Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Avengers: Reignition of Comic Book Genre

It has been quite some time that I have walked out of a comic book genre movie and been as satisfied as I was after seeing The Avengers last week. Like I stated in most of my comic book movie reviews I consider myself a fringe fan of comics, but am sure to check out the majority of their movie counterpart upon release. I could not have told you off of the top of my head who all of The Avengers are or why and how they come to work together, but that did not stop my enjoyment of this spring blockbuster.

Joss Whedon did a spectacular job writing and directing The Avengers. The plot was intense most of the time and allowed me to engage with each one of the characters' personalities. With so many Avengers, I thought that it would be hard to do so, but Whedon was able to interweave each of their stories so that the casual comic book fan (such as myself) would be able to understand the motives behind each of The Avengers attachment to the group as a whole. Comedy was well placed and the struggle between each of the dominant characters was never too much.

It took a while for the heart of the plot to really get going, but this allowed the beginning of the movie to introduce the purpose of The Avengers.   Basically, the government enlists the help of each Avenger in order to fight off what we can't.  Each Avenger holds back at first, but once their emotions are plucked it is game on for the movie.  I really enjoy the genesis of the super heroes; although this was slow it was an integral part of my movie experience.  Once that passed the plot took great turns and the 2.5 hour movie seemed like only an hour. It never bored me nor left me wanting more...I was satisfied upon completion.

From my perspective there was no real main character, but Iron Man played by Robert Downey Jr. seemed to steal the show even though Loki, who is the villain, is the brother of Thor. Speaking of Loki, Tom Hiddleston did a wonderful job in this role and allowed me to see him not as the whining twit he was in Thor, but a demonic figure instead.

The Avengers was a great start to the traditional summer action movies and is one that should not be missed.

Pills gives The Avengers 5/6 Irons.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Obituary of a Legendary Eatery II: Vincent's Pizza Park

It looks as if another part of Pittsburgh's history has gone and passed. Now all that remains of Vincent's Pizza Park in Forest Hills are the memories of arguably the best pizza in Pittsburgh. Vincent's closed its doors for the final time as the current owners B & C Pizza Inc. had not paid rent since June 2011.

Vincent's has been a landmark in Forest Hills since Vincent Chianese first opened on Ardmore Boulevard in 1950. Chianese began tossing pies in 1947 in San Francisco alongside his uncle. He returned to Pittsburgh and worked nights as a fireman for the Union Railroad and after saving up enough money Vincent opened his own pizzeria. Chianese worked constantly at the Pizza Park until he sold the controlling interest of the business in 2005. Chianese died in March of 2012 from complications of ailments related to old age. Vincent's was a place of character as can be summed up by a sign over his oven that read, "This isn't Burger King; you take it our way, or you don't take the sonofabitch at all."

Unfortunately, I was never able to make it to Vincent's very often, but I have some great memories of delicious pizza that I wish I could have tasted one last time before it closed. There was nothing better than eating a burning hot pizza loaded with toppings, unevenly cut slices, and enough grease on it to cause a heart attack. I can remember the first time I had a Vinnie Pie after an amateur league ice hockey game. Arriving dying of hunger and pulling up to the pizzeria I had only heard stories of the greatness. We walked in to hear loud shouting, smoke-filled dining area, and the jukebox was pumping. We quickly sat down and ordered without a menu. I saw that pizza and my eyes lit up. Never had a tasted a pizza like that before.  It was always speculated that the ash from Mr. Chianese's cigarette was the secret ingredient in the tasty pie.  Some will say that Mineo's and Aiello's are tops in the city, but Vincent's had the character that neither can compare.

It is unfortunate that a second legendary eatery has closed its doors in the last year, but hopefully the legend will live on even though the pizzas will not. A slice of history is gone, but will live on in every clogged artery for years to come. Here's to you Vincent's Pizza Park. You will be missed.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Disturbance in the Stands: Part Deux

PNC Park had another episode of unruly behavior as a security supervisor lost his finger on Saturday night as he was escorting a father and daughter out of the stadium.  It all began when Rachel George, 21, of Hempfield was taken to the park's security office for smoking in her seat.  As security supervisor Joseph Risher was escorting Ms. George out of the park, her boyfriend assaulted Mr. Risher and ran away.  According to the complaint, Ms. George then jumped on Risher's back and started to pull him backward.  Rachel's father, Christopher George, 50, joined in the attack pushing the security supervisor up against a fence.  While trying to defend himself, Joseph Risher's left hand got caught in the fence and his middle finger was almost totally ripped off; left only hanging by a piece of skin.  Surgery reattached is finger. 

