Food | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

New Mexican restaurant in Beechview seeking crowd-sourced loan funds

Posted By on Wed, Oct 11, 2017 at 5:06 PM

Demetrio Aragon (right) and his family inside the La Catrina kitchen - PHOTO COURTESY OF DEMTRIO ARAGON
  • Photo courtesy of Demtrio Aragon
  • Demetrio Aragon (right) and his family inside the La Catrina kitchen
In May 2016, City Paper reported about the economic revitalization of Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood and the role Latino residents were playing. The South Hills neighborhood had been marked by several vacancies in its business district for decades, but over the last few years, Latino entrepreneurs have been opening up restaurants and other businesses, bringing vitality back to the neighborhood.

Recently, La Catrina, a new Mexican restaurant joined the ranks, and the owners are looking for a little help so they can improve their operations and offerings. Demetrio Aragon and his family have lived in the Pittsburgh area since 2000. Aragon worked in Japanese restaurants until one day his wife convinced him that the family should open up a restaurant to serve the traditional Mexican dishes they had trouble finding in Pittsburgh.

“My wife, it was her idea,” says Aragon. “She saw the Hispanic population growing, and that there was a need for real food. We serve sopes, and tamales, but not like some I see here that are served unwrapped. We wrap ours up [in a corn husk]. That is the way it is supposed to be done.”

Aragon says the restaurant, which occupies a space across the street from the IGA/Las Palmas grocery store on Broadway Avenue, has been open for more than three months, but the place still needs a griddle, refrigerator and mixer to become fully functional. Aragon, with help from the Beechview-based Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation, is trying to secure a crowd-sourced loan through As of print, La Catrina’s loan is 94 percent funded with only $550 left to reach its $10,000 goal, with only three days remaining to contribute.

“We just need some equipment,” says Aragon. “It’s just me and my wife and daughters. We don’t have investors.”

Ashleigh Deemer, chief of staff to Pittsburgh City Councilor Natalia Rudiak, wrote in an email to CP that La Catrina deserves a little support, so that Beechview can continue to grow economically. "Beechview has been a hidden gem for years, but Broadway Avenue's small-business culture is really taking off, and La Catrina is a perfect destination for anyone who wants to visit and see all Beechview has to offer," she wrote.

Aragon and his family live in Dormont, but choose Beechview to cater to the neighborhood’s growing Latino population. Aragon is from the Álvaro Obregón district of Mexico City (the same district as deported immigrant-rights activist Martín Esquivel-Hernandez), and he says there is a big opportunity in Pittsburgh for ultra-authentic Mexican food because there aren’t many authentic Mexican restaurants.

La Catrina specializes in many hard-to-find Mexican recipes, all crafted by Aragon’s wife, Angelica. La Catrina offers chilaquiles (deep-fried tortillas bathed in chili sauce), lamb barbacoa (and a soup made from all the lamb’s juices), and sopes (a corn masa dumpling typically topped with slow-cooked meats, lettuce and avocado).

Aragon says that all of La Catrina's traditional Mexican recipes are made from scratch, including all of the chili sauces that covers most dishes. La Catrina offers Tex-Mex food as well, but not all of those items are scratch-made.

Aragon says that La Catrina's clientele has mostly been Latinos looking for a taste of home, but many native-born Americans have also eaten there. He hopes that La Catrina will be a restaurant welcoming to everyone.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pittsburgh’s second annual Uber Ice Cream Day coming Friday

Posted By on Thu, Jul 23, 2015 at 4:07 PM

If you are stuck in the office on what promises to be a glorious Friday in the ‘Burgh, and want to feel as if you are outside enjoying soaking up the rays in the park or on the beach, Uber has you covered.

For the second year in a row, ride-booking company Uber will be delivering ice cream curbside, on Fri., July 24, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

“We thought this would be a great way to get people pumped about summer,” says Uber Pittsburgh general manager Jennifer Krusius, “and what better way than ice cream.”

Cincinnati-based Graeter's Ice Cream will be supplying several flavors, including vanilla, black raspberry and double chocolate chip, in five-ounce cups. Krusius says that local vendors were considered, but Graeter’s was eventually chosen because it had the best “distribution model for the amount of ice cream we expect to deliver.”

