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Pittsburgh DJs unite at 720 Music, Clothing, and Cafe on Butler Street

What happens when some of Pittsburgh's most talented DJs and their friends join forces to start a record shop, clothing store, and café all under one roof? They throw a big party of course!

Lawrenceville's 720 Music, Clothing, and Café will host its grand opening this Saturday from noon to midnight with sets from some of Pittsburgh's best hip hop, r & b, and house turntablists, including Buscrates, Gene Stovall, and DJ Source.  Come enjoy the music, sip espresso, and do some shopping.

720 is the brainchild of James Scoglietti and Andrew Burger, better known as Selecta and DJ Senator Boo-Berry, who have owned and operated the funk, soul, and old school hip hop vinyl emporium 720 Records in several locations since 1999. It wasn't until they found a great deal on the 1,800-square-foot storefront at 4405 Butler Street that the proverbial light bulb turned on. The space was perfect for a multi-purpose store in which to house several entrepreneurs whose businesses would complement each other while reducing the rent.

"We're all separate businesses under the 720 umbrella. The record store is my thing. Nate Mitchell (alias: Nate Da Phat Barber), who owns The Natural Choice Hair Salon, runs the café serving coffee, espresso, smoothies, biscotti, and pastries," says Scoglietti. The café features seating for 24.

Jovon Higgins and Paul Dang sell hip women's and men's clothing by up and coming designers. Check their collection of indie fashion goods, including t-shirts, hats, handbags, and accessories.

720 will soon host events on their stage in the back room of the store. "We plan to do mostly spoken word events. It will be very chill, no dance parties or anything crazy like that," says Scoglietti. Except this Saturday!

720 Music, Clothing, and Cafe will be open Monday through Thursday from noon to 8 p.m., and on Friday though Sunday from noon to midnight.

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Writer: John Farley
Source: James Scoglietti

Photograph copyright John Farley

Coffee, record and comic book shops to open all in one building in Polish Hill

Coffee? Vegetarian eats? Records? Comic books? All in the same building?

As Sinatra once crooned, "Fairytales can come true."

A group of dedicated dreamers has been hard at work at 3138 Dobson St. in Polish Hill, taking the dilapidated, century-old corner building, and turning it into a mecca.

Polish Hill residents Catherine McConnell (a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker) and Mark Knobil (a cinematographer for PBS, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic and more) purchased the building about two years ago, as well as the building next-door for a total of $90,000. They renovated the next-door place and turned it into two modern one-bedroom apartments -- which are currently leased -- and are using that income to help fund the commercial renovations.

The corner property, which was vacant when McConnell and Knobil bought it, had long been used as housing, and was in very poor, structurally unsound condition, so these renovations are significant. Tai + Lee architects, based in Polish Hill, helped with early design, and Matthew Clifford and Eric Ross -- based in Polish Hill, too -- are the prime designers and contractors for the project. Artists Julie Gonzalez and Dana Dolney will be contributing mural work.

Robert Levkulich and Carrie DiFiore, who both come from an architecture/design background, are opening Lili Coffee Shop (named after their young daughter) on the first floor. The cafe will serve regular coffee shop fare and basic vegetarian eats, and will even have an area in the back where locals can work on their bikes. Though the couple has never before run a cafe, DiFiore's family owns the Elbow Room, Bites and Brews, and Buffalo Blues -- so they've got some good guidance.

The second floor is home to Mind Cure Records, a project of Polish Hill resident Michael Seamans and Dan Allen. The vinyl-only shop will sell from a stock of about 8,000 records, including local releases.

And the third floor will host Bill Boichel's Copacetic Comics, which is relocating to Polish Hill from Squirrel Hill, where it's been since 2001.  In addition to his regular stock, Boichel will special order any book a customer wants at 15% off the listed price.

"Everybody goes right through Polish Hill on their way between the East End and Downtown and the Strip. But they never stop," says Boichel. "We're going to give them a reason to stop."

