RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: September 2010

Square Cafe | Pittsburgh, PA

Square Cafe (Facebook / @TheSquareCafe)
1137 S. Braddock Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15218
(419) 244-8002
Open Mon-Sat, 7 am – 3 pm; Sun, 8 am – 3 pm
Accepts cash and credit cards
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y

Date of Visit: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 9:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: I learned about Square Cafe from the inimitable Rick Sebak of WQED Pittsburgh. Rick shot footage there for his latest documentary Breakfast Special, although Square Cafe didn’t end up in Part 1. (But Part 2 is hopefully coming soon!) While on a recent trip to Pittsburgh, we asked Rick to meet us for breakfast, and he of course recommended Square Cafe.

ATMOSPHERE: The Cafe was fairly quiet on the morning we visited; a few tables were full outside, a handful of businessmen and women in huddled various corners inside.

Always, always a plus for me to see local artists on the walls. This particular artist’s work fits the bright, bold coloring of the Cafe nicely.

FOOD: The menu was separated into four main sections: Tasty Selections (including burritos, grits, hash, and muesli), Eggs & Omelets (scrambles, Green Eggs & Ham), Crepes & Biscuits (crepes!), and From the Griddle. Square Cafe also serves a huge variety of coffee drinks, smoothies, and milkshakes. My wife ordered a Caramel Latte: delicious and made just right. I always take comfort in a breakfast place that takes its coffee seriously. Square Cafe has got the equipment for it, and clearly they know how to use it.

Got to – GOT TO – love the coffee mugs. Clearly their signature style. Like handcrafted pottery. Completely round except for the flat front. And I love it when I can fit all four fingers around my coffee mug handle. You can buy sets of these mugs at the cafe an elsewhere, although they are a little too expensive for me. I’ll settle for having to visit Square Cafe again. We also appreciated being served a mug with cold cream without having to ask. I prefer my coffee served this way; those small ultra-pasteurized half-and-halfs frighten me: they can probably withstand a nuclear blast.

Despite my long-standing obsession with Northstar Cafe’s Big Burrito, I decided to give Square Cafe’s breakfast burrito a try. Sometimes you’re just in a burrito mood. You can have the burrito here with just cheese and veggies, or you can add bacon, sausage, ham, or a special chicken apple sausage.
Q: I added _____.
A: Bacon.

It may not have knocked Northstar’s burrito off its pedestal, but Square Cafe’s is flat-out great. It’s filled with nice grilled vegetables, fluffy scrambled eggs, melty cheese, and perfectly cooked bacon. The whole deal comes with sides of sour cream and a locally-made salsa.

One of the most impressive things about the burrito is that it ALL STAYED TOGETHER! I’ve had many good burritos that fell apart under pressure. But even after I cut it in half (to make it more manageable), the ingredients didn’t come tumbling out.

You can order the same ingredients in the burrito, only in quesadilla form, too. My sister-in-law chose this option, and declared it very good. Instead of the nicely wrapped burrito, you can get the flour tortilla in these crispy wedges. Again with the dipping accoutrement.

Rick ordered the shrimp grits: sauteed shrimp and spinach on a bed of fluffy grits. He gave us all a taste of the shrimp, which were seasoned and sauteed just right. Nice bite to the seasoning; the shrimp were plump and juicy, not over-cooked at all.

My wife ordered the sun-dried tomato and goat cheese scramble, a delightful mixture of tomatoes, spinach, and goat cheese on scrambled eggs. Heaping side of their home fries, all uniformly crispy and well seasoned.

She also added a single lemon ricotta pancake. I love the use of ricotta cheese in pancakes – makes for a moist but stable flapjack. This one’s topped with butter, powdered sugar, and whipped cream on top. The tart lemon in the pancake really balances the sweetness of the batter, sugar, and cream.

SERVICE: This picture didn’t turn out too well, but here’s proof that Square Cafe’s employees are dedicated. Owner Sherree Goldstein has a very busy and accomplished crew. They offered very attentive service, filling in all the details you could want (i.e. cold cream for your coffee). Our server proudly showed us his tattoo, and kept a vigilant watch over us. And we experienced the most religious refilling of our coffee ever. It keeps the coffee hot!

OVERALL: I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Pittsburgh breakfast scene, but if Square Cafe is anything to go by, it’s going to be a tasty ride. I think Sherree and her crew have mastered the total package of the breakfast experience: fun branding and decor of the restaurant, a nice variety in seating (tables, counter, outdoor), a solid coffee shop setup, and a creative and diverse lineup of breakfast items. I would highly recommend it as a must-stop on any Pittsburgh breakfast tour!