To order the ice cream, customers need to open the Uber app during the aforementioned time frame, set the delivery location and type in a request for “Ice Cream.” Orders are $15 for five cups, and they must be ordered in increments of five.

The tasty treats will then be delivered by a local Uber driver, or by a Green Gear pedicab. The local pedicab company, best known for providing pedal-power lifts to people during sporting events, has partnered with Uber to deliver ice cream.

Delivery areas include Downtown, the Strip, Lawrenceville, North Side, South Side, Shadyside and Oakland.

“Basically, anywhere within a short drive from the Golden Triangle,” says Krusius.

Krusius says that last year Uber was “booked solid” the entire day with requests. She urges users to get their request in early.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pittsburgh City Council passes urban agriculture bill

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2015 at 2:15 PM

Jody Noble-Choder, of Highland Park, holds one of her Indian Runner ducks. Before today's urban agriculture amendments, Noble-Choder's animals were illegally kept in her yard. - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
  • Photo by Heather Mull
  • Jody Noble-Choder, of Highland Park, holds one of her Indian Runner ducks. Before today's urban agriculture amendments, Noble-Choder's animals were illegally kept in her yard.
In a unanimous vote this morning, Pittsburgh City Council passed amendments to the urban-agriculture zoning code, making it a right, rather than an exception to the law, for residents to have bees, chickens, ducks and even goats.

"We’re really grateful for the city’s leadership on this," says Marisa Manheim of Grow Pittsburgh, one of four organizations that collaborated with the Department of City Planning on the amendments. Other organizations included Pittsburgh Pro-Poultry People, Burgh Bees and the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council of Penn State Center-Pittsburgh.

Council voted 8-0 (Councilor Daniel Lavelle was absent) to change the 2011 urban-agriculture zoning code, making the process easier and cheaper for residents, and expanding the zoning areas for where urban-agriculture activities can take place.

"I'm in support because I think it removes barriers for those participating in urban agriculture," Councilor Natalia Rudiak told City Paper last week before the vote.

Under the 2011 zoning rules, residents had to apply for a variance, costing them more than $300 and taking up to four months. The new rules require a one-time fee of $70 and reduces the paperwork to just a few forms.

"It might be a couple papers and site plan that needs to be drawn, and we'll have instructions for that," says Shelly Danko-Day, the city planning open-spaces specialist.

Danko-Day says that the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections will likely visit a resident's home to assure that any animal enclosures are properly installed.

Another big change for the city is the fact that privately owned land in some zoning districts, including highway commercial, neighborhood commercial and industrial areas, will now be allowed to have agriculture as the primary activity on the land.

"I'm excited about that," she says. "We have a lot of vacant land that's not being utilized."

 Resident still must adhere to measurement standards. For instance, people who have a 2,000-square-foot lot, including their house or other structures, can have up to two beehives with five chickens or ducks, or two beehives with two miniature goats. The rules change depending on the size of one's property, and Grow Pittsburgh has published an easy-to-understand version on its website.

"Beyond the actual produce itself, it gives people a chance to engage with their food and understand the food system," Manheim says. "We hear about avian flu in the central U.S., and it resonates so much more when people understand the needs these animals have."

Also, the legislation now opens the door for people to sell produce from on-site farmstands from their backyards.

"We’re excited about the possibilities this will open for individuals, communities and organizations here in the city," says Heather Mikulas, of Penn State Center-Pittsburgh. "It can really have a positive impact on the quality of life. It has implications of more beautiful greens spaces, potential economic activities, healthier and more active lifestyles, and could change how the face of Pittsburgh looks."

Check out this week's City Paper on the impact of the new legislation in Wednesday's print and online editions. 

