Sometimes these stories write themselves, and lately, those are Munch's favorite kind.
To wit: a female Iraq war veteran and a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve comes to a new city chasing a dream of opening a market. She names it after her dad. She promotes local and sustainable food sources while forging strong ties with her adopted community.
Throw in a love angle and a monocle-wearing, mustache-twirling villain bent on thwarting her, and it sounds like a film written with Amy Adams or Maggie Gyllenhaal in mind to star. But that's actually what's going on at Marty's Market in the Strip District -- minus the romance and the mustachioed nemesis (at least as far as Munch knows).
Regina Koetters -- aka Lt. Cmdr. Regina Koetters -- is a 1999 Annapolis grad and multi-tour Iraq War vet, and a Louisville, Ky., native who relocated here a few years ago to work in community and real estate development. Earlier this year she took over the sizable spot in the Cork Factory complex vacated by the Right by Nature food store. She transformed it into an attractive, airy space that is nearly equal parts gourmet deli and coffee bar and market featuring organic, sustainable and locally sourced produce and meats.
Weather permitting, garage doors on the building's front open the coffee bar to Smallman Street, while fresh air breezes in from another set on an enclosed side patio. On a recent Saturday, Marty's hosted lunchtime entertainment featuring singers from the Pittsburgh Opera. No fat ladies here -- a couple of slender sopranos with killer pipes and a baritone Munch wouldn't want to arm wrestle.
The only "night at the opera" Munch ever spent was with the Queen album, so this was enlightening. The high notes of Bizet's "Habanera" floated into the streets, luring curious customers into the market like a Pied Piper of (chipped) Hamelin.
Marty's offers a daily menu featuring some of the fresh local products available in the store. Small plates ($5-$9), soups and salads ($5-$9), paninis ($8-$10), large plates ($11-$15) and desserts ($6) are available. Munch and the BBBOM (Blonde Barkeep Bud of Munch) tried to have them all over a few recent visits.
We split an order of house-made red pepper garganelli pasta tossed with zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms, basil pesto, candy onions and Parmigiano-Reggiano ($12). The dish wouldn't be out of place at one of the city's better Italian restaurants. We complemented that with a delicious Beet Carpaccio salad ($9), comprising medallions of golden beets, parsnips, mesclun greens, pistachios, cranberries and a white balsamic and rosemary oil.
On a second visit, we pigged out on pig: bacon, pulled pork and grilled pork. If they'd had a pork shake, we'd have had that, too.
The BBBOM had what she termed the best BLT in her life. Made with Niman Ranch all-natural bacon, some beautiful gold heirloom tomatoes, red leaf lettuce and served on whole grain bread, it was as attractive as it was savory.
Munch went with the pulled pork shoulder panini ($10) featuring Rufus Teague's honey sweet BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese and pickle chips. Applied conservatively, the sauce gave great flavor to the sandwich while not overpowering the tasty juicy flavor of the meat.
Finally, we split a plate of grilled pork tenderloin tacos ($13). Made with a white bean and corn salsa, shredded cabbage, cilantro, a spicy poblano pepper puree and served on corn tortillas, these, too, were tasty morsels.
Service was excellent storewide, a tone set by Cmdr. Koetters, who works the room with a friendly zeal -- one minute she's behind the register, the next promoting produce of a nearby farm in Natrona Heights.
Munch imagines that independent places like this exist in every tony ZIP code in the Bay Area and Southern California, but in 412 they're a little harder to come by. Credit Cmdr. Koetters for exploiting a gap in the market, and adding to the embarrassment of food riches that already exist in Pittsburgh's Strip District.