Tag Archives: strip district

Penn Avenue Fish Company Downtown

Talk about a smart business plan. Penn Avenue Fish Company in the Strip does a brisk business serving delicious undersea lunchtime specialties and sushi to crowds of customers from the immediate surrounding businesses as well as Downtown employees and folks working up Penn and Liberty Avenues into Lawrenceville and Bloomfield. So when the restaurant expanded their territory, they made the right decision to put their new location in the middle of Downtown, securing the hearts and appetites of many of their already loyal Downtown-based customers, as well as ensuring a whole horde of new followers.

Favorites of the Strip location, such as the sushi and the fish tacos, made the trip into Downtown as well. In addition, they added a dinner menu for Wednesday through Saturday service. The inventive and tantalizing lunch options easily transformed into upscale (but not uppity) dinnertime offerings.

The interior of Penn Avenue Fish Company Downtown feels like a combination sushi bar and cafe. It’s long and narrow, but the design keeps it from feeling cramped, with brightly colored walls and flooring. Warm overhead lights supplement the natural light coming in from the entrance, and a few well-chosen items of aquatic-themed wall decor give the place an appropriate dose of seafood restaurant without falling into the realm of the cheesy.
Penn Avenue Fish Company  on Urbanspoon

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Saturday Morning Sweet Treats from Colangelo’s


One of the best things about talking food with other food enthusiasts (apologies for using that term in overabundance, I just hate the term “foodie”) is the resulting recommendations that come from discussing where you love to eat. There’s a look in the eyes – a widening, a sparkle – that tells you all you need to know.

I get that look about many, many things that I have eaten. After Chicago, I couldn’t talk about the food at Chicago Diner without getting a little misty eyed. I speak in similar ways about the taco stand at Las Palmas, the Shakshuka at Sababa Middle Eastern Grill, the buffalo seitan wings at Spak Brothers.

Sylvia, from Burgh Bits and Bites, had that look when she talked about the meles at Colangelo’s. The question, “Ooh, what’s a mele?” nearly sent her teetering off her chair. Meles, apparently, are one of the most delicious pastries invented by man, and Colangelo’s offers some of the best.

“You must try it.”

I take recommendations fairly seriously, and when it’s a real rave review, I make a point of adding the place or item onto my mental list of things to try. So, on a short trip through the Strip on Saturday, I happened by Colangelo’s and decided to make good on her recommendation and my curiosity.

Sylvia, if you’re reading this: HOLY CRAP! WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING ALL THESE YEARS WITHOUT THESE MELES IN MY LIFE?

I ordered an apricot mele, and hoo boy… I’ve never had a pastry where the least impressive thing about it was the filling. And the apricot filling was very good, just not as spectacular as the pastry. Lightly sugared to give it a sweet crunch, it was still chewy and soft in all the right ways. Despite all the sugar, it wasn’t overpoweringly sweet, like a cheap danish or pastry. It had the slightest essence of vanilla that blended smoothly into the burst of citrus flavor from the apricot preserves.

About the size of my (admittedly small) hand, it was almost too much for me to handle alone. I split it in two and shared with my friend, Mo, whose reaction matched my own. How have we not tried this before? All the time I’ve spent in the Strip District and I never once tried this amazing little treat?


I meant to buy two meles, but the clerk misheard me. Flustered by the noise and crowd building around the counter, but still determined to get two pastries, I asked for something a bit more familiar to me: Sfogiatelle.

The Italian name means “many leaves” or “many layers” so it’s easy to understand how the treat got its name. The shell shaped pastry is comprised of flaky pastry layered one on top of the next. The inside is a slightly creamy, almost cheesy filling, but it’s so subtly worked into the pastry, you barely notice it until after the bite.

Because Colangelo’s was a bit crowded, I took my treats to my favorite eating spot: The walkway outside of the Pittsburgh Public Market. There I enjoyed my pastries, the first cup of coffee of my day, and a nearly perfect sunny Saturday morning.

Colangelo's Bakery on Urbanspoon

This Week on the Dormont-Brookline Patch: Eat Your Way Through the Neighborhood!

My feature on the Dormont-Brookline Patch this week is on Sylvia McCoy’s Burgh Bits and Bites Food Tours, specifically the fairly new Brookline tour, as well as the Dormont tour that is currently being planned for a summer debut. I sat down on Monday with Sylvia and Cory VanHorn, her intern designing the tour – as well as the genius behind the fabulous Culinary Cory blog – and it was an invigorating experience.

Why? Well, as a food blogger, it can sometimes feel like you’re making a whole lot of fuss out of something fairly mundane. It’s easy to feel at home when you’re immersed in the world of food writing (both print and online), but it’s tougher when you find yourself going on and on about the history of pierogi in Western PA and you suddenly realize that your dining companions are bored stiff. Even worse than boring, it’s very easy to feel bad about the amount of time you talk about food. Talking and writing about food can come off as trivial to those who concern themselves with matters of seemingly much greater importance. To be honest, when comparing and contrasting the topics, it’s a fair enough assessment. Who cares which Pittsburgh neighborhood has the most pizza places when the city is enduring socioeconomic troubles that threaten every aspect of living in the region?

