Sunday, October 19, 2014

Emporio - A Meatball Joint

Last week, we were feeling bold, so we decided to take our infant son (db`) downtown for lunch.  Since he's a little meatball, we decided to go get some meatballs at Emporio - A Meatball Joint.  This is the bold new venture from Matthew Porco, owner of the excellent Sienna Sulla Piazza in Market Square.

Emporio is part of a three restaurant setup collectively known as Sienna Mercato.  It sits on the bottom floor, Mezzo (appropriately) sits on the mezzanine and is a wine and pizza setup, with Il Tetto consisting of a rooftop beer garden and small plates.

When we entered, it immediately reminded us both of the interior of Tenpenny, right up the street just a block away.  If the same interior designer didn't do both, then the two firms were on the same wavelength.  Dark, rough hewn wood interior with bare yellowish bulbs in mason jar holders suspended from the ceiling.  Very cozy and welcoming.

It's a pretty interesting setup at Emporio, as far as meatballs go.  It's kind of like a fast food style menu, disguised as a gourmet meatball joint.  By that, I mean you can order from 4 types of meatballs -- classic beef, pork, turkey, vegetarian -- and pair them with a host of different sauces, at least 10, plus a special one of the day.  You can also order 1 meatball as a slider, 2 smashed together on a panini, 3 on a meatball sub, or 4 as a mega treat known as "saucy balls".  Snicker.

DB~ went with a turkey meatball slider topped with an almond spinach pesto.  She also got the mac and cheese side dish with "government cheese" (american).  She loved the meatball; you definitely don't get cheated on the sauce.  She also really liked the mac and cheese, although she didn't get a chance to finish all of it -- more on that later.

I went with the 3 meatball sub of beef meatballs, topped with pork bolognese sauce, and provolone cheese.  It was a huge sub and full of sauce, so much so that I actually ate the first few bites with a fork.

My meatball was light, which is the opposite of what a meatball usually is.  I'm guessing it had some bread crumb/cheese mix to lighten the load of the beef, but it also had a great herb mix.  Of course there was oregano, but I couldn't tell if there was basil in there, too.

Our stay was slightly shortened when we looked over and saw db` grunting and his face turning red.  Not only did he poop himself, but the angle he was sitting in his car seat caused it to go down his leg all the way to his sock.  DB~ got to see the wonders of Emporio's baby changing station.  I suggested we just change him in the trunk of our crossover.

Poopnado aside, Emporio is excellent.  As I've been typing this and talking to DB~, we both fondly recalled our lunch.  We have to get back soon.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Baked Chickpeas

Tired of having rice or potatoes as your side dish, but still blissfully in need of a starch for balance on the plate?  May I recommend trying baked chickpeas instead?

Chickpeas may not be everyone's favorite bag of tea.  They have a slightly nutty flavor that could turn people off, plus their name isn't cool sounding.  But this recipe is easy to make and great tasting.

Preheat your oven to 375.  For two people, open one can of chickpeas and rinse them in a colander in the sink.  Then place them in a baking dish that has a lid that can on top.  Drizzle the chickpeas lightly with some olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Dice up a 1/4 cup of onion and 1 clove of garlic.  If you're feeling zany, put a dash of paprika on them too.  Mix the whole concoction together, add a little water to the baking dish to just come up to the sides of the chickpeas.  Put the baking dish with the lid on in the oven for 1 hour.

The first time I made this, I did them at 300 degrees for 2 hours, but people don't have that kind of time during the week.  Heck, with a 1 hour lag time, you have to pop these in the oven as soon as you walk in the door from work.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Discussing Russell Martin

The Pirates' season ended earlier than I anticipated.  I thought the Pirates could beat the Giants at home, but I didn't anticipate Bumgarner pitching an absolute masterpiece in the Wild Card.

So the Pirates are getting an earlier-than-hoped start to the offseason.  For Neal Huntington, that means working on his to-do list on forming the 2015 roster.  At the top of that list is signing Russell Martin.

Bob Nutting has given his blessing to expand the comfort zone to attempt to re-sign Martin.  What that exact level is remains unknown.  There are plenty of teams, including some big markets like both Chicago teams, the Blue Jays, and the Tigers that could be interested in him.  But the Pirates have an X-factor -- Martin really likes playing here with these guys.  That doesn't mean a lot, but it means something.

Here's my stance on how negotiations should go with Martin and the Pirates:
They should match any 3 year deal he gets.  There's no average annual value under $20M that they can't swing.
They should consider matching any 4 year deal.  I would go up to $14M/year for 4 years.  This keeps him less than McCutchen's free agent year value in his contract.
They should walk away from any 5 year deal.

He's still going to 32 at the start of next year with over 1000 games behind the plate.  No matter how great of an athlete you are (and he is), that's a lot of tread off the tires.  I would like to think that Martin could be spelled by playing a few games at 3B or maybe even 1B, just to give his knees and mind a break.

In a perfect scenario, I would go 3 year/$38M with a club option for a 4th year.  Now it's up to Martin to decide how much the clubhouse camaraderie is worth to him.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Oui, Monsieur et Madame

Last Saturday, DB~ surprised me by making dinner.  She just doesn't cook.  She'll bake, she'll make a killer dessert to take to a party.  Dinner?  Not really her thing.

But when she does it, she does it right.  For this one, she had to go to two different Giant Eagles, she thought about it for two weeks, and she was beet red by the time she was done.  But it was great.  DB~ tried to replicate the Croque Monsieur and Croque Madames we had in Paris at Angelina's.  She got it to the 90th percentile.

