Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: MMMMmmmilkshakes.

Disclaimer: I'm going to start calling this Less-word Wednesday since I always have something to say.

This week, my mission was simple: find an oasis in Pittsburgh that can save me from this ridiculous heatwave.

Mission accomplished.

Located between 18th and 17th Streets on Carson in the South Side this quaint little Milkshake Factory (aka Edward Marc Chocolatier and formerly known as Chocolate Celebrations) has undergone a lot of changes while hanging on tightly to its neighborhood friendly appeal.

You've probably seen it, heard of it and very likely even passed right by.  But if you haven't yet rung the jingle bells by opening the door, now is the time.  The moment you step inside you'll be overwhelmed -- in a good way -- with the sight and smell of chocolate (not to mention the refreshing kiss of cool air which, especially during a week like this one, was more than welcomed). 

EMC offers everything from turtles to truffles (I suggest the turtles with all of my heart) neatly packaged in beautiful blue boxes. 

But that's not what I came for today.  It's been so hot (I'm talking sneaker-rubber-melting-to-the-sidewalk, hot) and I was in desperate need of something VERY, VERY COLD. And ice cream is in fact very, very cold.

But this is The Milkshake Factory, darnit! And at the suggestion of a very pleasant and passionate employee, I opted for a strawberry banana flavored milkshake.  And let me just say, thank goodness I did.
Strawberry banana was heaven. Not too heavy, very refreshing, hit the spot. 

It had such a perfect consistency that it actually chugged up through my straw without me having to exert a lavish amount of cheek muscle to do so, yet it still kept it's thickness through my muggy, heated walk back to the car.

The cool part (no pun intended)? The Milkshake factory will make a shake out of any of their unique flavors. I was most intrigued by Pistachio while my shake-maker said that "Piece of Cake" is the most popular flavor to near-liquify.  But they also offer a plethora of syrups and add-ins which they can blend in to customize any shake to tickle your fancy. 

My strawberry banana consisted of strawberry ice cream, fresh milk, an actual, real, ripe, fresh banana and one large strawberry at the bottom. DELICIOUS!

Believe it or not I decided to blog about The Milkshake Factory BEFORE I saw the WPXI-TV segment praising it. (Hey!  That girl was my shake-maker and strawbanana suggester!).  I've been a long time fan of what I still refer to lovingly as The Chocolate Shop. My very lovely college pal, Irish Kate, was a loyal employee for nearly 5 years and I spent many a hot summer afternoon cooling off at the old hi-top soda fountain tables which have since been removed.



So this "less-word Wednesday" is dedicated to Irish Kate and Donna Edwards, original owner of Chocolate Celebrations (and mother of EMC founder Marc Edwards).  Love and miss ya, ladies!

Oh and by the way... this Thursday is Milkshake Happy Hour: 1/2 price milkshakes (which comes out to around $2) from 5-7 p.m.  Don't forget to bring cash though, purchases under $10 require it (although I'm you won't be TOO hard-pressed to find a delicious addition to bump up your total).  So what are you waiting for?  It's hot and your milkshake is waiting for you...

Edward Marc Chocolatier on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thirsty Thursday: APP-y Hour

Are you a thirsty 'burgher with an iPhone?


I have a Blackberry that works on its own accord and so I must pass along my knowledge to those more fortunate who can utilize this great new application!

City Paper announced today that a new iPhone app (presented by Coors Light) called Cocktail Compass is now available for download from iTunes!  This app will help you navigate your way through the happy hours of the surrounding area.

This thing looks awesome.  It tells you bar name, bar address distance from where you are, time remaining in the happy hour.  I can't be sure if it gives you pricing options or not (believe me, I wish I could. Someone send me an iPhone and I'll be sure to let you know) but it certainly looks like it may be able to do just that.

Keep in mind you must be 17 to download the application.  Which I find humorous seeing as the legal drinking age is 21...but I'm no mathematician and so I digress.

Needless to say I highly suggest downloading this app if you have the capability!  Any guiding light pointing me in the direction of a stiff drink and a good time is a shining light indeed.

Wait, why am I telling you this? You won't need my Thirsty Thursday posts anymore!

