Moio’s Italian Pastry Shop

5 Jul
Moio’s Italian Pastry Shop
4209 William Penn Highway
Monroeville, Pennsylvania

One of my favorite things to partake in is dessert. I have a sweet-tooth and I love to indulge it! I have driven by Moio’s many times since moving here but have never stopped in. This pastry shop is awkwardly located in a small strip mall next to one of the “Beer-Lottery” stores at a busy intersection near the I-76 entrance ramp in Monroeville. Nothing about its location particularly draws one in other than the fact that you know its a Italian pastry shop that must be full of delicious treats. Two weeks ago I decided to go for a run, I am in the process of training for a half marathon. I did my first half earlier this year and now I want to do another. I hope to do a marathon after this. Interestingly, I used to hate running–I mean I despised it. However, I have learned to love running (mostly after the encouragement of my brother and then later my wife both who have ran marathons) and discovered a few things: 1) I enjoy setting goals for myself and achieving them, 2) It makes me feel healthy, 3) I feel more liberated to freely eat pastries when the mood strikes. I guess I have a mild sweets obsession. There is something about a really good run where I feel like I am owed a treat. I reward myself for a job well done. I had a really good run two weeks ago. I did 3 miles on a course with rolling hills. Now I don’t obsess over a treat after every run I complete, at some point it becomes counterproductive. However, this particular day I was running a new route at a new location. On the way home I drive past the bright red, white, green sign and the mood strikes me to pull in to see what Moio’s is all about. As I walk up I am not sure what to expect. The door boasts a rather large neon “Open” sign and the windows display decorated cake mock ups. Once you walk in you see small tables on the left and a horseshoe of display cases full of the most decadent looking pastries in front of you. Both times I have been to Moio’s, at least 6 other people have been inside preparing to indulge there sweet-tooths as well. Now just because a lot of people enjoy a restaurant doesn’t mean I will. I have never seen the Golden Corral not busy but, come on, you are paying for quantity not quality there. But the location of Moio’s does not lend itself to draw people inside unless the product inside is truly legit. As you look around at the pastries, you quickly see that there is an authentic Italian influence.  One of my favorite desserts in the whole world is an Italian cannoli and Moio’s Italian Pastry Shop makes one of the best cannoli’s I have ever had. They hand fill each cannoli to order with either a creamy ricotta filling or a rich chocolate custard or both. I highly recommend both. The pastry shell is flaky and flavorful. The filling, unlike many cannoli’s I have had, is not too sweet its the perfect balance of creaminess and sweetness in the ricotta. They also boast a delicious pasticciotti  and sfogliatelle. I have not had these yet but I am sure its only a matter of time before I return. After my first experience with the cannoli, I have been craving them ever since. I took my wife and son back to Moio’s earlier this week where we got, of course, another cannoli and some of their Italian cookies. Now if you have not had an Italian cookie you are missing out. Moio’s sells all their cookies by the pound so you can mix and match however you wish. The cookies are extremely light and crumbly, they almost melt in your mouth. So be prepared for a little mess. I recommend the raspberry filled, Morgan loves the jelly filled, and Gray loves everything, he is a bottomless pit (though he did gobble up the butter cherry cookie very quickly). Moio’s also has an assortment of cakes, pies, and other pastries that shouldn’t be missed. If you are on the east side of Pittsburgh and you feel your sweet tooth acting up, make a trip over to Moio’s and try the hand filled cannoli.

