Casual-Dining/Café Foods and Bakery Items Outside the City

    It occurred to me, having written in The Strip! (and accumulated a substantial list of recommendations) about many of the best local, non-chain, and unpretentious spots to get some terrific food in the North and South Hills and beyond, that many of these establishments offer distinctive treats—snacks, meals, and baked goods that alone are worth a trip outside the city’s borders. This time we have zoned in on 20 “dishes” that we consider the undeniable lure of each of these cafés and bakeries—and are spotlighting these individual specialties for our readers. 


    Matcha Mille Crepe Cake at Amy’s 

    The Matcha Mille Crepe Cake at Amy’s Bakery is like no pastry you may have encountered before (sold in huge individual striped slices). The description—“Delicious layers of matcha and cream with red bean, dusted with matcha powder”—is accurate, but insufficient to prepare one for the flavors and textures of this mouth-pleasing sweet delight.

    Also worth a try while there: Thai-tea bubble milk tea and red bean pastries.

    Amy’s Bakery: 654 Washington Rd., Mt. Lebanon / 412-343-1984 or 412-207-2142 /


    Meze Platter at Anthos 

    For lunch or a snack at any time of day, Anthos can prepare its Meze Platter—a sensuous plate of three (of five available) Greek dips accompanied by Greek olives and fresh pita, and drizzled with tableside olive oil. This unusual combination of dips is the group to choose: fava bean, with split peas, lemon juice, onion, and olive oil; melitzanosalata is smoked, fire-roasted eggplant with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper; and whipped feta mousse, a creamy feta dip with olive oil and lemon juice.

    Also worth a try while there: The area’s best real Mediterranean, crisp-crust breads, the olive variety in particular. Or dine on perfect and uniquely prepared versions of these popular Greek foods: spanakopita, chicken avgolemono soup, moussaka, pastitsio.

    Anthos Bakery & Café: 3803 Willow Ave., Castle Shannon / 412-533-9323 /

    Create Your Own Dish (Chicken with Chinese Eggplant in Black Bean Sauce) at Bean Curd

    Not only are all the dishes we have tried at Bean Curd full of authentic flavors and fresh ingredients, but this exceptional Chinese restaurant has a selection of dishes that allow customer-directed combinations of proteins and vegetables to be enhanced by a choice of any of ten sauces; one winning assemblage is sliced chicken with Chinese eggplant in spicy Mala, Szechwan garlic, or black bean sauce.

    Also worth a try while there: Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce: Bean Curd’s preparation of this famous appetizer is done the way it always should be, with thick, noodle-clinging sesame-peanut-buttery-soy/oyster sauce and shards of julienned cucumbers.

    Bean Curd Chinese Restaurant: Waterdam Center, 4147 Washington Rd., McMurray / 724-941-6688 /

    Pull-Apart Danish Coffeecakes at Bethel Bakery

    While there are many quality items to recommend at this well-known South Hills bakery, their line of four related “bun wheels” is not to be missed. A round pan holds seven Danish-pastry-dough rolls huddled together, ready to be pulled apart to eat individually at your convenience. There’s the Danish Cinnamon Cluster, the Cinnamon Pan Roll, and the Maple Pan Roll; the fourth, in a more swirling shape, is called Edelweiss—described as “a Danish coffeecake with custard baked in” and topped with pecans and sugar and then a fondant-icing drizzle.

    Also worth a try while there: The bakery is famous for seasonal and sports-themed cookies, and certainly best known of these is their “officially licensed” Terrible Towel cookies.

    Bethel Bakery: 5200 Brightwood Rd., Bethel Park / 412-835-6658 /

    Sweet Potato & Praline Custard or Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream at Betsy’s

    One of the South Hills’ best places for ice cream is a cozy café called Betsy’s, with its reputation for superb quality and innovative flavors—varieties that frequently change (the list, they state, is “automatically updated hourly during business hours”). In addition to Sweet Potato & Praline Custard, some of the ice cream flavors one might encounter at Betsy’s are apple pie, Mexican chocolate, green tea, lemon rosewater, pear, black raspberry, cannoli, and toasted coconut latte.

    Also worth a try while there: The black-and-gold Pittsburgh Pride flavor has golden cake batter ice cream with chunks of brownies, Oreos, and a chocolate swirl.

