Robert Chambers Jr. first opened the joint in Homewood in the late 1980s and moved it to this roadside spot a decade ago.
Upon taking to lunch a mild-mannered, Midwestern colleague known for his pithy commentary, and asking him for his thoughts on the meal, he turned to Munch, channeled his inner Garrison Keillor and said:
"You know a sandwich is going to be good ... when it's wrapped in white waxed paper."
Truer words have not been spoken.
Those waxed paper wrapped beauties come from Szmidt's Old World Deli in Greenfield, which opened earlier this year.
Pittsburgh is home to plenty of fine delis, but this place is exceptional and for this reason: they're making many products on site, in house. At Szmidt's, they bake their own bread and buns. They brine their own corned beef and pastrami. They make their own pierogi. They don't simply outsource their products and reassemble them into sandwiches.
The results are terrific.
There are a dozen "Szmidtwiches" on the menu, each with housemade breads. The Sassano, named after one of the owners, is Szmidt's take on a classic Rueben ($7.45); the Capasso uses slow-roasted top-round with carmelized onion, cheddar and a horseradish mayonnaise ($6.95); the Lydia has grilled seasoned chicken breast, prosciutto, provolone and pesto.
We each had the "Szmidt," the signature sandwich ($7.45). The pastrami and rye bread are made from scratch, and both are delicious. With a dollop of deli mustard, housemade pickle and yes, wrapped up in white waxed paper, it is nothing short of a perfect deli sandwich.
On a separate trip, Munch enjoyed the "Loafer" -- cuts of hot apricot glazed meatloaf on a white bun.
Szmidt's pierogi, derived from the owner's grandmother's recipes, come in three categories: "Old World," featuring standards such as potato and cheddar and potato and kraut; "New World" combinations such as Rueben, southwest chicken with cilantro sour cream, Thanksgiving with gravy; and "Sweet" dessert such as dumplings with flavors like apple mango and Granny Smith apple pie.
We got a half-dozen each of the "Old World" potato and cheddar and the "New World" bacon cheeseburger pierogi (both $4.95). Though the newbies were quite tasty, consider Munch and the mild-mannered Midwesterner purists: We loved the classic potato and cheese, which were perfectly fried in a wonderful doughy shell. These are the real deal, not the grocery store frozen stuff that so many places try to pass off as authentic.
There are also some gargantuan Franken-rogie creations called "Rages" -- giant, oversized versions of their pierogi, served on sandwich rolls and dressed with myriad toppings (all $8.95). For example, The Pollack is an oversized potato and cheese pierogi, covered with bacon, cheddar cheese, sauerkraut, and garlic mayonnaise;
The Whapper is the seasoned sausage pierogi with provolone, sautéed mushrooms, peppers and onions and a house sauce.
In the category of Zeppelins -- think baked hoagies -- among the seven selections is the McCarthy ($7.95), named for Greenfield native and Packers' head coach Mike McCarthy. Though the shaved, seasoned roast beef, sauteed onions, mushrooms, peppers, provolone and horseradish mayonnaise sounds delightful, Munch, still smarting from the events of 264 days ago (not that Munch is counting or anything), will not be eating one.
Not to be bitter.
Szmidt's also offers a number of burgers, gourmet deli salads, and something called Doughbies: housemade dough, folded, baked and seasoned and stuffed with various permutations of sausage, pepperoni, cheeses and chicken.
Munch looks forward to many happy returns to Szmidt's and munching around the menu.
Except for The McCarthy.