Lili Coffee Shop, Mind Cure Records and Copacetic Comics are shooting for a June opening.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Sources: Catherine McConnell, Mark Knobil, Robert Levkulich, Carrie DiFiore, Michael Seamans, Bill Boichel

Photograph courtesy of Mark Knobil

Is fro-yo the new cupcakes? Sweetlix, Razzy Fresh serve the sweet stuff

Hard hitting question: Are cupcakes passe? Sure, they're still delicious, and always will be, but as far as trendy confections go… Have Pittsburgh's fickle sweet teeth moved onto frozen yogurt?

We're still hooked on bike-sized carb-bombs from Dozen, Vanilla, CoCo's and even Gahnt Iggle, but this city is certainly embracing the healthy, tart fro-yo trend. Karmic in Shadyside and Sweet Berry in Oakland have been doing their thing for about a year, and now Razzy Fresh in Squirrel Hill and Sweetlix, Downtown, join the mix with their own mixes of fat-free yogurts and both decadent and guilt-free toppings.

Razzy Fresh opened about a month ago at 1717 Murray Ave. The shop features multiple yogurt flavors (plain tart, cheesecake, passionfruit), is self-serve, and is priced by weight.

Sweetlix opened at 820 Liberty Ave. last week in a previously vacant storefront owned by the Cultural Trust. The sleek yogurt shop, with a Pinkberry-inspired interior, features a daily plain yogurt and a revolving special flavor. Sweetlix is owned and operated by wife and husband Genalle Passanante and Rob Day -- the same folks who own and operate Pittsburgh Popcorn Company and also, yes, the Bikram Yoga studio in the Strip District, where Passanante teaches.

"My husband and I like to travel, and whenever we see things that Pittsburgh doesn't yet have, we want to bring those things here," says Passanante.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Source: Genalle Passanante, Sweetlix

Photograph copyright Caralyn Green

Penn Brewery restaurant reopens with new pale ale, melting pot menu

Bottoms up! Penn Brewery reopens its restaurant to the public this Wednesday with some new beers and a new menu that plays on traditional German influences with a Pittsburgh-lensed international approach.

Classic German fare includes schnitzel and a wide variety of wursts, but as Pittsburgh is a "melting pot," says co-owner Linda Nyman, the brewery is incorporating lots of ethnic dishes, such as Hungarian goulash and chicken paprikash, Polish pierogies and kielbasa, a French fry-topped Pittsburgh salad, unique Buffalo-style pierogies stuffed with chicken and hot sauce, and a brand new fresh salad bar for sit-down or to-go lunchers.

New beers include the Penndemonium, a strong, full-bodied, gold-colored Maibock that will be released this week, as well as the Allegheny Pale Ale, a rich amber, medium-bodied ale released mid-April at a Penn Brewery fundraiser to benefit the Point State Park fountain. The Pale ale is Penn Brewery's first non-German style beer.

Penn Brewery's restaurant has been closed since August 2009. The brewery itself stopped brewing beer on-site back in November 2008, when new owners started brewing at Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre. Original owner Tom Pastorius bought back Penn Brewery, with several partners, in November 2009, and in December resumed brewing at the historic North Side location. Penn Brewery is based in the former Eberhardt and Ober Brewery in the historic Deutschtown section of the North Side, where beer has been made since 1848. The buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.

"The beer really didn't taste the same brewed in Wilkes-Barre," says co-owner Linda Nyman. "It wasn't up to the same standards that it had been. It was really key to the new ownership to guarantee that we are producing the same product here that has been produced at this property for the last few decades."

For the past few weeks, the brewery has hosted a smattering events, and starting in March, hosted Friday night "growler hours." The brewery, which started shipping kegs against in February, will start bottling beer again in early May. Penn Brewery currently has distribution of its Pittsburgh-produced keg beer in nearly 100 locations.

Nyman says Penn Brewery was able to start making and serving beer before it could serve food because the kitchen and dining areas needed an overhaul. The owners did much of the renovation work themselves, including resurfacing the cobblestones in the beer garden.

The capacity of Penn Brewery, including its indoor dining area and outdoor beer garden, is about 240. During Oktoberfest, the brewery sees about 10,000 guests, making use of its two-level parking garage.

