Some Things I Love to Eat Around Here
Discover some of Rick's favorite local bites.
There are so many good things to eat in these western Pennsylvania hills and valleys, along our highways and neighborhood streets, at places old and new, restaurants good, better and best that it’s hard for me to make a complete list. This is just a start. Some of these I’ve learned about through work, some through hunger, and some just because I’m always willing to try something new, and I love a tasty surprise.
I love to start any day at Katerbean. Jackie Grice behind the counter rules. Energetic and opinionated, she speaks freely like any good blue-collar Bostoner surrounded by Steelers fans. The coffee is good, but it’s the scene, the camaraderie and the lox and cream-cheese bagels that keep me coming back.
There are quick-grab, saran-wrapped bagels in the case, but Jackie will put together one to order (on a toasted EVERYTHING bagel!) if you’re kind. She also bakes the top-notch carrot-cake cupcakes, the banana and berry breads and even the sometimes unexpected caramel-apple-cheesecake bars. Yum.
1108 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square, 412/244-8942
My buddy Brian Butko, author of Klondikes, Chipped Ham & Skyscraper Cones, first took me back in the 1990s to this amazing reminder of our once-lively, local dairy-store culture. It’s still the best example of what an Isaly’s store used to look like, but it’s also got a wacky life of its own with a veritable museum of West View Park on the walls and some of the greatest breakfast and lunch fare in these parts.
I am never disappointed when I order the Slammer, the best chipped-ham sandwich in the universe with cheese and fried onions on a freshly baked bun. Tell Tom and Gail Weisbecker that I sent you.
448 Perry Highway, West View, 412/931-9994
Years ago Sam Edelman used to write a food column for this magazine, and knowing my passion for Pittsburgh flavors, he took me on my first trip to Emil’s, telling me that this modest place had the city’s best fish sandwich. He said, “You know that’s saying a lot.” He was right. Great bar food here in a classic Pittsburgh bar.
I say get the stupendous fish sandwich (served with squat fish planks, not giant filets that extend beyond the beautiful bun), or maybe try the open-face steak sandwich, which really is just a sizable steak on a piece of bread.
414 Hawkins Ave., Rankin, 412/271-9911
DONER KABOB HOUSE:
Step into this little store-front restaurant, and you're in a small Turkish outpost in Oakland. On a street of ethnic entrepreneurs, Ferhat Erisen cuts thin slices of pressed meat (like on a gyro—it's lamb and beef molded together) and rolls them with freshly cut tomatoes, onions, lettuce, parsley and some spicy red sauce into freshly made flatbreads, creating some of the most flavorful and interesting durum doners this side of the Bosporus. You can get a platter if you don't want to deal with the foil-wrapped doner kabob, but you can get a couple to go and have a beautiful lunch or dinner or both.
424 Semple St., Oakland, 412/681-2021
FREDERICKTOWN BUTCHER SHOP:
If you drive up the incredibly interesting Mon Valley through towns with familiar and not-so-familiar names, just south and west of Brownsville, there's this charming little village with a cable-drawn ferry boat that will take you back and forth across the river. The ferry is a sleek red relic from an earlier day of river crossings before bridges, and it's worth a day trip. Plus, on the south end of town, there's the nondescript, long, metal building that's a grocery store called the Fredericktown Butcher Shop where I found what may be the best fried chicken in the tri-state area. Crunchy, juicy, deeper than golden brown, this chicken is a sublime treat to munch on in the car (have napkins!) or to make a memorable picnic beside the river. I want some now.
334 Front St. (Route 88), Fredericktown, 724/337-0439
Rick Sebak is a TV producer for WQED, and he’s editing a new show for PBS to be titled “Breakfast Special,” premiering nationwide on July 14 at 8 p.m.