Fogo de Chao Answers the Question Where’s The Beef 

By Dave Zuchowski, ‘Burgh Vivant

The things you learn on an evening out! I always thought that gauchos were found in the pampas of Argentina, which they are. But the gaucho culture spills over national boundaries into Uruguay, Chile and Southern Brazil, especially in the state of Rio Grande do Sol.

South American cowboys, gauchos are famous for barbecue, like their American cousins. They like to build fires in trenches, then place large chunks of meat on skewers, position them on poles and slowly rotate them for an amazing result.

A bit of Southern Brazilian gaucho has arrived in Downtown Pittsburgh this week with the opening of a Brazilian churrasqueira in the building that once housed Sax Fifth Avenue. Named Fogo de Chao (Portuguese for fire on the ground) the stylish restaurant is one of 53 locations worldwide including 12 in Brazil and two in the Middle East (Dubai and Saudi Arabia).

Abuzz with activity the evening of my dining experience, the restaurant is spacious with the bar to the right of the entrance followed by a wall of wines behind glass panels. Further back, the open kitchen sports three vertical rotisserie grills, each  capable of fire roasting 36 rotating skewers of meat.

Interior of Fogo de Chao. photo: Bill Rockwell

In the middle of the room, the Marketplace, really a huge salad bar with (would you believe it?) over 60 different items and a make-it-yourself feijoada bar where you can build your own version of Brazil’s national dish. Grab a cup, spoon in some rice, ladle onto some black bean/ beef/sausage soup and finish it with a dusting of yucca flour (farofa) and hot sauce made with the malagueta chile.

Under the watchful eye of Paixao Cortes peering down from a 15-foot plaque in the center of the room replicating the statue in Porto Alegre, Brazil, of the man prominent in gaucho culture, I filled my salad plate with tidbits like smoked salmon, hearts of palm, slices of cheeses from around the world, charcuterie, lentil and quinoa salad, and quinoa tabouli – everything labeled for easy identification.

Fresh and Nutritious- Something for Vegetarians and Carnivores Alike – photo: Bill Rockwell

Once the salad course was over the real nitty-gritty begins. Simply by turning over the coaster given every diner at Fogo from the red side to green, you summon the parade of waiters who come by singly dressed in white shirts with red kerchiefs and gaucho pants that balloon from the knee up. They arrive with a long skewer of meat placed on a silver boat to catch the drippings and cut off slices you’re supposed to grab onto with a pair of silver tongs.

What makes the experience extraordinary is that you’ll be able to sample to your hearts content 17 different meats. These include three lambs (ribs, steak and leg of), several chicken, drumsticks marinated for 24 hours in brandy and beer, linguica sausage, pork ribs and Parmesan coated loin and more than a half dozen different cuts and styles of beef.

A Friendly Server/Gaucho with a Skewer of Marinated Chicken Drumsticks. photo: Bill Rockwell

To accompany the carnivorous feast, servers put down a plate of cheesy bread puffs, some caramelized plantain, polenta logs and creamy mashed potatoes. With all the red meat to consider, I opted for a glass of Fogo de Chao Malbec, a label made specially for the restaurant. Interestingly enough, there are several selections of Brazilian wines from the Serra Gauche region sold only by the bottle.

General manager, Nick Croge, says the parade of skewered meat is a show within a show or what he also calls “organized chaos.” Actually, I was quite amazed at how smoothly and synchronized everything went on preview night, three days before the official opening on April 23.

You might want to start or end your meal with a caipirinha, Brazil’s answer to the mojito, made with cachaca (a potent sugar-based whiskey), sugar cane and lime wedges. There’s also a Brazilian Gentleman, made with Knob Creek rye, passion fruit puree, gum syrup, Ramos Tawny Port, Amazon Chancho bitters and honey elixir.

And yes, there are desserts, nine of them in fact, but my tip is to try the Tres Leches Cake.

Croge said about 90% of the beef is Angus from Texas with the remaining 10% Angus from Wisconsin. The lamb hails from New Zealand. The salad bar is also said to be 90% gluten free (so watch out for the Italian bread) and the entire menu is 90% gluten free as well.

For pescatarians, there are several fish and seafood options (the seafood tower sounds wonderful and is served with mango malagueta relish). Vegetarians can comfortably and adventurously graze through the copious salad bar and even order special grilled vegetables.