Moio's Italian Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon

Center Avenue Slice

3 Jul
Center Avenue Slice
332 Center Avenue
West View, Pennsylvania •

Center Avenue Slice has wonderful pizza and we found this gem on accident. In fact the story that led up to finding the restaurant and the experience itself is what sparked the desire to start writing about our Pittsburgh food adventures. It’s always a wonderful surprise when you stumble upon a food experience unexpectedly, especially after being stuck in your car unwillingly for an hour and a half. Our first born, Gray (see the About Us page), is now at the age where we have decided he needs play time with others and we need a momentary break in our day from the full-throtle, all-out, no-holds-bar, bundle of energy that is our son. As Jim Gaffigan says, “It’s like living with a drunk person…[he] is either screaming, eating, or peeing his pants”. But he is the cutest little drunk person ever. (Disclaimer: I have never nor will I ever give my child alcohol until he is of legal age. I know you were concerned.  I do however make him fruit/vegetable smoothies most mornings, its the only way he will eat his carrots and spinach. Plus they are delicious.) I love having him around but there are times when the energy is draining. I believe I read a  research study during my undergraduate studies that challenged Olympic caliber athletes to try to keep up with toddlers during a 2 hours period–the toddlers won. Another aside, I am super pumped about the Olympics. I may have a traditional British meal in honor of the London games, the Queen…oh, and of course, Will and Kate. Anyways, since we are new to the ‘Burgh we are still learning to gauge when a place is 15 miles away but takes 20 minutes and when a place is 15 miles away but takes 45 minutes. For those who do not live here, there are many bridges and many tunnels that create unnecessary congestion at most every moment of the day. So we found a lovely preschool that orients itself towards a philosophy of development and learning with which Morgan and I agree. Long story short, the 15 mile commute we thought would take 20 minutes ended up taking us 45 minutes. Now I did get lost once, which is the average amount of times I get lost in any one commute. Pittsburgh has some of the most confusing roadways in any city I have ever been AND because there are so many bridges I find myself on many a bridge not knowing how I ended up there and with no way to turn around. Well once we found the address that comes up with any Google search and that is plastered all over the website we learned that this particular preschool recently change locations. We walked around the old building for ten minutes trying to figure out where everyone was at. They failed to mention this to us on the phone or on the website, except for one small blurb nestled inside a paragraph on the front page. So with a fussy baby and annoyed parents we decided to go find the new location. I mean we might as well since we just spent the last 45 minutes making our way over there, whats another 6 miles? As you learned in geometry the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, well there are very few straight lines in Pittsburgh. There are plenty of winding roads with traffic and stop signs; as such, another 45 minutes went by and we found the new location. By this point we had already decided there is no way we are going to deal with that commute multiple times per week and our frustration only grew regarding the failure to know that the preschool recently moved. We even tried calling the school many times to figure out where we are going, no answer, no return call. So frustrating! Well if your child is like Gray, once you hit the one and a half hour mark with no break from the car it is getting close to time to get out of the car seat. Also, we missed the afternoon nap and snack. Have I mentioned how pleasant it is to having a screaming baby in the back of the car when you are stressed and hungry? There are moments in your life when you need food immediately! I am not sure how we found it or even if I could get back there but we pulled up our Urbanspoon app (a lifesaver) and found a highly rated, cheap pizza place within 2 miles. Luckily, this was not a deceiving 2 miles.

Now that I have set the scene, we are pulling around this bend with a screaming baby and two annoyed parents. I am not expecting anything special about the pizzeria for which we are looking. A small store front with a neon pizza or delivery sign. However, it was like a mirage emerging in the desert. We are driving up over the hill and there before us is the building with the title “Center Avenue Slice” in enormous letters, I knew we had arrived. From the moment we walked in everyone was very friendly. Brent Dreier the owner was in and out, I think he lives next door, and was very welcoming. It felt like we were hanging out at a friend’s house. When we dine out with Gray, restaurants receive favor from me when they acknowledge and work to cater to his needs (milk and some sort of carb stat!) So the young man behind the counter recommended garlic bread because its quick and immediately brought milk for Gray. Whew! The crying finally ceased. Milk is our magic elixir. I know the debates about not drinking other animals’ milks and hormones (we drink organic at home) but screaming babies will make the strongest fold. So we, as with most everything, approach it with moderation. The garlic bread was very good. It was not a stick but a Texas toast style of bread. Covered in butter, garlic, and parmesan cheese. It didn’t last long. We ordered the 10 cut pan pizza with sausage, green peppers, olives, and onions. We took a seat in the simply decorated dining room. There is one giant screen television-old school rear projector model not LCD-on ESPN. We sat in the back under the A/C looking out the front wall of windows watching people come pick up their pies. The pizza came quickly. It was hot and delicious. The crust was crusty and chewy (I love a good pizza crust) well cooked. The sausage was by far some of the best I have had on a pizza. The cheese pulled for miles as you lifted a slice off the pan. There were so many toppings that they fall off as you pull a slice. I love eating the little extra goodness with my fingers. The sauce was good, not the best, but complemented the toppings nicely. I don’t know if the situation made the pizza taste better than it really was but it was wonderful enough for me to want to start writing about my food experiences. I also learned that this pizzeria has been voted one of the best pizza places for the last four years. I believe it! They also have a little ice creamery located in the restaurant so you can have a cool, sweet treat after you are done with the yummy pizzas. So next time you are lost in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, do yourself a favor and grab a pie at Center Avenue Slice.

