Beaver County, Family, Ingredients, Seasonal, Traditional

Deer jerky.

Almost sounds like a diary entry. Or an ode.

Some kind of deer-hunting season started yesterday. I read that somewhere.

For me, it means one thing: my in-laws’ deer jerky.

My father-in-law has heads on the the walls of his house in Beaver County. He wears camo. Drinks Busch.

I … don’t.

I’ve been crabbing in the Pacific. Good times there.

I sort of went fishing once — it involved sticks, twine, nails, worms, Malibu, a sad little glorified Koi pond of a stream and my birthday. Didn’t catch anything.

And guns? Didn’t grow up around them. Shot a BB gun a couple times when I was like 14 and .40-caliber Glocks a few times in citizen police academies. Oh, and an AR-15 once, also in a citizen police academy. But not really at anything. Not anything living.

Can’t say I’m opposed to hunting for food. I’m a carnivore, omnivore, whatever. As long as you use what you kill and treat the animal with respect, I’m good.

Now, normally I’m not much of a fan of jerky. There’s nasty truck-stop road-trip jerky, of course. And when I was in high school in Oregon a family friend made frightfully dry duck jerky after his hunting trips. The kind that can give you buck teeth just from tugging at it. Almost better to suck on it a while like a salty meat Sugar Daddy and hope it dissolves.

This is not that jerky.

I’m pretty sure my mother-in-law uses seasonings on it out of a box. But that simply doesn’t matter.

The deer is fresh. They marinate it well. And they cook it slow, slow, slow. Low temperature, and I’ve seen my mother-in-law use a wooden spoon to hold the oven door open just a little to keep air moving and the heat just right.

This jerky is meaty, firm. You bite into it rather than having to scrape it through your teeth. Deer meat is pretty lean to begin with which means it’ll toughen up with just a little inattention. There’s something about this jerky that almost melts. Like there’s butter in there somewhere. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s right there on my tongue. And yet there remains the strong pepper and salt flavors right up front.

And I’m not even that huge of a venison fan. I don’t mind the gaminess — I like it, actually — but it’s never been high on my list.

Which makes this so odd. It’s a type of meat I don’t adore in a form I generally find repellant.

And here we are.

I’ve always been more of a savory person than a sweet person. This is almost like candy for me. And it’s a rare treat. I get a share of the haul, when there is a haul, but I’d take more. One of my brothers-in-law and I would probably arm-wrestle over this stuff — or at least see who could build the more awesomer bedroom fort with jerky as the prize. (That’s right. More awesomer.)

No idea where they learned to make it. No idea where they get the drugs they so clearly use on me when I eat it. But I love it.

I’ve debated smuggling it out of my in-laws’ house in my pants. My wife doesn’t think that’s funny. But I promised to be honest here. So, there, I said it.

Beer, Traditional


My first job out of college was in Philadelphia. The only time before that I’d been east of Arizona was the summer before, when I had an internship in New York. So everything East was still very new.

I lived near the Art Museum. The “Rocky” steps, the azalea garden, all of that. You should have seen during the Republican Nation Convention masses of people wearing almost identical khakis and blue blazers and Rick Santorum haircuts running in groups up those stairs. It disrupted people’s commutes. Truly frightening.

Not too long after I moved in to my tiny apartment — I have balls of socks bigger than that kitchen — I started wandering around to neighborhood bars and restaurants, trying to get a feel for the place.

Philly was my first experiment with eating my way around town. I went to college in Reno, but never really felt connected with the place. Philly was the first time I felt at home far away from home.

I went into one place and asked for a good local beer. Someone offered Yuengling — but with a misleading description.

“It’s like the Budweiser of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Ew. No thanks.

He meant it was ubiquitous. Nothing more. But I took it as a statement of quality.

It was probably at a party when I had my first Yuengling lager. Not Budweiser. Porter followed lager and black-and-tan followed porter.

I learned quickly that in Philly, there were maybe four bars in the whole city that didn’t have it. And nobody needed to actually order it by name. Go to a bar, say “lager,” and Yuengling appears.

