West End and its cornucopia of businesses should not be bypassed
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The West End is coming back. Again. The neighborhood seems to have more rebounds than a player in the NBA. This time, thanks to a dedicated slew of new eateries, bakeries and other small businesses, it looks like it's bound for success.Martha Rial, Post-Gazette photos
The Clark siblings in front of their family restaurant in the West End. They are, from left, Abby Clark, server, Caleb Clark, chef, and Noah Clark, line cook. The restaurant, which serves mixed American cuisine, opened five months ago at the site of the former Temperanceville Tavern.
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The neighborhood was incorporated as Temperanceville in 1837, so named from the stipulation in all property deeds that liquor should never be sold on the premises. Sawmills, grist mills and a glassworks joined oil refineries and several iron works in providing a thriving industrial base for the area. The nearby Ohio river guaranteed easy transportation of products and materials for local businesses. And the view of the city from Temperanceville's hilltop was breathtaking.
When Temperanceville was annexed by the City of Pittsburgh in 1872, the name was changed to West End, just as Allegheny City was changed to North Side and Birmingham was renamed South Side.
For years, all traffic on routes 51, 19 and 22-30 funneled through the West End on Main and Wabash Streets. But by 1960, the West End bypass and Fort Pitt Tunnels were taking the bulk of traffic. Businesses suffered, shops closed, people moved.
Five years ago, West End was a ghost town with a vacancy rate of 85 percent. Today, it's hard to find a building without a development plan under way. The West End Valley Business Association and West End Village Residents Association are responsible for the turnabout. Their joint revitalization plans are being carried out by West End's community development corporation, West Pittsburgh Partnership.
More than 30 new businesses have located to West End in the past three years. The core of the neighborhood, South Main Street, has undergone a $1.2 million streetscape renovation. Private investment is in excess of $7 million and continues to grow. Shops and eateries are branding together with a new name, West End Village.
Call it what you will, a new and much different neighborhood is emerging.
To check it out, we spent a few days walking around, talking to shop owners and noshing our way along Wabash and Main Streets.
Vanilla Pastry Studio, 406 S. Main, 412-922-2173
Meet April Gruver, creator of confections extraordinare. When you whisper "sweet dreams" to your loved ones, she is the sugar fairy they dream about. Her tiny shop, only a few months old, tempts passersby with baby cakes, fruit-stuffed muffins, blondies and brownies and fist-filling, chocolate-studded cookies.
Goodies are crafted with European butter, splurge-level chocolate and Madagascar vanilla.
But it's the wedding cakes and special-occasion and custom work that lucky Pittsburgh raves about, because Ms. Gruver is the go-to pastry chef for upscale event planners, including big Burrito Catering.
See her goodies at The Warhol, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and at weddings and private parties. Soft-centered lollipops are her signature confection.
They are an adult indulgence, with flavors such as salted caramel, coconut cream pie and vanilla mascarpone cheesecake.
The shop doesn't have tables and chairs just yet, but soon you'll be able to linger over Ms. Gruver's sweets and Coffee Tree Roasters coffee. If the sugar fairy's confections taste vaguely familiar, know that Ms. Gruver used to work as pastry chef at the Duquesne Club and as pastry consultant for Six Penn Restaurant.
Look for the sandwich board on the sidewalk, the many-stacked Mad Hatter cake in the window and the Andy Warhol ice-cream cone prints inside.
Grill 424, 424 S. Main, 412-921-2470
To better understand the West End, you might review the begats of this bar-restaurant.
Back in the 40s, it was Theil's Bar. John Theil, the owner, was killed during an armed robbery at the bar on Sept. 26, 1941. His wife then ran the place for 30 years or so before the family sold the building, and it sat idle for a couple of years. Then it had a good run as The Temperanceville Tavern, and, after that, it was West End Park House.
Today, the eatery is Grill 424, owned by the Clark family and ready for business in the spring. Larry Clark knows what it takes to run a restaurant; he has opened over 70 restaurants from Orlando to Seattle in his 25 years in the hospitality business. Son Caleb is the chef, daughters Abby and Strealy wait tables and younger son Noah buses them. Mom Kim works the bar, kitchen and dining room, and her 82-year old mother preps, cleans and sometimes makes soup.
In the bar, which specializes in craft beers, you'll find a cross-section of Pittsburgh folks in a range of styles, races, professions and ages. The menu is eclectic Americana: calamari fritti, hand-breaded fish, grilled flatiron steak and excellent Southwestern specialties. Best dish: anything smoked in the new house smoker, especially the pulled pork sandwich.
April Gruver with her "Mad Hatter" birthday cake at Vanilla Pastry Studio in the West End.
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James Frederick and Gayle Irwin in their garden at James Gallery in the West End.
Click photo for larger image.James Gallery, 413 S. Main, 412-922-9800
When James Frederick and his partner Gayle Irwin moved their James Gallery from its longtime Dormont location to the West End five years ago, they became a catalyst for many shops to follow. The twosome rehabbed their building into a destination for both artists and art lovers. The gallery exhibits and places fine art by regional, national and international artists working in all media -- paintings, works on paper, sculpture, fiber arts and photography. They exhibit exciting new work as well as significant older pieces. For the All Star game, the show was "Baseball and The Blues."
Mr. Frederick and Ms. Irwin are the biggest boosters in the neighborhood, often offering design advice to tenants just starting out. Both their gallery and their landscaped sculpture garden are popular sites for private parties and special events. The gallery is open six days a week, so walk on in and enjoy the views.
