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Pittsburgh Bloggers: What's New Out There

A crop of fresh new voices has sprung up on the Pittsburgh blog scene. They opine and celebrate (or not) Pittsburgh restaurants, fashion choices, and other blog-worthy thoughts and happenings.We feature some of the new bloggers here, who are offering up everything from finding that one-of-kind restaurant to looking good--with an emphasis on food.

Food Burgh: Mike Beattie

While driving through Homestead recently, Mike Beattie noticed an establishment, or rather he noticed the sign in front of the place, offering 26 beers on tap.

The Blue Dust Bar and Restaurant was just across the railroad tracks, next to a tattoo parlor, the kind of place that less adventuresome diners might shy away from."I thought, well, they can't have 26 bad beers on tap," says Beattie, who went in for a six-pack. He then chatted up the owner working the bar who then offered Beattie homemade salsa with roasted vegetables and tomatoes.

These are the scenarios that drive Beattie to seek out the out-of-the-way places through Food Burgh, a restaurant review blog he started a year ago. "I like to seek out the restaurants that no one 's heard about, the kind of place where you're driving by and it looks like it might be worth eating there. It might also be horrible. I'm drawn to that sort of thing."

A return trip to Blue Dust, this time for dinner, impressed him even more.

I was absolutely floored. If you haven't been to this place, you need to go. It's the best meal you'll get for the money anywhere in the city…and, no, I don't care that they're next door to a tattoo parlor.

His reviews are quite detailed, right down to the caliber of the salad dressing, another score for Blue Dust.

Actually, it was one of the best examples of what I consider the perfect balsamic: deep color showing off a large balsamic as compared with red wine vinegar, and a nice vinegar tartness that comes from limiting the amount of oil. Add in some herbs (and probably garlic), and you've won my heart.

A software developer by day, Beattie, 28, does not have any formal culinary training, yet he's a foodie by definition, the kind of friend you can go to for an excellent cooked meal or to accompany you in search of a great restaurant. "I have no professional experience in the restaurant world, but I have an opinion which entitles me to have a blog," Beattie says. While posting reviews once or twice a week, he often sounds a recurring theme: an establishment's vegetarian fare or lack thereof.

A recent trip to OTB Bicycle Café on the Southside, did not disappoint on that front.

The shredded carrots under the seitan added a nice crunch, and the whole thing offered up a nice balance of flavors. It could have used an extra slice of lettuce and smaller seitan chunks, but the spice was balanced, and the overall result was satisfying.

While one restaurant owner got upset after Beattie criticized his lack of nonmeat menu items, the same guy soon after released a revised menu, which included more vegetarian offerings. "It's good to see that there was an actual response taking place to what I write about," Beattie says.

Dinner with Daniel: Daniel Aguera

When you're originally from Spain and new to Pittsburgh, you tend to look at things differently. Meet the blogger of Dinner with Daniel, Daniel Aguera. When Daniel came across a quince tree in Oakland, he took the fruit (which others were throwing out) to make a a membrillo, or quince preserve, which in turn was made into a Linzer torte. But since he used Pittsburgh ingredients and since he's writing for a local crowd, he renamed it Yinzer torte.

"I've been all over the world," says Daniel, "and my passion—my main focus—is sharing my food knowledge with Pittsburgh, to establish a relationship with the foodies and chefs around here and people who are interested in good food."

He and his wife, Laura, who works at Carnegie Mellon as a web communication specialist, chose Oakland where, much to Daniel's delight, he found fig trees and quince trees planted by Italians generations ago. The students don't know what they are, says Daniel, who teaches cooking classes at the Market District in Robinson Twp., but with his help they soon will.

His well-designed blog is getting a lot of attention from readers in New York and California, D.C. and New England but not so much locally. That could change soon. He writes about everything from Arroz con Pollo and wine pairings to paellas and honeybees. You can learn a thing or two from this guy. Word is you haven't lived until you've tried his empanadas.

My friend Paige had told me all about the new outdoor parrilla that she and her family had built in their backyard.

Paige's brother had the whole family involved in the construction of this outdoor barbecue. He had learned about parrillas in Uruguay, where this barbecue method is so popular. Upon returning from this country he had to have his own parrilla.

After hearing about it, I immediately wanted to try it out. I decided that a paella would be a great dish to test the parrilla's cooking abilities. Cooking over hot coals can be tricky, but in this case it worked out great. I had heat intense enough from the coals to brown the chicken and then I was able to spread the coals around to maintain the even heat needed for a perfect paella. Our friends marvelled at the sight of the stock gently boiling. Amazing how a few coals can pack so much heat.

Bite of the Burgh: Julie Gongaware, Mandy McFadden, Sarah Sudar, Laura Zorch     

You can never go wrong with a Primanti's Pitts-burger Cheese Steak and an IC Light. 'nough said.

"We're not afraid of food, never have been," says Laura Zorch, one of the four authors and a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University. "I have never been one for diets or even moderation. I said if its good, I'll eat it."

The four friends started Bite of the Burgh in July after the mutual realization when they talked, they often dished about food. Their blog offers up dishes they make at home with thoughts on local dining spots. "I liken it to a 'Have you eaten here?' What's good?'" Zorch says.

Coauthor Mandy McFadden worked for two years as a social media specialist at a firm in the Strip District. She was laid off in July and one of the things she missed most about working in the Strip was all the walkable lunchtime opportunities.

