Neighborhood Joints

Millvale’s Grant Bar

Amidst the worldly comings and goings, observe how endings become beginnings,” says the Tao Te Ching, the Chinese book of philosophy and religion from 6th century BC. Despite the separation of millennia, the ancient author could have been inspired by the comings and goings at Grant Bar in Millvale. Since 1933, Frank Ruzomberka and his …

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Someone Else’s Bar

When Else Franzmann is asked where she is from, she is quick to say, “I’m from everywhere and nowhere. I never really had a hometown.” Else lived in five different places before she was 10, her family never sinking roots. After her first job, she moved seven times in 10 years. Later, she started tending …

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The Bulldog Pub

This place has roots. decades before it became the Bulldog Pub, the little neighborhood joint on Morningside Avenue was Petrilli’s Tavern. Opened during Prohibition, it was a basement speakeasy while groceries were sold in the upstairs storefront. After the scourge, the grocery became a proper barroom. The men of Morningside worked tough, physical jobs in …

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Pitaland

If breaking bread is the key to world peace, Joe Chahine has a jump on it at Pitaland in Brookline. A Lebanese Maronite Christian, Joe has pita customers of all faiths and nationalities. An Italian baker, Cellone, delivers Joe’s pita to area groceries. And if you are eating pita at any area Mediterranean restaurant, and …

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Korea Garden

Seok Kun Han was born in the mountains of South Korea as the Korean War recovery had begun. It was a time of great hardship, and his family suffered as much as any. In those tough times, it was great luck to get hired as a delivery boy for a local kitchen, working for a …

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Rudy’s Bar and Grill

His real name is Frank, but most people call him Gus, except for those who call him Rudy, and a lot of folks call him Rudy. For 40 years, Frank Aiello has operated Rudy’s Bar and Grill in McKees Rocks. Frank has been loafing here even longer, since original owner Rudy Gerger took the young …

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Di’s Korner Stone Diner

Diane Elias never gives up. When she was 41, the McKeesport eatery where she waitressed was suddenly shuttered, leaving her and her friends out of work and short on hope, a common refrain in the old mill towns around Pittsburgh. Amid abandoned factories, shops and homes, and too many broken spirits, Di could have called …

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Cafe Raymond

Some neighborhood joints acquire an aura, off the beaten path or tucked away on some dicey back street, lending “insider” status to those who can get you there for a special lunch or evening out. A little bit like playing hard to get, this geographical inconvenience makes any great joint that much more enticing. Cafe …

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Shouf’s Café

Sometimes, when Rabih Fahed pauses during a hectic night at Shouf’s Cafe, the room filled with love and laughter, families and friends hugging hello and crowding in close, and exotic aromas teasing the air, he can close his eyes and be back in the Lebanon of his youth. As a boy, he roamed the souks …

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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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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 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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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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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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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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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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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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Triangle Bar & Grill

The Bermuda Triangle—that vortex in the Atlantic Ocean that starts at Miami, follows a line southeast to Puerto Rico, then north to Bermuda and back to Miami—forms a region that some have imbued with mysterious powers. Over the decades, many ships have entered this triangle, never to be seen again. But there is one triangle …

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Square Café

There are two features that are essential before any establishment can become a neighborhood joint, and Square Café in Regent Square has both. The first is a counter or bar. A raised countertop and stools will anchor a place. In this case, size is not important. The Square has just nine stools, enough to do …

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Girasole: Dinner and a Show

As the great American playwright Tennessee Williams once said, “I think Italians are like Southerners without their inhibitions.” Williams could have made that observation from a table at Girasole, which combines the best of Italy and Pittsburgh: sometimes it can be a little bit pazzo, but it is always honest. Girasole is often crowded, usually …

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Johnny’s Restaurant

There is a relationship that regular patrons have with Johnny’s Restaurant in Wilmerding that is a lot like the one shared by old married couples. They promise each other not to be the first to go, because the survivor will be lost until the end. And after a yearlong hiatus, Johnny Fusilli is back at …

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