'Jeet Jet?' Authors of Pittsburgh food guide to kick off book tour in Sewickley
French fries on salads and hot sauce on everything aren't the only food trends in Pittsburgh.
Just ask Julia Gongaware, Mandy McFadden, Sarah Sudar and Laura Zorch.
The four western Pennsylvania natives offer regular restaurant critiques on their blog — eatPGH.com — and have done so since 2009.
But now, the foursome can add author to their repertoire as their book — “Food Lovers' Guide to Pittsburgh: The Best Restaurants, Markets & Local Culinary Offerings” — debuts this week in Pittsburgh area bookstores.
The group kicks off their book tour debut Friday night with a meet-and-greet at Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley.
The women said they never imagined regular blog entries detailing their love affair with local cuisine would land them a book deal.
“We always talked online about what we were going to be eating for dinner that day,” McFadden, 28, said of her longtime friendship with Sudar, 28, that began in Hopewell, where the pair is from. “It would be breakfast and we'd be preparing for what we wanted for dinner. If we were going out to eat, we'd be looking at online menus.
“We'd have it all planned out before we even got there.”
McFadden met Zorch, 28, in college where the two quickly became friends.
“That girl can eat,” McFadden jokingly said about Zorch. “So we had that bond instantly.”
Sudar and Gongaware, 30, attended graduate school together at Point Park University.
“We all had that interest in food and social media, of course,” McFadden said.
But it wasn't just any food that created a bond among these four women.
“Pittsburgh food,” McFadden said.
Over time, the four have stepped foot in hundreds of Pittsburgh restaurants — many times more than once in a particular joint — all in an effort to share what makes Pittsburgh foods special.
Some commenters on their blog question why the group doesn't offer views when they don't necessarily have a favorable opinion of a place.
“If we don't like it, we don't talk about it, because the blog is to talk about places in Pittsburgh you need to go eat,” McFadden said. “If there's some experience or something we don't like about a restaurant, we're not shy — whether it's price, service or a certain dish.”
And if a dish needs a dash more of salt, the women say they'll offer up constructive criticism.
“We keep it positive because we're not here to bash anyone,” Gongaware said. “We love Pittsburgh food and the chefs behind those dishes. So we're never going to completely dog on someone's potential and their life's work.
“Sometimes it does need a little salt.”
But the book deal with Globe Pequot almost never happened. While checking the group's common e-mail address for their blog, Sudar looked at what she said she thought was a spam message about publishing their content.
It was only after dwelling about the e-mail for a short time that she realized the offer was real.
So the women began a two-month effort in January to research and write material for their book, which is part of a series of books offered in various regions across the country.
Everything the women wrote was their own, unique content, they said.
“We couldn't regurgitate what had already been written on the blog,” Zorch said.
The book deal allowed the group to revisit places they previously wrote about at eatPGH, offering them a chance to give a place another try.
“Maybe I don't love them anymore and here's why, or maybe I do love them now and here's why,” Zorch said of revisiting restaurants for the book.
Problem was, the publisher gave the women a two-month deadline for content. With each of them holding down full-time jobs, the task of researching, writing and discussing content in that time frame added to an already full plate.
But really, they were eating.
“So how bad could it be?” McFadden said.
Along with restaurants in city neighborhoods, eateries in suburban locations like Sewickley also made the cut. Even restaurants around Greensburg, New Castle and Beaver County all are part of the book's 228 stops.
But McFadden stresses, “We're not food critics. We're just regular people who like to eat real food. We're not throwing around terms that other people aren't going to understand. We talk in a way people will respond to.”
And if you're wondering, of course Primanti's is in the book.
Along with their staple fries and cole slaw on top of a variety of meats and cheeses stacked between two slices of thickly cut Mancini's bread, the group says the iconic Pittsburgh chain's pizza is a hit.
“They also have a very good chili,” Gongaware said.
Long before the book debuted earlier this week, the women said Pittsburghers have recognized them for their look into western Pennsylvania foods.
“People feel strongly about their food,” Gongaware said. “It's the one common thing people can talk about.”
“Everybody eats,” Zorch said.
Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or firstname.lastname@example.org.