When Pittsburgh Police arrived, Rachel George cursed and spit on city police Detective Francis Rende, and kicked Sgt. Sean Duffy as he was placing Rachel George in a holding cell at the ballpark.  This prompted him to use a "palm strike" to the left side of her face. Sgt Duffy was treated at UPMC Mercy for a sharp pain he felt in his right shoulder after striking her.  The George's were taken to the Allegheny County Jail where they posted bail. 

Rachel and Christopher George were charged with aggravated assault, conspiracy, harassment, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness and face a preliminary hearing next week.  They have not identified Ms. George's boyfriend who fled the scene. 

This is the second publicized disturbance at PNC Park as a fan wearing a USA windbreaker was tasered and beaten by police in the stands for using excessive foul language and disrupting other fans' enjoyment of an April 2011 Pirate game. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Pittsburgh Baseball Fan in Chicago

When I found out that my job was going to be sending me to Chicago, the first thing I did was to check to see if the Cubs were in town. I've never been to Chicago before, so this was my first opportunity to check out the second oldest ball park in the Majors.

It was a Tuesday night game against St. Louis, and thanks to the Cubs stinking this season, tickets were cheap. For $12 bucks, we were able to get seats just a few rows back from the front of the upper deck, just to the first base side of home plate.

I've read in various places that Wrigley Field is a dump and should be replaced with a modern stadium, but that's anything but the case. It's different for sure. You have to enter the stadium through the correct entrance because not every entrance has access to other areas. To get to the upper deck, you have to climb some narrow staircases and catwalks. Of course, there's also the ill-placed pillars that make any seat a gamble and you can't even see the entire field from the back reaches of the lower deck because of the overhang. I'm not typically the kind of person who buys into tradition for the sake of tradition, but this place legitimately had good character.

Instead of having a old-timey feel, a la PNC Park, Wrigley is the real deal. The brick and mortar construction with exposed steelwork have the feel of being less-than-perfectly hand built in a good way. The kind of place that was built to suit a purpose and to last for as long as possible. Everything felt well-maintained and still capable of handling a 40,000+ capacity crowd.

Once in your seats, the biggest difference from most stadiums is that everything is focused on the baseball. There's no big screen, no music, no between inning entertainment. Just lights, an old school organ, and PA announcer. I also made sure to have an Old Style and Chicago dog to complete the authentic viewing experience.

Almost as good as the ball park experience itself was the trip to the field. A nice cab ride from downtown along Lakeshore Drive went quick and it was impressive to see the scores of people out enjoying the nice weather. As you near the stadium, you drive through an upscale neighborhood of rowhouse and then, bam, there's the stadium, right in the middle of a residentail neighborhood. Makes me wish I could someday retire on a side street near to PNC, hit up a bar on my walk to the park, and catch a game most summer nights.

Chicago was an impressive city overall, but more than any of the attractions I saw when I was there, going to Wrigley was the highlight of the trip. I'd recommend making it your first priority while in Chicago the next opportunity you get.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bar 11, Chaos in a Bar

Ever wonder what celebrating New Year's, Halloween, and being at a rave party (without the crappy music) at the same time would be like?  Bar 11 will fulfill that desire almost every night of the week.  Bar 11, located on Bradish Street in Pittsburgh's South Side, may just be the craziest bar in the 'burgh.  Two blocks from the intersection of 12th and Carson sits a nondescript two-story building which looks to be part of an apartment building.  The only distinction between the main entrance of the bar and the rest of the doors is a plastic curtain that is attached to an awning.  The scene of a quiet street instantly transforms into a raging party atmosphere upon entrance.  Music of many genres blares throughout the narrow, hot, and crowded bar.  Neon lights constantly flash and the occasional fire ball is being blown from a bartenders mouth.  In most cases Bar 11 would be considered a dive if you could possibly see the floor or the walls, but the black lights, smoke machine, and laser lights blinds the customer to the dump this place actually is.  Festive decorations plaster the walls and ceilings which could probably be considered a fire hazard.  Although the bar is filthy don't be alarmed when you walk to the bar and the bartender is wearing a hazmat suit; this is typical attire for employees.

