Maybe you hadn't noticed, what with March Madness and all the Turnpike indictments, but we live in an era of increasing specialization, from physicians (pediatric anesthesiology?), to cable TV (do we absolutely need 15 distinct HBO channels?), to baseball (where a lefty one-out-guy -- LOOGY, for the baseball nerds -- can make $3 million a year for facing exactly one batter a game).
The same thing is happening to restaurants, and I'm not talking about broad specialties like Italian or French. I'm talking about the artisan free-range sandwich place, the gluten-free cupcake place, the upscale burger place, the vegan noodle place, and that place in TriBeCa where your sushi is served by ninjas (really). There's not a thing wrong with any of these places, spots that do one thing exceedingly, obsessively well -- but sometimes, you hanker for a place that does a bunch of different things, if only very well.
Well, if there's one thing we know about here at Munch HQ, it's hankering for a bunch of different things, so I guess that means we're a fan of the generalist, which also means we're speaking up for the all-purpose diner. There is no shortage of such establishments in Pittsburgh, but it's always welcome to see a new one, and as it happens, there's a new one in Mount Washington, an earnest, red-and-gold breakfast and lunch spot called the Micro Diner.
Truth-in-advertising alert -- this is a small place, accommodating at most 30 people, with 20 or so on the floor and 10 more at the diner counter itself. Every customer that enters brings a cold draft with him, and I don't mean the sudsy kind.
But that's a tiny nit, and one that will be remedied when spring weather finally arrives (we can hope, anyway). On the balance, this is a marvelous addition to the always-in-flux Shiloh Street business district.
The smaller the diner, the bigger the build-out challenge, and I'm still not sure how owner Heather Nally managed to fit a functional commercial kitchen behind this diminutive diner counter. But she did, bringing to fruition the blueprints of her predecessor at 221 Shiloh St., who had hoped to turn this sliver of a storefront -- formerly a law office -- into a French cafe.
That never came to pass, but Micro Diner eventually did, as did my bizarre lunchtime order of strawberry creme pancakes ($5.99) and a grilled reuben sandwich ($7.99). Both were promptly served, then promptly annihilated, drawing a mixture of begrudging admiration and open loathing from the server.
Probably more of the latter, to be honest. Hey, this ain't beanbag, lady. You think watching sausage being made is unpleasant? Just watch Munch eat it.
Reuben devotees will be happy with this version, a petite composition that keeps its sturdiness even after spending a few minutes swimming in corned beef juices and Thousand Island dressing. Flapjack fans will be equally pleased with the short stacks, made from scratch just a yard or two from your seat at the lunch counter.
A Friday Lenten visit also meant a test drive of what turned out to be a reputable fish sandwich ($8.99), lightly beer battered and accessorized with a pile of house-cut shoestring fries. Fair play, Micro Diner.
Heather Nally, who has worked at Tom's Diner on the South Side and similar venues, has built a prime spot for late-morning, early-afternoon loafing. J&J's Family Restaurant, maybe 200 feet away, serves a similar purpose and clientele, but there's room for two on Shiloh Street, I hope, particularly since the closure of the late, great Village Dairy.
I won't pretend to know the politics of food service and the hospitality industry, but I do know it's always tough to be the new kid on the block. Ms. Nally is taking a chance on Mount Washington, and the least the neighborhood can do is reciprocate in kind. Go buy a sandwich.
Micro Diner is at 221 Shiloh St., Mount Washington; 412-381-1391 and www.microdiner.com. Open seven days, and late-night on the weekends.munch
Bill Toland: firstname.lastname@example.org.