Food Column: Social Dish adds game to eating out

A couple of Pitt grads have begun a start-up business that they hope will help to promote the local restaurant scene.

Social Dish is a unique contest and promotion that will put locally grown basil on restaurant menus all over the city next month.

Here's how it works: Restaurants signed on to place a signature appetizer featuring basil on their menus from June 1 through July 1. Diners who order the appetizer will trigger a $1 donation to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Diners can order passbooks that list all the participating restaurants and allow them to earn gift cards for future meals.

Diners who order the appetizers also will be able to rate the restaurant's food and atmosphere, and the winning restaurant will get a custom-crafted "Social Dish" plate to display as well as free entry into the next competition, to be held in six months or so.

Co-organizer Cameron Hassanzadeh of Monroeville bills it as a win-win for everyone: restaurants, diners, charity, and local food producers who will supply ingredients for the restaurants.

He and his friend Mickey Szlachta of Brookline "fell in love with this city" as Pitt students, he said. They both especially appreciate the local food scene, so that's where they're focusing their energies.

Mr. Hassanzadeh coaches soccer for Franklin Regional High School and for Century United Pittsburgh FC. Mr. Szlachta is a bartender at Peter's Pub in Oakland and works in sales for Verizon, as well.

Ten restaurants paid a fee to participate in this first round of competition, and the two men are paying for the rest of the expenses (passbook printing, website creation and so on). Eventually, they hope Social Dish will turn a profit.

They hope restaurants will see this as a good tracking tool, allowing them to notice whether the Social Dish promotion has increased their business.

Ms. Hassanzadeh said they chose basil as the initial ingredient because it "reminds people of summertime" after a long winter.

Restaurants have run with the concept. 1947 Tavern in Shadyside plans a sweet potato-and-local basil pancake topped with local basil-lamb sausage, a poached local egg and basil cream cheese. Social at Bakery Square is making an appetizer trio plate: a basil wrap with garlic-marinated shrimp and pepper relish, a Caprese salad, and basil granita (an ice dessert) with cucumber and lemon garnish. Lawrenceville's Franctuary plans a coconut-basil beef dumpling.

The other participating restaurants are Cibo and D's Six Pax & Dogz, Regent Square; Gaucho Parrilla Argentina, Strip District; CC's Cafe, Sharpsburg; Mercurio's, Shadyside; and Caffe Davio and La Palapa, South Side.

Mr. Hassanzadeh hopes Pittsburghers will weigh in on what ingredient Social Dish should feature in the next competition. To order a passbook or for more information, go to


Forest Hills Jazz Festival and 8th Annual Rotary Chili Cook-Off: Noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 18, at Westinghouse Recreation Center, 799 Barclay Ave.

Red White & Brew: Beer and wine samples form regional vendors, food from local businesses, local arts-and-crafts vendors, live music. Saturday and Sunday, May 24-25, in downtown Uniontown. $20 for ages 21 and over with beer and wine samples; $5 for non-drinkers; free for kids 12 and under.

Multi-site food fun

A Tour of the Country: This tour for seniors leaves from Downtown Pittsburgh and takes guests to Windgate Winery and Yarnick's Farm Market and includes a gourmet boxed lunch and shopping in Smicksburg. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 27. $35. 724-8 95-3905 or (click on "other trips").

eatBRUNCH: Join eatPGH for a progressive dining experience in Downtown Pittsburgh with tastings and demos from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 31. Stops include a sweet treat, fancy coffee and chef demo at Habitat, dim sum and signature cocktail at Grit & Grace, and brunch entree and signature cocktail at Meat & Potatoes. $75. 724-622-7777 or

Benefit events

SLB Benefit Dinner Party: Buffet-style Mexican dinner benefits upgrades to the "Saturday Light Brigade" broadcast studios. 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 20, at Mad Mex, Shadyside. $65. 412-586-6300 ext. 4 or

Dessert and dinner theaters: The St. Paul's Players present "Don't Tell Mother" with a dessert theater presentation at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, June 11 ($25), or a dinner theater presentation at 5:45 p.m. Thursday, June 12 ($35), at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, Hampton. Proceeds benefit North Hills Community Outreach. Reserve by June 2: 412-487-6316 opt. 1 or go to


Gateway to Wellness - Learning to Live Well: This symposium aims to give the community information to reduce the higher rates of health risk experienced by people of color. In addition to fitness and medical information, sessions will include "Good Food, Good Herbs, Good Living" and "You Are What You Eat." Saturday, May 31, at UPMC Shadyside's Herberman Conference Center. 412-281-4086 or

Early American cooking classes: Learn authentic recipes using cast-iron cookware over an open hearth and in an outdoor bake oven at the Old Stone House in Slippery Rock. Classes, all held on Saturdays, are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 7, July 12, Aug. 16, Sept. 13 and 20, and Oct. 18. Cost is $35 per class, plus an extra $5 for the final class, which involves cooking an entire dinner. For details:


Egg recipe contest: The Eggland's Best "Your Best Recipe" contest invites home cooks to submit their best original breakfast, appetizer, main-course and dessert recipes that call for a minimum of two whole eggs. Top prize is $10,000. Deadline is July 31. Details:


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