Gretchen McKay

Five Diamond chef, Dave Racicot, confident he’ll sparkle in new setting

First in an occasional series on the birth of Notion

It’s tough to pigeon-hole Dave Racicot, the self-taught chef who earned Nemacolin Woodlands Resort’s Lautrec restaurant its coveted AAA Five Diamond rating in 2007, when he was but 29 years old.

Chef Dave Racicot - Larry Roberts/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

He’s extremely talented, of course. But also cocky. Outspoken. Kind of pig-headed. Almost too self-confident.

Oh, and sexy, too, what with that scruffy beard and network of tatts running up one arm and down the other.

Mostly, he’s determined.

On Dec. 31, if everything stays on schedule, the doors will swing open at Notion, his new restaurant in what used to be Boulevard Bistro in Oakmont. It’s the end result of a year-long journey fraught with angst, rejection, frustration and — after he finally signed the papers on the Allegheny River Boulevard building two months ago — buckets of sweat and elbow grease.

This past January, Mr. Racicot was let go from his job as Lautrec’s chef du cuisine for what he calls, in a voice tinged with irritation, “creative differences.” He tried hard to land another job that would keep his young family in the area, and to woo dollars, with business consultant Tom Dickson’s help, out of would-be restaurateurs’ pockets with fancy investor dinners. But nothing panned out.

He was baffled and humbled.

“My credentials are great, especially in this area, where there’s a lot of people who understand good restaurants,” Mr. Racicot said back in June over coffee at Bruegger’s in Market Square. Then the idea for Notion was exactly that: a notion of what could be if he could just get his hands on some dough. He laughed. “But restaurants are a popularity contest, where some chefs can’t cook. It’s more about being well known.”

Resigned to starting over somewhere else, the Indiana, Pa., native was seriously considering a job at Woodlands Inn in Charleston, S.C., when his cell phone rang in late September. It was his brother, Ryan, also a chef, telling him to check out an ad on craigslist:

Are you an executive chef ready to own your own business?

“Probably a bunch of BS,” Mr. Racicot remembers thinking as he shot off an e-mail. Or not. The very next day he was face-to-face with seller Meg Burkardt, an attorney who’s part-owner of the Oaks Theater next door to the restaurant space. And flash, boom, bam. The indecision and frustration marking the past eight months of his life was history.

When Ms. Burkardt opened Boulevard Bistro five years ago to give moviegoers a place to eat pre- or post-show, she never dreamed she’d be running it herself, and for so long; the plan always was to “pass it off.”

When her son, the bistro’s sous chef, took a job in Los Angeles, it prompted her finally to do just that, and within two days after posting on craigslist she received nearly 30 responses. What narrowed the field to Mr. Racicot was his passion and work ethic.

“I liked his dedication and sincerity,” she said. “He’s just so committed to the idea.”

He also has the goods: In addition to steering Lautrec to its five-star status, Mr. Racicot in 2009 was named a semi-finalist in the “Rising Star Chef of the Year Category” by the James Beard Foundation. The nomination earned him a chance to prepare a seven-course meal at the famed James Beard House in New York’s historic Greenwich Village.

“He’s competent, and has an ongoing interest in it staying successful,” Ms. Burkardt said.

For Mr. Racicot, the situation was a dream come true. Not only was it a nice space in a great neighborhood that needed little renovation, but Ms. Burkardt’s sweetheart turnkey deal included financing, eliminating the need for pesky investors or huge loans. Sweeter still: the first payment would be deferred for six months to allow cash flow while Notion got up and running. And a liquor license was included. He’d be crazy not to jump at the chance, even though to do it, he’d have to cash in every dime of his 401K savings.

Twelve hours after Boulevard Bistro closed on Oct. 9, its windows facing Allegheny River Boulevard were covered in brown paper and Chef Racicot was inside cleaning, a signed “gentlemen’s agreement” under his baseball cap.

“Looks like I will officially own my own restaurant later this week,” he crowed in an e-mail on Oct. 12.

Then, the real work began.

A leap of faith

All new restaurants require a leap of faith, with about 60 percent closing or changing hands within three years of opening, according to a recent study by Ohio State University. Chef Racicot’s odds of success are arguably more tenuous, in that Notion won’t be a neighborhood joint like its predecessor but a high-end “destination” restaurant, pairing fine food with fine wine.

Pittsburgh’s dining scene has never been hotter, with more than two dozen food establishments opening in the past two years. But upscale restaurants such as Elements Contemporary Cuisine in Gateway Center and Habitat in the Fairmont Pittsburgh are the exception rather than the rule.

“High-end has seen its time of day in the Pittsburgh scene,” said Terri Sokoloff, president of Specialty Bar & Restaurant Brokers, which helps to arrange the sale of existing restaurant space and the transfer of liquor licenses. “People want a good meal, but they also want value.”

Also worrisome is that Notion is small, seating just 38. Ten years ago, chef-driven boutique restaurants were rare enough to be sought out; Pittsburgh’s food scene has progressed to where today, there’s “tons” of great little finds, says Ms. Sokoloff. Chef Racicot’s success, then, will require a dedicated following.

As she puts it, “You’re only as good as your last meal.”

On that end, Chef Racicot isn’t worried. Even though Notion’s menu still hasn’t been committed to paper — as of Monday, he’d only written 10 or so things down — he knows it will feature the same modern, high-quality food that earned him the James Beard nod, both a la carte and as a tasting dinner. Diners also will enjoy exquisite presentation and the “best service of any restaurant in the city.

“My expectation is that everything will be perfect, every single time,” he said. “No restaurant in Pittsburgh will do what we do.”

Translation: If you’re the type of diner who’s looking for a quick four courses for $18 before a show, or think dinner has to involve a T-bone, it’s probably not for you.

What does give the 32-year-old chef pause is that he’s starting in an existing restaurant. Nine months ago when he was first wooing investors (early contenders included Kevin McClatchy), the goal was to build his culinary mecca from scratch to avoid fighting diners’ memories.

Or as he put it on Nov. 4, in the midst of one of his marathon cleaning sessions with manager Jennifer Jin, “You don’t want somebody driving by in five years and saying, ‘Remember Boulevard Bistro?’ ”

One early possibility involved renovating Bondstreet Shoes on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside. When that proved too expensive, he turned his sights down the street to Enrico’s Ristorante.