Sitting down with folks who are invested in food history and knowledge the way that you are can be such a relief. Having Sylvia really sell me on the meles at Colangelo’s in the Strip District, or finding out that Cory shares my high opinion of Square Cafe, or even just knowing that if I recommended a place that they should try sometime, they would actively consider the recommendation… knowing that we shared this very fundamental common interest made for a really easy-going, engaging conversation. This may have been one of the easiest stories I have written for the Patch.

I highly recommend checking out the Burgh Bits and Bites. Sylvia is an extremely intelligent, warm person who I bet leads a hell of tour, and if Cory is any indication of the quality of her tour guides, the rest of the people involved with the tours must be just as friendly and knowledgeable as she is. As Cory said in our interview, “It’s a great way to be a tourist in your own city.” I, for one, can’t wait to try one.

Combining My Two Favorite Spaces: Public Libraries and Public Markets


(PITTSBURGH, PA – April 6, 2011) Strip District shoppers and residents will have a new place to access free books and information.  Starting Friday, April 15, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will extend services to the Strip District’s
Pittsburgh Public Market, becoming a part of the public market’s “fresh and delicious combination” of local artisans, farmers and bakers. The extended service pilot is part of the Library’s LYNCS (Libraries in Your Neighborhood
Community and School) initiative.

Forgive me for lack of eloquence, but this development is FREAKING AWESOME. As public libraries suffer severe budget cuts that lead to shorter operating hours, staff reductions, and locations closing entirely, the Carnegie Library is continually figuring out how not to just sustain itself on its modified resources, but thrive. That’s librarians for you: You cut their budget by half and they’ll figure out how to accomplish everything with 50% the expected funds. I’m not advocating the challenge – it damn near criminal how public libraries are under appreciated – but they are up to it.

Joining up with the Public Market is an incredible way to bring more resources to an area that is steadfastly maturing into a desirable, livable place to take residence, but it is also an amazing way to bring books, media, and information to the thousands of working folks that come in and out of the Strip District every day. It’ll provide weekend resources to those who lose their access to a public library when the Downtown and Lawrenceville branches close on the weekend.

The press release – quoted above – goes on to mention that this is an innovation in the public market category. Despite the large wave of public markets opening up in cities and towns across the nation, no one has thought to include a space for public library access. It makes perfect sense to me: Eating, shopping, living, learning.

LYNCS: PPM will offer an on-site collection of materials for checkout, return services, media, and computer services, as well as a small staff to run services and see to visitors’ needs. The proximity to the Public Market will lend itself to a specialization in food and agricultural writings and events. I, for one, am excited to see what sort of food and book related events they will have lined up in the next few months, as well as the potential book collection they will have accessible to all those with a Carnegie Library card. (Looks I’ve got some fines to pay off…)

For now, if you’ve got Friday, April 15th free, think about stopping by the opening celebration for the new library. The schedule is as follows:

Friday, April 15 / 10 am
Grand Opening Ribbon Cutting

Friday, April 15 / 12 pm – 12:30 pm
30 Books in 30 Minutes
Librarians will share 30 great titles in just 30 minutes.

Friday, April 15 / 5 pm
Timbeleza
Timbeleza is a Brazilian percussion ensemble based out of Pittsburgh, PA that has been performing since 2005.  Their
goal is to expose people to samba as well as invigorate the community with music and performance.

Saturday, April 16 / 9 – 11:30 am
Drop-In Story Telling
Storytellers will intrigue and inspire audiences with their stories for young and old.

Sunday, April 17 / 12 – 2 pm
Gadget Lab
Staff will demonstrate how to use the Library’s downloadable services with eReaders and MP3 players.

Osteria 2350


Following the local food scene can skew your perspective. Read enough about a new restaurant, hear enough buzz, see enough tantalizing photographs, and suddenly, what was a normal quality eatery starts to carry the immense weight of importance. The hype raises expectations as it draws in more customers, but it can also make the first experience with a restaurant oddly dissonant, like there is a difference between trying out this hotly buzzed restaurant and the actual experience of eating and socializing in said restaurant’s environment.

I find myself most wary of this disconnect when it comes to Italian restaurants. It doesn’t help that I have in-built dismissal of them. Maybe it’s leftover hard feelings from places like Olive Garden or even the “beloved” Bloomfield fixture that is Del’s on Liberty Avenue, but I always feel like I’m getting ripped off. Noodles, sauce, maybe meat, maybe some veggies. Add a crappy glass of wine and some bread. Great, now pay $30. Congratulations. You spent three times the amount of money you would have if you had made the same dish – and you could have, believe me – at home. No matter how much a place is hyped to me, if it’s an Italian restaurant, I’m unlikely to follow-up on the praise. And if I do, it’s hardly ever an experience that turns me around on Italian dining. It sounds harsh – and please, devoted consumers of Italian food, do not misunderstand me, as I do not mean to disparage the cuisine itself – but I’d rather be in the kitchen with pasta than in a restaurant or cafe. At least I know exactly where my money is going and the quality it has been spent on.

