Greta Dunn mixes up tiki originals

Eat: The Bodega Experiencia at Gaucho

Judging by the ever-present throngs at the corner of 16th and Penn, everyone in Pittsburgh eats at Gaucho several times a week. Even though they expanded considerably last year, it can still be tough to get into the wildly popular Argentinian grill, especially at peak hours. Skip the wait in the cold: gather up some friends and treat yourself to the Bodega Experiencia.

Upstairs, Gaucho is casual and raucous, packed at all hours and vibrating with energy. But tucked downstairs is a completely different setting. The cozy basement Bodega is calm and classy, equipped for informal and elegant events alike. The space seats about 30 comfortably, or around 50 for standing events.

The NEXTpittsburgh staff recently indulged in the Bodega “La Experiencia,” a four-course, family style menu of Argentinian-inspired fare. Not surprisingly, the meat was on point, from tender lamb with a black currant glaze to perfectly pink strip steak adorned with garlicky chimichurri. Gaucho proved they aren’t a one-trick pony, though, serving up excellent roasted calabaza (winter squash), Brussels sprouts and wood fired vegetables. And the dessert, the love child of a s’more and bread pudding, blew everyone away.

The Bodega is available to book for your next rehearsal dinner, birthday party or staff meeting. Email to get more information and make reservations.

Drink: Craft tiki drinks at Hidden Harbor

Firmly in the talons of another nasty Pittsburgh winter, the outlook for January was looking pretty grim. But last week, a tropical beacon lit up from the top of Squirrel Hill, piercing through the driving snow. Hidden Harbor is now open and serving up innovative tiki drinks with a Pittsburgh twist.

“Tiki indulges the American fantasy of being transported to an island culture,” explains co-owner and cocktail director Adam Henry. “It’s pure Americana out of the notion of what America is not.” Along with Henry, co-owners Pete and Matt Kurzweg  found success with the Independent Brewing Company, a neighborhood bar and restaurant on Shady Avenue in Squirrel Hill. When their cocktail ambitions outgrew the beer-centric space, they set their sights on an empty storefront next door. And tiki was the perfect fit for their fun but focused approach.

If the idea of a tiki bar still conjures up visions of backyard bamboo and sticky frozen daiquiris, Hidden Harbor will make you rethink a few things. The split space is decidedly less kitschy than most tiki bars: the bar side is done in clean, nautical colors, where the lounge side has a dark, primitive vibe complete with a seven-foot tall tiki carving named Happy. The theatrical presentation is no accident. The Hidden Harbor team called on Lex Gernon, a graduate student in set design at CMU, to help with the project.

The cocktails also embrace a sense of spectacle, employing elaborate garnishes, impressive glassware and even an ice cube sculpted to look like a wave. But the drinks are more than good Instagram fodder. The creative cocktails push tiki conventions, using base spirits other than rum as well as unexpected ingredients like paw paw, a surprisingly tropical fruit that’s native to Pennsylvania. And a crack bar team, which includes Max Stein, Wes Shonk and Greta Dunn, ensures that every drink is an island delight.

Hidden Harbor features a small menu of “warm weather” food by Monique Ruvolo, who is also the Executive Chef at the Independent. Think bar bites like Middle Eastern spiced meatballs and pork sliders on pineapple buns.

Though their grand opening isn’t until February 6th, they are now open from Tuesday through Saturday with a limited but expanding menu. Check out Hidden Harbor’s website for links to all their social media.

Do: Cornbread and bourbon at Wigle

If you still haven’t tried Wigle Whiskey’s bourbon, don’t feel bad. When the Strip District distillery released their first batch of corn-based whiskey last year, it sold out in a matter of days. But this Friday, you’ll have a chance to taste a whole new round of bourbon from Wigle, along with cornbread, music and a shot at a selfie with Rick Sebak himself.

On Friday, January 29th, Wigle will release about 400 bottles of their sweet yellow corn bourbon. In contrast to the bourbon they made last year, which was distilled from heirloom Wapsie Valley corn, this version is fruitier and sweeter—in other words, more like a classic Kentucky bourbon.

Attendees to the release party will have the opportunity to sample the two versions side by side. The party will also feature music (“beach rock,” to be specific) and tacos from La Palapa. And in keeping with the corny theme, guests who bring an entry for the cornbread competition will receive free admission (others pay $5). That competition will be judged by Rick Sebak and, whether you win the flask of bourbon and Cornbread Crown or not, isn’t seeing that beaming, mustachioed face reward enough?

Click here for tickets and more information.

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.