“Well, that didn’t go as planned, which is a kick to the stomach,” he complained in an email on June 22, when Enrico’s building owner took an offer from another buyer. “But I’m going to stay positive and think that it didn’t happen for a good reason. . . . Right now I feel like I’m starting over.”

A few days later, he was working on yet another deal, Mark’s Grille on Penn Avenue in the Cultural District, buoyed by the possibility of a group of investors with “more money than Joe Hardy.” But that, too, eventually would go bust.

“Talking to a few other chefs, and this is about how long it took them to get things going,” he wrote on June 28, his frustration mounting. “So I don’t feel like I’m not accomplishing anything anymore. It’s just taking longer than expected.”

This fall, just as he was sure his dreams would have to come to an end, he stumbled upon The Deal.

“It all sounds way too good to be true, but I’m close to signing a deal,” he wrote on Sept. 27. Praise the Lord and pass the coffee.

Whipping up the buzz

Even before the loan documents were signed on Nov. 1, Chef Racicot was busy making lists. At the top was developing a budget, opening a checking account and applying for credit from vendors; he also had to design logos, set up a website, www.notionrestaurant.com, and start blogging and tweeting to get a buzz going.

Also looming were countless decisions on how to configure and decorate the space. Banquettes or chairs? Carpeting or hardwood? Eight-ounce cocktail glasses or 10? What to do with that huge pizza oven? That problem was solved just this week: Through Green Apple Network, he was able to barter it for a concrete countertop from Stone Passion Northeast in Harrison City.

Architect Jen Bee of Jen Bee Design in Allison Park has been helping design a floor plan and suggesting vendors and products. But Mr. Racicot, who’s commuting daily from Uniontown, admitted he’s not the best listener.

“I’m a little OCD and ADD,” he said.

While shopping with Ms. Bee on Nov. 13 at IKEA for furniture and wall garnishes, for instance, he didn’t want to hear pedestal tables will work best. He’d already settled on the BJURSTA dining table, which has four legs. Until he decided, a week later, that what he really wanted was to put custom maple tabletops on top of the existing pedestals.

What they did agree on is that the colors and design should be as minimalist as possible so the food and presentation shine.

At least he has his core team in place, all former co-workers at Lautrec. That includes Ms. Jin, 30, who was dining room manager during his tenure, and ran the Pittsburgh Marathon with him this past May; sous chef Andrew Stump; and pastry chef Joshua Lind, a fresh off a tour of duty with the Army National Guard in Afghanistan.

“Now I’m doing it for me and the people who worked hard for me and have been loyal friends,” he said.

On Monday, Chef Racicot was headed back to IKEA to buy several storage pieces for the dining room. He also was sketching out the wall art — he is going to paint the canvases in shades of red and gray and hang them on 79-inch curtain rods himself — and deciding on fabric for the banquettes.

With just three weeks to blast off, you’d think he’d be sweating bullets. But no, his only real concern is getting a fridge in the small storage room repaired.

“Nervous? I have no reason to be,” he said. “I’m organized and feel focused and in control of the situation.”

The restaurant biz is a tenuous one, but Ms. Burkardt, who enjoyed five successful years with Boulevard Bistro, is fairly confident this one will fly. Yet she wonders if both sides might have to “stretch” their expectations to reach a happy medium: diners up and the chef down.

“When you’re young, you feel you have to take a tougher line and do exactly what you want to do,” she said. It’s not until you go into business for yourself for the first time that you “learn the lessons you need to learn.”

Chef Racicot insists he’s going into the venture with his eyes wide open. Even though he’ll face 100-hour work weeks, he knows he won’t get rich; after covering payroll, buying food, paper supplies, flowers and uniforms and paying rent and credit-card fees — the list goes on and on– he’ll be lucky if he grosses 8 cents on the dollar.

But it’s really not about the money, he says.

“When people walk in the door, I want them to feel the energy and passion and love I put into every single dish.”

White Bean Puree

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When Dave Racicot made this tasty appetizer for his Beard House dinner in August 2009, he gave it the five-star treatment with molasses and bay leaf gelees, roasted garlic, raw apple jam, chorizo chips and maple cream. For your holiday party, it’ll be just as delicious served with crusty bread, crackers or roasted vegetables.

Tip: To keep the veggies separate from the beans, you might want to wrap them in a piece of cheesecloth before cooking.

  • 2 cups dried navy beans, soaked overnight
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/3 cups heavy cream, warmed
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt and white pepper, to taste

Drain the beans and rinse well. Pick through the beans for any debris. Place the beans, carrots, celery, onion, baking soda and bay leaf in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Skim away any impurities that come to the surface. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about 1 hour. Drain and remove the vegetables and bay leaf.

In small batches, place the beans in a food processor and process at a low speed, slowly adding the cream (only add enough cream to make a smooth puree). Add the butter a little at a time until incorporated. Season with salt and white pepper. Press the puree through a sieve before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

– Chef Dave Racicot

Habitat to host foodie, Mark Bittman

An avid home cook since the late 1960s, Mark Bittman has authored more than 10 best-selling cookbooks, including his “How to Cook Everything” series and 2008’s “Food Matters,” a no-nonsense volume promoting agricultural sustainability and slow food. But he’s probably just as well known for his weekly dispatches for “The Minimalist,” the New York Times food column focused on simple, seasonal home cooking.

He also regularly rubs shoulders with celebs, appearing with Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali on the PBS series “Spain … On the Road Again,” and does regular cooking demonstrations on NBC’s Today show.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bittman brings his star power to Habitat in the Fairmont Pittsburgh, where he and executive chef Andrew Morrison — a longtime friend who cooked with him at his wedding — will prepare a tasting menu for a sold-out crowd based on his latest book, “The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living” (Simon & Schuster, Sept. 2010, $35).

The evening also will include a discussion of how to choose and cook ingredients, as well as the two cooks’ philosophies for better living.