    Betsy’s Homemade Ice Cream: 664 Washington Rd., Mt. Lebanon / 412-668-0379 / 

    Calzones at Burgh’s 

    The calzones at Burgh’s are some of the largest and best we have had, with excellent, tasty dough. You start off your filling with four different cheeses and then add basically anything you desire that would be available as a pizza topping; served with a side of marinara sauce.

    Also worth a try while there: There are excellent wings in a myriad of flavors—five varieties of Cajun blackened wings; five varieties of garlic parmesan; “gold-n-tangy,” teriyaki, dry-spice Caribbean jerk, and more—all available in quantities from five
    to 50.

    Burgh’s Pizza and Wing Pub: 533 Washington Ave., Bridgeville / 412-257-8767 /


    Avocado Fries at Café Chocolade

    Visitors to Café Chocolade may first be attracted by a menu of savory dishes highlighted by a unique snack/appetizer rarely found elsewhere—a plate of avocado wedges sauteed to crispness via a tempura-like-batter, with a smoky Serrano cashew cream accompaniment. The small shop has a display case filled with homemade fresh pasta, fine chocolates, interesting pastries and cake slices, and macarons; there are two cozy, casual dining spaces (a fireplace, armchairs, rugs).

    Also worth a try while there: Unusual ingredients also enliven the Kaboucha Squash Soup (roasted squash, roasted red potatoes, Vidalia onion, white wine, cashew sour cream).

    Café Chocolade: 7061 Steubenville Pike, Oakdale / 412-788-4041 /

    Stuffed Pepper Soup at Frisch’s

    Frisch’s in Caste Village has been around since 1948, and its major attraction these days (other than a superb deli department) is its café during lunchtime, where each of five daily specials offers a great sandwich, soda/coffee, and soup. Their homemade soups (the selection changing daily) are the main draw—and the Stuffed Pepper version is perhaps the best.

    Also worth a try while there: All of the other soups are fantastic, and these include Seafood Bisque, Chicken Dumpling, Cream of Shrimp and Crab, Vegetable Beef, Wedding, and Broccoli Cheese—with fresh ingredients, scratch-made and uniquely flavored.

    Frisch’s Family Restaurant & Deli: 5301 Grove Rd., Shoppes at Caste Village, Whitehall / 412-881-6555 /


    Spaetzles and Schnitzels at The Harmony Inn

    One can’t get any better “taverny” atmosphere than a Victorian mansion in historic Harmony (outside Zelienople) that is one of our preferred places for a leisurely lunch—especially since The Harmony Inn offers a huge menu of German specialties. Some of these are the spaetzle plates, based on the plump and hearty German egg noodles (plain or mustard variety) made fresh daily—one delectable example being the Brussels and Bacon Spaetzle (fire-roasted Brussels sprouts and bacon sautéed with fresh herbs and garlic atop spaetzle, drizzled with homemade mustard).

    Also worth a try while there: The many schnitzel plates are breaded pork or eggplant cutlets accompanied by spaetzle and braised red cabbage; Chef Brett’s Schnitzel is smothered with a fried egg and a fiery sauce.

    The Harmony Inn: 230 Mercer St., Harmony (National Historic District) / 724-452-5124 /

    Macarons at Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery

    Macarons are a popular sweet in our family, and comparisons of quality and flavor for these colorful little meringuey sandwiches are a continuing pastime. Jean-Marc Chatellier’s “Top-10” French macarons—perhaps the best in our area—are always available. Customers invariably purchase the multiple-variety 10-pack, although six additional kinds can be ordered. Among the more tempting flavors are pistachio, peanut butter and jelly, Nutella, mango passion fruit, almond, espresso, rose raspberry, orange, and lavender poppy.

    Also worth a try while there: For breakfast or sweet snacking, the shop is well known for its superb apple strudel; their Kouign-amann (originating from Brittany in France) is the ultimate croissant, encrusted with caramelized sugar.

    Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery: 213 North Ave., Millvale / 412-821-8533 /


    Macaron aux Fruits at La Gourmandine

    At La Gourmandine French bakery (Mt. Lebanon and three city locations), one can select some unique variations on the macarons theme—giant macaron tartlets (about three inches in diameter) and their mammoth cousins, eight-inch-wide macaron “cakes”; both sizes are raspberry themed, with deep-pink sandwich tops/bottoms and a filling of delicious pastry cream alternating with fresh raspberries.

    Also worth a try while there: The choco amande (pain au chocolat perfectly married with an almond croissant) and the substantial bostock almond-raspberry brioche are buttery and scrumptious.