Fogo de Chao, located on the corner of Smithfield and Oliver in Downtown Pittsburgh, is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Brunch on weekends.. Phone 412-312-5001 or visit website.


Casbah Celebrates Arrival of 2017 Beaujolais Nouveau with a Four-Course Dinner

 by Dave Zuchowski, ‘Burgh Vivant.

Each year, on the third Thursday of November, wine lovers around the world celebrate the release of  a very young red wine whose grapes were harvested only weeks beforehand.

These Beaujolais (bow-zjoh-lay) Nouveau wines from the region just north of Lyon, France fly in face of the accepted notion that red wines are meant to age before they’re consumed  Drinking these youngsters has become a tradition that celebrates the grape harvest and gives wine enthusiasts a glimpse of the quality of the grapes and the flavor profile of the recent harvest in the Beaujolais region.

Casbah interior. Photo: Bill Rockwell.

Fresh and fruity, B.N., as I call it, owes its early drinkability to a winemaking style known as carbonic maceration, an anaerobic fermentation that puts the focus on fruit flavors that come through without the tannins usually associated with red wines.

Made from grapes harvested in the area of Beaujolais not reserved for the more prestigious Cru Beaujolais, which command a higher price and more respect by the wine buying public,  B.N. has nevertheless become a popular seasonal wine eagerly awaited by a market that has become increasingly worldwide. 

Party-givers, restaurants, wine bars, bistros, cafes and wine retailers build festive events and dinners around Beaujolais Day. One estimate pegs consumption on the third Thursday of November at 65 million bottles across the globe.

In Pittsburgh, Casbah in the Shadyside neighborhood has been staging Beaujolais Nouveau dinners for the past ten years, perhaps longer. A one day only affair, the event spotlights a special menu of multiple courses designed to include B.N. wines in each of the dishes and feature foods that compliment the rich fruitiness of the wine.

Bill Fuller, executive chef for the Big Burrito Restaurant Group of which Casbah is a member, said that, of all the restaurants under its umbrella, Casbah best fits the bill for a B.N. dinner because it features wine and food of the Mediterranean.

This year, Casbah’s wine director, Seth Eidemiller ordered ten cases of the B.N., most of which were served as part of the dinner. The remainder of the inventory will be available for purchase at the restaurant for those who missed the dinner at a cost of $10 a glass or $40 a bottle – until the supply runs out.

Even before the four course dinner arrived at my table, I discovered that the labne, a Greek yogurt that is hung in a cheesecloth to remove excess moisture then mixed with black pepper and cream and meant to be spread on bread, paired well with the Beaujolais Nouveau which bore the Georges DuBoeuf label 

The DuBoeuf had assertive fruity notes of strawberry, raspberry, fig and orange peel and came in with 13 percent alcohol, somewhat higher than the 2016 vintage, pegged  at 12%. Interestingly, and perhaps by design, each of the four courses included a fruit component. The Seared Sea Scallop appetizer, for instance, was accompanied by poached pear along with a parsnip root puree, brioche crisps and a parsley salad.

Seared Sea Scallop with poached pear, parsnip root puree, brioche crisps and a parsley salad. Photo: Bill Rockwell.

The Duck Breast and Duck Confit Ravioli was enhanced by fresh fig along with young mustard greens, frisee and duck jus.

The Braised Short Rib was embellished by an apple salad, creamed chard and roasted carrot and celery root. The dessert course, a Pomegranate Tart, was sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, candied almonds and brown sugar crumbles and finished with a B.N. wine reduction.

Duck Breast and Duck Confit Ravioli. Photo: Bill Rockwell.
Braised Short Ribs. Photo: Bill Rockwell.
Pomegranate Tart. Photo: Bill Rockwell.

According to Eidemiller about 100 or roughly half of the evening’s 200 dinner reservations were for the B.N. dinner. The other half got to choose of the restaurant’s regular menu but could order glasses of the B.N. if they chose. Casbah’s carte des vins also lists five Cru Beaujolais which are available only by the bottle.

Ironically, Cru wine labels don’t even mention the word Beaujolais but instead are identified by the village near which the wine grapes are grown.

“Some wine drinkers disregard B.N., but I believe it is to be enjoyed for exactly what it is – a celebration of the harvest and the season and of life,” Fuller said.

