Tag Archives: Cody McDevitt

Hot Spot: Geoffrey’s Restaurant, Bar & Hotel

Staff photo by Cody McDevitt 
Owner Jeffrey Benincosa stands behind the bar at Geoffrey’s Restaurant, Bar & Hotel.

By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

Geoffrey’s Restaurant, Bar & Hotel could pleasantly surprise people looking for a new place to dine. 

It has all the staples that any Johnstowner wants — hamburgers, meatball sandwiches and steak hoagies — as well as an assortment of healthier salad choices. And Italian was a big theme that owner Jeffrey Benincosa wanted to go with when he developed the menu.

It was a big step for Benincosa, 51, of Boswell, who last cooked at Indian Lake Resort before it closed for the season. Benincosa has been a food professional for his whole life. He once owned JB’s Catering, out of Boswell, for close to nine years.

“I decided to take the next step from catering,” Benincosa said. “So I decided to open a restaurant. Twenty-two thousand cars go by this every day. Seemed like a prime location.”

Geoffrey’s, in a 45-room hotel, has daily dinner specials. It will also cater parties and other occasions. They expect to have a liquor license by January. 

Benincosa wants to keep it a family-oriented establishment, but there will be some specials in the hopes of attracting some regulars.
“This will be the place to go,” he said. “At least I hope.”

Benincosa decided to develop the menu based on what he learned from his family, which had a rich culinary tradition passed down from one generation to the next.

“I thought I’d do a more Italian cuisine,” Benincosa said. “Growing up, we ate a lot of Italian food. My sauce came from my great-grandmother from Italy. I always wanted to have an Italian restaurant.” 

BigDogz bartender makes a good Bloody Mary

Staff photo by Cody McDevitt Michele Ziants has been a barkeep at BigDogz Grill in Johnstown for 13 years. She owns the restaurant with her husband.
Staff photo by Cody McDevitt
Michele Ziants has been a barkeep at BigDogz Grill in Johnstown for 13 years. She owns the restaurant with her husband.

By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

Men wearing trucker hats threw darts during lunchtime at BigDogz Grill as the the Smashing Pumpkins “Disarm” blared out from the speakers. When they took a break, they ordered beers, which Michele Ziants got for them in between cleaning behind the bar.

Ziants, of Johnstown, is one of the better bartenders in town, and she has impressed the crowd that comes in when she’s working. Ziants does multiple things as part of her job.

“You have to know the menu and drinks. You have to be able to juggle multiple tasks,” she said. “We have to wait tables, answer phones and manage the bar. I also handle beer and liquor orders. You have to maintain a good relationship with the customers while doing all of that.”

Mike Ziants, her husband and co-owner of the establishment, said his wife’s personality, diligence and understanding of people makes her a great bartender.

“She pays a lot of attention to detail. She is also personable and knows the people’s names,” he said. “And she’s very organized. She’s been doing it for a number of years. You have to keep improving. And she has.”

Michele has been a bartender at Bigdogz since it opened 13 years ago. She brings a lot of expertise to the bar. She knows a lot about craft beer, even though she serves mostly macro brews. And she takes an interesting approach to making a Bloody Mary.

“You have to know what a customer likes in a Bloody Mary,” Ziants said. “You have to ask them. Some people don’t like them as spicy as other people. We normally ask if they want it spicy or not.”

She’s also trained a lot of barbacks, which is an often overlooked and unappreciated skill from bartenders, as some get frustrated by the slow progress that most newbies make when learning the difficult trade.

“You have to be patient,” Ziants said. “Everyone thinks they can be a bartender, but they can’t. There’s a lot to it. It’s not just pouring beer.”

Her customers said they could enumerate countless reasons for why Ziants is good at bartending. Eric Heptner, of Johnstown, has been coming for 13 years largely because he’s enjoyed being served drinks by her.

“She’s awesome. The list is endless why she’s good at bartending,” Heptner said. 

“She knows what I want when I come. She knows who you are. And she treats you like family even though you’re not.” 

Hot Spot: Woodside Bar & Grill

WoodsideBarGrill


By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

A game played on background television as the crowd at the Woodside Bar & Grill bantered back and forth about how their week was going and what they wanted to do on the coming weekend.

It’s that way most nights of the week, which makes the place a good option for people to party or let their hair down.

Woodside Bar & Grill in Johnstown is four years out of a large renovation that aimed to make it a destination nightspot in the city. And, by most measures, it has established itself as a good place to catch a game, drink some craft beers, and dance with friends and other singles.

Sports is the theme of the main building at the restaurant, located at 430 Highland Park Road. A massive television screen is the focus of the wraparound bar inside. Signed jerseys by prominent athletes from the area decorate the walls. Iconic Steelers linebacker Jack Ham and former University of Pittsburgh star LaRod Stephens-Howling are among the athletes whose regalia gives the place a unique feel.

The bar can be difficult to find if you are coming from the Somerset area, as GPS will take you up a back road that is not maintained during the winter. That’s the biggest drawback of going there if you’re coming up from the south and don’t know where you’re going.

Different crowds come in at different nights. During the week, sports fans arrive to catch a game. On the weekend, partiers mingle with other bachelors and bachelorettes.