Sue's Cozy Corner Cafe, 400 S. Main St., 412-920-1622
Sue's has the look and feel of a budding B&B. Cozy, it is. A fireplace, flanked by two upholstered wing chairs, warms a corner in cool weather. An old-fashioned dining room set near a back wall could be from Grandma's house. The table, set for six, looks ready for a special family meal.
Owner Sue Kaczorowski specializes in soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, and her big seller is a Pittsburgh favorite, the cup and a half.
Carol's Restaurant, 410 S. Main, 412-921-2627
Carol Carmichael used to work as a medical technician because she likes to take care of people. The switch from nursing to feeding people was an easy transition for the blue-eyed blonde.
"We missed the police when the station was closed, but now that the police and the EMS guys are back, we feel safe and good about being in business here," said Ms. Carmichael. She's open for breakfast, lunch and early dinner. Her menu was light for the summer, but when the first leaves fall, look for her pierogies, chili, creamed soups and kielbasa.
You won't need to ask for directions to her place. Look for the big, school bus-yellow letters CAROL'S on the black-tinted windows.
Once a Steeler fan, always a Steeler fan.
Animal Advocates Thrift Shop, 35 Wabash Ave., 412-928-9837
It's hard to pass up a thrift shop, especially when it benefits a volunteer project that supports animal rescue. The ceramics and knick-knacks downstairs are predictable. Upstairs is something else. In the Animal Advocates office, cats waiting for adoption keep the staff company and have the run of the place. They lounge on a fenced-in deck and sun porch, nap on cat climbers and greet visitors with a purr. Adoptable dogs are sent to foster care. Buy a couple of knick-knacks anyway.
Buon Sapore, 22 Wabash St., Bank Building, 412-922-6530
The imposing building on the corner of Wabash and Main streets was once the home of West End Savings Bank. The buyer did a redesign of the space, and the old bank morphed into a hive of shops and boutiques.
That's where you'll find Carlo Dozzi and his unique all-things-Italian shop. The son of immigrants, Mr. Dozzi has made over 100 trips to Italy in the past 30 years, visiting family and friends, many of whom are craftsmen. Each time he brought back one-of-a-kind, handmade gifts: Handblown glass and crystal from Murano, cutlery from Maniago, hand-painted ceramics and inlaid wood from Sorrento and Naples. He has a fabulous corkscrew collection; ask to see the boxed Mondavi opener. If you want a designer pen knife, find it here. All are handmade collector's pieces. And be sure to see the bone-handled working pen knife, only one inch long.
Cafe Laurie, 22 Wabash St., Bank Building, 412-921-8638
The size of the safe in the old West End Savings Bank would bring tears to the eyes of Willy Sutton: impervious, unrobbable and unlikely to be cracked by anything short of a WMD. The steel door is 20 inches thick and six feet tall. It sits open in perpetual yawn so you can peer into the vault to see old safety deposit boxes and drawers. That's the place to sit and ponder your fortunes when you pick up a snack at the cafe.
Chef-owners Laurie and George Harris are new to the West End neighborhood this year, after a six-year stint at The Plates, an eatery in Bellevue. In the bakeshop downstairs, they make fat snickerdoodles, raspberry pockets and all the breads. The menu is limited to breakfast sandwiches, salads and lunch sandwiches. The biggest seller is the Jadey Wadey sandwich (turkey, provolone, apples, bacon and mayo), named after their 15-year-old, red-headed daughter, Jade.
ARTIFACTS, 110 S. Main St., 412-921-6544
You might think the building is an airplane hangar, but you can't miss the sign on the 42,000-square-foot building. The three-foot-tall, uppercase letters are probably visible from Neville Island. Inside, 20,000 oriental rugs from almost every carpet weaving area of the world are showcased. Massive, carved antique furniture and King Kong-sized chandeliers are to scale for a castle -- well, nothing less than a palace. When you check out the second floor, you wonder that it doesn't cave in.
Serially successful businessman Rick Hvizdak is the long-time collector, finding many of the pieces in private collections in Europe. With an eye to warehousing and later auctioning some of his collection, Hvizdak bought West End's former St. James Catholic church. It's still under re-construction, but the pews and statuary are long gone, and the interior has been painted, and the bricks are being pointed. The stained glass windows are in perfect condition.
Hvizdak also bought Laverne's Diner, long a landmark near the West End Circle, after the diner's matriarch, Laverne Yorkagitis, died last year. It is one of the few remaining stainless steel, traditional railroad dining cars. Cross fingers that Hvizdak rehabs it to its former "meatloaf and mashed" glory.
European Treasures, 22 Wabash St., Bank Building, 412-920-2320
It's never too early to Christmas shop. Hand-painted tree ornaments, hand-crafted cloisonne pieces and ceramic figurines line the shelves. This is the place for intricate, pop-up special occasion greeting cards. Look for funky purses and one-of-a-kind gifts.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Aug. 26, 2006) John Theil, former owner of a bar and restaurant at 424 S. Main St. in the West End, was killed during an armed robbery at the bar on Sept. 26, 1941. This article about West End businesses as originally published in the Aug. 24, 2006 Food & Flavor section incorrectly described the circumstances of Mr. Theil's death.
Carol Carmichael, owner of Carol's Restaurant on Main Street in the West End, greets regular customer Earl Crowe with a kiss. Crowe has breakfast every day at Carol's, which celebrated its first anniversary on Aug. 4.
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First Published August 24, 2006 12:00 am