Munch goes to the Waffle Shop and the Conflict Kitchen

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Of the phrases Munch anticipated hearing when stepping out for a late nosh Saturday night, "Let's see if we can get two girls to make out on a bike" was not among them. Munch wondered if that exact combination of words had ever been previously uttered in the entire history of the English language.

If it hadn't, then stop the clock because the Waffle Shop in East Liberty gets the prize for first mention of amorous, same-sex, bicycle encounters (pertinent question: how big is the seat?). It's emblematic of the occasional silliness one overhears at Pittsburgh's -- and perhaps the world's -- only working diner/reality show.

A classroom for Carnegie Mellon students that opened in 2008, the Waffle Shop "is a neighborhood restaurant that produces and broadcasts a live-streaming talk show with its customers," according to its website. "... We film during open hours, inviting interested patrons to express their unique opinions and personalities."

Tucked in the gorgeous old Werner Building, the brightly colored interior has a stage set straight from the Merv Griffin-era. From the outside at night, the glowing scene from the corner shop looks like a hipster version of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" painting -- subbing fedoras with skinny jeans.

Atop the building is a billboard with snippets of conversation captured during filming. Munch and Blond Barkeep Bud of Munch (The BBBOM) heard a few good ones, including our favorite: "We can make a Roethlis-waffle. It'll be a hamburger between two waffles that you force on someone." Thank you, they're here all weekend. Try the waffles.

Brunch is a slightly more mature scene. At 11 a.m. Sunday, for example, the PG's Diana Nelson Jones will be the guest on "Cookspeak," a regular podcast about the culinary world.

So it's worth a visit for the entertainment value. But what of the food?

Not bad.

There are five different combinations of fresh-off-the-griddle waffles with a multitude of toppings. Munch had the "Savory" waffles ($6.50), made with eggs, bacon and cheese incorporated into the batter. It was a great late snack -- good consistency and a nice mixture of sweet and salty. The BBBOM loved the Bananas Foster waffles ($6.50). Topped with bananas, vanilla bean ice cream and a brown sugar sauce, they were a sugary, insulin shock-inducing delight.

Conversely, the Waffle Shop's neighboring, sister establishment, the Conflict Kitchen, takes on a slightly more sober topic -- geopolitical tensions -- through food. The brightly colored takeout window has made national news for its simple concept -- serving a dish from a country with which the United States is in direct conflict.

Right now, the country is Iran and the dish is the Kubideh ($5), an outstanding spiced ground beef sandwich garnished with mint, basil and onion served on fresh-made warm Barbari bread (like a pita). The ingredients are locally made or grown. We washed down our Kubidehs with delicious bottles of small batch pop, also locally made by the Natrona Bottling Co. ($3).

Open daily for lunch and weekends for late-night grubbing, a Kubideh is an excellent cheap takeout option. Its wrapper unfolds to be an informative sheet of opinions from local Iranians as to why our two countries are at odds, and in the spirit of fostering discussion, they've held live dinners with groups in Tehran via Skype.

Conflict Kitchen intends to offer a new Afghani dish in the fall, but given that this is Pittsburgh and it'll be football season, the menu should include Cincinnati chili, Maryland crab cakes and whatever hard luck-and-dirt sandwich they serve in Cleveland.

Although those are arguably conflicts for which no peaceable solution exists. Good Middle Eastern food is a much easier sell.


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