Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Restaurant Review: Bitter Ends Garden & Luncheonette is a Sweet Success

Becca Hegarty’s establishment in Bloomfield blends contemporary sourcing with old-fashioned community for a simple yet satisfying neighborhood restaurant.




photos by laura petrilla

 

On a cool March afternoon, with the western Pennsylvania cupboards threadbare and we who garden staring through the window longing for our barren, frost-nipped soil to bloom with bounty, I took a bite of a piece of toast topped with peaches and jubilantly pounded my fist on the counter at Bitter Ends Garden & Luncheonette. “Summertime!” I shouted to nobody in particular.

Peaches. Sunshine. Swimming holes.

Becca Hegarty, co-owner and chef of the Bloomfield lunch counter, with her crew of young farmers and woke fermentos, preserved those peaches and other produce at the peak of their seasons. She lobbied on social media to get Neil Young to try them before his performance at the Farm Aid festival in Burgettstown in September, but the legendary singer/songwriter didn’t bite. Too bad for him. Over the course of three weeks in March, Hegarty’s “Neil Young peaches toast” became the stuff of legend.

It was so simple: preserved peaches served on grilled house-made, whole-wheat sourdough with a smear of Goat Rodeo Dairy chèvre, a crack of black pepper and a dash of olive oil.



Bitter Ends Luncheonette is one of my favorite openings in three-plus years as Pittsburgh Magazine’s restaurant critic. There are significantly fancier restaurants with more formal service than this order-at-the-counter nook that was built on a $20,000 budget. Hegarty’s menu is as narrow in options as the restaurant, which has 17 seats, is confined in square footage. However, top-to-bottom, what Hegarty and her team are doing for food systems and the community is precisely what I’d like to see more of in Pittsburgh.

It’s easy for those with a traditional view of dining to dismiss Bitter Ends as millennial-twee, crunchy granola or, as someone put it, reminiscent of Soviet-era cafes.

I get it. Hegarty and co-owners Jason “Joddo” Oddo and Lou DeVito run a quarter-acre organic farm (an additional acre is in the works), and they Instagram varietals of rare radicchio and cabbage. Parcels of dried herbs, garlic and flowers hang from the walls. There is a lot of brown bread. And onions. So many onions.



Look deeper.

Bitter Ends is a breakfast and lunch counter that mingles more deeply with old-time luncheonettes of yesteryear than the seemingly hipster vibe you might, at first, glean from the largely plaid-shirted crowd. Witness Hegarty joke with a local guy who pours a bucket of sugar into his coffee while recommending she serve Maxwell House and also he’d like a job, and tell me that doesn’t remind you of a neighborhood diner. The difference is that Hegarty is a much better chef than your typical burn-and-turn griddle cook. And she’s using exceedingly superior ingredients.

Hegarty’s professional career kicked off at Woodbury Kitchen in Baltimore, but it’s the influence of two Pittsburgh-based chefs — Sonja J Finn and Rick Easton — that is most evident at Bitter Ends. There’s a “Sonja Sits Here” sticker on the seat at the far end of the lunch counter (don’t worry, you can sit there, too) for a reason; she worked under Finn at Dinette and helped her open Cafe Carnegie, for which Hegarty was the chef de cuisine until April. Hegarty worked with Easton at his sensational, now closed, Bread & Salt Bakery, learning the art of bread-baking and finding inspiration in Easton’s fastidious appreciation of high-quality ingredients.

Hegarty pulls the best from both, and now is beginning to speak with her own culinary voice. She is a two-year James Beard “Rising Star Chef” award semifinalist and last year was named one of Zagat’s initial 30 Under 30 cohort, amid other honors.



The menu at Bitter Ends is limited to a handful of sandwiches (all on house-baked bread), a few soups, a smattering of sides and a selection of pastries. If you’re one of those people who desire scope of choice, this might not be the place for you; or, take it as an opportunity to learn that curated almost always is better than limitless.

Even in the bleakest depth of winter, vegetables take center stage. “I never order vegetable sandwiches because I worry they won’t be substantial. But this is full of flavor,” a friend said while digging into a vivid vegetable hoagie with a double-earthy base of Cannellini bean puree and beets, brightened by pea and sunflower shoots, radishes, carrots, turnips and onions. It was early spring sneaking into our consciousness disguised in sandwich form, even if I did wish the baguette was less compact football and more airy zeppelin.

The shoots, the first of the season from Who Cooks For You? Farm, one of several partners that the restaurant creates a community with, also appeared on a breakfast sandwich, with a sausage patty, salty and griddled on the edges, made with pork from Fallen Aspen Farm, an egg with a yolk like sunshine from her neighbor Howard Mickley, Milky Way Meadow’s cheddar and a handful of baby bitter greens. It was yet another sandwich that made me feel the pinging for transition to the new season.

I also love the chicken salad sandwich, which appears to be a staple on the menu. Juicy pulled chicken paired with shoots and herbs such as baby chervil and parsley are piled inside slices of griddled whole-wheat bread. It’s simple and satisfying. Pair that with one of my favorite side dishes, smashed griddled potatoes, buttery and crunchy from both the griddle and the toasted breadcrumbs they’re mixed with, uplifted by vinegar and onions, and you’re in for a solid lunch.



While the onions were appropriately portioned on the potatoes, Hegarty does have a stronger affinity for the allium family than anyone without a salacious inclination toward seduction by shallot would appreciate. Tomato and bean soup, for example, tasted more of shallots than tomatoes, and it also was overwhelmed with dried dill and “spicy” Espelette pepper (which wasn’t at all spicy). I wanted more of the plump and creamy Purgatorio beans Hegarty and Oddo grew at their farm — they sure do know how to work a bean here.