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Monday, June 15, 2015

ICYMI: Conflict Kitchen Goes Cuban ... Again

Posted By on Mon, Jun 15, 2015 at 3:25 PM

Lechon asado, slow roasted pork marinated in mojo sauce - PHOTO COURTESY OF CONFLICT KITCHEN
  • Photo courtesy of Conflict Kitchen
  • Lechon asado, slow roasted pork marinated in mojo sauce
Despite recent headlines about a so-called U.S.-Cuba normalization — cultural-exchange trips, music and sports diplomacy, and the prospect of future waves of U.S. tourists — directors of Pittsburgh's Conflict Kitchen are repeating their Cuban iteration anyway. The take-out restaurant, run by local artists Dawn Weleski and Jon Rubin, changes its menu every three to five months to represent nations with which the U.S. is in conflict.

Yuca con mojo, yuca in mojo Sauce - PHOTO COURTESY OF CONFLICT KITCHEN
  • Photo courtesy of Conflict Kitchen
  • Yuca con mojo, yuca in mojo Sauce
"It's important for us to revisit old iterations and continue that relationship with the immigrant population in Pittsburgh ... I think that this is a chance for us to expand the definition of 'conflict,'" says Weleski, Conflict Kitchen co-director. "For Cubans and Cuban Americans, there is not only an economic embargo going on, there’s also an emotional embargo going on."

Weleski stresses that while the U.S. removed Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism, the economic embargo on Cuba is still in place. She adds that unpacking the inter-generational feelings among Cubans and Cuban Americans regarding the Cuban government is what Conflict Kitchen is trying to communicate ... via delicious food.

"There's a great deal of complexity within those communities that the rest of America needs to understand," Weleski says.

The new menu features several dishes, including lechon asado, a slow-roasted pork dish; ropa vieja, a Cuban-style shredded beef in tomato sauce; and emapanada de picadillo, an empanada filled with ground beef, tomatoes and olives.

"It’s not just about the Cubano sandwich," Weleski says. She and the staff hope to demonstrate that by offering rotating specials — like rabo encendido, spicy braised oxtail, and vaca frita, crispy shredded beef — as well as a vegan okra stew. 

"We’re presenting Afro-Cuban cuisine, eastern Cuban cuisine. There’s more diversity in the cuisine than most people would imagine," Weleski says.
This photo was taken the day that Conflict Kitchen re-opened after death threats closed the restaurant during its Palestinian iteration. - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
  • Photo by Heather Mull
  • This photo was taken the day that Conflict Kitchen re-opened after death threats closed the restaurant during its Palestinian iteration.

Weleski also says that by request from Pittsburgh's Muslim community, all chicken and beef used by the restaurant will be halal.

Conflict Kitchen made international news when it received death threats because of its previous menu, a Palestinian concept.

Educational pamphlets, featuring stories from residents of the countries represented — and which were the centerpiece of debate during the restaurant's Palestinian iteration — will be given with each take-out box of Cuban cuisine.

"We’re the starting point for conversation," Weleski says. "When people are coming to the take-out window, they can revisit their ideas or opinions [and discuss] what have they heard in the news and media or among family and friends since [our previous Cuban iteration a couple of years ago]."

The staff gathered stories during a trip to Cuba and also collected stories from Cuban Americans in Pittsburgh and Miami. Other educational components will include an open discussion the week of June 21 in Schenley Plaza with local Cuban Americans, as well as a two-week rotation of guest Instragrammers from Cuba on Conflict Kitchen's Instagram account.

Conflict Kitchen will rotate guest Instagrammers from Cuba every two weeks - PHOTO COURTESY OF CONFLICT KITCHEN'S GUEST INSTAGRAMMER KAKO ESCALONA
  • Photo courtesy of Conflict Kitchen's guest Instagrammer Kako Escalona
  • Conflict Kitchen will rotate guest Instagrammers from Cuba every two weeks

"What is important to us is creating a space where people are admitting their own ignorances. about things and becoming interested and passionate. They, as Americans, are also world citizens," Weleski says. "We want to engender a sense of curiosity about culture and politics in our customers."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Conflict Kitchen is a project run by Carnegie Mellon University's School of Art. According to the restaurant's co-directors, the restaurant is 95 percent supported by food sales, with CMU as its 501c3 umbrella to process any small grants received.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Conflict Kitchen criticizes P-G over coverage of Palestinian menu controversy

Posted By on Fri, Nov 7, 2014 at 4:39 PM

Ever since Conflict Kitchen unveiled a selection of Palestine-inspired dishes Oct. 6, the restaurant has faced criticism from Jewish organizations that have rebuked the Heinz Endowments for helping fund the restaurant. These critics have argued that the U.S. is not in conflict with Palestine. (The restaurant features a rotating menu inspired by cuisine form places the U.S. is currently engaged in conflict.)

