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Food & Wine

Valliant’s Diner

Pete Valliant arrived in America in 1950 with $20 in his pocket, no English, and a vague notion that he had relatives near Pittsburgh. The Greek merchant sea captain thought he would give the mainland a try, leaving behind his island home on Cephalonia, where Louis de Bernières set his 1994 novel, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” …

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Quality Close to Home

I enjoy being a wine contrarian—advocating for delicious white wines when people are conditioned to order red, and pouring domestic for customers who wouldn’t dream of drinking anything but an import. On the question of wines from the eastern United States, however, I went along with the conventional wisdom for a long time. Wines from …

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Try a blind tasting

We ran a fun little wine-tasting experiment at the restaurant the other day, one you should try at home. It will be educational and thought-provoking. And if it goes as ours went, you may be a bit miffed by the results. With some family and colleagues, we gathered nine bottles of wine, all domestic red …

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Triangle Bar & Grill

The Bermuda Triangle—that vortex in the Atlantic Ocean that starts at Miami, follows a line southeast to Puerto Rico, then north to Bermuda and back to Miami—forms a region that some have imbued with mysterious powers. Over the decades, many ships have entered this triangle, never to be seen again. But there is one triangle …

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Howard Hanna: Buy and sell with confidence.

Square Café

There are two features that are essential before any establishment can become a neighborhood joint, and Square Café in Regent Square has both. The first is a counter or bar. A raised countertop and stools will anchor a place. In this case, size is not important. The Square has just nine stools, enough to do …

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Follow Your Palate

All right people. Can we just chill out about food and wine pairings? It seems the more we’re interested in food and the more we learn about wine, the more stressed we are about choosing wines to have with dinner. Customers agonize over the wine list in my restaurant—so afraid they’re going to make a …

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Girasole: Dinner and a Show

As the great American playwright Tennessee Williams once said, “I think Italians are like Southerners without their inhibitions.” Williams could have made that observation from a table at Girasole, which combines the best of Italy and Pittsburgh: sometimes it can be a little bit pazzo, but it is always honest. Girasole is often crowded, usually …

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Savoring Digestifs

Is it wrong that one of my favorite childhood chores was running to the A&P for my grandmother and buying her a bottle of Fernet-Branca and a box of snuff? It’s probably not the kind of wholesome memory most people hope to create for their kids, but I can’t help but look back fondly on …

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Johnny’s Restaurant

There is a relationship that regular patrons have with Johnny’s Restaurant in Wilmerding that is a lot like the one shared by old married couples. They promise each other not to be the first to go, because the survivor will be lost until the end. And after a yearlong hiatus, Johnny Fusilli is back at …

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The Mighty Oak Barrel

When you think that you must have taken a wrong turn, you are almost there. The Mighty Oak Barrel sits at the end of a little twig of a road that is also the last chance for anyone who panics at the approaching Hulton Bridge and swerves to the right. And when you first lay …

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A Passion for Baking

Mary-kay Fiore’s life turned out a little differently than she expected. But it sure has a sweet ending. In 2001, the single mother of three found herself downsized out of a corporate job and facing a crossroads. She had baked for years, as a way to pass the nervous hours until 11 p.m., when her …

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Aperitif!

It’s always been a nice break for me to get out of the hot kitchen and spend some time tending bar. And 40 years ago when I started in the restaurant business, making drinks before dinner was easy. A martini, a glass of sherry or an imported aperitif—that was all a sophisticated diner wanted before …

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Enrico’s Café

Chuck DiNardo, legendary food and drink impresario, operated the Hollywood Social Club in Shadyside into the 1970s. The haunt of politicians, every old mustache in the region and visiting celebrities, the “Sosh” was accessed through an unmarked narrow walkway, easily missed, between what is now The Pottery Barn and Kards Unlimited on Walnut Street. That …

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Bringing the Good Cheer

While it’s my great pleasure in life to talk about wine, enjoy it with friends, pour it in my restaurant and assess it at tastings, I very rarely give wine as gifts at holiday time. People expect it from me now. I’m the wine guy, so wine’s too obvious. And that’s too bad, because this …

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What Cork?

Patrons who arrive at our restaurant after dark, or are focused on prime rib, may not notice the unusual mulch out front. It’s cork, or more specifically, corks, from the dozens of wine bottles we open every night. These souvenirs of pinot noirs and viogniers gone by rest at the base of our birches, over …

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Take a Chance on a Different Grape

There are some 400 wines on my restaurant’s wine list, and I can vouch for the deliciousness of every one. Imagine my chagrin when clients come in and order either a pinot noir or a chardonnay. Pinot noir or chardonnay. Pinot noir— How do folks get stuck in this wine rut? Why the reluctance to …

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Nied’s

The orange neon fish sign at the corner of Butler & 55th in Lawrenceville is the gastronomic version of the beacon atop the Grant Building. Nied’s Hotel Bar has held this corner since 1941 and, like all great joints, it’s a neighborhood within a neighborhood. The starting point at Nied’s is the “world famous fish …

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Reconsider the Riesling

Here’s a little test to see who’s as old as I am, and who will ’fess up to once drinking wines that might get you laughed out of a fancy restaurant today. Once upon a time, Americans loved off-dry wines. Remember Blue Nun? Black Cat? If you drank them in the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s, …

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Nap’s Cucina Mia

This Napoleon and Josephine story has a happy ending. It began in 1952, just two blocks from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus, when Napoleon and Josephine Patti opened Nap’s, a shot-and-beer joint along the main drag of the small town. For years, Nap’s was a regular stop for the guys who made their bones …

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Festive Holiday Wines

I am blessed to come from a family of wonderful Italian cooks, and growing up, our holiday traditions included my grandfather’s wine and my grandmother’s homemade pastas, which she rolled  out on the dining room table and served with Christmas dinner. Now, as a restaurateur, I’m blessed to be busy every day from Thanksgiving until …

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Dot’s

Dot’s in McKeesport is just that—a dot on the side of the road that is easily missed if it is not your intended destination. There was a time when this stretch of Fifth Avenue on the fringe of the city was more neighborhood street than highway. The mills were booming back then, and McKeesport was called …

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Soup’s on Downtown

As winter wraps its icy fingers around us, there is a no-fail way to fight back—comfort food. The ultimate chill-buster is a steaming bowl of hearty soup. If you have evolved past the canned variety, but don’t have time to make your own, visit The Original SoupMan in downtown Pittsburgh. While many people are familiar …

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