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Food & Wine

La Prima Espresso

October 2, 1988, was a brisk Sunday in Pittsburgh’s Strip District—then more a collection of warehouses than a bustling foodies’ mecca—and Sam and Debbie Patti were hoping the naysayers had been wrong. With their 12-year-old daughter, Jamie, they sat bundled on a bench in the chilly storefront that had just become La Prima Espresso, the …

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Mateo’s

Grandson Mateo, now 8 years old, was a newborn when Franco and Lisa Gualtieri started cooking real Italian food in a small kitchen for pickup and delivery. When Mateo was 4, his grandparents opened the tiny restaurant they now operate on Brookline Boulevard and named it after him. Easy to pass before turning around, the …

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Just Ripe

Our little house in Pittsburgh was wedged between two widowers on the South Side slopes; John to the left, George to the right. George liked to wander out into his adjoining backyard and give me lawn cutting advice. John talked about tomatoes. John’s house shared a wall with ours, and sometimes we could hear his …

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Signs of Spring

Pittsburgh turns green in more ways than one come mid-March. Budding trees line the roads and crocuses pop up in sidewalk gardens. Along East Carson Street, the South Side’s main drag, drunken revelers laugh and shout, adjust their shamrock hats and “Kiss Me I’m Irish” T-shirts as they search out one more green beer. Up …

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Howard Hanna: Buy and sell with confidence.

The Maple

Long before Jim Pappas founded the Maple Restaurant in Ambridge, he and a partner ran an eatery that was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. One year they decided to close for Christmas and spend a few hours with their young families, but no one could find the key to the front …

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Kar Hing

Since 1937, the world’s first atom smasher–perched above Ardmore Boulevard at the confluence of Forest Hills, East Pittsburgh and Chalfant–has been a source of mystery and intrigue. The once-gleaming six-story-high silver ball–with its faded, giant Westinghouse “W” still visible–is a relic of the atomic age, but it is not the only rare find along that …

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The Beginning

Mid October, 2012. The leaves shift into yellows and reds. I harvest the perky green Brussels sprouts and fill a basket with end-of-season tomatoes, a couple of late pattypan squashes, an armload of poblano peppers, parsley, kale, Swiss chard, heirloom carrots, and the last of the zinnias for the kitchen table. I live on the …

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The Bigham Tavern

In the early 20th century, weary men from Mount Washington finished their factory shifts on the banks of Pittsburgh’s three rivers and ascended the sharp cliff to Grandview Avenue on several inclines, disappearing above the cacophony and grime. Their throats were parched and burned from the dense smoke that led James Parton to describe Pittsburgh …

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The Box is Back

This was the first good sign: When I asked a group of friends to join me for a tasting of boxed wines, everyone thought it would be fun to participate. No “Ugh, boxed wines!” No questioning of my sanity. Once upon a time, these friends—wine aficionados all—would have been right to turn up their noses. …

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Hyeholde

The goddess Diana plays many roles. She is goddess of the moon and the likely source of the name of Moon Township, which sits along a crescent-shaped bend in the Ohio River. Here, English settlers farmed the land after the French and Indian War, following the signs of the moon, as farmers have done since …

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Judging the Best

Say “state fair” or “county fair” and most folks picture themselves under the summer sun, snacking on corn dogs and deep-fried Twinkies. It’s a summertime tradition across the country. My state fair routine is a little different. Maybe I’ll be in a conference room sorting through dozens of chardonnays or debating the merits of one merlot …

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Anna’s Cucina Rustica

When she was a little girl, Anna Malvone would finish her classes and rush the few blocks to the neighborhood orphanage in Pianura, Naples. There, she helped the nuns in the kitchen, preparing simple meals with ingredients that were plentiful and cheap—tomatoes, garlic, basil and other staples of Italian life from the nearby fields. It …

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The virtues of varietals

Good old Gallo hearty burgundy. Are you old enough to remember when that was the go-to wine for every dinner party? Lord knows what was in that jug, but it always tasted the same—red fruit, easy-drinking, probably sweeter than we’re used to these days. It was a blend of numerous grapes (including, reportedly, zinfandel and …

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For the holiday table

What do you do when someone arrives on your doorstep with a slab of homemade duck pastrami? At my house, we shout thanks and reach for a corkscrew. It’s a holiday tradition. Each winter, we set aside one evening at home when my foodie friends gather with us, bringing their special dishes to add to …

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Hough’s

You can’t go home again, Thomas Wolfe’s 1940 novel about moving on in life, would have you believe that once you leave the nurturing familiarity of the old neighborhood, you can never return or recapture the magic of your youth. Wolfe should have spent a little time in Greenfield or checked with Barb and Johnny …

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Muscat Love

Mankind has been making wine for millennia, so it’s rare to find a wine that’s truly new. But sometimes we see a grape that’s ripe for a comeback. Consider the Muscat family of grapes: Muscat Blanc and its many mutations, including Muscat Ottonel and Black Muscat. Muscat Blanc is one of the oldest grape varieties …

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Jim’s Famous Sauce

Alex Damianos awakened from a troubled sleep at 3 a.m. on a hot July night in 1959 to find his smiling father standing at the foot of his bed, staring down at him. “Alex, I told you to learn how to make the sauce,” Jim said playfully to his oldest son. “Now, think about the …

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Cool It This Summer

Some guys will always go for the blockbuster red wine: the high-alcohol zinfandel or inky shiraz. I can appreciate those big reds, too, if conditions are right (snow, cigars, a two-inch-thick porterhouse). But when summer mercifully comes to Pittsburgh, those monster reds are as out of place as a woolen overcoat worn poolside. It’s time …

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Buon Giorno Café

When austrian native Gustav Lindenthal designed and built the current Smithfield Street Bridge, he placed it on the stone piers originally laid by Prussian-born John A. Roebling for the previous bridge at this site. Roebling, the renowned designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, had built a foundation over the Mon that was too perfect for Lindenthal …

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Valliant’s Diner

Pete Valliant arrived in America in 1950 with $20 in his pocket, no English, and a vague notion that he had relatives near Pittsburgh. The Greek merchant sea captain thought he would give the mainland a try, leaving behind his island home on Cephalonia, where Louis de Bernières set his 1994 novel, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” …

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Quality Close to Home

I enjoy being a wine contrarian—advocating for delicious white wines when people are conditioned to order red, and pouring domestic for customers who wouldn’t dream of drinking anything but an import. On the question of wines from the eastern United States, however, I went along with the conventional wisdom for a long time. Wines from …

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Try a blind tasting

We ran a fun little wine-tasting experiment at the restaurant the other day, one you should try at home. It will be educational and thought-provoking. And if it goes as ours went, you may be a bit miffed by the results. With some family and colleagues, we gathered nine bottles of wine, all domestic red …

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