Pittsburgh. The shining blue collar city on the hill. A town that is as big as a city needs to be. Three major sports franchises. Loads of neighborhoods that teem with history, character and characters. And forget about an “accent”, Pittsburghese sometimes seems like its own language. In some ways I wasn’t surprised to find great Cheap Eats here. But I was impressed by how much the city has become a serious food town. Like much of the cities we cover in Season 2 of Cheap Eats, Pittsburgh is a city in transformation, and the food scene is a big part of it. As I look back on the Burgh, I think of an experience that slips in moments of sophistication during a humble feast for the soul. But ya know what? I’ll let the pics just tell you all about that.
That’s right people. Cheap Eats returns with all new episodes December 1st. Fasten your seat belts because this season I take on thirteen cities in search of the best meals for my buck. It’s a season of hidden gems as I roam to cities that often fall off the nation radar as we focused on small to mid sized cities; as big as blue collar Pittsburgh and as tucked away as Bozeman Montana. From a hydroponic tomato garden in Wyoming to farm to table carnitas in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this season of Cheap Eats is straight off the charts!
Try a free sample over at You Tube!
I’m really scratching my head on this one. As I struggle to tickle the keys on my beat to hell 2007 Macbook, I face the stark truth that I am about to give props to the one burger joint in Austin that seems like it came out of the Wachowski brothers’ Matrix trilogy: Hopdoddy Burger Bar. The customers don’t wear nearly the same amount of leather as Carrie Anne Moss, and I’m pretty sure open carry in Austin’s City Limits doesn’t include Matrix level hardware, but the almost too perfect polished feel of the place seems jarring enough for me to take the red pill. In this case, the “red pill” meant taking on three(actually 4) burgers to see how deep Bang for your Burger Buck can go here. And how deep does the rabbit hole go at Hopdoddy? Let’s just say by the end I was waxing poetic on these burgers with the Mad Hatter and Alice.
On paper, places like Hopdoddy are why I began the search for Bang for your Burger Buck. The $10 and up burger trend was shifting burger discourse away from beautifully imperfect burger stands to chef driven concepts dripping with start up cash from dudes in Teslas who just started saying the word “dude” again after a 5 year hiatus post college/grad school. With a full bar, boozy milkshakes and several well positioned monitors blasting ESPN, the temptation to stay awhile and get loose at Hopdoddy is great. $50 later you may find yourself asking how a burger and beer experience bordered on a light sushi dinner. Well, it’s not really a conspiracy on the part of joints like Hopdoddy. They figured out awhile back that people will spend money in all kinds of settings, whether they be quiet white table cloth lined dining rooms or a burger joint with kobe on the menu and kobe highlight reels on the TV. So why should you spend your hard earned buck here? Because in this instance, the crowds indeed gather for good reason: their burgers rock. Their burgers are also all over the map. In fact, it kind of irks me when a burger joint can’t pick one burger version and run with it. In Hopdoddy’s case, they have 12 burgers that showcase extreme topping creations versus that one single interpretation of what they believe a great burger truly is. After an initial dud, I honed in on three burgers that struck me as compelling on their own and fine to compare and contrast. Like shopping for a car or a Mac(hint hint), budget will drive your journey. So here are three great Hopdoddy burgers, in ascending order of Bang for your Burger Buck, that are indeed worthy of your hard earned buck. And I freaking enjoyed eating every one of ’em too.
Late Night Tacos.
It’s a beautiful sight to come across. A random carwash that has been closed for hours, taken over by a string of work lights, and a crowd of people happily staring at large piles of sizzling meats. You dream of your impending taco order while being mesmerized by a spatula that is oh so carefully herding those sizzling morsels, ensuring that each one has a perfectly crisped edge, a juicy interior, and is worthy of a salsa that could launch a thousand ships. Also, did I mention this meal is about as cheap as it get?
Unlike some of you fortunate souls, I didn’t grow up on Authentic Mexican food. I do like to think that I made up for my 18 years of Taco Bell and Naugles with my 20 years roaming the streets of LA after dark, in search of a master taquero. With that being said, I’m new to the Austin taco scene and there has been an adjustment period. Tacos are more expensive. And where is all that Al Pastor that seems to be omnipresent in LA? Oh, and where can I get my Late Night Taco fix? Which brings me to this piece of taco spotting I’m sharing today. Starting just north of Anderson Lane running through Rundberg Lane and beyond, lies a glorious stretch of Lamar Boulevard that looks plain jane in the daylight hours, but come night fall, I see the familiar markings of Late Night Taco spots. And there be Al Pastor out there too.
the burger:“The Classic” 1/2 lb Meyer Ranch Angus hormone/antibiotic free natural chuck, shredded Iceberg lettuce, off the vine tomatoes, sliced white onions, crinkle cut pickles, “white”(mayonnaise) and “red”(ketchup) on a standard issue hamburger bun
the bucks: $6.29
In the year 2016 . . .
For those of us old enough to marvel at hearing those words being said out loud, we know that our present is in many ways the very exciting future of our past imaginations. Just watch an episode of the original Star Trek, on your smartphone, and have a trippy existential kind of moment when Captain Kirk flips open his tricorder as you think to yourself “there’s an app for that ” . . . which brings me to the latest find for Bang for your Burger Buck: Mighty Fine Burgers, and a growing realization that burger chains are being reinvented in very very good ways in the 21st century. You best believe this is one burger that even Spock and Bones would agree is a solid deal.
the burger: Swine Burger, all pork patty with provolone, bacon, romaine lettuce, tomato, red onion, bacon aioli on a fresh baked spent grain bun w/ fries
the bucks: $9.75
“Pork burgers just don’t work”
That was me 10 years ago. The burger revolution was popping and it was giving me an excuse to order low brow at high end restaurants. Things have changed in the 10 years since I made that bold claim, in the world of burgers and in my attitudes toward food. These days I allow for more second chances on disappointing first encounters. In the case of Noble Sandwich Company, it would be a pork burger that would be given a second chance. Was it fate, my “older and wiser outlook” on food, or just finding the right joint to pull off a pork burger that lead me to this porcine themed Bang for your Burger Buck adventure? Logic would suggest the last reason but for now, I’m gonna run with fate on this one . . .