Sålł In Oakland Is A True Hidden Gem

You'll find well-made versions of nostalgic classics in the counter-service lunch room inside TMD Holdings.

PHOTOS BY HAL B. KLEIN

Few hidden gems are actually hidden. Sålł, Blair Hohn III’s lunchroom, is. It’s located in an interior room at TMD Holdings, a global supply chain and manufacturing business, on an industrial block of Melwood Avenue in Oakland.

Hohn offers the kind of dishes you might fondly recall from school lunches, your now-closed neighborhood diner and the beloved roadside restaurant you once stumbled upon on a road trip — think roast beef, kielbasa, pastrami and pulled pork sandwiches, fried chicken, meatloaf and lasagna. Most restaurant versions of this hearty cuisine have been demoted to mediocre compositions built from pre-cooked, industrial ingredients; at Sålł, you’ll find offerings that spark memories of why these dishes became favorites in the first place. That’s because Hohn is applying his culinary background and technique to the preparation. “I’m doing fine dining cooking for the blue-collar worker,” he says.

Hohn’s culinary career began when he was 15, working as a line cook at a casual cafe in Trafford. As a teenager, he worked his way up the ladder at Gateway Grill in Monroeville. He took a break from the culinary world to work in construction prior to moving to Lancaster to take a position as sous chef at Old Spring House, fine dining steak and seafood restaurant. Hohn then attended the now-closed Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, and externship landed him at Oakmont Country Club; he also worked at Westmoreland and Edgewood Country Club.

Last year, Hohn was working as the lead catering chef for Common Plea Catering, and part of his portfolio included preparing food for events at TMD. He was considering returning to a country club kitchen, until, Hohn says, “The owner [of TMD] said to me, ‘How about instead of doing that, you come work for me?’”

In May, Hohn expanded his menu and opened to the general public. In that time, Hohn’s built a loyal following. He serves 35 to 50 guests per day, many of whom come back at least once a week to eat. The counter-service space is warm and comfortable, with a handful of communal tables, and the composition of the dishes, plated on disposable tableware, is straightforward. Most days, you’ll be able to eat a filling lunch for less than $15.

He menu plans on Saturday and Sunday for 8 to 10 hours. Hohn says he factors what people already like, what he’s craving, what ingredients he has on hand or can get, and what customers are asking for into his rubric for what he’ll serve each week. He then releases the menu on Monday mornings via Instagram (though a website is in the works). His hours are limited — lunch is served from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

I’ve been delighted with my meal each time I’ve visited Sålł, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Hohn takes it. Step-by-step, he’s building one of Pittsburgh’s more compelling lunch destinations. “I figure we’ll start small and keep building. I’m buying things as I go,” he says.

461 Melwood Ave., Oakland

Categories: Eat Street