If you want to serve some B.N. at home, keep in mind that’s it’s best poured at around 55-degree F. and makes a suitable match for Thanksgiving turkey. Chef Fuller also likes it paired with “rich seafood dishes” like scallops and salmon and “warm and comforting dishes” like bucatini carbonara and braised short ribs.

Overall, the opinion on Beaujolais Nouveau remains divided. Some critics call it too immature and uninteresting. Others like its freshness, exuberance, and pleasant and easy drinkability. 

If you’d like to give it a try of your own, the 2017 B.N. is available at select stores in the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board System. And, of course, if you want to enjoy next year’s Beaujolais Nouveau Day at Casbah, be sure to circle the third Thursday of November as a reminder when you get your 2018 calendars.

Casbah, exterior. Photo: Bill Rockwell.

Cheers on the Water! – An Alpine Tasting on the Empress

by Dave Zuchowski, ‘Burgh Vivant.

When I noticed the Gateway Clipper was hosting an Alpine wine tasting as part of its monthly series of wine dinner cruises, it brought back memories of my youth, a time when I was exploring Europe and first encountered Fechy and Fendant, two Swiss wines whose names I remember to this day.

What could be more Alpine than Switzerland ? Maybe, thought I, the wine selections on the dinner cruise aboard the Empress would include one or both of the white wines I hadn’t had since my early 20s. Alas, the three selections featured at the dinner, while luscious, were from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy and foothills of the Alps in Austria  Sans Fendant and Fechy, I decided to take the cruise anyway.

Boarding The Empress. Photo by Bill Rockwell.

The warm weather the Pittsburgh area was enjoying the evening of September 13 promised a chance to go up to the top deck after the tasting and take in the view of city’s sparkling downtown from its three river vantage points. Eager to get underway, my dining companion and I boarded the boat, and the first thing we saw was tray of glasses filled with Fred Loimer Gruner Veltliner LOIS from Austria.

Cory Hart, a wine consultant for the Winebow Group, selected the white wine as the accompaniment to the appetizer course set up on a buffet table in the center of the room. As the other patrons came on board, cruise directors Katie and Shayna gave them their table assignments and a glass of the white Austrian wine.

Wine consultant, Cory Hart. Photo by Bill Rockwell.

Between the time everyone made their way past the appetizer buffet and before the entrees arrived as the main part of the sit down dinner, Hart explained that the Alpine region had the advantage of a diurnal temperature flux the grapes favored that featured warm to hot days and cool nights. Off mountain breezes also helped control some of the fungal diseases that might have affected the vines and grape harvest.

He also explained the characteristics of the varietals sampled at the dinner, gave food pairing suggestions and walked from table to table to take questions.

On board, the dinner atmosphere was informal, the ambient music upbeat and accessible and the mood fairly festive. I noticed that a couple of tables sported birthday balloons, including one occupied by Caitlin and Mary Berardinelli of Jeanette, ages 22 and 52 respectively. Both women, daughter and mother, were celebrating their birthdays, only one day apart, on the 12th and 13th, and brought along their cousin, John Seber, also from Jeanette, as their designated driver.

Dinner setting. Photo by Bill Rockwell.

As a match for the entrees, a choice of either chicken and beef, Hart chose a versatile yet somewhat obscure Castello di Neive Grignolino from the Piedmont of Italy, home to better known varietals like Barbaresco, Barbera and Barolo.

“The winery produces only 4,000 bottles annually,” Hart said “As to the name Grignolino means many pips, which would give the wine too much tannin –  if they didn’t do it in a rose-style with limited maceration.”

Just before the diners filed up to the dessert and cookie buffet, our waitress poured my favorite of the evening, a Maculan Brentino from the Veneto, a region known for powerhouse reds like Amarone and Valpolicella.

A 50-50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the Brentino’s full-bodied, rich flavors with green pepper notes went especially well with the soft and dense chocolate brownies, poised like dark, calorie-laden temptresses on the dessert table.

Chicken Entrée. Photo by Bill Rockwell.

After dinner, many of the diners took advantage of the clement weather and headed up to the top deck where the sparkle of the city lights and the buzz from the wines combined for a magical experience.

Pittsburgh at twilight. Photo by Bill Rockwell.

FYI: All of the wines feature at the Alpine tasting dinner are available through the Pennsylvania state store system.

Tasting notes for the Gruner Veltliner LOIS  Pale yellow color, this wine is purely aromatic and lively! Lovely aromas of fresh apples and citrus, this wine surprises on the palate with great spice components as well as exotic fruit and a refreshing acidity.

