Mad Mex, Pittsburgh’s version of a Tex-Mex Restaurant

The following is a review written by Beth aka Mrs. Baconpants. She is a prolific Yelp reviewer so I thought it would be a good idea to post some of her reviews on Mr. Baconpants. Even if a few of them have nothing to do about bacon.

While this isn’t the best “mexican” food in Pittsburgh, I would recommend this Mad Mex (McKnight Road location) for the following reasons:

  1. It is one of the few bright lights of hope in the dark soullessness that is McKnight Road (a highway heading north of Pittsburgh that is full of chain restaurants). It will hands down beat any previously frozen salty disaster you order at Red Lobster, Chili’s, Olive Garden, etc.
  2. This Mad Mex stands out from others in that the service is OUTSTANDING (although I rarely have bad experiences at any of them). The waiters and bartenders are extremely pleasant, especially the waiter we had this particular night (8/1/11), named Justin. He went out of his way to be courteous and went above and beyond to make sure we got exactly what we wanted.
  3. The seating/atmosphere is nice. Even when crowded you can hear your dinner mates. If you have to wait for a table there is usually room near or at the bar.
  4. The beer selection is always fantastic and they usually have a few specials running. This time we each got Bell’s Oberon, our summer favorites.

This particular occasion we got the chips and salsa, I got the Wing-o-rito with San Fran/Wild, and Jason got a special, Corn and Chicken burrito. The food is always consistently good, but never mind-blowing. I would recommend the Wing-o-rito or the Carnitas burrito.

Overall experience at this Mad Mex is always positive and I’m sure I’ll be back again!

Mr. Baconpants’ two cents: I really like Mad Mex. Even with the lack of bacon on the menu I enjoy the food. There burritos are as big as your head and stuffed with yumminess. One day I hope to get a bacon burrito on their menu but for now I will have to settle for Wing-o-rito with wilded buffalo sauce.

The Smiling Moose Reinvents itself with Good Food and Bacon!

The following is a review written by Beth aka Mrs. Baconpants. She is a prolific Yelp reviewer so I thought it would be a good idea to post some of her reviews on Mr. Baconpants. Even if a few of them have nothing to do about bacon.

When I heard that there was good food at the Smiling Moose I have to admit my stomach turned a little. The Smiling Moose that I knew is kinda dirty. The Smiling Moose that I knew is smokey. The Smiling Moose that I knew had loud bands downstairs and staff that were way too cool to be bothered to get you a beer. The Smiling Moose was the place we’d leave in a huff to go to Dee’s (another Pittsburgh dive bar). I’m so happy to report that the Smiling Moose that I knew is gone.

We went to watch the Pens game at the Moose last weekend. We were the only people sitting at their CLEAN NEAT dining area (seriously). The game was on a giant screen. There are less than 10 tables total, and all of them were filled by the time the game got underway. This is a GREAT bar to watch hockey! So much better than other places I’ve been on the South Side.

The menu is an assortment of sandwiches, soups, salads and sliders. We ordered a cup of the soup of the day, a Chickpea Chili with Ostrich. It was perfectly spiced and very tasty. The soup came with a big chunk of bread and was a meal in itself. I also ordered the grilled cheese sandwich, which comes with tomato and bacon. Several different cheese blended perfectly and gave me my gooey cheese fix. The bread on this sandwich adds a lot, too – thick but soft. My husband got the BLT sliders and really loved the Pesto Mayo.

The food at the Moose is quality, so the prices may be a bit more than you’d think. These aren’t $5 footlongs. Sandwiches are between 7-10 bucks and come with a side. All of my drinks were all 5 each (but I am a beer snob, I’m sure the PBR was cheap). All in all worth every cent. We will be back…. a lot. Especially during hockey season.

Mr. Baconpants’ two cents: The bacon they used was a thick cut applewood smoked bacon. It was very flavorful and cooked to perfection. I usually don’t like to get BLT’s at restaurants since they usually lack the amount of bacon I expect on one. But the Moose did it right. There was a lot of bacon and the Pesto Mayo was a nice touch.

