Sometimes I still can’t believe it.  Actually, I take that back… all the time, I can’t believe it.  I can replay that awful phone call over and over in my head like it was yesterday.  I never in a million years thought I would have to say goodbye to my beloved grandmother so soon.  After all, she whizzed through that open heart surgery, went back to work, looked better than ever, and had practically no scar to show for what she had been through mere months before.

Then it happened.

Pap-Pap missed her.  Joey missed her.  Her mom and dad missed her.   It was time for her to go home.

The days come and go, and so do my emotions.  I go from laughing as I think about her silly quirks to crying when I stumble across an old email from her saying she loves me “a bushel and a peck.”  When I really think about it, my grandmother wasn’t just my family, she was one of my best friends.  We laughed, we cried, sometimes we just sat on the couch in silence and watched TV.  Sometimes we drove each other absolutely crazy, but at the end of the day, we loved each other more than anything… just like best friends do.

It hits me the hardest when I think about calling to tell her something trivial, or want to check in and see how she is doing, or realize that she won’t physically be there to see me get married someday.  This seems to be the hardest that a loved one’s passing has hit me.  We had “time to prepare” for what was coming with my Grandma and Grandpa, not that that made it any easier.  My Pap-Pap was tired and not well for some time. We understood that when the three of them passed that they weren’t suffering anymore.  But my Bubba… this is so different.  76 years old, seemingly healthy, active, and she’s gone.  Just like that.  No time to say goodbye, no time to prepare.

I sent her a card “just because” about 2 weeks before she died… the card said “may there always be an angel by your side.”

And I know, with absolute certainty, that there has been and always will be.  Except now, there’s one more. She goes by Bubba, Bernice, Grandma, or “Glam-ma.”  She’s the deep breath I take when I start to cry just a little too hard.  She’s the little old lady in the Kleenex aisle at Target striking up a random conversation with me about tissues.  She’s the sharp ray of sunlight that pushed through the clouds on the overcast day that we laid her to rest.  She’s there every time I say something like “good job” or “one day at a time.”  She’s the voice in my head telling me that it will be okay,  that I will see her again someday.

Luv ya lots, Bubba.  To the moon and back and until we meet again.




It’s here! It’s FINALLY here!  The Ace Hotel is open in Pittsburgh!  Oh… you thought I was celebrating the arrival of my 12th and final Plates of Pittsburgh of 2015?  Well, that too.  Lots to celebrate with this post so let’s get cracking.

The Ace Hotel announced plans for a Pittsburgh location what seems like eons ago, and it finally opened its historic doors on December 10.  I decided to check it out the Monday after they opened and made our way to East Liberty, which has quickly become one of the city’s hotspots for retail and dining.  The Ace Hotel is located inside of an old YMCA and the designers stayed very true to the vast majority of original architecture and detail.  After you enter the main doors on Whitfield Street, the bar is to your right and the restaurant, Whitfield, is to your left.

Our waitress, Angel, was over shortly after we were seated and offered us water and made a few notes about the menu.  We decided to start with the gnocchi appetizer ($15) upon a recommendation from a friend who now works for the hotel.  For our entrees, I ordered the smoked chicken ($28) and my dining partner ordered “The Steak” ($21), which is the chef’s choice of cut for the day, which on this particular day was a sirloin.   We also decided to really go for the carbs and order a side of the bacon mac and cheese ($6).  Carbs don’t count on Mondays, right?

Our gnocchi showed up super fast which was great because I don’t usually wait til 8:45pm to eat dinner 🙂 The dish was absolutely fantastic, I almost wanted a giant bowl of it as my meal!  It felt like a homey, warm stew that you’d eat on a cold winter day.  But instead of chicken or beef, it was kicked up a notch with tender rabbit meat!  The gnocchi was perfect to share, and each bite was better than the last.  The dish contains beans which I’m usually not a fan of, but I found myself picking each and every last one out of the bowl!

Angel cleared our appetizer plates and a few minutes later a gentleman brought out our entrees.  The portion sizes are superb – my chicken was $28 but that got me a full, juicy, smoked chicken breast with the crispiest, most flavorful skin.  It was served over a stick-to-your-ribs mix of dumplings and gravy and a side of shaved brussels sprouts.  You won’t find any of those teensy tiny snack size portions that a lot of the trendy restaurants are serving now.  Whitfield puts a healthy helping on your plate, and once you let the flavors soak in, you’ll be glad that they do.