...I mean.......what app?!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thirsty Thursday: ilLUMAnated

It was a dark and rainy night...

OK so it was just a Wednesday in the 'burgh.

Anyway, after a crazy day on both our parts, PID and I decided to take advantage of the rain which granted us momentary freedom from soccer, dog walks and Pirates games to use our Groupon to Luma (which has been burning a hole in my inbox for far too long)!

Luma has two locations: Aspinwall and Mt. Lebanon.  We chose Mt. Lebo due to its far superior proximity to home. 

As soon as we pulled in to the parking lot (which was on a steep incline, but hey, we're in Pittsburgh. We should be used to this by now) I could already tell I was going to like it there. We had to walk past the back patio to get to the door and I could see through the glass doors to what looked like a very mod ambiance.  I was giddy with excitement.

We arrived to a packed waiting area without an empty bar seat in the house. I immediately kicked myself after assuring PID on multiple occasions that we wouldn't need reservations on a Wednesday. Turns out, Luma has half price wine on Wednesdays!  What a pleasant surprise! They call it "Winedown Wednesday" which I find clever and appealing. Every single bottle of wine on their menu (aside from the 5 selections which are priced at over $100) was available for half off as a bottle or stem which is different than many 1/2 price wine nights I've experienced.   It was fabulous!

And so it was on to the wine... much earlier than we'd anticipated.

While there were no seats at the bar, there was no way we could turn down ordering a bottle for while we waited for our table. I relished the thought of having more affordable choices and stared at the menu for what felt like hours before finally landing on the Excelsior Cabernet, originally priced @ $22/bottle.

I must say that if you don't happen to try Luma on a Wednesday they still do have a great selection of "Twenty at $20" wines. The hostess was nice enough to hold the opened bottle under her station as we held tightly to our stems.

As we sipped, we began innocently eavesdropping as PID and I do so well when we heard a very familiar voice. I turned to my left to see Paul Steigerwald, glass of red wine in one hand and Blackberry in another, waiting patiently for what the hostess referred to as his usual table. I couldn't bring myself to ask for a picture, he looked like he just wanted to enjoy his wine, but I leaned over and had to ask:

me: "So you come here often?"  (Yes. I really said it.)
Steigy: "From time to time."
me: "Is it worth the wait?"
Steigy: "The wine sure as heck is!"

We air-cheersed (can I copywrite that?) and I left him to his texting.

Finally our table was ready and since we'd been waiting for about 30 minutes (don't make our mistake, reserve a table no matter the day of the week), we were already prepared with our order and it was on to the appetizer.

Now Brie is one of my favorite cheeses. I've made my own chutneys and had myself a delicious snack at home, but never experienced anything quite like what we were served at Luma.  This brie was baked to a light browned skin and was served with a sticky glob (and I mean that in the most positive way possible) of a pecan and brown sugar mixture which I have to assume had maple syrup in it.

I almost felt bad eating it before my meal. The pecans and brown sugar were the perfect level of sweetness and the cheese literally melted on the knife as we sliced it. It would have made for a great dessert. I was very interested in the choice of crackers as well. They were large sesame crackers.  Not something I would have paired with pecans and brown sugar...but it worked!

PID couldn't resist ordering a cup of She-Crab Bisque.  Had I been confident enough in my stomach to order yet another food item, I would have done the same.  He was in heaven.  He loves spicy which is just what this bisque was.

And while typically I like a kick of spice as much as the next gal, this crab had a bit more than a pinch (get it?) of cayenne which didn't seem to fit with the rest of the ingredients. Maybe I'm biased to my Rudy's Inlet she-crab bisque in Virginia Beach, but I wasn't feeling it as much as PID was.

It was a busy night -- Winedown Wednesday will do that to you I suppose -- so the service was slightly slow. We had to order a diet Pepsi for PID three times. When our waitress finally returned after our third order she informed us that they were out, but she was going to send someone to the pizza shop down the street to pick up some more.  This completely made up for her original forgetfulness. Really? You'll walk down the street for more?  We politely told her it wasn't necessary, but of course she brought it for him anyway. That's server dedication! Bravo. With supply & demand as well as labor costs in consideration she probably could have charged us $19 for the glass.  She didn't of course, but needless to say we didn't bother her for a refill.