"My favorite is Enrico Biscotti. A lot of people know they have pastries and breads, but they also serve an amazing lunch," says McFadden, who also maintains a personal blog and a photography blog. "I love food. It's a wonderful part of life when you can sit down with people and have a meal and enjoy a conversation. Why wouldn't you take part in that?"

How can life get any better? You have not lived until you have tried Pamela's famous crepe pancakes. (And having them at a very un-breakfasty time makes them even better!)

And while McFadden recently secured a new job in social media, she will miss the former lunchtime opportunities offered by the Strip. But there's hope. "I'll be working in downtown Pittsburgh. The new job's very exciting, but so are the lunch opportunities," she says, adding that she's now within walking distance of Franktuary, another favorite haunt. "They serve all sorts of amazing hot dogs."

Co-author Julie Gongaware, 27, says the four friends are united by their love of food as well as a desire to celebrate the city's unique food offerings. "Pittsburgh food is unique. People underestimate it. If I wanted Ethiopian, I would go to Abay. If I wanted Indian, I go to Ali Babba," Gongaware, 27, says. "There's so many good places in Bloomfield and Lawrenceville."

I don't usually stray away from my go to, cheeseburger. Sometimes that isn't always an option though, say at an Italian restaurant. So I had the next closest thing, angel hair pasta with pesto… I made a fantastic choice which really shouldn't surprise you because I'm full of those. That pesto was the best I've had since high school which is a long story and I don't want to bore you. Just know it was good. Actually better than good.

Gongaware says plans are in the works for a new feature, a "Girls versus Food" with a local Pittsburgh restaurant that's similar to the Travel Channel show Man Versus Food. They're on the hunt for a local food challenge. Any takers?

Note: Sarah Sudar also writes for EatPgh and the following...keep reading.

Looking Sharp: Sarah Sudar

About a year ago, Sarah Sudar was riding the bus when she took notice of the woman seated next to her.

"I saw this cute looking girl, but her outfit was just wrong," Sudar remembers. Her fellow passenger wore a cute trench and hip sunglasses. There was just one problem. The girl had left the "X" sewn into her coat, you know the one that manufacturers add to maintain the crease.

That incident, coupled with a lifelong love of fashion, provided the spark for Looking Sharp, Sudar's observations and celebration of all things fashion in Pittsburgh."I started it because fashion coverage in the newspaper and local media is really lacking," says Sudar, 25, who offers her readers the lowdown on where to find such things such as MOOP's minimalist chic bags created by Pittsburgh newcomers Wendy Downs and Jeremy Boyle.

Handmade in their studio in the West-End, these bags come in a variety of twills, canvas, colors, sizes and shapes, and are made to order. I'm totally crushing on the Market Bag, as I always do everytime I look at handbags on Etsy.

Sudar's blog often features the many boutiques that she loves to frequent.

"I love Lawrenceville. There's two that I like, Sugar and Pavement. If I had a million dollars, I would probably go shopping at these two stores," Sudar says, adding that small, independent boutiques offer a completely different, more satisfying, shopping experience. "It's so much better service. I can walk in Sugar and the owner would say, 'Oh my God, this would look so good on you.'"

I picked up this fierce red and black JustLiv headband at Sugar and a tailored black boyfriend blazer from Pavement.
Sugar also has a kickass black and gold feather headband, perfect for any Pittsburgh gal. I keep thinking about how I should have scooped it but didn't. Go get it before Saturday's game.

Sudar, who posts five to seven times a week, says finding inspiration is not difficult. There are local fashion celebs like Kelly Lane, who creates all organic designer dresses. While she would love to create a regular feature where she takes pictures of people on the street and then blogs about their fashion choices, in the meantime this fashionista will not run out of topics to write about.

"The Club Sandwich Tour of Pittsburgh and Surrounding Areas": Rebecca O'Connell
I know two undeniable facts about my friend, Pittsburgh author Rebecca O'Connell. She is a wicked, ferocious kickboxer and she is a writer who instinctively knows what details to include in her stories.

The same can be said of one of her latest ventures, the blog "Clubs are Trump: The Club Sandwich Tour of Pittsburgh and Surrounding Areas."

In her posts— a nice addition to the many annals chronicling Pittsburgh's love of any and all sandwiches—O'Connell zeroes in on the ubiquitous club. As "Ace of Clubs", O'Connell travels the 'burgh sampling this restaurant menu mainstay and offers her readers her thoughts and observations.

The good…

And look at that lettuce -- green and leafy. Yum. None of this flavorless crunchy or--God forbid--shredded stuff. The veggies make a difference. Veggies on a club. Yur doin it right.

The disappointing…

The turkey was first-rate; the tomato was world-class, so why were they on a sandwich with processed American cheez fuud and Big-Mac-style lettuce?

And the unusual…

The fried egg and bacon club was moist but not greasy, cheesy but not gooey, breakfastly aromatic, but neatly accessorized with lettuce and tomato for lunch.

O'Connell, the author of five books with a sixth due in March, said she started a blog about club sandwiches because it allowed her to combine two things that she really likes best: writing and eating sandwiches. She began chronicling her culinary roamings in May of this year.

"I thought, I can put these two things that I love together and write about sandwiches," says O'Connell, who also works as a children's librarian at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Got other suggestions for our next feature on bloggers? Email us here.

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Captions: Mike Beattie blogging at 61c Cafe in Squirrel Hill; (l to r) Laura Zorch, Mandy McFadden, Sarah Sudar, and Julie Gongaware at The Franktuary, Downtown; Sarah Sudar at Sugar in Lawrenceville; the Club Sandwich Blog; Rebecca O'Connell at the Bloomfield Sandwich Shop.

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen

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