In a phone interview from his apartment in New York’s Upper West Side, Mr. Bittman gave a taste of his thoughts on responsible eating. They essentially boil down to this: Eat more fruits and veggies and whole grains, and fewer animal products and processed foods. He’s also a big believer in buying locally raised foods whenever possible and reading labels.

Q: The latest report from the USDA shows Americans still aren’t eating as healthily as they could, with more than 67 percent of adults eating fewer than two servings of fruit and three vegetables daily. Seems like a good time for this book.

A: Just about every study and survey show that people want to eat more fruits and vegetables and are aware of the benefits of eating less meat. They just don’t know how to do it. But it’s very clear that the answer is less animal product and processed food, and much, much less junk food.

A conservative estimate is that 80 percent of what we eat should come from unprocessed plants, which is such a big turnaround that we won’t be able to achieve it in our lifetimes. To say everyone needs to be a vegan is a nice idea, but that’s kind of like saying everyone should ride a bicycle. It’s simply not going to happen. The challenge then is, how do we move in that direction of eating less of A and more of B?

Q: How do you suggest getting started?

A: You can try going “vegan before 6” like I do, which means avoiding all animal and processed foods until dinner time, and then eat whatever you want in moderation. I have another friend who only eats meat five times a month, and another one who has sworn off processed food but not meat. Or just eat a salad instead of a hamburger every once in a while. The point is making small, gradual changes that you’ll stick to. If people changed just 10 to 20 percent of what they’re eating — that’s two meals a week — that would be amazing movement for the country.

“The Food Matters Cookbook” is another good step. I actually think in five years it will seem primitive, but today it’s a radical departure from what cuisine has looked like over the last 100 years. It doesn’t leave anything out — there are still meat and poultry, and traditional methods of cooking — but by emphasizing fruits and plants and de-emphasizing animal products, it turns things around. For example, there is a reinvented beef stew recipe that turns its profile on its head by using mushrooms as the main ingredient.

The cookbook has 500 recipes like that: legitimate, unusual and really, really good.

Q: How tough was it to make the changes in your own life?

A: I saw the handwriting on the wall in the early 2000s, though it wasn’t until I wrote “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” [2007] and I became familiar with that world that I made the change. That’s roughly the same time I hit my 57th birthday, and all my health indicators started going in the wrong direction. I had high cholesterol and high blood sugar, and was 30 pounds overweight. I basically decided it was time to eat differently.

Also, after writing “Food Matters” in 2009, it became clear that “less meat, more plants” was a different style of eating that needed a cookbook. Because you’re no longer centering your meals around meat, you need to think about proportions differently.

Q: Are the recipes difficult?

A: I am incapable of producing complicated food because I don’t know how to cook it. So, no. They’re not fussy.

Q: Why is it so difficult for Americans to change their diets, with everything they could possibly want in the grocery store?

A: It has to do with the industry, not with how people want to eat. It’s more ‘How are we going to get this food to the rest of the country and make it convenient?’ than ‘What’s the best food and the best way to cook it?’ It’s a notorious word, convenient.

Also, even though the media is addressing the issue, that’s nothing against the billions spent marketing crap each year. Every time a study says we need to eat more fruits and vegetables, for example, big food companies are going to say, ‘Here’s soda with fruits and vegetables in it.’ Well, not quite, but almost.

Q: Isn’t it expensive to eat a healthier diet?

A: I would argue that it costs more to eat bad food because of the health concerns and negative effect on the environment. And fast food isn’t really faster, so I don’t buy that argument.

Q: So do you ever indulge?

A: Of course. I eat pizza, stop at McDonald’s a few times a year, and drink Diet Coke with regularity. I think the better question is: how bad do you feel about those things? You know, just because you skip a day of exercise doesn’t mean you’re not exercising. So you can eat junk food on occasion and not be a junk food junkie.

Mushroom Stew with Beef Chunks

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  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces beef chunk or round, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 pound fresh shiitake, cremini, portobello, or button mushroooms, stemmed if necessary and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 leeks, trimmed, well rinsed and chopped
  • 3 carrots or parsnips, chopped
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 3 cups mushroom or beef stock or water
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary, or a pinch of each dried
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small celery root, peeled, or 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or chives, for garnish

Put the dried porcinis in a bowl and cover with the boiling water. Soak until soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, put oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the beef and brown it on one side before stirring it. Cook until deeply browned on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes total, removing pieces as they are done.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from pan. Porcinis should be soft. Lift mushrooms out of the water, leaving behind the soaking liquid and sediment. Roughly chop the porcinis and reserve liquid. Add chopped porcinis to pan along with fresh mushrooms, garlic, leeks and carrots. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Add red wine and cook, stirring to loosen the bits of vegetable that have stuck to the bottom of the pan, for about a minute.

Add stock, reserved porcini soaking liquid, and beef along with the herb and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so that soup bubbles gently. Cover and cook undisturbed for 30 minutes. Stir in the celery root, cover and continue cooking until the meat and vegetables are tender, another 20 to 30 minutes. Add more liquid if mixture seems too dry. (Mine was more like a soup than a stew.)

Remove herb sprigs and bay leaf, taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately (or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days).

Serves 4.

“The Food Matters Cookbook” by Mark Bittman

(Simon & Schuster, 2010, $35)

Whole Wheat Carrot Gnocchi

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Bugs Bunny isn’t the only one who will love this flavorful pasta dish. Used to veggies being served as a side, my 14-year-old daughters initially balked at eating an entree made primarily from carrots. But one taste, and they were sold. Said a Olivia, “Hey, this is actually good!”

  • 1 pound carrots, cut into large chunks
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
  • Black pepper
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley or several fresh sage leaves
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Put the carrots in a pot with water to cover and a pinch of salt. Bring the water to a gentle bubble and cook until the carrots are quite tender, about 45 minutes. Drain well. Return the carrots to the dry pan, cover and dry them over the lowest possible heat, for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the flours in a small bowl. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil (for testing the dough) and salt it.

Use a fork, potato masher, ricer or food mill to puree the carrots until smooth; sprinkle with salt and pepper and the nutmeg and stir. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes. Sprinkle the carrots with 3/4 cup of the flour mixture and stir gently until it is just incorporated. Pinch off a piece of the dough and boil it to make sure it will hold its shape. If it does not, knead in a bit more flour and try again; repeat as necessary. (The idea is to make the dough with as little additional flour and kneading as possible.)