The steak, ordered medium, was served with a side of fries and a béarnaise sauce.  The béarnaise was excellent and I’d recommend it as a sauce pairing with any of the steaks on their menu. It’s worth nothing that in addition to The Steak, they offer a variety of other cuts of beef that are carefully selected by their chef.  From the sounds and tastes of it, the staff at Whitfield, from the front of the house to the back take great pride in what’s going on your plate.  Angel was very knowledgeable about the menu and is actually the reason I decided on the chicken dish. I rarely order chicken when I go out to eat because I cook it so frequently at home, but the smoked chicken kept catching my eye.  When I asked her what her thoughts were on it, she didn’t even skip a beat before saying “oh, it’s SO good.” Sold.

I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention the mac and cheese… that sweet, heavenly, melt in your mouth bacon mac and cheese.  I like to think of myself as a bit of a mac and cheese connoisseur, and I think most of my friends and family would back this up.  This was absolutely one of the best mac and cheese dishes I’ve ever had.  No fancy frilly noodles here… just perfectly cooked elbow macaroni and a cheese sauce that was the perfect consistency.  Top it all off with some crisp bacon crumbles and panko bread crumbs… you’ve got yourself a gold medal-worthy mac and cheese, my friends.

When I finally hit a mac and cheese wall, Angel came over to clear our plates and box up our leftovers.  We decided we had to give the dessert menu a shot and ordered the 12-layer chocolate cake ($10).  I’m not really a fan of dessert, but I do love chocolate and this did not disappoint.  It was enough of a slice that we could share it, but don’t be surprised if you want to gobble a slice of this up all by yourself.

All around it was a wonderful experience. I’m so excited to have the Ace Hotel here in Pittsburgh and will absolutely be back to the Whitfield many times.  As I mentioned before, it’s obvious that the staff, from the front of the house to the back, knows exactly what they’re doing and I look forward to them keeping up this amazing, delicious work!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll reward myself for completing my New Year’s Resolution by staying a night at the Ace Hotel… after all, I hear its fun to stay at the YMCA 🙂

Total dinner (for two) before tip: $90
Good for:  small groups, dinner, brunch
Attire: casual, dressy
120 S. Whitfield Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15206


November’s outing took me a bit outside of the city to a wonderful seafood restaurant called Off The Hook.  It’s located in Warrendale and if you’re familiar with Jergel’s Rhythm Grille at all, you’ve probably driven past this place and not even known it.  Don’t let it’s strip mall-esque location fool you:  Off The Hook is off the charts.

2015 was a crazy year for me, I have done things I never thought I’d do, traveled to places I’ve never been, and consumed foods that I once thought were repulsive.  Enter: oysters.  I got hooked on them one night when I went to dinner at Penn Avenue Fish Company and now I keep an eye out for them every time I go to a respectable seafood establishment.  I had heard of Off The Hook from friends and coworkers and when I found myself at Jergel’s for an event, I made it a point to stop at Off The Hook for a little raw bar action!

Sitting right at the raw bar was awesome, I loved watching the oyster chef (is that what they’re called? Just roll with it) work his magic as he seamlessly shucked order after order.  We ordered several different types of oysters and I learned a lot about how the origin of the oyster can affect it’s flavor and size.  I lost count after the first dozen, but you would too if you had these decadent mollusks complete with a vast array of sauces to top them with!  If I had to narrow it down to two, I’d highly recommend the hot sauce and OTH cocktail sauce… but the waitress was kind enough to let us try them all!

The oyster chef (still rolling with it) was extremely knowledgable and took the time to chat about each oyster as well as make a few recommendations for my second order.  Coming in late in the evening definitely worked to my advantage as most of the restaurant had emptied out and we had the undivided attention of our waitress and the oyster chef (yep, still going).

I finished off dinner with a cappuccino and the Triple Chocolate Latte dessert, which was a fun, rich combination of cake and cream.   My next mission is to go back here one night and try some entree items off of their menu. I love seafood and any restaurant that specializes in it is a friend of mine.  It’s a bit of a drive up 279 if you’r in the city like I am, but if you love fresh seafood and a raw bar as much as I do, it’s worth spending some FuelPerks to get to 😉

Total oyster feast for two (before tip): $90
Reservations (recommended): (724) 719-2877
Attire: smart/business casual
908 Warrendale Village Drive
Warrendale, Pennsylvania 15086