Our Top 2011 Warm Weather Brews

It looks like warmer weather is finally here (don’t toy with my heart, Pittsburgh), and it’s time to shift to spring/summer brews. I generally shy away from these lighter, more refreshing beers, instead stubbornly clinging to heavy IPAs and stouts, although this year I’m finding some real warm weather contenders:

  • Namaste – Dogfish Head Brewery (Belgian White/Witbier): Usually I find Whites disappointingly one-dimensional, but very refreshing. A drink to sip on a patio when it’s too hot to worry about a beer’s complexity. I was pleasantly surprised by Namaste, though, which adds hints of coriander, pepper, and clove into the expected citrusy flavor. This beer makes me want to enjoy a glass in the sun, then bust out some major Asanas. A few negatives: I have only seen this beer in one location around the city and it was over $8 a pint.
  • Bell’s Oberon Ale – Bell’s Brewery, Inc (American Pale Wheat Ale): Bell’s Oberon is slightly less complex than Namaste, but still scores high marks with me. It’s officially my go-to beer in warm weather. Very refreshing, nice mouthfeel (not too carbonated, smooth but crisp), very lemony flavor, but well rounded. Usually nicely priced, too (I have been finding it around the city for $5 a pint).
  • Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer – 21st Amendment Brewery: Out of the canned beers, 21st Amendment Brewery offers some interesting selections. Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer is just what it sounds like…a Watermelon Wheat Beer. It tastes less like a beer and more like a Watermelon wine cooler to me, but hey, you might be into that. Not sickeningly sweet and gets points for being interesting. Might be nice to take to a picnic, even non beer drinkers will tolerate this one. I am not the biggest fan of the canned beer trend, but in the spring and summer they certainly have a place.
  • ApriHop – Dogfish Head Brewery (American IPA): OK, so I lied about Bell’s Oberon being my go-to beer. When there is ApriHop available I usually go with it. This is the perfect spring beer for IPA lovers such as me, especially if I don’t want to venture into the wheat beer territory. Hops are grassy and up front, and there is a nice hint of apricot present. Reminds me of walking around the neighborhood and smelling freshly cut grass. Yep, that good. (Also about $5 a pint most places).

Cheers to warmer weather!

Southern Tier Imperial “Choklat” Stout, a Valentines Day Treat

Today is Valentines Day, and single or paired, a fantastic excuse to drink a good beer is at hand. If celebrating this Hallmark holiday, think twice before rushing to the drug store to frantically grab that last dusty box of chocolates. This year, why not consider buying your sweetie chocolate in liquid form?

I’ve been bombarded with chocolatey beer options this past week. In Pittsburgh, we are truly lucky to have several local breweries providing options (East End Brewery’s Chocolate Covered Cherry Stout and Penn Brewery’s Chocolate Meltdown Stout come to mind). One of my favorite breweries, Southern Tier, has a chocolate-inspired selection, and since they brew my favorite beer of all time (Southern Tier Pumking) I was excited to try it.

Southern Tier Choklat, available as a draft and in 22oz bottles, is best served slightly warmer than your average beer (48 degrees) in a snifter glass. It is a very pretty, romantic looking beer, pouring almost black with very small caramel colored head ringing the glass. The aroma coming off this one is simply one-dimensional….you guessed it….CHOCOLATE! It smells unbelievably chocolate, reminiscent of chocolate syrup (really).

The mouthfeel for Choklat is very smooth, creamy, but not sticky. The upfront taste is roasted chocolate (is that possible?). This taste is quickly followed with the burning, biting flavor you’d expect from a beer with 11%ABV. These are two extremely different tastes butting heads in one glass, and it creates a surprisingly balanced drink.

Overall, the range in tastes from dark chocolate to biting alcohol does not make a particularly drinkable beer, but listen, maybe on Valentines Day you should stop at ONE! It’s much like a very rich chocolate dessert: it’s heartbreakingly delicious, but after one serving you are more than happy to just sit back and bask in a glorious sugar coma.

By Beth Kerr

Great Lakes Brewing Co, Christmas Ale

So Christmas is over and I am well aware. I have packed up our bacon tree and taken down our bacon-filled stockings. You may find, however, that stores everywhere still have Christmas beers loud and proud, up front and on sale, giving you an opportunity to try some you may have missed for a discounted price.

I used to really look forward to holiday beers. I love all things pine, and holiday beers usually do not disappoint with my aroma and taste of choice. This holiday season, though, I have to admit I haven’t had a really wonderful seasonal brew (with the exception of Troegs Mad Elf, not piney, but let’s all admit, beer lovers everywhere dream about year-round).

Great Lakes Brewing Co. has succeeded in making some very tasty beers (see my Lake Erie Monster review), and their Christmas Ale is a popular selection every holiday season. The beer pours a pretty bronze color, clear with a healthy head that leaves a fragile ring around the glass. The aroma is warm, with cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and maybe a little orange peel. It’s very season-appropriate, and even though Christmas is long gone, I’m brought right back to the warmth and comfort of the holidays.

The beer tastes of ginger and brown sugar up front, finishing with a very nice complimentary alcohol burn. The mouthfeel is slightly sticky, with a little welcome carbonation to break up the sweetness. This beer is more drinkable than similar types I’ve had this season, but I’d most-likely be on sweet-overload after 1 or 2.

