Like many Pittsburghers, I love my neighborhood. A lot. I live in Lawrenceville, in what feels like a Golden Age for this area, where only a few years ago, things were looking pretty grim.
Last night, my friends from Lawrenceville United’s Senior AdvantAGE program–Becky, Nancy, Molly, and Dolly– threw a “Beat the Winter Blues” party in the Stephen Foster Center. The wife, Jamie, and I showed up, as well as about 30 or so folks from around the neighborhood. There were tasty pulled-pork sliders donated by Hambone’s Pub; spectacular spanakopita, baklava, and grape leaves from Pastitsio; and a full on spread of handcrafted foods laid out by Deirdre and Dora of the 52nd Street Market.
I tried it all, and all of it was delicious, fresh, and excellent. If you ever get word of these events, it is definitely in your best interest to check them out. When local food vendors get a chance to show off their products to potential new customers, they obviously put their best efforts into it, and this was no exception. Free food, live music, and nice people who live around you who have a lot of stories to share.
Unfortunately, my wife Jamie suffers from the auto-immune disorder known as Celiac Disease. She is part of the 2% of sufferers who can develop symptoms by cross contamination with utensils or shared surfaces, so no one could be completely sure of anything being completely Gluten-free. Therefore, we had to step out for an hour to grab some gluten-free dinner.
Fortunately, George Haritos, a lifelong Pittsburgh restaurateur, recently opened up Gus’s Cafe across the street from the Allegheny Cemetery at 4717 Butler Street. He named it after his father, who he ran Harris Grill with on Ellsworth Ave in Shadyside. Gus passed away in 2001, and the family sold Harris Grill in 2003, but they sold it to three of the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure to know, and over a decade later, Harris Grill is thriving.
As I was saying, George Haritos and his delightfully Whovian staff recently opened a laid-back, eclectic style pub and eatery that caters to those who suffer from food allergies and intolerances, but still want to enjoy going out for delicious food. The menu at this point is small; they offered a wide range of crepes: I tried the Mushroom and Cheddar, Jamie gleefully ordered a basket of fries cooked in rice oil, and also Mumbai Pakora…a fritter-like Indian classic. Served alongside handmade chutneys and sauces, it was very good, and perfectly spiced. George spoke of how the menu was going to grow, and how in the front of the pub near the entrance, there would be a retail station for freshly made gluten-free, and other allergen-free, breads and food products.
Turns out, we found it so good that, even though we returned to the party at Stephen Foster’s Hall after dinner, we made it back to Gus’s the next afternoon for lunch, and I am currently still talking about it in my blog. Obviously, I was pleased.
For lunch, Jamie ordered the “Masala Dosa”, which is basically a type of crepe stuffed, pierogi-like, with ‘curried’ mash potatoes. I ordered the mushroom and cheddar again, both because I loved it, and also to make sure that the food was as delicious as I remembered. It did not disappoint. To top it all off, the prices are really reasonable…around $5 a plate, Yuengling drafts at $3.50, and PBR for $2.50 a 12 oz can…but they also have a growing selection of quality craft beers and spirits, all priced without gouging the customer. The only catch is they are currently a Cash-Only establishment. They have an ATM, but it carries a $2.50 surcharge, so bring money.
There are so many amazing small businesses opening up all over, and in Lawrenceville in particular. It’s Pittsburgh’s small hangouts and shops that give people reasons to spend time and money in their own neighborhoods, which is how local Commerce gains economic traction over National and International corporations. Organizations like Lawrenceville United, Lawrenceville Corporation, Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, and Garfield Jubilee are just some of the places where neighbors come together to form neighborhoods, and they play a crucial role in the successful growth of a city.
That same night, Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald was enjoying an elegant party in Mid-town Manhattan, rubbing elbows with the fancy pants and deep pockets of New York City, while also casting out political enemies at a place called Inside Park near the Waldorf Astoria. I spent the night on my local streets, with my wife, friends, as well as the true ‘Mayor of Lawrenceville’, Tony Ceoffe Jr., who was there at the party on a snowy December evening to help out with the event and to chat with his neighbors on the third floor of a old community center. In my opinion, Fitzgerald and his highbrow friends missed out on a far better night.