In terms of alcohol there are 50 different craft beers, an assortment of flavored vodkas and a slew of cordials that can make for interesting cocktails. The food is usual bar food fare, with the wings among its best options.

The patio is available for smokers, and it is used to stage acoustic bands in the summer. The dance hall across the patio doubles as a nightclub for dancing and a banquet hall for private functions.

“It’s a new establishment that creates a Pittsburgh-type vibe that no one else in this town offers,” said Rob Barmoy, owner of Woodside. “We offer something no one else can offer due to size of the building.” 

Bartender of the Month: Amber Saade

Staff photo by Cody McDevitt Amber Saade
Staff photo by Cody McDevitt
Amber Saade

By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

Amber Saade is constantly moving. She’s behind the bar at the Back Door Café in Cambria City, making exotic cocktails like the Salted Caramel Chocolate Apple, the Peach Mule and a Pumpkin Latte-tini.

Saade, 24, of Westmont, is the head bartender there, and her customers, co-workers and boss respect her for her disarming demeanor and understanding of bartending. She’s picked up a lot of tricks while working at the bar.

“I’ve learned everything there is to learn as far as the basics go, and then I added my own elements,” Saade said. “I think this is a lot of hands-on (learning). That’s how I learned everything. I think I can apply that anywhere else I go.”

Her first job was in a gelato shop. Then she lived in Arizona with her dad, working at El Pollo Loco, a Mexican restaurant chain based on the West Coast. She went to high school for a year in 2007 in the suburbs of Phoenix before moving back here.

Saade returned to Arizona after she graduated from Westmont Hilltop High School. She worked again at El Pollo Loco. She then had a stint at P.F. Chang’s.

The well-traveled Saade moved back to Johnstown most recently in 2012, and she started work at the Back Door soon thereafter.

Saade doesn’t think there is a large craft cocktail scene in Johnstown like there is in Pittsburgh, but there are benefits to working in a smaller community.

“We have a lot more downtime to observe what goes on in the town,” she said. “That’s kind of to our advantage. It’s a little more personal.”
Denise Thompson, co-owner of the Back Door, praised Saade’s meticulous nature.

“Her attention to detail makes her a great bartender,” Thompson said. “Our recipes must be adhered to precisely so our drinks have consistency. She is also beautiful inside and out. That makes the customers want to come back.”

Tom Chulick, chef and co-owner, said Saade is reliable and talented.

“She knows all the cocktails and mixes them well,” Chulick said. “She’s a great employee. She’s always on time and she does all the things we need her to.”

Saade thinks that overcomplicating the bartending craft is what trips people up in their efforts to be a great bartender.

“Essentially, I don’t think you should be super-duper fancy,” Saade said. “I think actually caring about people makes a good time overall.”

Bartender of the Month: Eric McClintick

Staff photo by Cody McDevitt. Eric McClintick stands by a beer tap at Pour on Center in Ebensburg. McClintick has been offered jobs in the Pittsburgh area at high-end bars.
Staff photo by Cody McDevitt.
Eric McClintick stands by a beer tap at Pour on Center in Ebensburg. McClintick has been offered jobs in the Pittsburgh area at high-end bars.

By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

At Pour on Center in Ebensburg, Eric McClintick oversees an extensive cocktail menu that rivals anything you’d see in Pittsburgh’s swank bars and gastropubs.

“We really push the envelope with the cocktails we do,” McClintick said. “This is a very progressive place, especially for the area. Even before I worked here, I came up here to eat. We have a city vibe in a country atmosphere.”

McClintick, 27, of Dubois, started at Pour on Center about three months ago. Prior to that he worked at the Windber Hotel. He’s been a bartender for about five years since he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

His career nearly ended as soon as it started. He started his bartending work at Tulune’s Southside Saloon in Johnstown. He had no experience making cocktails, and the managers expected him to be proficient from the start.

“My first night was a train wreck. I almost got fired my first night,” McClintick said. “They put me in as sink-or-swim. I didn’t know how to make a mixed drink. It was one of the busier nights in a while. I probably made 100 different drinks. I had to keep asking other people. It was a lot of guesswork.”

He’s come a long way since then.

At Pour on Center, there are a number of elaborate cocktails the staff has come up with. In addition to classics like the Old Fashioned and Sazerac, they have the Strawberry Rhubarb Collins and a number of ones with egg whites in it.

Charlie Sheridan, of Carrolltown, is a server at Pour on Center. She holds McClintick in high regard.

“He’s made the best drinks I’ve ever had in my life,” Sheridan said. “He’s a really good manager. He’s really good at putting people at ease and making our customers comfortable. It’s a good place to work, and he’s a large reason for that.”

Nick Periso, his boss, notices how much he connects to his coworkers and customers.

“He’s a very good bartender. He likes to make drinks people like,” Periso said. “He’s always trying new drinks and new things. He has a very good rapport with the customers and the sales reps as well. And he runs a good show.”

The craft cocktail renaissance has filtered down from Pittsburgh to the country areas, McClintick said.

“It’s growing. The craft cocktail scene used to be a niche that people turned their nose up,” McClintick said. “We wanted to offer some really great cocktails and involve some of the better spirits.”