March 11, 2008

Scrapin' Up the Bits, Jalapeno Chip Style

Ah, sitting on the couch, watching a recording of today’s Inter Milan vs. Liverpool Champion’s League match, drinking a Stone Pale Ale, and treating myself to a highly rare treat, Miss Vickie’s hand-picked Jalapeno potato chips.

Odd combination for a Tuesday evening, but perfect for reporting on this mish mash of interesting news, some local, some not so…

To begin with, a special type of ticket for Tony Bourdain’s March 31 talk as part of the Pittsburgh Arts & Lecture series went for some big bucks on eBay. It included a one-on-one with the smoking cook world traveler, autographed book, a top-notch seat. The bidding apparently went back and forth, peaking at more than $2,200.

"We never expected this great a response," said Jayne Adair, director of the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures series.

Alas, I waited too long to finally order tickets. Just too long. They sold out two hours before I called.

And here’s some important news for Strip District junkies. The former Il Picolo Forno on 21st St. in the Strip District, next to La Prima Espresso, is now Colangelo's.

Picolo Forno is a well-regarded Italian restaurant in Lawrenceville, run by the son of the former owners of Il Piccolo Forno, Antonio and Carla Branduzzi. Antonio died in January 2007 and, up until a few months ago, his wife had continued to operate Il Piccolo Forno. We only discovered it more than a year ago, and fell for it immediately. Nothing like a late morning espresso or cappuccino from La Prima with a slice of pizza from Il Piccolo.

Mrs. Branduzzi closed Il Piccolo Forno a few months ago. As I learned Saturday morning, it has reopened as Colangelo's, and appears to be mostly unchanged. There were still thick slices of pizza on the counter, still delicious pastries in the glass case (we had some great cannoli's Sat. night), and still an open walkway between it and La Prima for some world class espresso drinks.

Needless to say, this is excellent news.

Meanwhile, according to the Post-Gazette, local restaurants are in a pinch.

Rising fuel costs meant many suppliers bringing in produce, meat, pasta and other ingredients had started adding surcharges for every load. Eat'n Park officials studied ways to consolidate truck loads. Or, as Mr. O'Connell put it, "Can we make two deliveries instead of three deliveries to a restaurant a week?"

The cost of ingredients also weighed on results. Beef prices are up, as are wheat, dairy, even fats and oils used in cooking. For Kings, food costs rose more than $560,000 above the previous year.

The article focuses on chain restaurants, which have greater flexibility in dealing with rising prices. The indies have to be feeling it that much worse. There have been numerous reports about the skyrocketing costs of wheat. But costs for everything are going up.

However, there could be sort of a silver lining to all of this, at least in terms of America’s bulging belt line.

Take the "senior menu" at Eat'n Park. It's never been just for seniors, Mr. O'Connell said, because anyone could order from it, but in February the chain turned it into a "smaller portion" menu. Someone who wants the Rosemary Chicken but wants just one chicken breast can get that.

"It's really, 'Hey, here's another way for people to save money,' " he said.

Kings is approaching desserts in the same way. "Our desserts were huge," said Mr. Whalen. In the past couple of years, the chain has been offering mini-desserts for those who want just a taste.

And, finally, it’s been a while. But this week’s Fast Food Abomination of the Week goes to… Quiznos, for its Prime Rib Ranchero: with loads of meat, pepper jack cheese, and chipotle mayo. I believe this is the second time Quizno's has secured this honor.

I couldn’t find the nutritional information for Quizno’s entire menu on its Web site, but I did find some examples of healthy Quizno’s eating here.

Among some of the highlights: As of November 2007, Quizno's large tuna melt has over 2,000 calories and 175 grams of fat! And what is probably the closest relative to the Ranchero, the large Prime Rib Cheesesteak Sub, has 1,770 calories and 116 grams of fat.

Those numbers speak for themselves.

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