Penn Brewery will be hosting a Pennsylvania Microbrewery Festival, with about 28 guest breweries, on June 5.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Source: Linda Nyman, co-owner and marketing director, Penn Brewery

Photograph courtesy of Penn Brewery

Juice Box Cafe: Fresh, healthy, veggie-friendly eats and drinks in Shadyside

Juice Box Cafe is the kind of place at which an omnivore would be hard pressed to find a dilemma.

The new eatery and juice bar features a selection of vegetarian and even vegan and raw salads and wraps, tons of made-to-order fruit and veggie juices and smoothies, and even some ham and turkey options for the meat-eaters in the midst. Ingredients are fresh and whenever possible local, courtesy of Frankferd Farms in Saxonburg, Pa.

Juice Box Cafe opened mid-April at 735 Copeland St. in Shadyside, next to Girasole and Mercurio's Mulberry Creamery. The lower-level location has some outdoor seating -- a treat in the city. And its vibrant interior -- painted pineapple yellow, tangerine orange and kiwi green -- bursts with eye-catching local art, many of the canvases created by cafe employees. There's the permanent collection splashed across one wall -- Warholesque fruit prints by master juice-maker/artist Sarah Wojdylak, whose glass terrarium installation was a hit at the recent GA/GI Festival -- and the other wall hosts a revolving selection of local works. The local wall is booked up to September.

Juice Box is owned Al Polanec, who also owns local tech company Blue Archer, which does web design, development and marketing.

Juice Box has only been open a few weeks, but already has the feel of a neighborhood staple. Polanec's a Shadyside resident, and Juice Box manager Marsa Lowerison worked for years at the Starbucks just across the street. She sees many of the same customers now, plus some new ones, including nearby Apple store employees, who Lowerison says are in Juice Box just about every day for lunch.

Juice Box is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Juice Box's menu features good-for-you staples with good-tasting surprises. The garden salad comes with avocado, cilantro and sunflower seeds; the smoked tofu salad is dressed in a sweet, spicy curry; and the go-to fake meat is mock tuna rather than a customary beef or chicken option. Smoothies and juices get silly-to-say names, such as the Berry Manilow (almond milk, strawberry, banana, chocolate) and the Pretty In Pink (red grape, apple, lemon). The almond milk is made right on the premises (refreshing rather than heavy, sweet). And, for the perfectly sinful antidote to all the wholesome fruits and veggies, chocolate-chip cookies are baked fresh daily.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Sources: Marsa Lowerison, Sarah Wojdylak, Juice Box Cafe

Photograph copyright Caralyn Green

21st Street Coffee and Tea caffeinates and educates at new Three PNC Plaza spot

It's not that your coffee is bad. It's just that you don't know better. Yet.

21st Street Coffee and Tea wants to help.

The independent coffee bar opened its new Downtown space a couple weeks ago in the ground floor of Three PNC Plaza, Pittsburgh's newest mixed-use high-rise. And owners Luke and Alexis Shaffer are busy getting Downtown caffeine-seekers up to speed. Everything is made-to-order, including that regular ol' cup of Joe. Customers can order by bean type (all Direct Trade), and by preparation method (pour-over, Chemex, espresso machine or the super hi-tech Clover).

Orders are more like conversations. Noticeably absent from the dialogue are phrases like "sugar-free frozen caramel mocha with extra whipped cream." Instead, the Shaffers discuss filters, temperatures, how long to let black tea steep versus green, the farms from which the beans come, and how coffee, when grown, roasted and served expertly, tastes more like a naturally sweet fruit than the astringent stuff you drip brew in your kitchen before full consciousness.

The Shaffers, who started 21st Street when they returned to Pittsburgh from New York City, are both former engineers. They bring the same precision and seriousness of constructing a bridge to constructing the perfect cup of coffee.

21st Street maintains its flagship location (established 2006) on 21st and Smallman Streets in the Strip District, and before opening the Three PNC spot, served coffee in the Frick Building, Downtown.