When enough flour has been added, sprinkle a little all-purpose flour on a clean, smooth work surface and roll a piece of the dough into a rope about 1/2-inch thick, then cut rope into 1-inch lengths. Score lightly with the tines of a fork. Put each on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper; do not allow to touch. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or up to 2 hours. (You can freeze for up to 3 months in an airtight container or bag).

Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it. Put oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. (If using sage instead of parsley, add it now and cook until they sizzle.) A few at a time, add gnocchi to boiling water and gently stir. A minute after they rise to the surface, the gnocchi are done; remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to skillet. When all are done, sprinkle with the parsley, more salt and pepper and some gnocchi cooking water if the mixture seems too dry. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve, passing cheese at the table.

Adapted from “The Food Matters Cookbook” by Mark Bittman (Simon & Schuster, 2010, $35)

Oktoberfest isn’t just about beer. It’s also about the food

I appreciate a nice pilsner or dunkel-style dark beer as much as the next frau. My ancestors on my mom’s side hail from the tiny village of Frommern in southern Germany, and to pay homage, I’ve nursed many a stein of this most delicious liquid while waiting for my daughters to finish their weekly dance practice with the Alpen Schuhplattlers at Teutonia Mannerchor in the North Side neighborhood of Deutschtown. (Isn’t that what rathskellers are for?)

But to suggest Oktoberfest is all about the drinking?

Du scherzst mich! You’ve gotta be kidding me!

I’d argue this most famous of German festivals, first held in Munich in 1810, is as much about the food — and we’re not just talking the giant soft pretzels revelers enjoy with tangy mustard or lebkuchenherzen, heart-shaped gingerbread cookies strung on ribbons and decorated with icing messages of love.

What’s Oktoberfest without a crispy wiener schnitzel or juicy bratwurst on a crusty roll? Or spaetzle sauteed in butter, or cooked red cabbage? And sauerkraut. Can’t forget the sauerkraut if you want to be authentic.

Unless, of course, you don’t.

Traditional sometimes equals boring. So to make the food as merry as the oompah music at your Oktoberfest celebration, we’ve decided to offer a non-traditional take on some favorite German dishes.

That’s what you’ll find at the Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville, where Chef Jason Marrone says, “For Oktoberfest, we try to stay true to German cuisine and flavors, but still maintain some of the nuances that make the Church Brew Works special.” His Oktoberfest pierogies are filled with bratwurst and sauerkraut and served with a gherkin-mustard sauce.

Pretzel-Dusted Schnitzel with Sweet Onion Caraway Noodles

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Who says schnitzel has to be made with veal or pork? This tasty recipe uses beef shoulder tender, a juicy (and affordable) cut that’s similar in taste to tenderloin. What really sets it apart, though, is the crunchy pretzel coating. I used Pittsburgh Pretzels Super Thins, but any variety would do. I also doubled the amount of caraway seeds.

2 cups crushed pretzels

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped fine

2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped fine, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

8 3- to 4-ounce beef shoulder tender medallions

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

Oil for pan frying

2 tablespoons butter, unsalted

1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted and chopped

8 ounces egg noodles, cooked al dente

1/4 cup beef stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a shallow bowl, combine pretzels (I crushed them in a plastic freezer bag with a rolling pin), thyme, 1 tablespoon parsley, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Brush medallions lightly with mustard and coat heavily with pretzel mixture. Heat oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Saute medallions for 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and place on baking tray; place in oven for 10 minutes or until outside is crisp.

Melt butter in a large saute pan, add onion and cook until translucent. Add caraway, cooked noodles, stock and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.

Add remaining parsley to noodles, season to taste and serve with schnitzel.

Serves 4.

— certifiedangusbeef.com

Sauerbraten Chicken Wings

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Pot roast, schmot-roast. Chicken wings get marinated in vinegar and spices in this updated “sauerbraten” recipe.

3 cups water

3/4 cup red wine vinegar

3/4 cup cider vinegar

2 bay leaves

9 peppercorns

5 whole cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 medium onions, diced

1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges

4 pounds chicken wings, tips removed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup chicken stock

4 tablespoons crushed ginger snaps

Combine water, vinegars, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves, salt, onion and lemon in saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Remove 1 cup marinade liquid (try not to get any solid pieces), cover and reserve in refrigerator. Place wings in a glass dish and pour remaining marinade over. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray, or cover with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Remove wings from marinade (discard marinade), shaking a bit to remove any excess liquid. Place wings on baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and roast in oven for 40 minutes. Turn wings after 40 minutes. Return to oven and continue to roast for another 10 to 15 minutes or until wings are crispy and brown.

Toward the end of cooking, melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add flour to butter, stirring until flour begins to brown (should be golden brown in color), about 3 to 4 minutes. Slowly add the reserved 1 cup marinade and stock, whisking until smooth and slightly thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add gingersnaps, whisking until dissolved.

When wings are cooked, remove from oven to a bowl or serving platter. Pour 1 cup of sauce over wings and toss. If desired, add remaining sauce (about 2/3 cup) or serve passed as dipping sauce with wings.

Serves 4.

— chickeneverymonth.com

The Genuine Sauerkraut with Five Spices

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Sauerkraut is usually that — sour. This recipe, from “The Hofbrauhaus Cookbook,” has a delicious depth of flavor, thanks to long simmering in wine and consomme and the addition of sweet, aromatic spices.