Center Avenue Slice on Urbanspoon

The Church Brew Works

2 Jul

The Church Brew Works
 3325 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15201 •

If you are a native of Pittsburgh, I am going to assume that you have at least heard of, if not actually experienced The Church Brew Works. For all those times you got in trouble for eating during church, now you can eat AND drink in the restored landmark, St. John the Baptist Church. This restaurant receives my first post as it was one of the first places we ate at when we came to Pittsburgh looking for houses once I was hired. A wonderful colleague and her finance treated us to a memorable experience at The Church Brew Works. As soon as you walk into the brewpub you are taken back by the beauty and the detail inside the main dining room, the former sanctuary. As you stand in the back of the sanctuary your eyes are drawn down the main aisle to the beer altar at the front of the church. The microbrews served in-house are all brewed in these beautiful copper tanks. Its both beautiful and functional. Your party is seated at pews inside the main dining area. The left side wall is covered with chalk boards with information about the beers that are in rotation for that day, including ABV%s and IBUs (for the true connoisseur). One of the things I loved most about The Church Brew Works is that they cater to people like me who have a hard time deciding. So instead of having to choose one beer to try, they have a sampler that

allows you to sample 10 of the beer that are available that day. The beers come served on a chart so you know what you are drinking. It also allows you to taste, feel, and see the differences in beer styles. I found the beers to be pretty good. I enjoyed the Thunderhop IPA, as I enjoy most IPAs. It was nice and hoppy! The food was nothing memorable. I don’t exactly remember what I had, I think the Buffalo Burger. The food quickly gets over shadowed by the elaborate atmosphere and the emphasis on the beer. I do remember that the service was slow and they brought out half the table’s food first and the second half ten minutes later. I have two big pet-peeves when I am dining out. 1) When our order is delivered in shifts, with half the table waiting for the other to get the food while the half with the food waits politely, staring at their hot meals, for the foodless half to receive their food. There is always a back and forth between friends, “Go ahead and eat.” “No we don’t mind waiting.” “Please it will get cold.” The most mannered usually wait, reluctantly, while the hungrier ones will take any green light to begin digging in to their entrees. 2) My other pet peeve is when my entree is brought out seconds after I received the first course. I find this to be very annoying. I dine out not because I hate to cook or because I am lazy. I dine out because the experience is fun. When I receive my courses very close together I feel rushed and it takes away from the experience, with the food and with my company. This did not happen at The Church Brew Works; I now digress. The service at The Church Brew Works was sub-par but the restaurant is very big and it seemed as though our waitress was working a lot of tables. Overall, I found the experience to be enjoyable, the beer to be delicious, and the food to be comforting. As we were preparing to become New-burghers, this experience was a gentle nod from the city saying she will take care of our food needs once we arrive.

Church Brew Works on Urbanspoon

Pittsburgh Food Surprises

2 Jul

Pittsburgh has its own unique culture when it comes to food. I have been living in the city for approximately one month now and I have begun to notice a few things. Some of which I still have no clue as to why they exists.

  1. Pierogies are everywhere! I will admit I have yet to try one of these delicious looking dumplings but they are very popular in this city. These boiled and then, I believe, fried dumplings seem to be usually stuffed with potato, onion, and cheese. They exists on many an appetizer menu and have even influenced pizzas (The Pierogi Pizza) at many local pizzerias.
  2. Pittsburgh makes a great french fry. I am not sure why so many restaurants feature a hand-cut, lightly salted french fry but they do. I have seen french fries as an appetizer at an Italian eatery. Yes, prepare your appetite for the veal parmesan by indulging in hand-cut, fried potatoes. There are restaurants that put them on sandwiches and even salads. I have yet to have a bad french fry in Pittsburgh.
  3. Beer and wine are extremely difficult to purchase. I thought the blue laws in the South were silly; however, the rules and regulations in Pittsburgh are simply confusing. So far, I know that you can’t buy any alcohol in the grocery store. I know that beer is sold in its own store (usually with some obvious title like “The Beer Cave” or “Beer and Lottery Store” separate from the liquor and wine (“The Wine Shop” or “Liquor”). So when I want to purchase anything I have to make multiple stops to the appropriate store. There may be exceptions out there but I haven’t found it. Finally, I know that if I want to have some Dog Fish 90 Minute IPA in my refrigerator I have to buy enough beer for a small army. I am used to buying beer by the 6-12 pack not the case or the keg. I don’t drink beer that fast or that often to work through a case of beer. Additionally, we are busting at the seams as it is in our “giant” two-bedroom apartment so I am not sure where I will store cases of beer. I guess under the bed in the suitcase.
  4. Red Lobster is more popular here than anywhere I have lived. So I drove by Red Lobster in Monroeville the other day and the line was out the door. Craving shrimp I pulled in to inquire about the wait. “50 Minutes”. When I left Alabama, one would be hard pressed to find 50 people who ate Red Lobster that entire week. I guess the cheese biscuits are very popular.
These are all the surprises I have for now, I will continue to let you know what I find interesting in this wonderful city’s food culture.
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