Those criticisms have been included in two separate articles in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, both written by dining critic Melissa McCart. The latest story, which ran yesterday, included B’nai B’rith International's objections to Conflict Kitchen as a "deeply unsettling choice for a grant," as well as a statement from the Heinz Endowments distancing itself from Conflict Kitchen, but issuing blanket approval of artists who "perform edgy and provocative programming."

In a post that has gotten some traction online, Conflict Kitchen co-founder Jon Rubin objected to the P-G's coverage of the story, saying McCart "neglected to include any of Conflict Kitchen's answers" to interview questions — and did not include "the viewpoints of local Palestinians."

Reached by phone this afternoon, McCart says she offered Conflict Kitchen a chance to comment for the story Tuesday afternoon, roughly 24 hours before deadline. Rubin responded to questions McCart sent via email after the story had been filed late afternoon Wednesday. "It was too late," McCart says. "I appreciate that Mr. Rubin wants to be heard and that he's concerned about funds being rescinded. But I think the way he framed his voice not being heard was not honest."

On the same day the story ran, McCart posted Rubin's responses on the P-G's food blog.

"I respect Jon," McCart adds. "I wish there hadn't been such a fallout that seems pretty unnecessary."

For his part, Rubin confirmed that he preferred to be interviewed by email, and that he didn't have a chance to respond to McCart's questions until Wednesday afternoon because he was "working all day and we wanted to be very considered with what we said."

Still, Rubin says, he's concerned with the lack of attention to Palestinian voices in the controversy. "No one has asked local members of the Palestinian community how they feel about this," Rubin says. "That's an important point."

McCart declined to say why interviews with local Palestinians didn't make it into either article.

For now, Rubin says he's not concerned the controversy will jeopardize the restaurant's future. He says the $50,000 grant they received from the Heinz Endowments was largely to cover the cost of moving to Oakland and "95 percent of funding" comes from public support, including food sales.

"The public has approached us with incredible support and trust and open minds and curiosity," Rubin says. "No one has complained whatsoever at the restaurant and we're busier than we've ever been."

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Friday, October 17, 2014

GMO Foods Forum Tomorrow

Posted By on Fri, Oct 17, 2014 at 12:40 PM

The East End Food Co-ops’s second annual Know Your GMOs event features a local expert on the subject as well as folks from the local food community committed to going GMO-free.

The expert is Denise Caruso, a senior researcher in Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy. Her 2006 book Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet questions the regulatory framework for genetically modified organisms, and the possibility of unintended consequences in their use. Caruso is a former New York Times technology columnist.

Other speakers include Trevett Hooper, owner and chef at the restaurants Legume and Butterjoint; Justin Pizzella, the Co-Op’s general manager; and Bryan Petrak, research and development director for snack-bar company NuGo Nutrition.

The speakers will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session. Free copies of Intervention will be available to all attendees.

The event will also feature informational tables and free samples of Non-GMO Project Verified products and a raffle.

Genetic modification of food is common in the U.S., especially in animal-food crops like corn and soy. U.S. regulators have largely allowed such practices, but others say the products are risky or have been insufficiently studied for their effects on human health and the environment.

According to a Co-op press release, 64 countries either ban or label GMOs. And 37 states in the U.S. have seen movements to label GMO foods. The Co-op’s buying guidelines favor products that are Non-GMO Project certified.

Know Your GMOs takes place from 6:30-9 p.m. tomorrow in the Connan Room, in the Jared L. Cohon University Center, on CMU’s campus.

The free event is timed to coincide with Non-GMO Month.

