Plus, a new Thai noodle house opens on the South Side.
You know those restaurant visits, when a single dish stands out from the rest: It’s the one your tablemates wish they’d ordered because it’s super flavorful, Instagram-worthy or a nostalgia dish that rivals a favorite home-cooked version. From Brookline to Bloomfield, Shadyside to the Strip District, here are the week’s scene-stealing dishes and drinks.
Eggplant salad at Turkish Kebab House in Squirrel Hill
The tables were packed at 2 p.m. on a Sunday at this little fast-casual spot with a menu of Mediterranean favorites from hummus to borek to falafel, variations on gyros, and kebabs from chicken adana to beef or lamb. I opted for a snack, an eggplant salad ($4), seasoned with toasted garlic and sumac. Served with warm, grilled bread, it was salty and savory and really satisfying — and makes me want to return to explore the menu. 5819 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill — Melissa McCart
Venison at the Crested Duck pop-up at Gaucho Parrilla Argentina in the Strip District
Kevin Costa has been creating some of the city’s best smoked and cured meats since 2010, when he opened Crested Duck Charcuterie. The Beechview meat shop and cafe closed in 2015, but he’s still feeding fans with his series of four-course, pay-what-you-want pop-up dinners, most recently at Gaucho Parrilla Argentina in the Strip, where he’s pantry chef.
Sunday’s meal re-imagined what historians believe the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians might have shared at their seminal harvest feast in 1621, otherwise known as the first Thanksgiving: mussels in a wild mushroom and white wine broth, corn mash studded with rehydrated red corn kernels and dried ramps, and heirloom cabbage stewed with beans and salted pork. But the real star was the slow-roasted wild venison. Finished over a wood fire, it was melt-in-your mouth tender (think pot roast) with just the right amount of crispy char. A sweet-tart jam made from cranberries, raspberries and blackberries was the crowning touch. 1601 Penn Ave., Strip District — Gretchen McKay
Smelts at the Crane Room Grille near New Castle
I loved how Cinderlands Beer Co. chef Joe Kiefer last week described smelt as “the best fish stick you can get.” I can’t wait to try his citrus-salted take on this beheaded and gutted but not fully deboned small fish that are fried to a crunch. Smelt are a regional thing, in that they used to be taken in great quantity from the Great Lakes, and an old-fashioned one. (In his lush new book, “American Seafood,” Barton Seaver notes that the name comes from the Anglo-Saxon term for smooth or shining, “which is an apt description of their beautiful appearance.”) They seem to be having a bit of a moment around here. I also want to try the bar snacks version of “smelts” on the menu at Union Standard, Downtown. This past Saturday, I was delighted to polish off an order in the cozy, craft-beer-filled bar at the Crane Room Grille in Neshannock near New Castle, Lawrence County, which serves a half pound in a way I’d never had them: butterflied — that is, flat — and lightly battered with cocktail sauce for $9.95. 3009 Wilmington Road, New Castle — Bob Batz Jr.
Best dishes, continued:
- Philly tubesteak, wood-fired wings and a “funeral bowl”
- Oh Jing Uh Bo Kum, enchiladas and a sausage party
- Elysian Fields lamb, the two-drink minimum and a breakfast burrito
- Smoked and grilled killer wings, red pie and green peppercorn fish
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