Oh… and I just got it: it’s called Square Cafe, but all the branding is circular.

-> a taste of Square Cafe from WQED Pittsburgh

Square Cafe on Urbanspoon

Breakfast With Nick in (614)!

A quick post, while I’m working on a whole host of reviews. Take a gander at last month’s (614) Magazine, where yours truly debuted a new monthly column about breakfast. The September topic: three obscure diners around Columbus. If you get a chance, hit up one of the diners there. Next month’s will be a delicious piece, too!

Photos: Wafflepalooza 2010

Recently, one of my favorite Columbus bands, the Andy Shaw Band, played a second annual concert/breakfast fest called Wafflepalooza. I missed it last year, but was invited to come by for the 2010 edition.

What is Wafflepalooza, you ask? Essentially, a concert from ASB, plus some kick-ass waffles. They had a whole menu of waffles, all musically-themed, for you to choose from. And they were all very delicious.

The menu included:
Ginger’s Red Hot Chili Pepper Waffle – a cornbread waffle with chili
Elvis Waffle – bananas, peanut butter, bacon, and honey
Plain Jane’s Addiction Waffle – just a plain waffle
Fiona Apple Waffle – baked apples and Denise’s vanilla ice cream (donated by Denise’s)
Vanilla Ice Waffle – Denise’s vanilla ice cream
Rick James Waffle – powdered sugar
Shaw Brothers Waffle – baked apples and powdered sugar
Improv Waffle – build your own!

In case the waffles or the concert weren’t enough to entertain you, they created an activity book, too. Gotta love this.

Melissa Fraley, head of the ASB Columbus Street Team, and the crew are set up to go with the waffles.

At last year’s concert, they let concert-goers serve themselves, which resulted in a waffle iron being set on fire. This year the Street Team headed things up.

I got to try Ginger’s Red Hot Chili Pepper Waffle first. It takes the brilliant idea of a cornbread waffle and tops it with homemade chili. One of the hits of the evening. One concert-goer named Robert White who enjoyed this waffle in particular wanted to be quoted on the following: “It’s the best damn thing I ever ate,” and “I’ve just been baptized in corn bread and chili waffle.” There you have it.

The opener was Speak Easy Three out of Buffalo.

I then opted for the Fiona Apple Waffle. Delicious baked apple ladled on top, with a big melting scoop of Denise’s vanilla on top. A sweet antidote to the spicy chili waffle.

Seemed like a big success from one of my favorite local bands. I’ll try to be more on the ball and plug this sooner next year!

Photos: Columbus Food Adventures Short North tour

This afternoon I was invited to take part in the Columbus Food Adventures Short North walking tour. Owner and operator (and hungrywoolf/tacotruck/alteats/streeteats food blogger) Bethia Woolf led a small group of us around and through some of Short North’s culinary and historical bright spots.

The tour started at the North Market. It’s a great starting point, an easy landmark, and perfect precursor to the small businesses and local eateries in store for you. Our first visit in the market was the Greener Grocer.

Colleen fed us ground cherries – a small, sweet berry covered in a paper husk similar to the tomatillo. I was surprised at how the flavor traveled so well. It was sweet, but so many other things at the same time.

We then strolled around the corner to Bluescreek Farms, where owner Cheryl Smith told us about their family-run operation and tasted thin-sliced smoked ham. Amazing. Nothing like store-bought ham. Closer in taste to smoked turkey breast.

On our way out of North Market we waved to the Jeni’s booth, peeked at Kitchen Little (not open until next week), then headed up High Street to Knead. I haven’t been to Knead since their soft opening, and was very glad to be back.

There we tasted one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve ever had. Made with local tomatoes (we’ll miss this come fall), a jalapeno cheese from Oakvale Farms, so it was sweet and spicy. And the house-made bread had a perfect crispy crust.

And then owner Rick Lopez dropped by some recently-smoked bacon. My goodness. We all need more bacon like this in our lives.

On the way out, I noted Krista’s homemade twinkies.

Stopping on the 670 cap to talk some Short North history.

For a sweet bite, we hit up Le Chocoholique. Recently opened in the former Starbucks space, they serve up a huge variety of chocolates.

Admiring the case…

Then up the road and down a side street to Eleni Christina Artisan Breads.