2 onions

1/4 cup clarified butter

1 pound uncooked sauerkraut

3/4 cup dry white wine

3/4 cup beef consomme

Salt

Pinch of sugar

1 bay leaf

Pinch each of whole allspice, peppercorns, whole cloves and whole cumin seed

1 mealy potato

Peel the onions and cut into half. Then cut into fine half-moon shapes. Melt the clarified butter in a pan over medium heat and fry the onions until they are transparent. Rinse the sauerkraut under running water, drain and add to the pan. Pour the wine and beef consomme on top. Season with salt and 1 pinch of sugar. Put the bay leaf, allspice, peppercorns, cloves and cumin seeds into an empty (unused) tea bag. Tie it up and add to the sauerkraut. Wash and peel the potato. Grate finely and add to the sauerkraut. Cover the sauerkraut, lower heat and allow to simmer for 40 to 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the tea bag before serving. Serves 4. — “The Hofbrauhaus Cookbook” (Zabert Sandmann Verlag, 2007, $30), available in the gift shop of Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh

Green Peppercorn Spaetzle

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Cracked green peppercorn gives this traditional side dish — typically served with meat dishes prepared with gravy — an unexpected punch of flavor. Church Brew Works Chef Jason Marrone says he inherited this recipe from his predecessor.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 ounce cracked green peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 large eggs

1/3 cup milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 clove crushed garlic

In a large stainless steel bowl, combine flour, salt, both peppers and nutmeg. In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs and milk together on low speed using paddle attachment. Gradually add flour a little at a time until dough is smooth and slightly thicker than pancake batter; if too thick, add a bit more milk. Let the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Bring 1 gallon of salted water to a boil in a large pot, then reduce to a simmer. To form spaetzle, use a spaetzle maker or a large-holed colander. Hold over the simmering water and push the dough through the holes with a spatula or spoon. Do a little at a time to avoid overcrowding. Cook for a few minutes or until the spaetzle floats to the surface, stirring gently to prevent sticking. Dump the spaetzle into a colander and give it a quick rinse with cool water. Melt the butter and garlic in a large skillet over medium heat. Add spaetzle and toss to coat. Cook the spaetzle for a couple of minutes to brown the dumplings. Check to make sure seasoning is correct before service. Serves 6. — Jason Marrone, executive chef, Church Brew Works

German Chocolate Cake

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It’s often served at Oktoberfest celebrations, but German chocolate cake has nothing to do with the famous party in Munich, or even Germany; the first published recipe appeared in a Dallas newspaper in 1957 and got its name from the signature ingredient, Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate.

Despite that (non) pedigree, it’s the perfect dessert for revelers with a sweet tooth, thanks to a gooey caramel-flavored icing studded with toasted coconut and chopped pecans. The addition in this recipe of Jagermeister, a German digestif made with herbs and spice, adds a hint of anise flavor. My mom called it “scrumptious.”

For the cake

1 1/2 cups plus 4 teaspoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 eggs

3 teaspoons Jagermeister

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 1/4 cups cake flour

For the icing

12-ounce can evaporated milk

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup butter

4 egg yolks

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 tablespoons Jagermeister, plus a shot for the cook

2 cups shredded coconut, toasted

1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 8-inch round cake pans.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar 3 to 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Add Jagermeister and vanilla. Heat 1 cup water until warm. Combine cocoa, baking powder, salt, baking soda and flour; mix it and the water into the butter mixture in 3 alternating additions. Pour batter into pans and bake 30 to 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool.

For the frosting: In a saucepan over medium heat, combine evaporated milk, sugar, butter, egg yolks, vanilla and Jagermeister. Stir 15 to 20 minutes, or until thick and golden brown. (This may be when you’ll want to have yourself that shot of Jager!) Remove from heat. Stir in coconut and pecans. (To toast coconut, spread in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently until coconut is golden brown.) Cool to room temperature for spreading consistency.

To assemble: Frost 1 layer, stack the other layer on top and frost again. This frosting won’t stick to the sides, so don’t even try. And no, you better not have another shot of Jagermeister before the guests arrive.

Makes 10 servings.

— “Booze Cakes: Confections Spiked with Spirits, Wine and Beer” by Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone (Quirk, 2010, $16.95)

Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1419.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10259/1087745-34.stm#ixzz0zt8tAB3V

Gretchen McKay’s ‘Cooking with Gretchen’ wins big

From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

The Post-Gazette’s “Cooking with Gretchen” video series has won a national award in the Association of Food Journalists’ Awards Competition 2010.

To see the winning video, click on Cooking with Gretchen

Gretchen McKay and videographer Steve Mellon and their “Plank-grilled fish” video (see PG video below) won a first-place award — and $300 — for Best Food Multimedia Presentation. Second place went to features reporter Kevin Pang of chicagotribune.com; third went to food editor Deborah Pankey of the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Ill.

The awards banquet was held Thursday night at the Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe, where about 60 members of the group (including Ms. McKay, fellow PG writer Marlene Parrish and food editor Bob Batz Jr.) met last week. A total of $4,500 was awarded in 15 categories in the competition, which recognizes excellence in reporting and writing in all media, newspaper food section design and content, food illustration and food photography. There were 229 entries. Read about all the other categories and the organization at afjonline.com.

What’s for Dinner: Reuben sandwich

By now you’ve probably adjusted to a new school year. (Isn’t it great being back on a schedule?) But I bet that also means you’re as busy as I am, juggling sports practices with homework and helping the kids study for tests, all the while doing endless piles of laundry. I say give yourself a break and make this easy Reuben sandwich for supper one night.

Make the dressing the night before, and you can get a delicious meal on the table in less than 15 minutes. Round it out with a dill pickle spear and a scoop of potato salad or baked french fries. Chocolate milkshake optional.

  • 8 thick slices caraway rye bread (homemade or store-bought)
  • 8 tablespoons Thousand Island dressing (recipe follows)
  • 8 thick slices Swiss cheese
  • 1 3/4 pounds shaved corned beef
  • 1 pound sauerkraut, rinsed and well-drained
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided

Lay slices of caraway rye on a large flat work surface. Spread each slice with 1 tablespoon Thousand Island dressing. Lay 1 slice of Swiss cheese on each slice of bread. Divide shaved corned beef among 4 slices of the bread. Divide sauerkraut among the other 4 slices.

Heat 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place 2 sauerkraut sandwich halves and 2 corned beef sandwich halves in skillet and cook until bread is crusty and golden brown, about 7 to 9 minutes. Remove sandwich halves from the skillet and place sauerkraut halves on top of corned beef halves. Gently press together. Wipe skillet, and repeat with remaining butter and 4 sandwich halves.

Cut sandwiches in half and serve immediately.

Makes 4 sandwiches.

