Eighty Acres Kitchen & Bar

When Don and I married 31 years ago, we dreamed of owning a charming Bed & Breakfast with a small restaurant that seated maybe 50 at the most.

Don thought that limited hours and a small menu would be nice. I thought it would be great to live somewhere beautiful, like on the edge of a national park. But of course, life had different plans for us.

When I met Don he had just moved from Park City, Utah to Las Cruces, New Mexico. I was attending graduate school at NMSU and Don was working an “easy” Chef’s job at a Best Western Hotel. Don started his cooking career as an apprentice at The Belhurst Castle in the finger lakes region of upstate New York. But during the four years prior to our introduction, Don had worked his way up the ladder from line cook to Executive Sous Chef at the famed Stein Erikson Lodge at Deer Valley Ski Resort. He was ready for a break from 100 hour work weeks; I really had no idea what the life of a Chef involved. When I met Don he had lots of free time, which meant lots of time to woo me with delicious food prepared with ingredients I’d never even heard of, let alone tasted before. We explored the southwest together, hiked and biked as much as possible, and I became a believer in all things southwestern. I loved the desert with its broad and never ending landscape, the same light and color that inspired Georgia O’Keefe.

Don and I were married in 1993 at The Lodge in Cloudcroft. It was a small affair, just family and about 30 close friends.

Shortly after our wedding, Don was recruited by Chef John Trejo to help open Mark Miller’s second Coyote Cafe at the newly built MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. I stayed behind to finish school. It was an opportunity that was too good to refuse. Don had worked under John at Stein Erikson – for many years John had been Wolfgang Puck’s right arm. Don likes to say that you can trace a lineage of sorts through the family tree of Chefs. They “grow” off of one another like the roots of a plant.

The original Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe is a permanent fixture on Water Street. It’s both a local’s and a tourist’s favorite. The second Coyote Cafe was one of only two independently owned restaurants in the MGM Grand during the era when Vegas was transforming itself in to a “family friendly” vacation destination. Mark Miller was an anthropologist first and a master chef second, and his combined academic and culinary sensibilities drove his passion for the food of the southwest, which is a fusion of Mexican, cowboy ranch, and American Indian cuisines. Don ran the cantina café during the day from Breakfast through Lunch. I enjoyed the views both inside and out of the cafe. The casino was decorated with memorabilia from vintage MGM like Dorothy’s red slippers, which were encased in glass right down the hall.

Shortly after I arrived to Vegas Don and I decided to start our family. With this in mind, we made the difficult decision to move back east to Pittsburgh where I had been raised. About 9 months later Don became the chef at The Tuscan Inn, and over the course of the next few years, he transformed the menu into an eclectic blend of Northern Italian cuisine with southwestern and contemporary American influences. Because The Tuscan Inn owners rarely advertised, it was often referred to as “the best kept secret” in the North Hills.

I have to say, and I know I’m biased, Don is the “best kept” secret. He has a talent that even some CIA trained chefs don’t have. He is an effective leader. He runs an organized kitchen and over the years has never let his art become stale. He continually challenges himself; our home PC is bookmarked with countless links to national and international restaurant websites. Our office is overflowing with cookbooks. My husband is forever positive and (generally) even-tempered. He is exactly like his dad, who inspired the Eighty Acres name. Don Sr. was a humble man who retired from the military and decided to pursue his lifelong desire to become a farmer. He and my mother-in-law purchased an eighty acre farm in northeast Missouri where Don Sr. raised a heard of up to 500 goats – did you know that there is large market for goat meat in the U.S.? Don’s sister Kris was married on the farm and our niece Reanna became engaged there. We’ve celebrated multiple family reunions there. People fish, camp and hunt on the land. Everyone has helped with the work at one time or another. It’s now home base to a large x-military family that never lived in one place longer than 5-6 years. It’s 80 acres of rolling hills, memories, and family.

I can tell you we are thrilled to bring Eighty Acres to Plum. We never stopped missing the west and southwest, but we love the history, neighborhoods and spirit of Pittsburgh. We are both rooted here and there has never been a better time to be part of the Pittsburgh food scene. We hope our little start up is like a coming home for you. Don and I want to provide you with a warm experience and food that is accessible, satisfying, and inspiring all at once. It’s our Eighty Acres and we want to share it with you.

Amy (Chef Don’s adoring wife and co-owner of Eighty Acres Kitchen & Bar)