I'm not a fan of eggs, so I had the Monsieur, which is small square white bread, ham, melted gruyere cheese, and then a bechamel sauce on top, then put in the broiler.  DB~ had the Madame, which is the same sandwich with a fried egg on top.

I always appreciate when she does things in the kitchen, because truth be told it can be a grind to come up with four to five interesting dinners each week.  After dinner, DB~ said, "I give you a lot of credit, because I don't know how you do it every night."

We each do our tasks that we're good at.  That's why it works.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bike Lanes on Two County Bridges a Bad Idea

Earlier this month, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that two County-owned bridges -- the 6th Street Clemente Bridge and the Phillip Murray South 10th to the South Side -- would have bike lanes installed in each direction on them.  The lanes would be 5 foot wide with a 3 foot buffer between vehicular traffic.  In theory, this is a great idea.

In reality, it's awful.  These bike lanes, one in each direction, will take away one lane of vehicular traffic as well.  So each bridge will be turned into a one-lane bridge in each direction. What this will do is cripple the ability of these bridges to do their primary function of moving vehicular traffic during peak periods.

As much as bike advocates would like you to believe that cars and bikes are equally important, they are not.  Roads and bridges are primarily for motor vehicles.  Their secondary function is for bikes and pedestrians.  The two can co-exist, but it's not an equal partnership.

Roads are like the human body's blood vessel system.  Certain roads are arteries and veins and have to push a lot of blood through; certain roads and bridges are the same and have to push a lot of vehicles through.  If there is a blockage or bottleneck, neither system will work and will eventually fail.

There is a big push to make Pittsburgh more bike-friendly and these bridges are part of that expanded network.  That's great, but it can't come at the expense of vehicles.  I predict that the Clemente Bridge experiment will fail and will be quietly modified in a few years.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Legends Of The North Shore

Legends of the North Shore has been open since 2002, which makes it a successful institution at this point.  Neither DB~ nor I have been there, but it comes highly recommended.  It's spoken highly of as a North Side restaurant, so we decided to give it a shot tonight.

When we walked in, we were surprised by how few tables there were and how awkwardly the restaurant is set up.  Upon entering, the kitchen and small bar area are right there.  You have to squeeze through and half-turn if someone is sitting there, in order to get to your table.

Although the appetizers sounded good, especially the always-good greens and beans choice, we went straight to the entrees.  DB~ picked the Chicken Romano and I went with the Gnocchi Bolognese.  When they came out, we were a little taken aback by the size of the portion in relation to the cost of the entree.

DB~'s Chicken Romano was $19.95 and featured two small breaded breasts, topped with lemon and parsley.  There was a small scoop of mashed potatoes and some slivers of squash.  To us, it was overpriced for the portion size.  DB~ liked it, but didn't love it.

My portion of Gnocchi Bolognese was a normal sized plate-bowl.  The gnocchi were small, but delicate and not heavy.  The sauce was a basic meat sauce, with some chunks of ground meat in the sauce.  Again, nothing special and certainly not $18.95 worthy.  It seems like each entree was overpriced by $3.

Sometimes with legends, their status is over-inflated by past glories.  There may have been a time when Legends of the North Shore was at the top of their game, but unfortunately that time has passed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Taking Delight in the Brewers' Collapse

Coming into the season, I thought Milwaukee would win between 73 and 78 games.  They were atrocious last year, due to key injuries, but they had some declining players anyway.  Their big offseason move was to sign injury-prone, under-achieving Matt Garza to a 4 year/$50M deal.  How would Ryan Braun fare now that he (hopefully) wasn't juicing anymore?  I didn't see a playoff contender.

Imagine my surprise when at the end of April the Brewers were 20-8 and far, far ahead of the pack in the National League.  I was telling everyone who asked that the Brewers' return trip to Earth would be coming soon, but they didn't really flinch until July.  At the start of July, they lost 10 out of 11.  Their record on July 12 was still 52-43 and they were still tied for 1st place, albeit after they were comfortably leading by 6.5 games at the start of the month.  The rest of the NL landscape was forgiving, as well, with most of the teams just treading water.  Maybe this was the start of the end?

Fast forward to August 25th.  The Brewers had rebounded to playing strong playoff-contender baseball again.  I was still baffled.  Their record was a robust 73-58 and they were 1.5 games up on the Cardinals in the division.  Barring a soul-crushing collapse, the Brew seemed destined for a playoff spot of some sort.

Enter the soul-crushing collapse.  From that day forward, the Brewers have lost (and are still in the midst of it) 13 of 14 games.  Their record is now 74-71 and they are not only 6 games behind the Cards for the division, they are 1.5 games out of the playoffs altogether -- behind the Pirates, which makes it even sweeter.

Is this just the law of averages adjusting with unblinking fury all at the same time?  Have injuries revealed their absolute lack of depth, both in the majors and minors?

Ryan Braun, still one year away from his extended extension of 5 year/$105M kicking in, is having a poor season and now his thumb pain is leading to his whole hand maybe needing surgery.  Shades of Jason Kendall's thumb injury, which was the real reason for Kendall's collapse as a hitter, are echoing.

Carlos Gomez is a terrible human being, so he's also easy to cheer against, even though he's having a good campaign.  I would love to have Jonathan Lucroy, especially with that ultra-friendly contract extension, but he's really the only Brewer I would rescue.  The rest of them all deserve each other.

Hopefully the Brewers continue to collapse, much like the 2012 Pirates did.  The only difference is that the Brewers don't have a wave of talent on the horizon (or a solid, young talent base in the majors) to give them hope for the future.

It couldn't happen to a better franchise.