In early November, I took Sylvia McCoy’s Burgh Bits and Bites Food Tour (www.burghfoodtour.com) of Brookline. Does it seem strange for a Brookline resident to take a food tour of the Boulevard? Perhaps, but it turned out to be enlightening. I joined Renee & Brian Gilpatrick who recently moved to Pittsburgh from Boston. Corinne Bechtel was our guide for the two hour tour that began at Pitaland.
Did you know that Joe Chahine taught French in Tripoli before coming to Brookline where he now supplies the tri-state area with pita bread? He showed us how the machine he ordered from Beirut punches out puck size rounds of dough. Rollers then press the rounds paper thin which are then conveyed to the oven where 1200 degree heat raises the rounds into small balloons. You can see part of this process from the window in Pitaland. The cooled pitas are then hand-packed into plastic bags. Before we left Pitaland we feasted on hummus, olives, warm pita bread, cheese and olive oil with oregano, sesame seeds and summer savory.
After some solid food, it was time for a little sweet so we continued to Kribel’s. Have you noticed the cookie jars along the wall in Kribel’s? These are only part of Maxine Kaminski’s collection of cookie jars. There are more jars in the basement, and customers will send her unique jars when they find them. We left Kribel’s with a small bag of cookies after sampling a new cake.
We continued our snacking at Las Palmas by trying Garbanzos Con Chile (fried chickpeas with chili) washed down by pineapple soda. I had not considered buying snack food from Las Palmas. Tacos, my favorite tomato paste, fresh chilies and jalapenos, but not snacks. I have now discovered an alternative to chips. These chickpeas are the Mexican version of the Italian dried ceci and fave I remember my grandmother serving at Christmas.
Before taking our next bite, we stopped at Sal’s Barber Shop. Sal Bondi regaled us with stories as we examined his curio case and collection of shaving mugs.
Vinnie’s Pretzel Shoppe was another eye-opener. Since we featured Michael Vona in our December 2010 issue, his business has grown. A new pretzel machine speeds the entire process. He now supplies schools and organizations with large quantities of pretzels. Of course we had a warm pretzel to go.
Just to round out our carbohydrate load, we stopped at Antonio’s Pizzeria. Antonio Casciato joined us while we sam- pled a slice of pepperoni pizza and listened as he told us the history of Antonio’s Pizzeria.
Our final stop was Cannon Coffee where we sampled coffee made by various methods. Here again we learned what was old is new again. Do you remember the hourglass shaped Chemex coffee pot that was the rage a couple of decades ago? Well it’s back. Then there is the French press method of brewing. The coffee pot for the connoisseur or the coffee drinker who has the time and patience to wait before pressing the plunger. I preferred the taste of the French press coffee, but I doubt I would use this method at home. Just another reason to frequent Cannon Coffee.
The tour may have been over, but not the shopping. I had to bring home what I tasted. Burgh Bits and Bites features tours of Bloomfield, the Strip, Dormont, Lawrenceville and Mt. Washington, but start close to home. It was fascinating to peek behind the counters of some of our favorite stores and gave us new appreciation for merchants we have come to love.
This article originally appeared in 'The Brookline,' Issue #55, Page 13, January 2013, and is used with permission. 'The Brookline' is an informational newsletter for the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Brookline. It is available by email in full color, and also is available by mail. Contact The Brookline at email@example.com for details.