Eat: Handmade pasta and cookies at the new Spork

 A name like Spork does not immediately conjure up visions of elegance. But the Garfield restaurant, which opened last week in the former home of Quiet Storm, has elegance in spades. The dining room is anchored by a stately concrete bar, which was designed (along with reclaimed wood tables, laser cut charcuterie boards and many other elements) by Steel City Arts. A walnut counter runs the length of the open kitchen, where diners are invited to watch and chat with the chefs. The chic, cozy space is a far cry from the eclectic diner vibe that came before it.

Chef Chris Frangiadis heads up the food at Spork. A former resident of Pittsburgh, Frangiadis spent the better part of the past decade cooking in the Virgin Islands. But he never forgot Pittsburgh. “I kept my eye on the restaurant scene here from afar,” he explains. “And I saw that it was really burgeoning.” When the pieces fell into place for Spork, Frangiadis headed back to Pittsburgh and got to work.

The "cookie table" at Spork. Made by Steel City Arts.

The “cookie table” at Spork. Made by Steel City Arts.

Screenshot 2016-03-06 13.27.05

Inside Spork, now open in Garfield in the space of the former Quiet Storm.

The menu at Spork reflects Frangiadis’s diverse background, with Italian, French and Middle Eastern influences mingling freely. Handmade pastas are prominently featured, as is housemade charcuterie. In fact, everything at Spork is made from scratch, and Frangiadis tweaks the menu daily. The menu is entirely populated with small plates, reflecting Spork’s goal to be a restaurant equally suited for nibbling and full-on feasting. “We’re a very approachable place,” says Frangiadis. “We walk the line of very casual, but cool enough to come for a birthday blowout dinner.”

Complementing Frangiadis’s array of small plates is a focused menu of wine, bottled beers and cocktails, as well as a handful of creative mocktails. And, as their name suggests, Spork likes to have a bit of fun. The most expensive item on the menu is a cookie table. Order one, and a miniature wooden table (again crafted by Steel City Arts) will come your way, loaded up with an assortment of homemade cookies. Though the menu pulls from all over the world, the cookie table brings it right back home.

Spork is open for dinner seven nights a week. Follow Spork on Facebook to learn more.

Drink: Award-winning Pittsburgh spirits

 Last week, the owners of Wigle Whiskey and Maggie’s Farm Rum headed to Chicago for the American Craft Spirits Association’s 3rd Annual Distillers Convention & Vendor Trade Show. In addition to presentations on everything from building a brand to the nuances of oak barrels, the conference was a chance for Pittsburgh’s distillers to see how their products compare to hundreds of others from across the country. Both Wigle and Maggie’s brought home numerous medals last year, making Pittsburgh the most awarded city in the country. But with new craft distilleries opening at a dizzying clip, how would they fare this time around?

The answer? Very, very well. In fact, both distilleries (which are located just blocks apart in the Strip District) did even better than last year, bringing some of the ceremony’s most impressive hardware back to the Steel City. The ACSA is “a registered nonprofit trade group representing the U.S. craft spirits industry” which advocates for small American distillers. This year’s annual awards had nearly 450 entrants, nearly 30% more than last year’s competition.

Sitting atop that sizeable pile? Maggie’s Farm Single Barrel Rum, which took home the coveted Best in Show Award along with the titles of Best Aged Rum and Best in Class Rum. Maggie’s Farm also won six medals for their range of rums, which include white, spiced and several aged versions. Wigle Whiskey cleaned up as well, winning Best in Class awards for their Barrel Rested Ginever and their Straight Wheat Whiskey. Wigle also brought home 12 medals for everything from absinthe to cask strength bourbon.

The awards confirm what we already knew: some of the country’s most interesting, well crafted and quaffable spirits are made right here in Pittsburgh.

See the full list of awards here.

Prepping for the Duncan St. Dinners

Kendyl Ryan and Dan Rodriguez plate a course. Photo courtesy of Katie Ging Photography

Do: Attend a Duncan St. Dinner

Going out to eat is always a treat. But sometimes, the experience can be a bit predictable. If you’re looking to shake up your dining routine, check out Duncan St. Dinners, an intimate monthly event that brings an exciting new way to wine and dine to Lawrenceville.

The Duncan St. Dinner series is the brainchild of Kendyl Ryan, Dan Rodriguez and Joe Bacharach, three close friends and restaurant industry veterans who were ready for a change. “Joe just said, ‘Alright, we are going to do something,’” recalls Ryan. That something became Duncan St. Dinners, a pop-up dinner series hosted in Ryan and Rodriguez’s Lawrenceville home.

Each month, all three collaborate to create a unique five-course dinner based around a loose theme (their most recent event riffed on the idea of winter comfort food). Ryan and Rodriguez handle menu planning and cooking, while Bacharach coordinates beverage pairings for each course. Every aspect of the meal is meticulously planned and tested, from the opening cocktail to the homemade ice cream to the custom plates that Three Rivers Clay Works makes for every course.

The boozy, decadent meal is also an intimate one. Unlike other pop-ups that host dozens or even hundreds of guests, a Duncan St. Dinner is limited to just 12 diners. Rodriguez explains that the small size creates an atmosphere perfect for fostering conversation and forging friendships. “We’ve noticed that after about the second or third course, everyone really gets to know each other,” he says. “By the end, everyone is exchanging numbers.”

Now more than a year old, the Duncan St. Dinners have found a loyal following. Ryan says they have a handful of regulars, and they’ve added a second night (they execute the same menu two nights in a row) to accommodate more diners. A recommended donation of $100 per person gets you a seat, and the dinners always fill up quickly. The trio is also available for private events and in-home dinner parties: “Anything people want us to do, we try to make happen,” explains Ryan. They hope the Duncan St. Dinners eventually lead them to opening their own restaurant in Pittsburgh.

To learn more and to snag one of the few remaining spots in this month’s dinners on March 21st and 22nd, visit the Duncan St. Dinners website.