One of the bakers there, Joe, spent a while bragging on all the bread they make there. The bakery is not generally open to the public; they’re a member of the Rigsby group of restaurants, providing the bread for Tasi Cafe, Rigsby’s, plus a load of other great eateries around Columbus. They begin their days at 2 a.m., cranking out a wide variety of breads…

…which are all beautiful.

They were busy at the work. The other two guys in the bakery didn’t stop moving.

After a stroll past Goodale Park and a walk down Buttles Avenue (side note: the first time my wife and I ever rolled into Columbus, we drove past Buttles Ave. and laughed, “Who would ever live there?” Turns out we did.), we headed back on Pearl Alley to Tasi Cafe.

I love the big wooden tables in Tasi. Rugged, rustic charm to go with uncomplicated comfort food.

And then we got to see some of that Eleni Christina bread at work!

Plus a small but rich bowl of macaroni and cheese. Flavorful cheese, without being heavy. Nicely complemented by the pieces of ham.

Then we stopped in to Rigsby’s Kitchen, sadly the first time I’ve been there after eight years in Columbus. We had a simply delicious salad of tomatoes, olives, watermelon, red onions, and more. I’m usually not a fan of these types of salads – especially those that incorporate the watermelon – but this was complex and refreshing.

Bowl of tomatoes on the counter. Seriously, we are going to miss these after the season.

We topped off the tour – as any tour of Columbus should – with a stop at Jeni’s Ice Creams.

I opted for a trio of the Sweet Corn & Black Raspberry, Pistachio & Honey, and the Mango Lassi. Always, always good. Never had a bad ice cream at Jeni’s. Seeing her booth at North Market brought back memories of first discovering the Market in 2002, just as Jeni was opening up, and how they used to make ALL their ice cream there. Now they’ll soon have seven locations plus a production kitchen, and have been on the Food Network multiple times. (sigh) We’re so proud.

All in all, a great tour. We were stuffed full of food, invigorated from the walk, and pleased with the good conversation and well-chosen stops. Thanks, Bethia!

If you want to go on a tour yourself:

Photos: Hills Market Pancake Breakfast

Recently my wife and I took our two-year-old son to The Hills Market pancake breakfast and Food is Fun event. Hills hosts their pancake breakfast just about every Saturday and Sunday morning, from May till October. Only $5 gets you a big stack of pancakes, bacon/sausage, and coffee.

We hit up the breakfast on the same day as their annual farmers’ market. A big tent out front housed many of the Hills’ vendors. It was like running a gauntlet of samples.

The Food is Fun event included stations where kids could learn how to make fresh pulled mozzarella, how to make a tossed salad, and – pictured here – how to make your own tortillas. This is Rachel from Hounds in the Kitchen showing Will how it’s done.

But of course, the real reason I was here: the pancake breakfast. Hills hosts these all summer and typically into early fall. I can’t imagine anything better than sitting on their veranda on a cool fall morning with a stack of pancakes and a cup of coffee.

The Hills’ veranda was crowded with pancake-goers.

This is Kate. She runs the show here. She organizes the pancake breakfasts, sets it all up, and makes your pancakes. I have to admit I like that one person does it all. It’s Kate the pancake lady! I hope she becomes famous for it and people travel from all around to see Kate the Pancake Lady and have her make them her famous pancakes.

Kate makes all the pancakes. Place your order with her at the counter, then have a seat and she’ll come find you. Be aware: she gets harried when it gets busy, so be patient. We waited a bit for our pancakes, but fortunately the Food is Fun event kept us occupied in the meanwhile.

A sight for sore pancake-lovers’ eyes. You can order plain or blueberry. (Hint: always order blueberry when you have the option.)

The end result. My son devoured every single blueberry he could find, and Kate put a generous helping on them.

The pancakes are big and fluffy. I couldn’t tell if they were made from a mix or not, but either way, they were delicious. And loaded with a crap-ton (actual unit of measurement) of blueberries. Seriously, I couldn’t tell the difference between the syrup and the blueberry juice by the end.

We’ll be back! Admittedly, the farmers’ market and Food is Fun events are passed, but Hills hosts plenty more throughout the year: crab boils, beer tastings, cooking classes. If you want to visit:

The Hills Market
7860 Olentangy River Road (just north of 315)
Columbus, OH 43235
Check their website, follow ‘em on Twitter, or join their newsletter for details on upcoming breakfasts.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 291 other followers