Like its Strip location, the Downtown 21st Street serves a selection of baked goods from Priory Fine Pastries on the North Side and Colangelo's in the Strip. The small street-level Downtown storefront -- with light blue walls and polished concrete floors -- faces a concrete courtyard that edges Fifth Avenue and Larrimor's clothing store, which recently relocated to One PNC Plaza. Architect Todd Demangone assisted the Shaffers with their design concept.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Sources: Luke and Alexis Shaffer, owners, 21st Street Coffee and Tea

Photograph copyright Caralyn Green

Asphalt eyesore no more: New events, veggie eats, national accolades for Schenley Plaza

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has been honored once again for its transformation of an Oakland parking lot into a five-acre public green space.

Schenley Plaza was selected as one of six finalists out of 88 entries for the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Amanda Burden Open Space Award, a new national competition that recognizes outstanding public destinations that have enriched and revitalized their surrounding communities. Detroit's Campus Martius Park won the overall competition.

The Plaza has won many other awards, including the Silver Award for Environmentally Sustainable Projects from The International Awards for Livable Communities (2009) and the IDA Pinnacle Award for Public Space from the International Downtown Association (2009).

The $11 million Schenley Plaza restoration project was completed in 2006. The Parks Conservancy operates Schenley Plaza in partnership with the City. The space, between the Carnegie Library's main branch and Pitt's Hillman Library, features a large lawn, Victorian-style carousel, four-season tent, movable tables and chairs, and seasonal food kiosks, including Asia Tea House, the Bagel Factory, Opa Gyros and -- new to the Plaza this week -- Milky Way. The kosher, vegetarian restaurant maintains its storefront location on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.

The Plaza will also be getting a full-service sit-down restaurant operated by Eat'n Park Hospitality Group, which is expected to be complete in spring 2011. The restaurant was part of the initial plan to help the Plaza become economically viable and independent, says Laura Cook with the Parks Conservancy.

Upcoming programming at the Plaza includes free yoga and cardio bootcamp sessions, the International Children's Festival (May 12-16), lunchtime music performances starting in May, and the WYEP Summer Music Festival (June 25), which recently announced its lineup of Nicole Atkins, Sarah Harmer, Joshua James and the Boogie Hustlers.

In observance of Earth Day, the Parks Conservancy is holding a volunteer event to clean and protect the Panther Hollow watershed on Sat., April 24. Activities include tree planting, garbage collection and invasive plant removal. The event concludes with food and music at Schenley Plaza.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Source: Laura Cook, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Photograph courtesy of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Local grub and a Fresh documentary: Enrico Biscotti's E2 does more than brunch

Enrico Biscotti's Highland Park location opened just over a month ago, and has quickly become a brunch staple, serving up sugar-dusted beignets, perfectly poached eggs and delicate frisee salads to caffeine-craving weekend crowds. Table waits tend to range from 15 to 30 minutes, but no one seems to mind killing time chatting with neighbors. The cafe at 5905 Bryant Street, called E2 (and pronounced E-Squared), has given Highland Park the kind of early-day dining kick its business corridor needs -- a perfect complement to Tazza d'Oro's coffee, baked goods and veggie-friendly sandwiches.

E2 serves only weekend brunch, but is more than just a brunch place, says Jordan Kay with Enrico Biscotti. There's also a basement-level event hall with a speakeasy feel that can fit about 100 people. E2 is also in talks of launching some "guerilla-style dining" events, says Kay. Translation? A day or two before a themed dinner (e.g. Blues, Burgers and Beers), Enrico will blast details to its social media followers. First come, first served. This worked, after all, during the blizzard -- E2 opened early to neighborhood residents as a sort of soup kitchen through social media and word-of-mouth only.

E2 is also embracing local foods, as is the entire Enrico Biscotti/Flying Biscotti Catering family. About two years ago, the company developed a relationship with PASA, and since then, it's not only sourced locally, but also been a leader in local food education. Last month, Enrico Biscotti did a fundraiser with Just Harvest to donate CSA shares to two low-income families. And on Tues., April 27 at 6:30 p.m., E2 will host a benefit for Grow Pittsburgh, of which Kay serves on the board.

