While I’d love to crawl out of bed early each Saturday to explore the vast array of delicious breakfast options that this city has to offer, it’s more than likely that Saturday mornings are spent sleeping in, then cooking a late breakfast in my own kitchen. This is a perfectly reasonable way to enjoy a weekend morning, but it has been limiting on my breakfast experience around town.
Another obstacle in my path to local breakfast domination is that I have one of the best diners in the area mere blocks away from my apartment. The Dor-Stop on Potomac Avenue draws in a consistent flow of weekday traffic, but it is the weekends that are the big deal here. Visitors from all around the area bring their loved ones. People line up in the cramped entrance way or shuffle about outside, sipping cups of coffee and waiting for their table. The wait – which is never more than fifteen minutes – is more than worth it.
Back when our friends, Jackie and Bill, were the lone pioneers of our friend circle to move into the South Hills, it was always Jackie’s wish to have us come over Friday evenings and stay into Saturday, so that we could all enjoy a sleepy weekend brunch together. Me and my roommate soon learned the charms of Dormont, including decently-sized apartments at far cheaper rates than what was available in the East End, anything of necessity within walking distance, and a community that was friendly, vibrant, and welcoming.
I was also lured in by its cuisine. Dormont is not a gourmet metropolis, but Potomac Avenue is stuffed with treats: Mekong (which I have to devote more time to in the future, because it’s darn near criminal how little attention I’ve paid them considering how much I adore them), Fredo’s, Knosso’s (if a little on the pricey side for that kind of food), three different quality pizza shops, DeWalt’s (providing me with enough discount tofu to feed myself and a very hungry vegan), and, the jewel of the Avenue, the Dor-Stop.
Sitting there so humble, it’s hard not to immediately like the Dor-Stop. It’s got a little green awning and shambling charm. Wooden furniture covers the inside, including tables advertising local businesses and services. There’s a little counter for customers who prefer quick eating and closer proximity to the production of the food. There is a little waiting area right up front that becomes overwhelmed by weekend traffic. The vast windows let in a ton of natural light, giving the place a cheery brightness even on overcast days.
It’s the kind of place that you could easily bring your grandparents, but you could also show up hungover in your PJs with a group of friends. I don’t always like to go out to eat by myself, but dining at the Dor-Stop alone isn’t like being alone: The few times I’ve been in there myself, I’ve almost always gotten wrapped into a conversation with fellow diners and the waitstaff. It’s a place that encourages friendliness because it’s so darn friendly.
For a midmorning visit there last Saturday, I took a detour from my normal selections and went instead for a special guaranteed to shorten a year off my life. The Country Benedict is an Eggs Benedict, but with a large sausage patty instead of ham and served on toast instead of an English muffin. It came absolutely smothered in a Hollandaise sauce that was cheesier and heavier than any I can remember. The result of this was a rib-sticking, artery-stuffing extravaganza of gluttony. A generous serving of the house specialty home fries only served to amplify the heart-attack-on-a-plate nature of this dish, but when it comes to enjoying rich breakfast foods, I am more than game to do so. The Hollandaise was of special note: it was heavy, but not terribly salty, and it went well on the Benedict and the potatoes. Heck, it would have been good on French fries. It was more gravy than sauce, but accentuated the “country” aspect of this Country Benedict.
Bill stayed fairly true to form and ordered the two-eggs breakfast. Two large over-easy eggs were served with another generous helping of the home fries, three strips of bacon, and toast. A fairly standard breakfast plate, but the Dor-Stop’s version is a testament to why this exact dish is served in every diner in the world. Think it’s not easy to ruin eggs? Think again. A reliably tasty over-easy egg from a diner is a hard thing to come by, but I have yet to experience less than terrific eggs from the Dor-Stop.
Jackie wasn’t sure what breakfast muse to follow. She’s not an egg person (and yes, I have explained to her how this is slowly ruining her life) so eggs weren’t a possibility, but that rules out very little at the Dor-Stop. She eventually decided to cobble together a meal out of an order of potato pancakes – the special of the Dor-Stop – and a side of bacon.
So, the Dor-Stop potato pancake. What makes it so fantastic? Well, first off, realize that the potato pancakes you might have had on some Eat’n’Park breakfast buffet, while possibly delicious, are not a great example of what a potato pancake can be when time, attentiveness, and skill are applied to the dish. First off, you need freshly grated potato. It needs to be well combined into a mush to make the patty easy to fry, but it cannot be too compact. You need to be able to get at those individual potato shreds. The seasoning in the patty needs to be just enough to bump up the fairly bland taste of the potato, but it has to be complementary to both applesauce and sour cream. And, if you’re making a Dor-Stop potato pancake, it’s got to be the size of a small plate. Throw three or four on a plate, load up on both sides, and you have a plate of potato pancakes worth serving at the Dor-Stop.
There’s a reason people obsess about these pancakes, a reason that the ability to order potato pancakes instead of fries as a side to a sandwich is clearly stated on the menu (with a nominal up charge). These potato pancakes straddle the line between a culinary cultural heritage and the perfect starchy counterpart to any meal. They are imbued with a sense of history. And they are ridiculously delicious.
What can I say about the Dor-Stop that hasn’t already been written thousands of times? I mean, the place was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, so that should give you an idea of how well known and well spread its reputation is. If you’re a person who lives in Dormont, you are damn lucky to have a place like this in the neighborhood. But, hell, we’re all lucky to have a place like this in Pittsburgh.