— “Damn Good Food: 157 Recipes From Hell’s Kitchen” by Mitch Omer and Ann Bauer (Borealis, 2010, $27.95)

Thousand Island Dressing

PG tested

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup chili sauce
  • 1 large hard-cooked egg, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
  • 2 tablespoons minced white onion
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Add all ingredients to a large stainless, ceramic or glass bowl, and whisk vigorously with a wire whip. Place dressing in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Will keep refrigerated for 1 week.

Makes about 2 cups.

— “Damn Good Food: 157 Recipes From Hell’s Kitchen” by Mitch Omer and Ann Bauer (Borealis, 2010, $27.95)

Find an archive of What’s for Dinner recipes at post-gazette.com/food.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10258/1087516-483.stm#ixzz0zcpFaXhp

Gretchen McKay explores her relationship with beef — the grass-fed kind — at the first MeatTHINK event

John Jamison is smiling as he prepares to open the door to his U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified meat slaughter and processing plant in Bradenville, near Latrobe. Our group of 15 is about to enter what’s known as the “kill floor,” and I’ll admit it, I’m kind of unnerved. Images of bloody beef carcasses flash through my head, sending my stomach into somersaults.

The famed lamb purveyor isn’t exactly reassuring.

Next on the Menu: Chicken

Lots of people like meat. But do you know why it matters if it’s locally pastured or killed humanely and cleanly? And how, exactly, is it butchered?

Slow Food Pittsburgh is offering a series of lunchtime classes aimed at giving consumers a better appreciation for the chicken, pork and lamb they put on their table. Taught by old-school and “new wave” butchers, chefs, farmers and meat purveyors, the “MeatTHINK” demos also will help consumers become more skilled in their home kitchens.

Last weekend’s on grass-fed beef was the first. The second, on chicken, will be held Aug. 29 at The Farmer’s Wife organic farm in Bessemer, just south of New Castle on the Pennsylvania/Ohio border. Students will explore plucking, cleaning and preparing chicken. Cost is $35 ($45 for non-members), and includes an organic picnic.

On Oct. 30, Ray Turkas Jr. of Strip District Meats on Penn Avenue in the Strip will break down a half hog from Heilman’s Hogwash Farm in Sarver, Butler County. Lunch follows at Ray’s Cafe next door; price and time to be determined.

Slow Food also will hold a class on halal and kosher lamb butchering at Salem’s Market in the Strip District. All details yet to come, but it’s sure to be a great party — a lamb roast follows at the market.

Each class is limited to 30 students, and pre-registration is required by getting on Slow Food Pittsburgh’s mailing list at slowfoodpgh.com. You also can send an e-mail to vredpath@aol.com for more information.

“The smell is not a great thing,” Mr. Jamison cautions as we pull on long white butcher coats and tuck hair under baseball caps.

Ugh. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t eat breakfast.

We’re at the Westmoreland County plant, one of just a handful of small, independently owned USDA facilities in the area, for a grass-fed beef butchery class sponsored by Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. Using hand tools, a team of expert butchers will break down a side of beef into the major cuts, in the process explaining how grass-fed cattle differ from conventional beef, and the benefits of mom-and-pop butchering to commercial. Afterwards, the group will gather at Mr. Jamison’s bucolic sheep farm outside of Latrobe for PASA’s third-annual grass-fed beef cook-off (medium-rare Delmonico steaks, seasoned only with salt) and picnic.

Previous events were held in the eastern part of the state and focused on farmers’ methods and techniques for raising grass-fed cattle. Yet natural beef is still new enough, notes southeast regional director Marilyn Anthony, that many cooks aren’t sure what to ask for at the butcher’s shop or how to prepare it. So this year, PASA decided to make the Aug. 7 cook-off — also one of Slow Food Pittsburgh’s four meatTHINK classes offered this season to demonstrate why locally pastured meat and humane killing are important — a regional event with a focus on processing.

For me, the only slaughterhouse newbie among chefs, farmers and other food professionals, it was quite an education.

The smell’s not as bad as Mr. Jamison predicted in the concrete-floored kill room, just slightly … funky. But there are giant hooks hanging on chain hoists attached to the ceiling, as well as a scary-looking “splitter saw” above our heads used to cut the beef in half, butt to neck, after it’s been bled out, skinned and eviscerated.

Butcher Bill Marshall, 31, also points out in a far corner a “knock box,” or the pen in which the animal is contained while it’s stunned. Some things you just don’t want to think about, though if you’re going to eat beef, it’s important to understand how it arrived on your table.

Since the processed beef is sold, an inspector is always on site on kill days, both to verify the animal has been humanly stunned and bled and to make sure the carcass is free of disease and parasites. (If the animal is 30 months or older, its spinal cord must be removed as a precaution against mad cow disease.) The plant also must adhere to strict sanitation.

It’s tiring work, what with the endless lifting, sawing and slicing. But Mr. Marshall and fellow meat cutters Jon Hollick, 34, and younger brother Tom Marshall, 29, are hugely enthusiastic. Trained by staff at Ohio and Penn state universities’ meat labs and by old-time butchers, they’re also extremely skilled. On a good day, the team processes up to eight animals, or roughly one cow/steer every 90 minutes.

When Mr. Hollick opens the walk-in cooler behind the long work table and we’re invited inside, a blast of 38-degree air hits our faces. Nearly as chilling — at least to a city gal who’s watched way too many horror movies — is the sight of more than a dozen sides of beef dangling on stainless steel hooks from the 111/2-foot ceiling. They’re massive hunks of raw meat, covered in a thin layer of fat; the animal we’ll see get broken down hit the scales at 205 pounds per half.

Aging improves the tenderness and flavor of meat, so our side of beef — slaughtered on July 22 — has been hanging for 16 days, during which the temperature in the cooler was slowly lowered from 55 degrees. Chill it too quickly, notes Mr. Jamison, and you chance a phenomenon known as “cold shortening,” where the muscles shrink and the meat toughens.

Stocky and obviously strong, Mr. Hollick is the brawn of the operation, holding the beef as Mr. Marshall cuts between the 12th and 13th ribs, separating it into two pieces. Placing the 100-pound forequarter on the poly-top work table, Tom Marshall grabs a curved boning knife from his white plastic holster and, working with the natural seam of the meat, quickly separates the rib from the chuck.