The event is a screening of the documentary Fresh, a Food, Inc.-type film that celebrates people across America who are re-inventing our food system. The screening will also feature local foods prepared by chef Kate Romane, sourced from Meadow Rock Farm & Gardens in Butler, Pa. and Penn's Corner Farm Alliance.

"Fresh promotes more responsible ways or purchasing and consuming food, and talks a lot about the different efforts around the country to educate people about where their food comes from, and about different sustainable ways they can consume it," says Julie Pezzino with Grow Pittsburgh.

The event is $25 per person and BYOB. Reservations can be made at www.enricobiscotti.com or 412-281-2602.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Sources: Jordan Kay, Enrico Biscotti; Julie Pezzino, executive director, Grow Pittsburgh.

Photograph courtesy of Enrico Biscotti

Buena Vista Coffee: A tasty touch of Hollywood in the Mexican War Streets

With its rich chocolate walls, eclectic vintage furniture, sun-dappled window seats and prime corner spot in the North Side's Mexican War Streets--where young families take weekend walks and students contemplate art over iced Americanos--Buena Vista Coffee feels like a silver screen version of a neighborhood cafe.

Squint your eyes and Anne Hathaway is pulling espresso shots in the corner. Wait for the release of Love and Other Drugs, and you won't have to squint.

The Edward Zwick production, also starring Jake Gyllenhaal, filmed all over Pittsburgh last year, including at Buena Vista Coffee (Hathaway's character works at the coffee shop, and a steamy love scene was shot just around the block). Buena Vista's owners liked the space's Hollywood set decoration makeover so much that they kept much of it intact.

The interiors may be Tinseltown, but what Buena Vista serves is homespun goodness. Shallary Boss, who owns the place with husband Brent Boss, makes simply decadent baked goods that crumble when they're meant to crumble, melt when they're meant to melt, and go great with an ice cream-and-espresso affogato in the summer. After seven years at Uptown Coffee in Mt. Lebanon, Shallary--a Dormont native who now lives in Lower Lawrenceville--jumped on the opportunity to open her own cafe in the former space of Beleza. Shallary had never spent much time on the North Side before opening Buena Vista Coffee, but now can't get enough of her adopted neighborhood. She says it's a "unique part of the city" full of more foreign languages and out-of-state license plates than any other part of Pittsburgh.

Beleza closed in spring of 2009, and Shallary opened Buena Vista Coffee around Christmas 2009.

Named for its location (1501 Buena Vista St.), Buena Vista serves Commonplace Coffee from Indiana County, and a limited though ever-changing menu of treats such coffee cake, banana bread, muffins and cookies, including oatmeal ones loaded with sunflower seeds, cranberries, raisins and apples. Wi-Fi is free, and WYEP is the soundtrack of choice.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Sources: Shallary and Brent Boss, Buena Vista Coffee

Photograph copyright Caralyn Green

Downtown lunch spot Franktuary gets even greener with help of CORO Fellows

Already a bastion of conscious eating, Franktuary is taking steps to be even more eco-friendly and accessible.

The gourmet hot dog shop already gives 2 percent of all profits to charity; serves the ever-popular grass-finished, organic, all-beef Locavore dog; offers auto-free bike delivery in the Downtown area; and has plenty of vegetarian options, including the tofu frank, salads and soups.

Now, the lunch spot in the basement of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, at 325 Oliver Ave., is taking steps to leave an even smaller carbon footprint. With the help of two CORO Fellows, who worked with Franktuary from January until recently, the eatery has starting planning a composting program that will get under way once the warm weather's here to stay; will be temporarily taking chicken products off the menu until a more sustainable poultry source is established; is transitioning from disposable to permanent flatware; and has vowed to move away from Styrofoam cups and containers once the current supply is exhausted. Also, Franktuary has eliminated all high-fructose corn syrups from the beverage case and--at the recommendation of a Fellow with cerebral palsy--Franktuary has lowered the waste/recycling area so that it's more accessible for customers in wheelchairs.

Frankuatry's mission, co-owner Megan Lindsey says, is to "redeem fast food, one frankfurter at a time."