After we received coveted beverage, we moved on to our entrees.

PID and I decided we're around each other so much that we've adopted one another's eating habits.  He  went for the Spicy Shrimp Pasta (served with asparagus) while I opted for the Tenderloin Alfredo. He took my seafood and I his steak. Thank goodness we don't mind spreading germs because we each ate right off of the other's plate.

PID was very satisfied with his dish but asked me to share with all of you with a very important lesson:

Always bring a Tide Pen.

When you're wearing a lovely white button down (he looked so dapper), you don't want this...

...anywhere near it.  I took a bite and this dish was spiced to perfection (as well as beautifully plated).  The heat felt more appropriate with shrimp and pasta than the crab bisque and the asparagus acted as a cooling element. I wasn't sure how I felt about the choice in using Angel Hair pasta in this dish versus a thicker variety, but PID insisted it didn't affect his enjoyment one bit.

Unfortunately I was slightly less pleased with my meal.  Upon ordering, I was intrigued by the thought of tenderloin paired with fettuccine Alfredo. I'd never seen it served this way before (am I just naive?) but I like steak and I love Alfredo. So why shouldn't we put 'em together?!  Sadly, I quickly figured that out. First, I was completely overwhelmed by the size and number of medallions served with the dish.  I'm already eating a heaping bowl of pasta.  Adding four fist sized cuts of steak (and I'm taking man fists, here) makes me full before just by looking at it.

But I'm very sad to say that wasn't the dish's only problem.  The meat was extremely bland. It lacked flavor completely.  I forced myself to drag it through the excess Alfredo sauce just to make it taste like...well...anything.  The four medallions were also cooked extremely inconsistently.  I ordered them medium well.  I believe two came that way while one came merely seared and still another was unbearably charred. I don't want to knock this dish completely, however. The Alfredo sauce was some of the best I've tasted -- ever.  It was surprisingly light while still holding an absurd amount of flavor.  The fettuccine on its own would have been a meal enough for me. I wondered to myself if the meat was poorly cooked only due to the busy evening -- but then I reminded myself that that shouldn't be an excuse.

We, once again, didn't partake in dessert, but the table to my left sure did.  It appeared to me that the family of four ordered one of everything on the menu!  Looked like a sorbet, a cappuccino, some type of mousse and a few other delights with whipped cream on top. Maybe they write a restaurant blog, too...?

Cliffs Notes:

Groupon:      1 @ $20
Drinks:         1 Diet Pepsi @ 2.25
                   1 bottle of Excelsior Cabernet @ (Guess what? you have to choose between using a Groupon and paying half price for wine. had I known this, I probably would have paid for the wine at the bar rather than having it transferred to my table. I was less than pleased, but it was delicious wine so I shrugged my shoulders and chose to use the Groupon. I WARN YOU NOW! No Groupons on a Wednesday if you're a wine freak like myself) $22
Appetizer:   Baked Brie @ $9
                  She-Crab Bisque @ $7
Entree:       Spicy Shrimp Pasta @ $16
                  Tenderloin Alfredo for $22
Tax:           7% Sales Tax (Allegheny County only) @ $5.38
Tip:            $15 (because "good grouponers" tip on the entire amount)
Groupon Discount: - $40
TOTAL FOR TWO:  $76.93

Overall opinion:

It was deja vu all over again with the ambiance.  I couldn't help but feel I'd been there before until I went back home and did some research.  A Pittsburgh phenom, Head Chef Michael Rudman also heads up the kitchen at Willow.  I must say, although it was slightly more expensive, I would have to suggest Willow over Luma.  However, I absolutely have no qualms returning to Luma -- maybe trying the Aspinwall location.  The menu was captivating and though I may have chosen the wrong entree, it wasn't because of a lack of desirable choices. I'm convinced my less than excellent experience was a one-time fluke that can be easily corrected with a return visit.  And PID enjoyed every bite. So give it a try!  If for nothing but the wine and the atmosphere alone!

 Luma on Urbanspoon

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