Food Pairing: To be enjoyed either on its own, as an apéritif or with light dishes, crisp salads, vegetable dishes, seafood, Wiener Schnitzel, light fried foods such as tempura, Asian flavors. Also great with Thai.

Tasting Notes for the Castello di Neive Grignolino: Light ruby in color, aromas of red fruits and roses complement undertones of Bing cherries, strawberries, and hints of spice box.  On the palate, crisp acidity and smooth tannins make for a food friendly wine. 

Food Pairing: Pair this wine with fried seafood appetizers, Bagna Cauda, creamy veal-based dishes, and Italian cold cuts.

Tasting Notes for the Maculan Brentino: Deep ruby-red with garnet hues, the Brentino offers seductive aromas of blackberries and dark cherries, along with hints of cedar and forest due to the year spent aging in French barriques.  On the palate, the wine is dry, full-bodied, and harmoniously balanced with firm tannic structure and a persistent finish.

Food Pairing: Recommended with roasted and grilled meat dishes like pancetta-wrapped beef tenderloin or with a hearty dish like spicy sausage ragù served over creamy polenta.

If you’d like to try some wines from Switzerland, consultant Andrew Ochs at the Village Square Premium Collection Store in Bethel Park found nine Swiss selections in the PLCB portfolio, including the following three reds currently stocked at the Bethel Park location.:

Cave Caloz Cornalin Switzerland 2009 (Pinot Noir) Pa code: 45857, Price: $22.84 Qty: 10 (clearance was: $37.99)

Cave des Tilleuls Pinot Noir Switzerland de Vetroz 2008 Pa code: 45858, Price: $22.84 Qty: 9 (Clearence was: $37.99)

Robert Gilliard S A Dole des Monts Pinot Noir Switzerland 2009 (blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay) Pa code: 45142, Price: $28.99 Qty: 5.

For descriptions of these wines, phone Ochs at 412-851-0403.

Staff at the Oxford Center location in Downtown Pittsburgh can also help securing Swiss wines through the PLCB system. Phone 412-565-7689.

Upcoming wine dinner cruises aboard the Gateway Clipper Fleet include one themed to the wines of Southeast Europe on October 18. The menu is as follows:

Appetizer Menu

Iberian Ham Croquettes with Smoke Paprika Aioli

Steam Black Mussels with Vinho Verde, Garlic and Cilantro

Domestic Cheese Assortment, Bread, Crackers and Grapes

Bouquet of Raw Vegetables, Herb Buttermilk Dressing

Entree Choices 

Grilled Bavette Steak Assado

Sofrito Rice, Rapini and Mojo Rojo


Chorizo and Manchego Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast

Smashed Patatas Bravas, Spinach and Chick Peas with a Mushroom Ajillo Sauce

Dessert Menu

Fudge Brownies

Lemon Squares

Assorted Cookies

Seasonal Fresh Fruit Arrangement

A November tasting (date yet not announced) will compare Old and New World sparklers, reds, whites and roses. The plan is to have patrons move from station to station and sample and compare each of the Old and New World wines.

Cruise Details

Dining on the water features white glove plated dinner service with expertly paired wines for each course.

Learn about each of the wines served from a wine expert from the Winebow Group.

Sit back, relax, enjoy your wine and savor the beauty of the city as the cruise plies the waters of Pittsburgh’s three rivers.

The boat’s full service bars feature various brands of liquor, beer, wine and soda and are located on both decks of vessel.

Management want diners to have the time of their life from the moment they step onboard. The crew is happy to answer any questions about the Cruise on the Three Rivers!  You can also refer to the onboard itinerary you will receive when you board the vessel!

All passengers aboard the boat MUST be 21 years of age.

Boarding time is 5:30 p.m. Sailing time is 6:30 to 9 p.m.. Tickets are $55.00

For reservations and more information, phone 412-355-7980 or visit

Molto Bene – Smallman Galley Goes All-Italian at Wine Tasting

by Dave Zuchowski, ‘Burgh Vivant.

Prosecco from the Veneto, Pecorino cheese from Calabria, and Amedei Chocolate from Tuscany.  Mama Mia! You can’t get much more Italian than that!