For more information, see here.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Final Dog Days: Downtown Franktuary to Close Next Week

Posted By on Tue, Jul 15, 2014 at 1:12 PM

Downtown hot-doggery Franktuary (ne Hot Dogma), on Oliver Avenue, is closing up shop next week. The last day to get locally sourced and creatively dressed hot dogs is Wed., July 23. That's also National Hot Dog Day, so that's at least two reasons to stop by for a wiener or two.
Franktuary will continue to sell hot dogs, poutine and more at its newer Butler Street location in Lawrenceville.
The collective hive mind that is City Paper has many warm memories of Franktuary — from the "zombie" dog topped with "brains" to the venue's big-screen debut in The Dark Knight Rises. And who can forget Franktuary's foray into the contentious 2008 Democratic primary when the Barackwurst went bun-to-bun with the Hillbasa?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Public servants tackle food insecurity

Posted By on Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 4:19 PM

According to the website there are more than 20 varieties of edible trees in Pittsburgh. And one organization is suggesting that the fruit from these trees be harvested and given to local food banks.

This notion was behind one of the many innovations presented at the Public Allies leadership conference today. Public Allies places participants with local nonprofits, and several of the allies in this year’s class have spent the past year working on the issue of food insecurity.

Among them was Rose Smiechowski, who was inspired by one of her former Chatham University instructors, Carolyn Barber, to co-found Hidden Harvest Pittsburgh, an organization that promotes urban harvesting initiatives throughout the city. Similar organizations, like one in British Columbia, were able to harvest 30,000 pounds of fruit in one year from urban trees.

“Fruit tree harvesting is a way to make use of a neglected and valuable source of food,” Smiechowski said. “Apples down the street have the same benefits as apples from the store, and are often fresher.”

Meanwhile, according to Jacob Myers, another Public Allies presenter, 20 to 40 percent of the food that’s grown in the United States is never consumed.

Myers spent his year with the Pittsburgh Community Foodbank; his presentation focused on how individuals can reduce their own food waste. By reducing wasted food, Myers said, households can reduce their spending on food; the resulting savings could be given to the Foodbank, which takes every dollar donated and turns it into $5 worth of food.

Jessica Ruffin, who serves as the Public Allies site director, acknowledges the innovations presented throughout the day are ambitious, but she hopes the local leaders invited to attend the conference were listening.

“I know it's very idealistic, but the reason we have this conference is we realized some of the insight [our allies] had needed to be shared with a much broader audience,” Ruffin said. “We're hoping a good bit of the innovations are something they can grab and take back to their organization."

Another ally, Linda Kuster, recently accepted a position with the YWCA, where she has been helping individuals with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program application process. She said 35 to 40 percent of applications are denied, and more support is needed to help people navigate the process.

“It's no secret that there's a huge problem with Pennsylvania's food-stamp system,” Kuster said.

The conference concluded with keynote speaker Leah Lizarondo, a food and health advocate and creator of The Brazen Kitchen, a healthy-living blog. While Lizarondo praised initiatives like urban farms and food education in schools, she said local government needs to play a greater role in the health of the city.

“Those initiatives are limited because they're not mandated by the city,” Lizarondo said. “We need the backing of the city.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Market Square's NOLA set to re-open July 15

Posted By on Tue, Jun 17, 2014 at 2:02 PM

Think of it as a mid-summer Mardi Gras.
After being closed for several months due to damage from a fire, NOLA on the Square will re-open on July 15 with lunch service. Pittsburghers can once again indulge in po-boys, crawfish, gumbo and other Creole cuisine, for lunch and dinner, as well as kick back with some New Orleans jazz.
The adjacent champagne bar Perle will also reopen that evening.
A "grand re-opening" tied to JazzFest will roll out on July 18-19.
Mark your calendars now to get re-acquainted with some frog legs.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pittsburgh Represents in James Beard Semi-Finalists List

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 at 2:00 PM

The list of semi-finalists for James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards — a mark of distinction in the culinary world — is out, and Pittsburgh hit twice.

The new Downtown venue Butcher and the Rye is nominated for Outstanding Bar Program. City Paper just reviewed the restaurant, and you can read more about its bar here.

Further up the river in Lawrenceville, Justin Severino, of Cure, is a semi-finalist for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic Region.

As always, it's an honor to be nominated; the finalists are announced March 19, and the awards handed out in new York City on May 2 and 5.


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