And then I moved away. California, Oregon, Arkansas — no Yuengling. I’m not saying it’s the best beer on the planet or anything but it gave me a sense of place. It felt like a little bit of home. I’d bribe friends to bring me some from Memphis, where for whatever reason you can get it. A friend in Florida would text and taunt me. (Florida, Yuengling people? Florida?) I’d visit Pennsylvania and just need one — it told me unmistakably where I was.

I guess I know more than I’d like about psychological addiction.


So then I move back to Pennsylvania. Other side of the state this time. Pittsburgh. Among my first tasks:

That’s right.

It’s not strictly a Pittsburgh thing. I get that. But this is my site. So, ha. Or something.

Ambience, Beer, Cheap eats, Ingredients, Neighborhoods, Wexford

3 Sons Dogs & Suds.

Fred MacMurray would be a little confused.

The three sons of the place’s name are actually Michael Indovina, his wife, Kathy, and his daughter, Becky. The name is a remainder from when they bought the six-year-old bottle shop a few months back from its original owner.

It’s easy to miss, sitting there in some anonymous strip mall on Route 19 in Wexford. But miss it you should not.

The Indovinas keep roughly 800 beers on the floor or in coolers at any given time, plus another 10 or a dozen on tap. (Yes, they just got Mad Elf on tap. And a fresh case of Vertical Epic. Jeez.)

They seem to go out of their way to treat people right. Order a beer on tap and if it comes out with more head than Michael would like, he’ll most likely offer to top it off for you when it settles down.

The titular dogs are all kinds of hotdogs — the Burgh dog with chili, cheese and bacon or the Chicago dog with electric green sweet relish, sport peppers, a dill pickle plank, onions, mustard, tomatoes and celery salt. There’s also a Frankfurt dog: spicy brown mustard and a sauerkraut made in-house.

“It’s my mother’s secret recipe,” Becky said. “OK, no, not really. But she likes it when I say that.”

The hotdogs themselves are good and meaty — all beef, crisp casing — and the rolls they use actually taste like bread and add something to the whole thing.

Just know that “cheese” means a melty plastic nacho cheese from a pump. Not a judgment, just an observation. It was a surprise to me.

They’ve thought about doing an occasional beer-pairing dinner there, but only once they get more settled in. Already, they have free samples of beer every Thursday evening. (Except this week, when it’s today because of Thanksgiving.)

They’d like to do more with food, but without installing a full kitchen or turning the place into a pub.

“Our liability insurance would go through the roof,” Kathy said. “And that’s not really the type of place we want to be. We got it pretty good here.”

Ambience, Cheap eats, Ingredients, Neighborhoods, North Side, Presentation, Service, Wine

Bad Doors song, good advice.

You want to get people in your doors, especially for a special event, tell all the people.

Put it on your website. Tweet it. Post it on Facebook. Blast your email list. Give your regulars a heads-up.

I met up with some fun people last night at Atria’s at PNC Park. There was a wine tasting — the new Beaujolais nouveau from Georges Duboeuf.

Now, this isn’t $3,000-a-bottle stuff, or even $150-a-bottle stuff. I think last year’s goes for $10.99. But there was almost nobody there.

Free wine. Small cheese plate, gratis. Empty.

I’ve never been a fan of the hard sell. There’s a decent chance I have oppositional defiant disorder, after all. (Telltale sign: I once argued, heatedly and very much wrongly, with a neurophysiologist friend who studied the disorder whether it was “defiant” or “defiance.”) So, push me too much and I’d rather walk in the other direction.

But on this night, the only reason our group knew about the event was a press release a friend who works in Butler saw on a PR wire service. She sent it out to her friends on Twitter. Eight of us showed. One in our group is even kind of a deal hound. He couldn’t find anything else about it. nothing to link to, nothing to tell us what precisely to expect.

The staff at Atria’s clearly expected a crowd. Someone asked one of us if we had tickets. Extra servers, prompt attention, a nice set-up to show off the wine. Then they poured almost none of it.

The tasting glasses were plastic and small — little more than glorified double-shot glasses. It was hard to get a sense of a wine this young, which needs to open up, in a glass that prohibits swirling. Beaujolais nouveau is made from the gamay grape, which gets almost no public love, and aged barely at all.