Smallman Galley co-owner, Ben Mantica, likes to change the focus of the wines featured in his monthly wine tasting. Italy got the spotlight in his latest tasting on Tuesday, August 29. This month, the wines of New York’s Finger Lakes District and Long Island ( yes, they’re making some great wines on Long Island) will be the headline offerings during the September 12 tasting.

Looking in on Wine Tasting Group at Smallman Galley. Photo: Bill Rockwell.

For the Italian tasting, Michel Mincin, owner and wine monger of the Allora Wine Group, brought along five Italian wines from boutique winery producers he discovered on visits to Italy. To compliment the wines, four Italian cheeses purchased from Pennsylvania Macaroni in the Strip District and three sweets from Mon Aimee Chocolat in the Strip completed the menu.

“Each patron gets 2.5 to 3 ounces of each wine,” Mincin said as he poured the first offering, a bubbly, pleasantly sweet Prosecco with citrus-y notes from the Veneto. I mentioned to the wine distributor that the bubbles seemed to last long in the glass, and he admitted that he tried the same bottle of Prosecco over a five day period to test its bubble longevity. Obviously it passed the test.

Amy Rosenfield of Mon Aimee Chocolat Preparing Sweets Plates. Photo: Bill Rockwell.

During the tasting close to 40, mostly young, wine enthusiasts sat around tables in the restaurant’s main dining room, a narrow room with brick walls painted white and a high ceiling. The tasters seemed to have a broad range of wine experience.

Lauren Fehl of Mt. Lebanon and Lauren Benny of Avonworth learned about the event on Facebook, and the tasting at the Smallman Galley was a first for both wine lovers. “I’d been to the Galley several times for lunch, but never for a tasting,” said Fell, who’d previously visited wineries in Italy and the Napa Valley.

Before the Crowd Arrives. Photo: Bill Rockwell.

In addition to a place mat that identified each of the five featured wines, each taster got two plates – one for the cheeses, one for the chocolates. The food pairings were a collaboration between Mincin, bar manager, Tim Garso and Amy Rosenfield of Mon Aimee Chocolat. The latter has an astounding inventory of chocolates from as many as 50 different countries around the globe.

Taylor Horkut of Baldwin and his partner for the evening, Keely Tague of Greenfield, admitted they were wine novices who also discovered the event on Facebook.

“When we saw that an Orange Blossom Moscato was one of the wines on the list, we were hooked and decided to come,” Tague said.

Eiana Shank of McCandless discovered the tasting on “While wine is my beverage of choice, the only other tasting I did was at the Rivers Casino as well as several whiskey tastings at the Wigle Distillery,” Shank said.

Events Manager Heather Granader. Photo: Bill Rockwell.

Besides being an importer and distributor, Mincin also offers wine list consultation, corporate tastings and wine education events. After each pouring at the tasting, he explained the characteristics of the wine, the grape varietal, its place of origin, made food pairing suggestions and took questions from the tasters. Rosenfield did the same for the treats on the sweet plate.

Since the Smallman Galley opened 20 months ago, it has organized a series of between 12 to 15 public events each year. Considered a chef incubation restaurant, the Smallman Galley offers diners a unique experience with four fully outfitted kitchens. They’re manned  by undiscovered chefs who use the restaurant as a forum to showcase their talents, hone their craft, develop business acumen and build a cult following behind their culinary concepts.

Before the tasting begins. Photo: Bill Rockwell.

Smallman Galley provides the infrastructure for the chefs over an 18 month period to bring their concepts to market at low risk and at low cost. Every 18 months, the Galley brings in four new chefs and the process begins all over again in the Galley’s four restaurants. Iron Born features hand-forged pizzas, Colonia is a culinary tribute to the countries of Latin America, Banhmiicious offers modern Vietnamese dishes and Brunoise features progressive American cuisine. Patrons can order from one or all of the four restaurants.

For Eva Tumiel Kozak of Point Breeze, the wine tasting was her first visit to the Smallman Galley. “I thought the tasting had a nice selection of wines and was well paired with high quality cheeses,” she said. “My only suggestion is that they use a microphone at future tasting because I was unable to hear some of the comments about the wines, cheeses and chocolates.”

Smallman Galley Co-Owner, Ben Mantica. Photo: Bill Rockwell.

To learn about upcoming wine tastings, go to the Smallman Galley Facebook page.