I cannot recall the Blast Furnace's first gathering in Bar 11, but it was definitely after being in our favorite spot, Kopy's, which is close by, but it was recommended that we try Bar 11's infamous Flaming Dr. Pepper.  Being unaware of what the Flaming Dr. Pepper consisted of we thought we'd give it a shot (pun intended).  The concoction consists of 3 parts Amaretto and 1 part 151, which is set on fire and dropped into a half pint of beer and chugged.  After preparing the drinks the bartender poured 151 on the bar, set it on fire, then blew a big fireball from his mouth.  We loved it.  We also noticed drums and symbols hung from the bar.  The bartender, possibly the owner, was pounding away on the drums to the beats of the music of the moment.  All of this contributed to the binge drinking atmosphere that this bar intentionally or unintentionally promotes. 

This is a fun bar.  Candy necklaces are routinely being handed out to customers and highlighters are available to use to draw on friends or strangers which show up only in the black lights.  A small dance floor is also a feature of the bar.  Bar 11 is a very friendly atmosphere.  You can make absurd comments to random people or draw on them with a highlighter and not worry about getting into a fight.  There is however, a police officer stationed outside just in case it gets a little too rowdy inside of this insane asylum turned bar. 
Bartender/possible owner beating away at the drums

Bar 11 is definitely the cherry on top after an already fun night out on the South Side.  Recommendations include:
1)  Do not start your night here
2)  Order a Flaming Dr. Pepper
3)  Partake in the activities (i.e. candy necklaces, highlighters, dancing) 
4)  Clorox wipe your shoes when you get home 
Bar 11 makes the inevitable hangover that you will get the next day all worthwhile.

Crepes Parisiennes: A Delightful Surprise

Being a student and living in Oakland since I graduated from Pitt in 2005 I have walked Craig Street too many times to count. There are many unique eateries and shops that always have enticed me to enter. One place that I always wanted to enter, but never did was Crepes Parisiennes located at 207 South Craig Street. There were many reasons that I never entered mainly because crepes were not something that I craved, but also because of its seemingly limited hours. That all changed this weekend as my wife suggested having a Sunday brunch there before heading out to do some shopping at the mall.

We arrived at Crepes Parisiennes at around 12:00 and were I glad that we did. From the outside Crepes is very unassuming and looks like it is not busy. Its charming exterior is really what invites customers in to a great place to brunch. The small space is very well planned with a few outside tables on Craig Street and roughly 12 tables inside. The inside is well decorated with great lighting and has the feel of a European eatery. Even though most of the tables were full, the atmosphere was quiet and calm.

Approaching the counter the customer is greeted by a large menu of sweet crepes, salty, crepes, Panini’s, salads, coffees, and other beverages. Keep in mind that Crepes is cash only so be sure to stop at the bank before entering. The menu is priced very well with the crepes being priced around $8 and sandwiches the same. A small house salad is included with the crepes or sandwich. After placing your order, select a table, and quick service results.

I ordered the Breakfast Crepe which consisted of sausage, egg, and cheese with the house Soytang sauce while my wife ordered the Mixed Vegetable and Cheese Crepe which had mushroom, spinach, and tomato with the Béchamel sauce. Both of us very more than pleased with our orders and surprisingly there was a lot of food which filled us up. The food was not heavy in the way which many American breakfasts are and made me feel full while not being bloated. The coffee was excellent (I like to consider myself a coffee connoisseur). This was a great meal and I would definitely return to try some other options.

Pills give Crepes Parisiennes 6/6 Irons. I am sure that anything on the menu is excellent, the space is open and inviting, and the price is great as well. Just be sure to have cash on hand and don't forget to leave a tip as this is truly authentic Paris because no tips were left at the table. I am sure that I will be back to this wonderful eatery on Craig Street.  Also, be sure to check the hours as they are very limited.