It wasn’t bad. A little tight. But full-flavored, a little peppery, a little sharp and acidic. There are worse things. Have mercy, there are worse things.

The staff tried to give one of our group a cheese plate three times — twice after she handed off the first. And the plates came with no explanation. A couple grapes, one green and one red, an eh slice of prosciutto, a salami that was OK, a slice of baguette drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar.

All fine. But no one told us what the cheeses were. Brie — OK, easy to recognize. Manchego, maybe? Tasted kind of like it, firm and nutty, but that doesn’t make my guess right. The last one was earthy and creamy with a little thread of some blue-cheese mold running through its middle for a pleasant tang. Can’t put a name to it. No idea what its mama calls it.

Of course, all this was free. No complaints with the price. I bought a full glass or two of the wine, which opened up fine in a larger glass.

It was just hard getting over being practically the only ones in the place. As to why the management there didn’t try to shout its event all over town, maybe another Doors song has the answer: People are strange.

Ambience, Cheap eats, Ingredients, Neighborhoods, North Side, Traditional


Help me out here.

When a certain Steelers quarterback was in deep trouble he got himself into, I kept hearing people disown him.

It’s about the team, they’d say. The team has integrity. The team has class. That’s what’s important. Any player who messes with that doesn’t belong in Pittsburgh.

OK. But how to explain this.

I’d been into the Peppi’s in the Strip District a couple times. I love a good Italian hoagie and their Sicilian ain’t half bad. Someone told me I needed to go to the main one on Western on the North Side.

Pretty good. Nice contrast of temperatures on the New Yorker sandwich I had — a nice balance between the cold lettuce and tomato and the hot steak, bacon and American and provolone cheeses. Rich, smooth, plenty of everything you’re actually paying for on a sandwich like that.

The bread — kind of eh. Good flavor but the texture wasn’t what I’d like. I prefer more of a crust and this was a little soft for me. Piling all that meat and cheese and drippings on bread like this can make it a little soggy.

Good sandwich. I’d go back. Could be better, is all I’m saying.

Anyway. I saw owner Jeff Trebac working the flat-top grill. I asked him about the infamous Roethlisburger — ground beef, sausage, onions, scrambled eggs all on a roll.

“I would have thought someone in this city would not want to be associated with that man’s meat,” I told him.

He laughed.

“People never stopped buying it,” he said. “As long as they come in the door and bring me cash, they can have whatever they want.”

And as long as people order it regularly enough, it stays on the menu. Jeff’s not supporting the man, as he sees it. Just his customers and his own bottom line.

Different kind of principle. I respect that.

Neighborhoods, Nontraditional, Presentation, Techniques and tools

Dean Supply.

There’s a place, easy to miss, practically underneath an old railroad line at Penn Ave. and 33rd. It’s the kind of place that can make your life easier.

Restaurant-supply store. Open to the public. Which not all of them are.

This one is Dean Supply. Not only does it sell in the kind of bulk or scale that a restaurant would need, it also sells piece by piece. So you may not need a $1,500 industrial gas fryer or a 120-quart aluminum stock pot — were you planning to feed the Steelers defensive line for a month? — but it’s also a place to find a small heat-resistant spatula for like a buck, buck and a half.

Having a party and need wine glasses? Need disposable serving trays? A serious mop?

A case of chef’s toques, perhaps?

A place like this buys wholesale, which depresses the prices. You won’t find Williams-Sonoma brand names here — no Le Creuset; I checked — but if what you really need are some decent soup bowls for $6 a pop, this is your place.

I think I’ve probably stocked a third of my kitchen at someplace similar. I mean, I’m not trying to sell you anything. But I like having options and I like going to a place where they take this stuff seriously.

Need plastic quart containers to store your homemade shrimp stock? Here they’re $3 for the reusable ones or twice that for 32 disposable ones and their lids.

Flatware? You can buy cheap spoons and the like by the dozen or by the piece. Want a glass beer pitcher you can take to get engraved for that special Pens fan? It’s $4 for the pitcher.

Whatever you need.

Even a strainer big enough to do prison laundry.

And of course, if you really have your heart set on that industrial immersion blender for $450, they have those, too.