I like to travel, and might like to eat just as much. To me, the two go hand in hand. Each place I have traveled has a special food spot that flavorfully sears a mark on both my taste buds and memory. Personally I am a huge fan of local hole in the walls. Rarely will I ever eat at a chain restaurant, I just don’t see the point of it really (with the exception of Chick-fil-a, because that place is awesome). Why eat at a place that you can try anywhere when you can grub something fantastic in a unique environment that you might not ever get to try again? Thats the beauty of travel….and thats the beauty of food. I think that food is the one thing that breaks all cultural barriers that sometimes hold people back from learning about each other. A shared meal has been a bonding moment from the beginning of time. I also think that each meal tells a story. Ingredients have their own voices and through flavor, smell, and texture they speak to where they are from and the hands that prepared them.
Currently I’m on the back end of my travels around the country. Denver and San Diego were both amazing stops and delivered big time in the food department. As my adventures come to a close I have one last journey to take. One that brings me back to where it all started; a journey back home to Gods country. A road-trip extravaganza back to my home state of Texas. I’ve decided to cram all of this adventure into one amazing experience full of travel, food, and the stories of the awesome places and people that I meet along the way. This is what I love to do. Travel, eat, chat, laugh, live, learn, repeat.
This is my Food Odyssey.
Establishment: Smoke BBQ Tacos
Location: 225 E. 8th Ave Homestead, PA
Food Type: Smoked meat specialty tacos
Price Range: Moderate
Ok so hands down my favorite food spot in Pittsburgh at the moment is a place called Smoke BBQ tacos. I probably eat there about 2-3 times a week. Jeff and Nelda run Smoke, and both of them are fantastic people. I think what I love most about this place is how much it reminds me of a place that I would find in Texas. You might not know it but that is a huge compliment coming from me. When I rate food places I factor in three things.
One, is the quality of food. Needless to say that with an arsenal of smoked meats, topped off with an array of amazing homemade sauces, wrapped in homemade tortillas, Smoke absolutely kills in this department. These tacos are served wrapped in foil to keep them perfectly warm like a little baby being incubated ready to be devoured ….wait…..you’re not supposed to eat babies, but I’m willing to bet that if Smoke had a baby taco it would be pretty delicious. I’d have my baby taco with bacon and chorizo. All jokes aside the food is absolutely incredible. I would rank Smoke in my top 5 places that I have ever eaten.
Second comes service. The first time that I ever went to smoke I instantly noticed how polite and awesome all the people were that work there. Instantly it made me feel at home like I was back South. Upon discovering that one of the owners is from Texas it all made sense. Sometimes I just swing by when I’m in the area to hang out and chat with the employees, they really are awesome. One of my biggest pet peeves about a place is feeling rushed to eat and then shoved out the door. I completely understand how business works and that sometimes open tables equals more money, but never have I ever seen this happen there. It’s definitely a conversational meal meaning you go and plan to have a great time with a group of friends and laugh a whole lot.
Third is the atmosphere. The minute you walk into Smoke you realize that it is a well done place. From the exposed filament bulb ceiling lights, rustic but modern decor, exposed brick and wood floors, it is all done extremely well.
With all that being said if you’re ever in Homestead and want to grab a meal check them out. It will not disappoint.
The day before I left Pittsburgh to road trip back to Texas I decided to do a local food crawl with a group of friends. If you don’t know what a food crawl is don’t feel bad, I didn’t really know what it was either until I suggested that we do one. Pretty much it is a gluttonous activity where you link up with good people going from place to place exploring various menus until you are so full that you can’t walk….or you poop your pants, whatever comes first.
I’m sure the term has been coined already, but I have never used it nor have I ever partaken in one. Needless to say I introduced my friends to a few of my favorite local eateries, and was in turn put on to some new places that were fantastic. Below are a list of places that we hit on the first ever monday food crawl.
Establishment: Tooties Famous Italian Beef
Location: S 16th St Pittsburgh, PA
Food Type: Italian beef sandwiches
Price Range: Cheap
I first discovered Tooties while walking from a bar slightly inebriated with a friend in search of a late night meal. Like a seductress the smell of the marinating beef lured me into the tiny establishment where I met Carl the owner. Carl handed me a menu and upon looking down to see only two food items on the menu I simply smiled and thought, “yes…..this is how you do it.”
You see my friends, simplicity in food is a beautiful thing. Doing one thing extremely well is what it’s all about. I am a sucker for small menus and simple well done dishes. Tooties boasts slow cooked italian beef that simmers for 17 hrs served up on an italian bun with onions, green peppers, and mozzarella, then dipped into the meaty flavor packed broth that the meat cooks in. Also there is Italian hot sausage served the same way dipped or not, or you can get a mind blowing combination of both the italian beef and hot sausage. Carl is an awesome guy too, and turns out that all the recipes are his grandmothers. It’s awesome to see people passionate about what they do and Carl is just that. I have major respect for anyone that basically works 7 days a week and stays open until 3am to serve stragglers walking home.
After discovering Tooties I vowed to Carl I would be back and bring friends with me. The next day I showed up with a smile on my face, and hungry for more. So in the event that you are a late night straggler in the area or decide to eventually do your own food crawl be sure to remember this place. It’s awesome and definitely gets my seal of approval.