If you are looking for a beer that adequately encompasses the spices and warmth of Christmas Eve in front of a crackling fire, Great Lakes Brewing Co.’s Christmas Ale will not disappoint. It is not the piney-heaven that I am searching for during the holidays, but it’s far superior to other less flavorful, more sickeningly sweet holiday brews. If you see this one out and about, left behind from the holiday beer rush, pick it up without hesitation. You won’t be disappointed, but hey, do you know of any really piney beers out there that I can keep an eye out for?

By Beth Kerr

Fat Head’s Head Hunter IPA

Hype is a dangerous thing. Often it leads to the disappointment of being underwhelmed. It forces you to expect, even demand, the exceptional and extraordinary. Living in Pittsburgh and being a regular Fat Head’s customer, the hype surrounding their award winning Head Hunter IPA has simply gone off the charts.

Banners of awards won by the beer hang in the popular South Side restaurant (1st Place National IPA Championships 2010, Gold Medal Winner – West Coast IPA Fest 2009, Silver Medal Winner American-Style IPA 2010 Great American Beer Fest, Top 25 Beers in the World 2009 – Draft Magazine). Twitter explodes with announcements when four-packs are available, with the warning that they will not last long. Giant chalk boards are dedicated to the beer in the bar in Pittsburgh, boasting the beer’s tagline: “Uncivilized and Aggressive”.

All this hype could set an IPA-loving beer wench up for a catastrophic letdown. To say the least, Fat Head’s Head Hunter IPA did not fail to impress.

The IPA pours beautifully clear, golden with a lacey, small head. I was treated immediately with an onslaught of sweet citrusy hops, enough to make your mouth water. The hop aroma is strong, with notes of tropical fruit, but also rich, with a depth that is really wonderful.

The taste of Head Hunter is in one word “crisp”. A level of hoppiness that I haven’t had the pleasure to encounter in many beers (locals: East End Big Hop is the only comparable beer that comes to mind). One might even say….”aggressive” hops, just like the bottle says. The hops hit you right up front, extremely bitter and reminiscent of grapefruit, orange zest, and lemon. The hops carry throughout the drink, leaving you with a delightful aftertaste, not too sweet, but very crisp and clean.

While the hop flavor in this beer is off the charts, I’m hesitant to agree with the “Uncivilized and Aggressive” tagline because it’s so darn drinkable. With similar beers I found even myself, a hop-lover of extreme proportions, understanding how folks could have a hard time warming up to the bitter beauties. Head Hunter IPA is different. As I enjoyed this brew I remarked to Mr. Baconpants, “I taste this and I think, really, if you don’t fall in love with beers like this, well, I think you’ve got to be crazy.”

That honestly sums it up. The hype is well deserved and I gladly add to it. Beer lovers as well as the casual drinker should try this, because, well, you are really doing yourself a disservice if you miss it. So with that, please do what you have to do (hopefully that means a visit to Pittsburgh, or, gulp…..Cleveland (shudder)) to try Fat Head’s Head Hunter IPA. I couldn’t be prouder to be from an area of the country putting this stuff out.

Dogfish Head’s Sah’tea, the perfect fall brew

The second of our three specialty brews from Dogfish Head Brewery is Sah’tea. It’s described as “A modern update on a 9th century Finnish proto-beer.” It is brewed with rye and fermented with German Weizen yeast. Then come the flavors…Finnish juniper berries and black tea with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and black pepper. I never had a beer that utilized tea and I love chai tea spice, so I was really excited to try this one.

Sah’tea is a cloudy golden orange with a lot of visible sediment. There’s no seeing through this one! The aroma is very present, with lemon, honey, nutmeg and a lot of vanilla. With the first sip, the first thing that I noticed was a surprising bit of carbonation that pleasantly stung my tongue. This stinging was the only sense of the 9% ABV that I could discern.

Lemon and vanilla flavors are very present up front with this beer. Following are the chai flavors of black tea, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, and ginger. I thought that the berries were lost, but eventually I found an overall light fruitiness that is present. After a drink you are left with a spicy cinnamon aftertaste that makes you think you were just drinking apple cider.

There are a few things that I appreciate about Sah’tea. First, the 9% alcohol is completely missing in this beer. While an alcohol flavor is pleasant in some brews, it would taste contradictory in this one. I don’t know how they hid it, but it’s no where to be found! Secondly, this is a fantastic fall beer that utilizes the spices of the season in a very unique (not pumpkin) and balanced way. If I get an opportunity to score more bottles of Sah’tea, I definitely will. If you get a chance to try it don’t pass it up!