Tried and True: For returning Pittsburghers, some old and new dining destinations


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When the average life span of a restaurant is between one and five years, it's notable that Pittsburgh is home to so many that have been around for decades. They have become part of the landscape of people's lives. Residents get to know owners and regulars as if they're members of an extended family.

When displaced Pittsburghers return here, they bring with them a list of go-tos that are quintessential Pittsburgh. Yet the go-tos are changing as the city's appetites diversify, especially among Millennials and people moving here from elsewhere. They're hungry for pared-down, locally owned restaurants and shops that offer a taste of what's happening in cities around the country. They're feasting on Neapolitan-style pizza. They're trying French macarons. They're sipping bourbon from a library of choices. They're visiting places where style is as defining as what's on the plate.

Where to eat like a Pittsburgher? For returning Pittsburghers, here's a short list of crowd pleasers, old and new.

Pizza

Old: Mineo's. For a deck-oven crust and gooey cheese, Mineo's defines the Pittsburgh-style pizza. "On a trip to Pittsburgh last year, I made my friends take me to Mineo's first thing," said native Pittsburgher David Hagedorn, now a Washington, D.C., resident.

The Pittsburgh institution opened on Murray Avenue in 1958. Giovanni "John" Mineo set out to open a bakery and ended up selling pizzas instead.

The restaurant is in the process of expanding to the building next door, creating a full-service bar, an expanded menu and 40 additional seats by January.

"Their pizza is part of our family lore because we all swear we've never had better anywhere else," Mr. Hagedorn said. "It was one of the few times I can recall when a food lived up to a childhood memory." (2128 Murray Ave. Squirrel Hill. mineospizza.com; 412-521-9864)

New: Il Pizzaiolo. Once a week, $10,000 worth of cheese is flown in from Naples, Italy, a gesture of fastidious sourcing from chef/owner Ron Molinaro at Il Pizzaiolo in Downtown's Market Square. It's the ingredients combined with a perfect char and a blistered crust that translate to some of the city's best pizzas. Though the flagship location in Mt. Lebanon has been pleasing diners since 1996, the newer spot is a two-story, 40-seat $1.5 million restaurant that offers front row seats to a changing Downtown. (8 Market Square. Pittsburgh. ilpizzaiolo.com/market_square. 412-575-5858)

 

Burgers

Old: Tessaro's. This restaurant is the kind of place where strangers end up pulling tables together to share a meal. It's also home to one of the most celebrated traditional burgers in town. Butcher and cook for more than 20 years, Dominic Piccola grinds meat in-house and Courtney McFarlane grills the patties over hardwoods. It's the simplicity of this technique that has helped make Tessaro's a burger destination, but it's also the owners -- the Harringtons -- who have kindled the spirit of the place. The family affair is now run by sisters Moira and Mike and their mother Tresa "Tee" Harrington. Tee's son, Kelly, the burger aficionado, died in 2009. (4601 Liberty Ave. Bloomfield. tessaros.com. 412-682-6809)

New: Butterjoint. It's often a challenge to find a seat at Butterjoint, no matter what day it is. An eclectic Oakland location does not deter a crowd. It's here for a good cocktail, warm service and a lean menu of pickles, pate, pierogies and burgers. Ground daily and served with fries cooked in tallow, even a fancy burger that changes daily isn't a souped-up version dressed with a laundry list of ingredients. Perhaps it's locally sourced beef, just-right seasoning, an 80-20 beef to fat ratio or chef Trevett Hooper's culinary skills that makes the burgers so good. Burgers here are made from leftovers of locally raised whole animals. "It's easier to tell you what cuts aren't in the burgers," Mr. Hooper said. Whatever the case may be, Butterjoint offers one of the city's finest burgers. (214 N. Craig St., Oakland. thebutterjoint.com. 412-621-2700)

 

Sandwiches

Old: Real McCoy Sandwich Shop. Jennifer Gradnik reopened this sandwich shop several blocks away from the two former locations that were run by her mother, Kathy, and her grandmother, Ginny Griffin, since 1958. The sale of the former location and her mother's death delayed the move for more than a year.

When it reopened in July, regulars supported Ms. Gradnik and her grandmother, buying sandwich specials stuffed with pastrami, steak and eggs or fried onions, bologna and American cheese. They still do. (1301 E. Carson St. South Side. 412-481-0566)

New: Thin Man Sandwich Shop. Dan and Sherri Leiphart worked in fine dining restaurants such as Isabela on Grandview before opening Thin Man, named for the 1930s' film noir series. The menu features sandwiches stuffed with braised beef cheeks, goat curry or veal ragu as well as local produce, house-made pickles and condiments. (50 21st St., Strip District. thinmansandwichshop.com. 412-586-7370)

 

Bakery

Old: Prantl's Bakery. Burnt almond torte made with butter cream, cake and almond brittle has become a Pittsburgh treat, and Prantl's is its birthplace. Henry Prantl was inspired to make it after returning from a trip in the '70s to California, where there was a glut of almonds. After sampling a few West Coast pastries, he returned to Pittsburgh to make a sweeter pastry and it remains the bakery's best-seller year round. Though the Prantl family sold the bakery in 2007, Lara and Matt Bruhn and Annette Mich maintain the tradition and recently opened a location off Downtown's Market Square. (5525 Walnut St., Shadyside; 412-621-2092. 438 Market St., 412-471-6861. prantlsbakery.com)

New: Gaby et Jules. This bakery from Frederic Rongier and pastry chef David Piquard of Paris 66 in East Liberty opened in Squirrel Hill in August. It's named as a tribute to Rongier's grandfather, Gabriel, and Piquard's grandfather, Jules. Mr. Piquard brings experience from Fauchon and Laduree, heavyweight names in French patisserie.

Holiday offerings include the buche de Noel, a holiday roulade made in a variety of shapes such as mountains, pillows and purses in the spirit of pastry-chef competitions. Mr. Piquard also makes holiday macaroons in white chocolate candy cane, chestnut, gingerbread, egg nog, pumpkin and chocolate orange. They can be shipped anywhere in the country through Dec. 18 via the website, gabyetjules.com. (5837 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412-682-1966)

 

Bar

Old: Le Mardi Gras. The jukebox, cozy booths and authenticity are draws to this intersection of old and new Pittsburgh. There's plenty of opportunity for people watching (and smoking) but no food, unless you count orange and grapefruit cockails such as the Salty Dog or Tequila Sunrise.

The Pittsburgh dive bar for 59 years has been run by Richard Costanzo and his family since its reign on Bellefonte Street in Shadyside. It moved to its current location, just off Walnut Street, in 2002. (731 Copeland St., Shadyside. lemardigras.com; 412-683-0912)

New: Butcher and the Rye. Sibling to Meat & Potatoes, Butcher and the Rye is the looker that's a booze destination first, a restaurant second, if only for the dazzling array of bourbons and an all-star cast of bartenders. They include Meat & Potatoes bartender Mike Mills as beverage director, Wes Shonk, formerly of 1947 and Maggie Meskey and Erika Joyner, both former bartenders at Salt of the Earth.

The first-floor bar with the dramatically lit shelves features 400 bourbons and ryes, including the coveted Pappy Van Winkle as well as barrels from Willett and a single-batch Buffalo Trace. The upstairs bar offers more carefully crafted cocktails, among "splendid and clear" cocktails, aged classics, flights and non-alcoholic options. (212 Sixth St., Downtown. butcherandtherye.com; 412-391-2752)


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