Over the course of the next hour, it’s hard to keep up with the Marshalls’ knives, wielded with incredible accuracy, or the terminology of the primal, sub-primal and other cuts; to my untrained eye, much of the meat looks alike, even though PASA science adviser/veterinarian Susan Beal does her best to help us visualize the body parts. My head is spinning.

From the forequarter we get chuck eye and blade roasts, brisket, short ribs and flatiron steak, which until a few years ago was thought of as a waste cut of meat because of a thick tendon that runs through the middle. The hindquarter is equally bountiful. The short loin is broken down into porterhouse, T-bone and strip steaks, the sirloin and round sections into various roasts and steaks.

As they work, less desirable pieces are tossed into a large “chop meat” bin for grinding while scraps, fat and bones go into a garbage can destined for Valley Protein in Mifflintown, which specializes in the recycling of animal by-products. Unfortunately, I’m standing close enough to the blood-stained table that when tiny bits of red stuff spray into the air, they land on my coat.

Icky, but not as much as when Mr. Hollick cuts into the beef’s patella and it oozes some sort of pale, slick liquid. I must have made a face because Ms. Beal quickly points out slime is “appropriate.”

The class ends with a quick tour of the processing room and discussion of cleaning and sanitation. Gone are the days when a 16-year-old swept up after school; today’s clean-up guy is an expert in microbiology. As Mr. Jamison puts it, “There’s no way it isn’t perfect when it goes out because so many people are watching.”

That’s the processing side. But what about the reason we’re here in the first place?

To a nation accustomed to corn-fed meat, beef raised solely on mother’s milk, grass and sunshine might seem like a new idea. But virtually all cattle before World War II enjoyed a natural grass diet, notes Ms. Beal; it was only post-war, when — aided by federal subsidies — agribusiness produced large surpluses of soybeans and corn, and farmers realized it was not only cheaper to feed cattle grain but it also made them fatter, quicker. (Grass-fed cattle take between two to three years to bring to plate, while grain-fed are ready for slaughter in 16 to 18 months.)

The best breeds are the big, square cows on skinny legs depicted in early American pastoral landscapes: squatty Herefords, Scottish Highlands, Devons. Horizon View Farms in the Laurel Highlands, which won this year’s cook-off among 13 farms, raises Salers, a breed that originated in France. Cressbrook Farm, last year’s champion and this year’s Farmer’s Choice winner, raises on 60 acres in Lancaster Irish Blacks, a pure, thick-bodied breed that traces back to three sires imported from Ireland.

Grass-fed beef comes at a premium — Horizon charges $14.95 per pound for New York strip — but advocates say the health benefits are worth it. Lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than grain-fed beef, it also has three times more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Because grass-fed cows typically are individually butchered by skilled craftsmen, there’s also less chance of E. coli contamination. Also, grass-fed beef doesn’t receive growth hormones or unnecessary antibiotics.

What’s not so good for the consumer is that the taste, which is gamier than conventional steak, varies from farm to farm, season to season, and even cow to cow. It all depends on the type of grass the cows are eating, and whether they’re “finished” in the summer or winter, when their diet includes hay. The texture, too, is a bit less tender.

Sounds crazy, but I wasn’t sure if my first taste of grass-fed beef at the cook-off was beef or lamb, it was so different — in a good way — from what I was used to. But Big Burrito Restaurant Group’s Bill Fuller — one of 10 food professionals who judged the steaks based on appearance, aroma, texture, flavor and aftertaste — knew what to expect.

“Man, that’s beautiful,” he declares after tasting a particularly juicy-looking entry.

“It’s a taste that jumps out at you,” Larry Herr of Cressbrook Farm tells me afterwards. “When you eat it, you say, ‘That’s good beef!’ ”

The USDA has yet to adopt a definition of “grass-fed” for labeling, which complicates things. Some producers market their beef as raised on grass but actually “polish” them with grain in the last weeks to fatten them up.

“The words can be greenwashed a little,” Ms. Beal concedes, “because everyone is looking for something to make their product unique.”

To assure they’re getting a 100-percent grass-fed product, then, consumers need to develop a relationship with the individual farmers or suppliers. Which may be easier said than done: grass-fed beef still accounts for a tiny part of the $73 billion U.S. beef industry, so finding it at your local grocery store could be a challenge. (You may have better luck at a farmers market.)

Grass-fed beef also doesn’t abound on local menus. As Mr. Fuller and fellow cook-off judge Trevett Hooper, chef and co-owner of Legume Bistro in Regent Square, lamented while sitting under a tent, grass-fed beef often is sold by the quarter or half carcass, so you can’t easily order up 50 steaks for Saturday night’s crowd. Plus, because it’s lean, cooking cuts other than steak takes some know-how.

“I haven’t really figured it out yet,” admits Mr. Hooper.

Before the PASA butchery class and cook-off, I never cared too much where I bought my beef or how it was processed; afterwards, I started to reconsider. Grass-fed beef is better for the body, kinder to the animal, gentler on the land and just plain tasty.

With three teenagers and a husband who aren’t afraid to ask for seconds in the house, it’s unrealistic to think I’ll spend $30 or $40 on steak for a school-night dinner. But special occasions, or when it’s just me and my husband? Definitely a possibility.

No doggie bags needed: More eateries let you bring in your dog

Bill Wade/Post-Gazette

For some, it’s proof that the dining scene has, quite literally, gone to the dogs.

But to animal lovers such as Dan and Joan Huber of Observatory Hill, eating with your pet al fresco at a favorite restaurant is like the cherry on top of a sundae . . . or should we say a tasty piece of rawhide after a dinner of kibble. Whatever the language, it’s a treat.

It’s also savvy marketing, as Cassis on Western Avenue in Allegheny West has been pleased to discover. While dog owners are hardly taking over, the restaurant has drawn as many as seven dogs and their masters to its patio off Galveston Avenue since starting its Tuesday “Bowl and Biscuit Night” in July, and promoting it on Facebook. Regulars include the Hubers and their 2-year-old miniature schnauzer, Samson Amadeus.

