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Authors take a bite out of Pittsburgh's dining scene

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 1:36 p.m.
Globe Pequot Press
Food Lovers' Guide to Pittsburgh
Steven Dray Images
From left, Mandy McFadden, Julia Gongaware, Laura Zorch and Sarah Sudar.

Dining out is a favorite pastime of Laura Zorch of Shadyside, Julia Gongaware of Bloomfield, Amanda McFadden of Mt. Lebanon and Sarah Sudar of Hopewell.

So, when research for their first book project required visiting 228 eating establishments in and around Pittsburgh, they were ready to dig in — to everything from the latest stadium food from vendors at Consol Energy Center and trendy eateries serving culturally diverse menus to chefs' signature dishes at the city's landmark restaurants.

“We ate at all of them within a two-month period,” says Gongaware, “but not all together. We divided up the places and ate, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends and family members.”

The result is “Food Lovers' Guide to Pittsburgh” (Globe Pequot Press, $14.95).

The four friends will talk about their dining experiences and offer a few of Pittsburgh's favorite recipes in two Giant Eagle Market District appearances Saturday.

The quartet of taste-testers organized their book by dividing Pittsburgh into regions and then venturing out to neighborhoods in each direction. They also traveled past the city limits to suburban restaurants and visited local craft breweries, distilleries and wineries for a chapter on the Local Drink Scene. The book ends with one dozen of their favorite recipes from places they've been.

Tucked within the restaurant reviews are sidebars featuring food-related articles, such as how to make a famous Primanti's sandwich at home, and the best way to shop in the Strip District. There's a Pittsburgh Must-Eat Cheat Sheet that narrows down favorites to a Top 10 list for those who don't have time to sample all 228 dining establishments.

The authors aren't new to the local food scene. For three years, they shared culinary experiences as food bloggers at eatpgh.com, writing about their favorite haunts and new restaurants. It was through their blog that the book publisher contacted them and proposed that they write a Pittsburgh edition of a series of local-dining resource paperbacks.

Zorch says they like to travel and enjoy writing about places they've visited in different cities on their blog, including their culinary tour last summer of Columbus and a recent weekend in Buffalo.

They don't profess to be good cooks, but Gongaware says they know their way around the kitchen.

“We all can cook, some better than others,” she says, “but if I have my choice to have a meal prepared for me, I take it.”

Zorch agrees, adding that she likes to bake but doesn't like to prepare a full-course meal.

“I want to eat it — but I don't want to make it,” she says.

The first-time authors all have day jobs outside of their writing hobbies. Zorch works at the Office of Public Art for the City of Pittsburgh, Gongaware is a social-media manager for UPMC Health Plan, McFadden develops digital-engagement strategies for PPG, and Sudar is a communications specialist for the University of Pittsburgh.

Zorch says writing the “Food Lovers' Guide to Pittsburgh” together gave them an opportunity to meet a lot of people and see how passionate people are about food in Pittsburgh, “whether they're creating it or eating it. Pittsburgh is very unpretentious, and the food scene reflects that. We'll never be a New York or San Francisco — nor should we be.”

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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