Still, my prejudice against Italian restaurants and my normal underlying hesitancy of hype did not dissuade me from visiting Osteria 2350, a fairly new  restaurant in the style of a casual tavern, less upscale than the norm of the cuisine, and thereby somehow less intimidating and more promising. A quick scan of the menu online affirmed how casual the dining experience was sure to be – not a dish over $12, with most of the small plates $3 or $4 – not to mention inexpensive. This combined with the highly favorable buzz practically made up our minds for us.

Expecting a Friday night crowd, we were pleasantly surprised at how low-key the surroundings were. Behind the Right By Nature market, across the street from the Cork Factory apartments, Osteria is remarkably inconspicuous, offering an attractive environmental mix of tavern and cafeteria. The lighting is soft and golden, the tables are mix of small two-seaters and large wooden fixtures with long benches to match. There’s a counter/bar area and a little television in the corner for sporting events. We were seated in front of the dessert display case and the large chalkboard advertising what was available. A little kid played amongst our coats hanging on a coat rack. It was all very calm, very pleasant, even sedate.

Osteria 2350 on Urbanspoon
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Good Morning, Strip District Saturday

I’ve written about it in the past, but I have to reiterate: One of my favorite ways to spend an early Saturday morning is strolling around the Strip District alone. I love company down there, I do. Going with other people is often the perfect way to try places and things yet to be encountered. Other people mean joyful, talkative breakfasts at DeLuca’s or Pamela’s or even Chicken Latino. Other people mean a more curious, rounded shopping experience. Other people give you someone to talk to when the line at Reyna’s is really long and you’re struggling to reach your phone while also trying to keep all your bags from falling to the floor.


But other people come with a set of shopping demands all their own. Choosing to take the trip alone is lonesome, but liberating. You can move at whatever speed you want, visit the places you want to visit, come and go at your own leisure. You can invoke the zen state of being among those in very active states of mind and become a bit more passive in doing so. Gone is the necessity for distraction in that big line. That big line becomes its own distraction.


As for the rounded shopping experience, being alone can limit you to what you already know to be available, but between the flexibility of a lone person’s schedule and the comparative ease of moving one person through a dense crowd, it can also be the best way to find the little spots and corners and crannies missed on other ventures. Feeling free to do as one likes can often lead to people performing the same patterns of behavior over and over again, but it can occasionally lead to happy surprises.


I don’t like to have a big breakfast when I’m in the Strip alone. Instead, I tend to pick up things here and there: A small pastry at Lotus, a little fried dough pocket of spicy jerk chicken, a good cup of really strong coffee, a marshmallow.


I like to eat these things while perched somewhere, preferably outside, preferably perched on a concrete wall or sitting on steps or somewhere else I can simply blend into the scenery and enjoy the passing traffic. I never eat anything that needs a fork or spoon or plate. I eat with my hands, picking apart the marshmallow that has nearly melted while resting on my coffee. I keep the brown envelope around the pocket pastry, catching the little crumbs that escape with each bite. My bag and my camera are balanced on my lap. I stop to take a picture.


The Strip District alone is a world of other people’s adventures. The things that excite them, the things that tire them out, the energy and lack thereof is all externalized to anyone bothering to watch. I am watchful and therefore, while I may be alone, I am not lonely. I am entertained, I am heartened, and, of course, I’m fed.

The Local Food Report: Thursday, December 16

Local food news happens all the time, and it’s unbelievable how much you miss if you don’t check out local publications. Recently read something worthwhile? Link it at the bottom!

– Nice Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on Aldo Coffee in Mt. Lebanon. China Millman gives us a little history of the independent cafe, thoughts from the owner, Rich Westerfield, and the ups and downs of in-house coffee roasting. “The change is not without risks. ‘People are attached to brands,’ acknowledged Mr. Westerfield.”

The PG food writing staff offer their picks for the best of the year’s cookbooks. I can never wholly get behind a list that features a Rachel Ray title, but there’s a nice variety here for cooks of any caliber. (And before you call me a snob, it’s not that I don’t think her recipes and approach to cooking have a use. They certainly do. I just don’t think her cookbooks are anything special, even as far as food television personalities go.)

– From NPR: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University release a fascinating study on how imagining food consumption can limit actual desire to eat. “So we think what the imagining consumption is doing is leading people to habituate to a food. And what I mean by habituation is it’s a basic process that we see towards light, towards income, towards all these different kinds of stimuli, and it’s basically people become less responsive to anything that they’re exposed to repeatedly.”

Good, quick little feature in PopCity on Thai Suan Thip, the buzzed-about Thai restaurant in Bellevue. Also in PopCity, a revamp for the Children’s Museum’s eatery, now the Big Red Room Cafe. Nothing kids like more than an “emphasis on healthy eating and efficiency”!

– Fun article from Pittsburgh Tribune Review‘s Michael Machosky, planning out a day spent in the Strip District. Nothing surprising for those well acquainted, but a nice introduction nonetheless. Nice of the writer to give shout outs to several Public Market vendors, including Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory and Four Paws.

– Finally, if you haven’t caught the first of the PG series on the founding of Notion, definitely check it out. It’s a story driven by an intriguing character, Dave Racicot, with great talent and an even greater ego.