"We are really concerned about stewardship," Lindsey says. "Franktuary is in a new phase of existence. We've really redefined our vision. We want to be an educating force in the food industry, which sounds pretty insane, given how small we are. I really think, though, that people latch onto good practices when they see them done well, done truthfully, done without guilt hanging over their heads."

Franktuary's biggest green push is yet to come, though. This April, Franktuary will open a second location--on wheels. Unlike the store, which has mixture of "organic and regular products," says Lindsey, Franktuary's roaming food truck will serve only grass-feed beef and locally made vegetarian patties and hot dogs, as well a locally made pirogues and homemade soda. The truck will keep customers informed about its whereabouts via social media, and has plants to team up with nomadic local bakeshop, The Goodie Truck.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Source: Megan Lindsey, Franktuary

Image courtesy of Franktuary

A'Pizza Badamo focuses on fresh flavors, family traditions in Mt. Lebanon

The first pizzeria Anthony Badamo ever set foot in is now his own.

The twenty-something grew up South Hills, chowing down at the Caruso family's pizzeria on Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon.

Badamo had been planning on opening his own pizza and sandwich shop for some time, but always imagined it in the city--in Lawrenceville, or the Mexican War Streets. But when Caruso's shut down, Badamo knew he couldn't pass up the opportunity to be in the heart of Mt. Lebanon's walkable Uptown business district. Badamo opened A'Pizza Badamo last month in that spot at 656 Washington Rd., not far from his father's salon, Bill Badamo's Hair Styling Studio.

Before opening A'Pizza Badamo, Badamo worked in sales for seven years for Cricket Wireless, and spent many years as a lead singer of staple Pittsburgh band Black Tie Revue. But after deciding he wanted to get back into the "pizza game" (a part-time occupation of his youth), Badamo started also working at That's Amore pizzeria right by Remedy Restaurant and Lounge in Lawrenceville. He was pulling 65-hour weeks, but it paid off. In addition to starting his own small business, Badamo also recently became a homeowner--in September he took advantage of the $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers and bought a fixer-upper in Lawrenceville.

Badamo says the key to A'Pizza Badamo is freshness, and family. As for freshness, the dough is made daily, and baked off the peel, which gives the chewy crust a nice crispness. Cheeses come from Penn Mac and meats from Parma Sausage in the Strip. Nothing is fried (the chicken and eggplant are baked, and the tomato, basil and mozzarella Caprese sandwich is a big seller); and salads come with mixed greens rather than dull iceberg. And family? Badamo's mother Lynn helps out at the shop and serves as chief soup-maker, and come spring, tomatoes will come straight from Badamo's grandfather's garden on the North Side.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Source: Anthony Badamo, A'Pizza Badamo

Photograph copyright Caralyn Green

Enrico Biscotti to open Highland Park location

Come spring, Highland Park might as well be called the "Enrico's district" of the city.

Already a gathering spot for coffee-lovers thanks to Amy Enrico's Tazza D'Oro, the neighborhood is now welcoming Enrico Biscotti (no relation) to its Bryant Street business corridor. The Strip District staple plans to open its secondary location the first weekend in March at 5904 Bryant St., previously occupied by restaurant Reynolds on Bryant.

The location is across the street from Thai darling the Smiling Banana Leaf, and from where Point Brugge owner Jesse Seager is completing a $2.5 million property renovation with plans to open his Park Bruges bistro in the spring.

Chef Kate Romane says Enrico Biscotti is still deciding exactly how to use its new space, which seats about 50 and will include a bit of outdoor dining once the weather warms up. The location will definitely sell its namesake biscotti and be open for weekend brunch, and its ample kitchen will be the site of much wholesale baking and Flying Biscotti Catering work. The location's basement area may be used as a banquet room, and also in some capacity for Carlo's Garage Winery, which currently operates out of the Strip District's garage.