The Featured Italian Wines and Food Pairings:

1) Prosecco Revino DOC NV – Sparkling

2) Passenina Tenuta Spinelli “Eden” 2016 – White Cru di Capra Aged Goat Cheese (Piedmont)

3) Refosco Rodaro “Flower”  2014 – Red Piave 6 month aged cow’s milk cheese (Veneto) Sabadi Nella chocolate 60% with cinnamon flavors (Modica, Sicily) 

 4) Cabernet Sauvignon Conte Emo Capodilista Pecorino Calabreso Reserve, aged 12 months sheep’s milk (Calabria) Amadei Toscano Red Chocolate 70% with raspberries, strawberries and cherries. Amadei was once named the world’s best chocolate according to Rosenfield (Pisa, Tuscany)

5) Orange Blossom Moscato Conte Emo Capodolista ‘Fior d’Arancio’ – dessert

Gorgonzola Piccante (Lombardy) Scaldaferro Pistachio Almond with Citrus Terrone (Dolo – near Venice)

Michael Mincin, Owner, Allora Wine Group. Photo: Bill Rockwell.

Native Son and Ardent Foodie to Stage His First Pop-Up Dinner in Pittsburgh

by Dave Zuchowski, ‘Burgh Vivant.

Foodies get ready. A unique culinary experience is coming to town, the brainchild of a native son and food hobbiest who’s turning his culinary avocation into an intriguing  second career.

Born and raised in West Mifflin, Micheal Sparks went on to distinguish himself as an eyewear designer, first in Pittsburgh at Lugene Optical in Oxford Center where his clients included the city’s elite entertainers and Pirate and Steeler sports stars.

A momentous moment in Sparks’career developed when he designed eyewear for Pittsburgh jazz legend, Walt Harper and a friend who turned out to be none other than legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gilespie. When the president of Lugene Optical heard of his work for the two jazz greats, he recommended Sparks to the New York office.

Micheal Sparks. Photo courtesy of The Underground Kitchen.

Eventually, Sparks went on to found his own business, Artistic Eye, which specialized in luxury lifestyle products designed for celebrities such as Barbara Streisand, Brad Pitt, Janet Jackson, Robert Redford and Oprah Winfrey.

Currently living in Richmond, Virginia, where he’s founder and president of Micheal Sparks Design, a luxury branding and design enterprise, Sparks has another interest, one that has grown into a venture that offers a unique culinary experience.

In his residencies in far flung places like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sydney, New Zealand, Osaka, London and Madrid, he always explored the cuisine of his host country, both as an ardent foodie and as someone interested in expanding his own personal cooking prowess.

After moving to Richmond, Sparks and his partner began to host over-the-top dinner parties as a way of breaking the ice with his neighbors. Soon, notable regional chefs began preparing the “neighborly meals” which were also held at unique venues. As time went by, the concept of  creative dinners held in unusual places with an aura of mystery blossomed into the Underground Kitchen, a highly choreographed and thematic experience that melds exquisite food, wine, ambiance and entertainment.

To date, the Underground Kitchen has staged elaborate five and six course meals prepared by celebrated chefs with wine pairings in 28 cities up and down the Mid-Atlantic states. On August 2, Sparks will stage his first Underground Kitchen Dinner at an as yet-to-be-announced location in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Photo courtesy of The Underground Kitchen.

“My family encouraged me to come back home to stage a Ugk dinner, but, as a proud native son,  I first wanted to make sure I would have every kink worked out to make the dinner as perfect as possible,” Sparks said. “My assistants scoured the city looking for unique venues and came up with six possibilities. I feel the one we selected is just perfect.”

Normally, UGK doesn’t reveal the chef, the location or the menu until a few days before the event, which is part of UGK’s allure of mystery. But for the Pittsburgh dinner, Sparks is revealing ahead of time the date (August 2), the theme (Air Land + Sea), which is woven into the menu and decor, and the chef, J. (Jacoby) Ponder, whose career highlights include two star-making appearances on the Food Network.

Photo courtesy of The Underground Kitchen.

Tickets for the pop-up dinner are $200, which includes 5 or 6 courses plus paired wines and all gratuities. Vegetarian, pescatarian and vegan dinners can be arranged for those requesting them. To make a reservation, visit the Underground Kitchen website HERE.  The exact menu and location will be kept secret until a few days before the event.

“The dinner will give participants an opportunity to meet fellow foodies as well as the chef in a face to face experience after the meal,” Sparks said. “Chef Ponder may even reveal a recipe on request.”