Walking with your pooch to a neighborhood hangout is one thing. The Hubers load their wiry bundle of energy into their car, and happily so, for the 10-minute drive to the North Side. Why should neighbors be the only ones to enjoy owner/executive chef Dianne Porter’s good eats?

“Lady Di always has a beautiful menu,” says Mrs. Huber, who on a recent Tuesday was noshing on baked brie with roasted peppers and potatoes. “And he loves Tuesday nights.”

The dog, that is, who seemed equally pleased with his bowl of doggie chicken pate and steamed broccoli.

Cassis also offers a tofu option, but like his owners, Samson Amadeus isn’t a vegetarian, “so he’s never had it,” says Mrs. Huber.

Two-legged diners still are very much the norm at Pittsburgh restaurants, especially inside, where health codes ban pets other than service animals.

But a handful of places host four-legged diners outdoors.

As Americans fall deeper in love with their dogs — according to the trade group American Pet Products Association, pet owners are increasingly including their canine best friends on trips to hotels, restaurants and even spas — more restaurateurs are following in the Fido-friendly footsteps of their European counterparts, where dogs have long been part of the sidewalk restaurant scene.

At least three websites compile lists of eateries that welcome canine guests: bringfido.com/restaurant, dogfriendly.com and petfriendlytravel.com.

In 2006, Florida became the first state to enact a “doggie dining” law explicitly allowing restaurateurs to permit dogs in outdoor eating areas.

Dogs are permitted at any outdoor dining area in California, so long as they don’t have to walk through the inside of the restaurant to get to the outdoor seating. Since 2008, pets also are permitted on patios in Denver, provided the business applies for a special permit.

North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources is the latest to embrace doggie diners, revising its rules on Aug. 19 to allow dogs and cats in outdoor dining areas, so long as the animals are physically restrained, do not go in through the indoor section of the restaurant and avoid contact with food service items or food handlers/preparers. It goes into effect Sept. 1.

Whether the practice is banned outright by the Allegheny County Health Department, as spokesman Dave Zazac maintains, may be up for interpretation: Article III, Section 326.6 states, “Live animals shall be excluded from within the food facility operational areas and from immediately adjacent areas inside the premise.” Maybe the more important question is this: if no one complains, is it enforced?

Having pets on site does raise liability issues for patrons and staff. What if two dogs get into it or someone at a neighboring table is terribly allergic? Or worse, your pooch nips at a diner or decides to relieve himself? You also have to have faith that staff wash their hands after handling bowls that have been licked clean, and properly wash and sanitize dishes that also end up on their masters’ tables.

For those reasons and more, the New York City Health Department (somewhat surprisingly, given the number of dogs seen at sidewalk cafes and restaurants) joins Allegheny County in banning live animals in food service establishments (except for edible fish, shellfish or crustaceans), notes the department’s associate press secretary Zoe Tobin via e-mail. So does Washington state.

At Cassis, animals arrive and depart via the courtyard, and must be kept under control on a leash while their owners dine.

It’s always a restaurant owner’s prerogative to choose whether or not to allow dogs in permitted outdoor dining areas, of course, and whether to go the extra mile and offer a dog-centric menu, like Ms. Porter of Cassis, which will continue its Biscuit and Bowl night through fall. Double Wide Grill in the South Side is another that offers pet eats in nice weather on the outdoor dining area facing Carson Street. Served in a special doggie bowl, they include chicken breast or beef patty for $2.99, a tofu platter for $1.99 and an organic biscuit for 99 cents.

Some furry friends come so often during summer, says marketing coordinator Ashley Ryon, that the servers get to know them. The restaurant also held non-profit pancake breakfasts this summer to help raise money for Animal Rescue League and Animal Friends.

At other restaurants, dogs-night-out unfolds more informally. At Aladdin’s Eatery in Mt. Lebanon, for instance, it’s not unusual for someone walking her dog to decide to stop at one of the restaurant’s tables lining the sidewalk. Or request some water for said pooch in a take-out soup bowl. The same goes for Hartwood Restaurant in Indiana Township, where dogs are permitted on the patio and more than one owner has indulged his pet with filet mignon.

“Some people have called, but it’s really just word of mouth,” says Robin McCarthy, Hartwood manager.

Il Pizzaiolo in Mt. Lebanon is another that keeps its dog-friendly patio on the down-low, if only because it’s a “rare occasion” when patrons bring Fido along.

“It’s a non-issue,” says owner Ron Molinaro.

That said, he’s happy to serve canine customers a bowl of meatballs, no sauce, should their owners request it. That’s what his own dogs nosh on on nights he works late.

Most dogs, Mr. Molinaro says, are more well-mannered than most people. “And there certainly are other things running around outside beyond our control.”

Raccoon and squirrel excepted, animals on the patio in Pittsburgh is still new enough that some restaurateurs don’t seem to realize it’s an option.

“Hey, do we ever have dogs on the patio?” Sean Casey, proprietor of the Church Brew Works, called out to a staffer when contacted by phone.

Turns out they have, for the past two years. It’s just that people don’t ask often enough for the privilege for the brew house to promote or even encourage it.

“It’s only about once every two weeks or so,” says Mr. Casey.

Four-legged customers are much more common at Jerry’s Curb Service, a drive-up hamburger joint in Bridgewater, Beaver County. General manager Fran Benedict guesses its car hops every day serve at least six $1.30 “mutt burgers” (it’s a chopped burger served in a special dog dish with no bread or toppings) and maybe twice that amount on weekends.

Not only that, but Jerry’s has been doing it for . . . well, probably since the restaurant opened in 1943.

“How long?” repeats Mr. Benedict when he’s posed the question. “Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that. But I’ve been here eight and a half years,” he says with a laugh, “and it’s been way longer than that.”

Doggiepate ala Cassis

This recipe is meant to be for the dogs.

2 pounds boneless chicken meat (trimmings or combination boneless thighs and breasts); leave the fat on for flavor.

2 ribs celery

1 large carrot, quartered

Cover chicken, celery and carrot with water in saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrot is tender and chicken is no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Cool. Transfer to processor and process until blended. Add cooked rice if desired. Form into decorative shapes, if desired, and serve.

Bone appetit!

— Dianne Porter, Cassis