Though Enrico's Highland Park location will not officially open until March, it already opened its doors during last week's blizzard. For two particularly snowbound days, the cafe set up a sort of high-class soup kitchen, serving neighbors free, fresh helpings of homemade focaccia, beans and greens, and soup (pasta e fagioli, lentil veal, carrot ginger). The response was better than anticipated, says Romane--some 60 folks showed up to welcome the new eatery, finding out about it through Facebook, Twitter and word-of-mouth alone.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Source: Kate Romane, Enrico Biscotti

Photograph courtesy Enrico Biscotti

Pittsburgh Flea to bring food, crafts, finds to Strip District starting in April

Pittsburgh is getting a massive outdoor urban flea market this spring.

Pittsburgh Flea will start April 18 in the Strip District, at 21st and Railroad Streets. The event will run every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Nov. 14, 2010--rain or shine.

The market will host about 120 individual vendors selling antiques, collectibles, handcrafted jewelry, vintage clothing, art and fresh produce and artisanal foods.

Pittsburgh Flea founder Janis Surman says the market will appeal to Pittsburghers' desire for things that are good for the environment and their personal finances. The market will present shoppers with fun, frugal opportunities to reuse and repurpose goods, from mid-century furniture to toys from their grandfather's youth, and to explore some of the region's food and craft finds.

Lots of vendors have already committed to the seasonal event, says Surman, including Franktuary, Zum Zum Pierogies, Mercurio's Mulberry Creamery gelato, Pretzel Crazy confectionery-covered carbs, My Goodies vegan bakery and The Goodie Truck. And to tempt your wallet: Third-Day Luxury Soaps & Healing Gardens, Joyful Noise Studio art, vintage recycled birdbaths by Foxglove Woodland Studio, Catherine's Creations jewelry and many more.

Surman was recently laid off from a high-ranking corporate position after 17 years with AT&T, and found herself looking for that "what's next" thing. She decided to offer a service that could provide a livelihood for herself as well as other small business owners, entrepreneurs and artisans.

"In this economy I see a flea market in the Strip as a win/win for everyone," says Surman. "Flea markets are a little economic engine all their own. I've always loved the quirky stuff you can find at flea markets, not to mention the prices. And I was shocked when it hit me that Pittsburgh didn't really have a centrally located, downtown flea market. The time has really come."

Surman decided to hold the Pittsburgh Flea in the Strip District because it is so centrally located, and is already a weekend destination for locals and visitors alike. The flea is also going to be held quite close to the Produce Terminal (on Smallman Street between 18th and 19th Streets), where the Pittsburgh Public Market will open this spring. That market will host about 42 vendors of fresh produce, prepared foods and crafts, and will be open Friday through Sunday each week. It will also include space for cooking demonstrations and community events.

Surman has worked closely with Neighbors in the Strip to ensure that the Pittsburgh Flea and the Pittsburgh Public Market do not replicate services, but instead, work together to create an economic and entertainment hub in the Strip District.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Source: Janis Surman, Pittsburgh Flea

Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Flea

Cozy, vegetarian Tin Front Cafe part of historic Homestead redevelopment

The Tin Front Cafe is bringing vegetarian cuisine to what owner Daniel Steinitz calls a "meat and potatoes market."

Situated at 216 East Eighth Ave. in Homestead, the cozy cafe on the historic street focuses on foods that are organic and local and, most of all, meat-free. When the place opened in September 2009, the menu started as a strictly coffee shop affair (homemade baked goods, caffeination courtesy of Sacramento-based Java City), but it has since expanded into a full-on onslaught of lacto-ovo breakfast, lunch and dinner options. The menu offers simple, straightforward comfort food, and will change seasonally when more is available locally than just slush for snow cones. Current options include four-cheese macaroni, butternut squash lasagna, a mustardy herbed potato salad and an eggplant parm sandwich. And, yes, the Tin Front's got a liquor license, so beer, wine and cocktails are served, and boozy coffee creations are encouraged.

Also, the cafe will make use of its outdoor courtyard when warmer weather emerges. Steinitz and his wife, co-owner/chef Ellie Gumlock--who helped shape Kiva Han's veggie menu during her tenure there--have plans for al fresco dining and a small food garden out back, as well as a rain barrel and a living wall done by the same company that created PNC's green wall Downtown. They're also talking about doing BBQ--yes, with real, live meat--in the back for the carnivores in the midst.