The multicourse bill of fare is intended to focus on unique and exploratory dishes that provide learning experiences for everyone. Sparks expects chefs to challenge and push themselves to new areas of culinary creativity and also likes to point out that UGK dinners are not for picky eaters but for people with adventurous palates.

In a phone interview from his base in Richmond, chef Ponder said he wants to include a lot of whimsical items in his UGK menu that Pittsburghers have probably never before seen. He also said he plans to go shopping for the food the day before the dinner and expects that everything will be locally sourced. Although some initial prep will take place the day before the event, the food will be cooked on site the day of the dinner.

“The way I intend to present the food should be astounding,” he said.

Spark’s attention to detail extends beyond the menu to include thematic elements in the decor and atmosphere of the venue. He said he brings all the accouterments with him and is so concerned with detail that he recently commissioned a glassblower to fabricate his glasswear and a potter to create his tablewear.

UGK also recently started planning corporate events that Sparks said are just as spectacular as his dinners if not more so. One recent UGK Enviro dining corporate function, for instance, simulated a gondola ride through Venice during the pasta course and a ride through the South of France during the creme brulee dessert.

“In the future, I hope to bring UGK dinners back to Pittsburgh and am looking for local non-profits that deal with food to work with in subsequent events,” Sparks said.


TOM KOLOS – Personal Trainer, X Shadyside

We’re well into the new year but how are our resolutions faring? Namely, those of a fitness nature. Personal Trainer Tom Kolos of X Shadyside provides some insight on how to stay committed… despite temptation, and lends his fitness expertise to stationary talk show hosts and anyone else who may spend the better part of their day in a seated position. All this and a shout out to Prantl’s Bakery! Visit X Shadyside for all of your fitness needs – – and watch/listen to the complete interview at ’Burgh Vivant comes to you weekly from Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation in beautiful Downtown Pittsburgh.   Continue reading “TOM KOLOS – Personal Trainer, X Shadyside”

TOM KOLOS - Personal Trainer, X Shadyside

Experts Teach Pittsburghers How to Cook Healthy Family Meals at Phipps


Pittsburgh, Pa. — Continuing its efforts to improve the health of families all over Allegheny County, Let’s Move Pittsburgh will host the next installment of its free 5-2-1-0 Speaker Series on Thurs., Jan. 12 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. The event, titled “5-2-1-0 in Your Kitchen,” will feature a panel of experts who will discuss the benefits of boosting your fruit and veggie intake with healthy, kid-friendly meals. The event is free to attend, but R.S.V.P. is required as space is limited. Visit to R.S.V.P.

Educators, healthcare professionals, parents, caregivers and anyone passionate for children’s wellbeing are encouraged to attend. The series is part of the 5-2-1-0 movement promoting four key messages about daily health: 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 hours or less of recreational screen time, 1 hour or more of physical activity, and 0 sugary drinks and more water.

The panel discussion will be led by registered dietician Judy Dodd and Café Phipps Executive Chef and Dining Services General Manager Amy Reed. Dodd specializes in community based nutrition and food education and has been teaching at Penn State and University of Pittsburgh for over 40 years. Most recently, she served as Giant Eagle’s food and nutrition advisor. Amy Reed has medaled in culinary competitions, served on culinary advisory boards for Hocking College and The Pittsburgh Culinary Institute, and is dedicated to finding creative ways to make healthy food. The moderator for the evening will be Samantha Montgomery, R.D., and attendees are encouraged to ask the experts questions to generate an enlightening discussion.

Preceding the panel discussion, there will be 30 minutes of networking for participants to enjoy healthy refreshments and review posters presented by Let’s Move Pittsburgh Champion Schools. These schools are celebrating the success of their own original, healthy initiatives, started with the help of Champion School grants.

Let’s Move Pittsburgh launched this series in celebration of its five year anniversary, and aims to generate new partnerships, collective action and continued efforts to make Allegheny County the healthiest place for children to live, learn and grow with 5-2-1-0. The program is generously supported by UPMC Health Plan, the Hillman Foundation and the Heinz Endowments.

About Let’s Move Pittsburgh: Let’s Move Pittsburgh, an initiative of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens supported by UPMC Health Plan, is a collaborative effort of organizations, healthcare providers, educators, parents and caregivers in southwestern Pennsylvania committed to leading children toward a healthier future. The program is inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to curb childhood obesity through raised awareness about the benefits of healthy foods, decreased screen time and increased physical activity.