Hegarty is a multifaceted baker who handles both bread and pastries with aplomb. Pea shoot icing on a delightful, not too sweet, donut was a whimsical choice. Rye chocolate chip scone, perfectly dense and crumbly, is a sleeper hit, and Hegarty hits another textural sweet spot with chewy, buttery cookies. Do make it a point to add a dessert to your meal or get one to go.



My hope for Hegarty is that she allows herself time to grow as a chef. I’d also like to see her menu be slightly less stagnant; I suspect that as more produce pops on her farm and in other local fields that will happen. My hope for Pittsburghers is that they support establishments like Bitter Ends that focus on quality over quantity, and, even if the amount of both seats and sandwiches might feel limiting, we push past that. There’s plenty of room and plenty of need for fine dining establishments in Pittsburgh, but there’s even more of a need for luncheonettes like this that build community, support local foodways and focus on finding the best.

Neil Young, you blew it when you missed the peaches, which now are off the menu. Come back to Pittsburgh, brother, because this joint is going to keep on rockin’.

4613 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield; 412/450-0229, tillthebitterends.com
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

The Sacred Spaces Tour takes visitors to the borough’s churches, mosques and historic buildings.

Waste Not: Kelly Lane's Fashion Designs are Eco-Chic

After noting how much fabric ends up in landfills, Pittsburgh designer Kelly Simpson-Scupelli found a way to incorporate the unused scraps into her fashion line.

Three Rivers Champion: Sloane Davidson

Davidson started an organization that gives refugee and immigrant families aid based on real, person-to-person relationships, not transactions.

The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The prehistoric drama is here to answer a question no one asked about the world's first-ever dog.

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

The cult classic will be screened at the Byham Theater in honor of the 50th anniversary of its debut.

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The light romcom is made for pleasing audiences — and in that respect, it succeeds.

Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Owners David and Victor Rodriguez also operate two breweries in Madrid, Spain.

Revisiting Fat Head's

The South Side stalwart punches above its weight thanks to good beer and gigantic sandwiches.

In Ben They Trust

Going into his 15th professional season, Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains the key to a successful season.

PM on KD: The Fall Weddings Issue

PM Associate Editor Lauren Davidson appears on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live to talk about the fall Weddings issue.

The Airbnb of Camping Has Started Pitching Tents in Pennsylvania

The startup Tentrr connects landowners looking for extra cash with interested campers.

Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Partnering with PPG Paints, the company uses an online platform to match customers with professional painters and provide supplies.

New TV Series Shot in Pittsburgh Area Premiering This Month

See if you recognize any of the locations in the thriller “One Dollar.”

Bocce, Pasta, Music and More Highlight Little Italy Days

Experience Italian culture and cuisine during Bloomfield’s annual Little Italy Days.

Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Combining the old and the new, these couples used their vintage details to create a modern-yet-elegant wedding day.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

The Sacred Spaces Tour takes visitors to the borough’s churches, mosques and historic buildings.

Comments

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

The cult classic will be screened at the Byham Theater in honor of the 50th anniversary of its debut.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Owners David and Victor Rodriguez also operate two breweries in Madrid, Spain.

Comments

Apteka’s Roasted Sunflower: Summer's Most Interesting (and Instagramable) Dish?

Apteka’s Roasted Sunflower: Summer's Most Interesting (and Instagramable) Dish?

The owners of the Bloomfield vegan eatery introduce a limited run of whole sunflower heads that you can eat like corn.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
6 Best Places to Get Your Nostalgia Fix in Pittsburgh

6 Best Places to Get Your Nostalgia Fix in Pittsburgh

Ah, the good old days. They may be gone, but there are still a few places where you can get a blast from the past.

Comments

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

Our dining critic picks his favorite ice cream, ice pop, frozen custard, vegan delight and more.

Comments


Revisiting Fat Head's

Revisiting Fat Head's

The South Side stalwart punches above its weight thanks to good beer and gigantic sandwiches.

Comments

TopGolf is Big, Ridiculous, Still Fun

TopGolf is Big, Ridiculous, Still Fun

The new driving-range game is way over the top, but the game it's offering is fun and they'll ensure you have a good time.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
In Ben They Trust

In Ben They Trust

Going into his 15th professional season, Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains the key to a successful season.

Comments

Steelers’ Saint Vincent Saga Even More Inspiring This Summer

Steelers’ Saint Vincent Saga Even More Inspiring This Summer

Ryan Shazier's battle back from a paralyzing injury last season and his subsequent rehabilitation from spinal stabilization surgery is a more compelling saga than the Steelers’ quest to reach Super Bowl LIII.​

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The prehistoric drama is here to answer a question no one asked about the world's first-ever dog.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The light romcom is made for pleasing audiences — and in that respect, it succeeds.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Combining the old and the new, these couples used their vintage details to create a modern-yet-elegant wedding day.

Comments

When Asking for Their Hand Doesn’t Go As Planned

When Asking for Their Hand Doesn’t Go As Planned

These proposal faux pas serve as a reminder that sometimes things have to go wrong to end up right.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Partnering with PPG Paints, the company uses an online platform to match customers with professional painters and provide supplies.

Comments

Make Your Mark by Entering Pittsburgh’s Handmade Arcade

Make Your Mark by Entering Pittsburgh’s Handmade Arcade

Artists have until Sunday to submit their applications to the independent craft fair held annually in December.

Comments