Munch goes to Don's Diner on the North Side

In an effort to avoid ever doing any actual work, Munch regularly wanders the second floor here at 34 Boulevard of the Allies -- slogan: "One of America's Drab Office Buildings" -- looking for someone, anyone, with which to crack wise and engage in generally shiftless behavior.

It being Oscar week, Munch chatted up Grizzled Colleague of Munch (G-COM) on a somewhat topical topic: Best Pittsburgh movies. We decided on two categories: Best Movie Shot in Pittsburgh, and Best Movie Shot and Set in Pittsburgh.

The first? Easy: "The Silence of the Lambs," the Academy Award winner, which featured a different sort of Munch. Though it swept the Oscars, not one moment of it was set in Pittsburgh, as Hannibal Lechter was from Baltimore and probably a Ravens fan, which sounds about right.

The second? More of a discussion. "Night of the Living Dead" is quite literally a no-brainer (rimshot!); the 1901 and 1904 shorts "Packing Pickle Jars" and "Girls Winding Armatures" win for Pittsburgh movies that sound dirty but aren't (actual films -- Google it); "The Deer Hunter" and "Flashdance," capture bits of industrial Pittsburgh that doesn't exist much anymore; "Sudden Death" and "Striking Distance" are terrible guilty pleasures.

G-COM's favorite was "Wonder Boys." A good choice. Munch leans toward a pair of recent releases: "The Next Three Days" a solid Russell Crowe-thriller with some shots of our fair city so attractive Munch could only term it as Pittsburgh-porn; and "Warrior" the MMA answer to "Rocky," which captures gritty Pittsburgh in excellent fashion, and for which Nick Nolte is nominated for an Oscar on Sunday.

And what do those films have in common (besides tepid box office receipts)? Both filmed scenes at Don's Diner, a tiny family establishment tucked in a hollow under a bridge in the Woods Run section of the North Side.

An inspired bit of casting, to be sure. The place is pure-Pittsburgh from the "Kehn I gitch'inz kawffee?" greeting from our waitress to the perfectly cooked dippy eggs on a breakfast platter. Old black and white photos of Pittsburgh's past line the walls as does a framed autographed photo of the late Mayor Bob O'Connor. Between folks from the neighborhood, and workers from the nearby warehouses and Western Pen, everyone seemed to know everyone else there. Munch half expected the ghost of Art Rooney Sr. to float through the door at any moment.

For 17 years Don and Sandy Notaro have toiled over the diner's griddle, and the place moves like a Swiss watch. Dishes are made to order with precision and care. Service was prompt. Coffee cups stayed full. The menu is chock full of breakfast and lunchtime sandwich staples with nothing more than $10. Munch and trusty pal The BBBOM (Blonde Barkeep Bud of Munch) gorged on breakfast there earlier this week.

The BBBOM had the pancake platter and was pleased on all accounts. She reported the pancakes to have perfect density and taste, and the aforementioned dippy eggs exploded like yolky supernovas when their membrane was breached by wheat toast. The BBBOM upgraded to thick-cut bacon for an extra buck, an easy and delicious decision.

Munch's omelet was perfectly cooked and properly folded over fillings of ground sweet sausage, red, green and orange peppers and cheddar cheese, which were added during cooking and not all pre-mixed in the egg batter like many places lazily do. Some extra sausage and peppers were placed atop the omelet as a savory garnish. Munch's side of home fries was just OK, but Munch was willing to let that slide given the quality of the omelet.

But as much as Munch loved the eggs at Don's Diner, Munch needs to wipe egg from Munch's brown-bagged face from the embarrassment of having learned about this North Side institution via a pair of Hollywood productions.

Here's to hoping it doesn't happen again when "The Dark Knight Rises" and "One Shot" come out.


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