About Phipps: Founded in 1893, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, Pa. is a green leader among public gardens with a mission to inspire and educate all with the beauty and importance of plants; to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being through action and research; and to celebrate its historic glasshouse. Learn more:

Sip into Summer on June 5th at the Spoonwood Brewery


The Denis Theatre is excited to announce the “Sip Into Summer” event on Sunday, June 5th at Spoonwood Brewery in Bethel Park. This fun evening of craft beer, food, and live music will benefit the Denis’ current community programming and its goal of bringing a community-driven independent movie theatre and art space to the South Hills. Over 120 Pittsburgh-area art lovers are expected to attend this exciting event.

Sip Into Summer will supports two unique Denis film programs: Meet Me at the Movies  -an innovative film program for seniors with dementia, which served over 200 people in the past year; and Reel to Real -a community forum for thoughtful discussion of classic, foreign, and independent films.


Tickets for this evening of delicious food, terrific craft brews, silent auction, and live music by Root 19 are $50/person and may be purchased online at; mailing a check with a note “Spoonwood June 5 Event” to 685 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228; or by calling 412.668.0737. Tickets include stone-fired pizza, wings, salad and one drink ticket. Space is limited, so reserve your ticket now for this great evening.

TIM RUSSELL – Distiller, Maggie’s Farm Rum

America’s most awarded rum distillery is right here in Pittsburgh, and this week, ‘Burgh Vivant swaps its signature martinis for a “Dark and Stormy” to sample the fine spirits of Maggie’s Farm Rum! Distiller Tim Russell talks about the rum making process and his experiences at the helm of Pennsylvania’s first commercial craft rum distillery since before the days of Prohibition! Whether you personally recall those days or not, you’re sure to learn more than a glassful from tonight’s interview. Listen to “The Full Martini” – the complete, unedited interview in audio podcast for drink recommendations, Tim’s life before the rum biz, references to Hunter S. Thompson, Brad Pitt, and more! Visit Maggie’s Farm rum at    Continue reading “TIM RUSSELL – Distiller, Maggie’s Farm Rum”

TIM RUSSELL - Distiller, Maggie's Farm Rum

The “Buzz” from Buzzelli: Pittsburgh’s Top To-Do’s THIS WEEKEND (7/8 – 7/11)

by Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant


Here are the Top Five Things to do in Pittsburgh the weekend of July 8 to July 11


Hit the Silk!

You can walk down the red carpet at a movie premiere this weekend at Silk Screen’s Asian Arts and Cultural Organization’s Red Carpet Gala. Celebrate their tenth anniversary of Asian American film, dance, art and music. The Red Carpet Gala is July 9 at 6:00 at the A.J. Palumbo Hall of Science and Technology, Carlow University, 3333 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information, go here. For details on the rest of the fest, go here.


Crawl to Daddy

The monthly Gallery Crawl is back downtown. Pittsburgh is full of Art, Music, Dance, Architecture, Comedy and Film. Experience them on Friday night between 5:30 and 9:00 pm at the quarterly Gallery Crawl. The event is free and open to the public. So check out all the participating venues and see what Pittsburgh has to offer! For more information, go here.



The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s 9th annual Cosmopolitan Pittsburgh fundraiser is happening this Friday, July 10. Following the Gallery Crawl around the Cultural District, run away with the circus and indulge in astounding performances, music, activities, and a wondrous dance party. Savor signature beverages and delicious treats, while enjoying a fabulous night on the town! Hit the VIP party from 7:00 – 9:00 pm or dance to DJ Pandemic for the Main Event. It’s at the African American Cultural Center, 980 Liberty Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, go to here.


Elementary, My dear Watson!

A mystery is afoot! And Sherlock Holmes is back on the case. Will it be his last? It may, since the play is called, “Sherlock’s Last Case.” It’s a spoof on the beloved characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. David Whalen is, once again, playing the iconic detective.  It opens, Friday, July 10. You don’t have to go to all the way to 221 B Baker Street, just go to the Charity Randall Theatre, 4301 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15224. For more information, go here.


Fill ‘er up!

On the eve of his birthday, Nat Paradis’ old high school flame returns for her mother’s funeral and walks into the convenience store Nat and his dad run in rural Northern Maine in “Last Gas.” John Cariani’s comedy can be found at the Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg, PA 15317. For more information, go here.