Establishment: Dish Osteria and Bar
Location: 128 South 17th Street Pittsburgh, PA
Food Type: Italiana/Sicilian/ Mediterranean
Price Range: Moderate-Pricey
Dish is definitely a fancier place to eat than any other of the previous places that I’ve listed. I was introduced to this Dish on the food crawl. Upon hearing rave reviews about it I finally was able to check it out for myself and it did not disappoint. Dish is a place where I would take my girlfriend if she existed in real life. My friends and I sat at the bar and conversed with the bartender while ordering appetizer upon appetizer of amazing food. These varied from grilled sardines, mozzarella topped eggplant, meatballs, mushroom topped bruschetta, and other amazing things. Actually if you want to look at the menu here it is. Also the cocktails are ridiculous. It is another place that is just done very well. The bartenders are fantastic and the atmosphere is top notch. I never ordered an entree being that when I eat at a new place like that I like to explore the appetizers the first time. If you have a significant other or group of friends that are into very well thought out dishes you should check out Dish. Everything is presented artistically which I can appreciate, but when it comes down to it the food is just stupid delicious.
Establishment: Michaels Pizza Bar
Location: 2612 Sarah St Pittsburgh, PA
Food Type: Pizza/ Italian
Price Range: Cheap- moderate
We concluded our food crawl at Michaels Pizza Bar. I’ve been a fan of this place since I’ve been in Pittsburgh. Honestly this is just a great dive spot. It’s really low key so it’s never insane with drunken Ed Hardy Affliction tap-out shirt wearing south-side yinzers. Those of you that have spent any time at all on the south-side know what I’m talking about. There isn’t much to say about this place besides its one of my favorite spots. The pizza is good, the wings are good, everything else is good, and the service and atmosphere are awesome. This is a great local place that really has a Pittsburgh feel to it where you could go watch a game with a group of friends or just hang out and eat. Upon doing a secret blog review over a year ago word trickled down to the owner of Michaels……Michael, that I was a fan of the place. After getting to know Michael I offered to bring a game photo for him to hang up, now I am proudly etched in history on the wall of Michaels! Nothing better than becoming a small part of a places history joining all the other framed photos on the walls. Love this place.
After we finished the food crawl I packed up the rest of my things and got ready to leave for Texas the following day. The food crawl was a great kickoff to an amazing upcoming Food Odyssey of travel, adventure and meeting new people. One of my best friends flew to Pittsburgh with me to road-trip back down. The following morning at 6:00 am we departed from Pittsburgh to one of the cities that I have been itching to explore, Charleston South Carolina. We arrived in Charleston around 4:30 pm making good time on the road. The first stop on the Food Odyssey back to Texas was an epic one.
Establishment: Bowen’s Island Restaurant
Location: 1870 Bowen’s Island Rd Charleston, SC
Food Type: Oysters/Fried Seafood
Price Range: Cheap- moderate
As you have might now know, I am a fan of the off the beaten path type eateries. After researching places to eat in Charleston and marking off pricey/fancy suit and tie, napkin in the lap restaurants, my friend Michael and I decided to eat at Bowen’s Island Restaurant. After reading the reviews on urban spoon I quickly decided that they were all written by unadventurous hipsters, because typically thats who uses urban spoon anyway so I ignored them. Hipsters are always bashing good things but will write a ten page essay on a freaking cappuccino in a tiny cup. With that being said….I like fried food, and liked this place. I don’t indulge in fried things very often being that its really kind of cut out of my diet. But I’ve made exceptions being that this is vacation time for me and I haven’t started training just yet.
I don’t think that Bowen’s is a restaurant for everyone. Especially if you’re the unadventurous hipster type that bashes places on urban spoon.
It’s located in an area that resembles the swamp area where Dexter killed agent Doakes in season 2, and it looks like its about to sink right into the ground. But that is one reason I love it. It is tattooed in past visitors handwriting over the years, written in anything that could be found. The menu is simple. I love simple. I love fried. I love the South. Fried oysters, fish, shrimp, hush puppies, crab cakes, french fries, and slaw highlight the menu, along with steamed trays of freshly harvested oysters that require shucking.
I really doubt hipsters are down to shuck oysters anyway, especially since their fingers are so tired from writing bashing reviews on urban spoon to make themselves feel like food enthusiasts. I do however appreciate the simplicity of shucking and slurping down fresh oysters. I also appreciate and love a place that doesn’t try to be what its not. Bowen’s is a place full of stories and culture. They don’t try and fake fancy. They throw you a gigantic platter of fried gold, a tray of oysters, a beer, and let you go to work.
The atmosphere is amazing. Sometimes it’s the simple elements of a meal that make it memorable. Like the battle with clusters of oysters, or clapping along with everyone for a 93 year old woman as she blew out her birthday candles, and then proceeded to shuck oysters with her wrinkled hands that are tired from a lifetime of hard work…..and not from writing bad reviews about an awesome spot on urban spoon. If you are ever down this way and want the full experience, come here. Stamped, sealed, and certified by me.
I’m excited about the rest of this Food Odyssey. I will spend another day here in Charleston then proceed on to parts largely undecided on my way back to Texas over the course of 4 days. Stay tuned.
Oh and I think this sign I saw in Bowen’s sums up food pretty well. It’s actually a great philosophy to have in life.