plenty of mouth-watering sides. Call: 412-231-0218 or visit www. bistro-togo.com.

Best Place to Gorge, and Munch Does Mean Stuff Oneself Silly, on Breakfast: Oh Yeah! Ice Cream and Coffee Co., Shadyside.

Like ice cream so creamy it coats your tongue? Like hot and crispy waffles? Then why not try the "amazingly healthful ice cream breakfasts" at Oh Yeah! Ice Cream and Coffee Co. at 232 S. Highland Ave. Healthful you ask? The folks at Oh Yeah! will tell you that the ice cream is organic, all from cows munching grass all day near Cleveland, and all you need for a perfectly clear conscience is to simply believe them. Call 412-253-0955 or visit www.customswirl.com.

Best place for a third date: Wild Rosemary's Bistro, Upper St. Clair.

You did coffee. You did drinks. You're interested. So are they. But springing for dinner at Le Mont at this early stage will trigger the this-person-is-overcompensating-for-something alarm. And while Munch hasn't been on a date in ... a while (Munch wears a bag over the dome for a reason) ... Munch does know the kind of place that would charm the uh, socks, off of a potential mate: Wild Rosemary's Bistro on Bower Hill Road. It's cozy, intimate, off the beaten path, has outstanding continental cuisine and it's BYOB so you won't get fleeced on wine markup. If it doesn't land you another date, then it's not the restaurant. It's probably them. Call 412-221-1232 or visit www.wildrosemary.com/

Best Food, Worst Location: Mediterranean Grill, Squirrel Hill.

You could walk down Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill every day for a year and still manage to miss the sign at No. 5824 for Mediterranean Grill, which is displayed high above street level. The restaurant itself is downstairs and around a corner in a dark hallway and Munch is never convinced until Munch actually sits down that the place is actually open (sometimes with good reason -- they don't seat customers for dinner after 8:30 p.m. even on weekend nights). But odd hours and a lack of ambience cannot keep Munch away from dishes like chicken tawook, fattoush salad and baba ghannouj. Call: 412-521-5505.

Best place for a Blackberry Beer: Rivertowne Pour House, Monroeville.

News flash for regular readers of this column: Munch likes the beer. Shocking, I realize. And while Munch laments the passing of the city's grandest brewpub, Munch won't go thirsty. Not with the Rivertowne Pour House crafting up to 18 (!!!) house brews on location. The RPH gets down with everything from Scotch Ales, to IPAs, Belgian Wits, German Rauchbier, and Munch's favorite, the Blackberry Blast -- a blond ale flavorfully fortified with 42 pounds of blackberries in each batch brewed -- and some terrific pub grub will help you soak up the suds. Call 412-372-8199 or visit www.myrivertowne.com.

Best spot for a dog and a brew: Packs and Dogs.

Or: The D's SixPax & Dogs Lifetime Achievement Award. This goes to the best new imitator on the block, Packs and Dogs on Shiloh Street, Mount Washington. Is the beer selection as good as D's? No. Is the grub as credible? Not yet. But does this place have loads of potential? You betcha, as What's Her Name With the Tina Fey Glasses might say. Mount Washington can be an isolating place in these winter months, especially if the salt-and-plow drivers are working at their usual pace and all of the roads leading off the mountain have turned into luge tracks. Point is, with Packs and Dogs now taking up residence, there's one less reason to leave the Mount. Call: 412-431-1855.

Best place to get a case of the meat sweats: Mr. Willie's, Squirrel Hill.

Upon first visit to Mr. Willie's BBQ on Murray Ave., Munch was presented with a rack of ribs so large it looked like the one that tipped over the Flintstones car during the end credits of said show. Massive. Almost shamefully so. In fact it was shamefully so, because Munch could not stop shoving the tender, smoky, sweet and spicy ribs down the hatch until a fever-like perspiration and light-headed euphoria came over the brown bag's brow. Munch was chasing the dragon, babe, and needed to come down. The sides of cornbread, red beans & rice and mac & cheese -- plus a 12-hour nod -- did the trick. Call 412-325-3332 or visit www.mrwilliesbbq.com.

Best Reason evah to drive to Pine Township: Patron Mexican Grill, Pine (duh!).

It might inspire violence in Cedric Wilson but there's nothing negative about Patron Mexican Grill in Munch's mind. The decor is bright and beautiful, particularly the elaborately carved and painted wooded booths imported from Mexico. The margarita list is massive, the salsa is splendid, the waitstaff exceptionally friendly and the portions filling but not huge. So get out the Garmin and find your way up the Perry Highway. Call: 724-935-3559 or visit www.patronmexgrill.com.

Best for Steelers groupies in August: Dino's.

Munch, a deranged Steelers fan just like you, makes an annual pilgrimage to Latrobe to see a bunch of giant men engaging in Oklahoma drills and running wind sprints (or carefully jogging them, in Casey Hampton's case). Why does Munch do this? I don't know -- why do the swallows return to Capistrano every year? Why do fools fall in love? Why is "E.R." still on the air? It's not why, it just is -- and while you're up there, might as well stop at Dino's, on Route 30 East, the Latrobe sports bar that Barack Obama didn't visit this year. Call: 724-539-2566 or visit dinoslatrobe.com.

Best Lunch Entree of Mixed Asian-fusion Origin: Typhoon, Shadyside.

Munch doesn't give orders often, so listen up. Pick a day, any day (except Sunday and Monday) and drive to 242 S. Highland Ave., between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sit down. Order the Street Noodles No. 1. The noodles: so light yet so flavorful. The fried chicken: so moist yet so crispy. Together: a revelation. Just do it. Call: 412-362-2005

Best gourmet burgers: Sauce, Bridgeville.

Wood-fired beef patties with: wild mushroom, bourbon sauce and Swiss; pancetta & creamy Gorgonzola with sundried tomato mayonnaise; roasted peppers, balsamic glaze, crispy onions & Buffalo mozzarella. You may commence Homer Simpson-esque drool. If that isn't enough, they serve a KILLER mac & cheese in a cast iron skillet, among other items at the former Bridgeville Diner on Route 50. Call 412-221-2300 or visit www.saucepittsburgh.com/.

Best place to decompress with coffee: Big Dog, South Side.

Albeit the notion of relaxing with a heavily caffeinated beverage is something of a contradiction in terms, Starbucks is beyond cliche; Crazy Mochas has a few too many tightly wound, don't-you-dare-look-at-or-talk-to-me grad students pounding out master's theses on laptops; and indie coffee shops are too often arenas for insufferable hipsters and bad music. The solution: a trip to Big Dog on Sarah Street and its cheery environs, stately fixtures, roaring fireplace, fresh pastries, organic coffee & oatmeal, and hella good soup. Call 412-586-7306 or visit www.bigdogcoffee.net.





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