The Tin Front is connected to the Annex Cookery next door, which Steinitz's mother Judith Tener-Lewis reopened in Homestead in 2004 after closing her iconic Walnut Street location in 1998. Above the cookware shop and cafe sits an impressively restored four-bedroom, two-story, 2,400-square-foot live-work space the family is hoping to rent for $1,990 a month (ideal for a visiting professor at a nearby university, Steinitz points out). The family also owns several other properties along Eighth Avenue in Homestead, including the former 5 & 10 across the street with four loft apartments currently rented at regional market value.

History is important to the community-minded family, which shows up not just in their devotion to revitalizing Homestead on their own dollar, but also in the details in those efforts. The 5 & 10's got a green roof (the first on a nationally registered historic building in the state, says Steinitz), and Tin Front Cafe features folk paintings of Pittsburgh by Peter Contis, a hefty wood bar salvaged from local landmark Chiodo's Tavern, and tables and chairs from the old Moose Lodge. Also, the tin panels--which used to be part of the ceiling where the outdoor courtyard now is--have been shaped into wall sconces and hanging light fixtures, and also wrapped around the front of the Chiodo's bar.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Sources: Daniel Steinitz, Ellie Gumlock, Judith Tener-Lewis

Photograph copyright Caralyn Green

Students get real-world training, guests get out-of-this world flavors at Le Cordon Bleu's Azure 18

Past the pop machines and institutional buffet is a quiet, blue-carpet, white-tablecloth restaurant with a classically good menu, and servers working for more than just tips--they want an A.

Azure 18 is a student-run restaurant on the 18th floor of Downtown's Clark Building--an oasis of haute cuisine in the far corner of the cafeteria. The restaurant is the final on-campus course for students at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts, which was until recently known as the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute.

Azure 18 can seat about 50, and serves a three-course prix fixe lunch menu for just $12 plus tax (any gratuities go toward a scholarship fund). The menu will change seasonally. Current highlights include a butternut squash risotto with crispy sage; roasted beets with chevre and spiced walnuts; scallops with arroz verde, guacamole and red pepper relish; timeless pan-roasted chicken; and for dessert, homemade white chocolate pistachio ice cream with orange olive oil cake. Service also includes a daily amuse-bouche, a palate-cleansing lemon sorbetto and a homemade truffle with the check.

Azure 18 opened by invitation-only in December, and to the public on Jan. 11. As students at Le Cordon Bleu take classes in eight six-week modules, the restaurant's staff rotates quite often--every 14 days to be exact--but the leadership remains the same: Mark Martin, the general manager with more than 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry; Bill Hunt, the dean of culinary arts; and Shawn Culp, executive chef, who has been accepted to audition for the American Culinary Olympic team in Chicago this March.

Azure 18 is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Service takes about an hour, maybe longer (not quite that grab 'n' go Franktuary Locavore), and while the goal is certainly to make sure customers enjoy their experience, Chef Hunt emphasizes that Azure 18 is a different type of restaurant than most diners are used to.

"The first objective is to train the students," he says. "At other places the customer is always right, but here, everything is for the students' benefit."

Le Cordon Bleu has seen a recent spike in enrollment (21% since October 31, 2009), that Mark Martin and Chef Hunt attribute to both Hollywood entertainment (the Food Network and Julie & Julia, for starters) and to the appeal of a stable career in the culinary arts (people will always go out to eat, says Martin, who has not been unemployed a day in his life).

Some notable graduates from the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, now Le Cordon Bleu, include local chefs Douglass Dick (Bona Terra), Matt Porco (Mio Kitchen and Wine Bar in Aspinwall), Donato Coluccio (Capital Grille), Adam Gooch (Bella Sera) and Gloria Fortunato (Wild Rosemary Bistro in Upper St. Clair).

For Azure 18 reservations, call 412.325.3588

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Sources: Mark Martin, general manager, and Bill Hunt, dean of culinary arts, Le Cordon Bleu, Pittsburgh

Photograph copyright Caralyn Green

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