    La Gourmandine: 300 Cochran Rd., Mt. Lebanon / 412-343-3489 /

    Coconut Cream or Pistachio Mousse Tarts at LeoGreta’s Bakery & Dessert Bar

    LeoGreta, a heralded Italian restaurant in Carnegie, shares its long storefront with a corner café that is open all day for breakfast and dessert pastries, espressos/coffees, liqueurs, wines, and inventive cocktails. Among The Bakery & Dessert Bar’s individual pies/tarts are the always-available Coconut Cream Pie (coconut custard-cream with shaved toasted coconut atop a thick shortbread cookie crust) and an even better Pistachio Mousse Pie (a mound of green pistachio mousse on a crumbled-chocolate-cake crust and topped with rose-flavored cream), which is unfortunately not consistently offered.

    Also worth a try while there: Their creamy, custardy Panna Cotta alternates its flavors (pina colada, cherry, lemon raspberry, banana bourbon, etc.) and is served with a sugar cookie.

    LeoGreta—The Bakery & Dessert Bar: 301 W. Main St., Carnegie / 412-489-6382 /


    Chilango Burrito at Los Bajitos

    The huge proportions of made-to-order Mexican dishes at Los Bajitos are a cut above most of our area’s multi-locale Mexican restaurants. Diners are enticed by the buttery/oil/garlic scent of the steak meat being prepared. And it is only exaggerating slightly to characterize their burritos as football-sized. The Chilango Burrito is a flour tortilla filled with either grilled chicken or steak, plus grilled peppers and onions, rice, ranchero salsa, cheese, and spicy cream salsa.

    Also worth a try while there: The Carnitas Platter is an inviting plate overflowing with pork carnitas topped with fresh onions and cilantro, pico de gallo, guacamole, and hot/mild salsa; it’s served with corn tortillas and a side of rice and beans.

    Los Bajitos: 325 Southpointe Blvd., Canonsburg / 724-745-6791 /

    Pizza Napoli at Mario’s Woodfired Pizzeria

    Mario’s is a cozy Italian restaurant with good-weather outdoor seating in the heart of Beaver, one of our favorite towns in which to “afternoon.” Although they offer a very full menu of Italian paninis and pasta dishes, it is their thin-crust pizza—available in personal and table sizes—that keeps people coming back and is among the best and most authentic around. Their Pizza Napoli has crushed tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil, artichokes, Italian ham, mushrooms, and olives. Or opt for a simpler but perhaps even more satisfying lunch by sharing a full-size Pizza Rosemaria (with fresh rosemary of course) or comfortably basic Pizza Margherita.

    Also worth a try while there: Any of their pastas or chicken dishes in their arrabiatta, puttanesca, Marsala, piccata, Florentine, and caprese incarnations.

    Mario’s Woodfired Pizzeria: 594 Third St., Beaver / 724-774-9300 


    Cruffins at Mediterra

    At Mediterra one is likely to come across items that are rarely available elsewhere, and even if something sounds familiar it is prepared in a manner that surprises with inventive flavors and presentations. Their signature cruffins are bakery rarities. Different weeks feature changes in the fillings for these croissant-like “muffins,” flavored with such velvety creams as egg nog, pumpkin, red velvet, lavender-lemon curd, mango-passion fruit, chocolate mint, and Boston cream.

    Also worth a try while there: Shakshuka is a bubbling-hot, thick, and rich tomato porridge with irresistible ingredients of herbs, sundried tomatoes, and feta, all topped by a “braised” egg and served with French baguette slices for sopping up the last drops. This is the place for shakshuka, served in an iron skillet—since it is rarely found on other menus.

    Mediterra Café: 430 Beaver St., Sewickley / 412-740-7064 /


    Everything Bread at Oakmont Bakery 

    At the extravagant and eye-candy Oakmont Bakery, grab or order a bunch of the special loaves whose combination of ingredients and flavors make their aptly named Everything Bread an item to pull apart and munch on in the car for the ride home—accompanied by a bag full of several more to freeze for future consumption. This is what’s in them: “Ham, pepperoni, broccoli, hot peppers, mozzarella, provolone, cheddar, garlic, and onion mixed into Oakmont’s Italian bread dough and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.”

    Also worth a try while there: Their large selection of “dolces” is a standout—miniature cakes of four layers with alternating pastry creams and added toppings like fresh raspberries, sliced strawberries, peanut-butter cups, and rolled-chocolate straws. Varieties include tiramisu, raspberry, pumpkin mousse, peanut butter fudge, and more.

    Oakmont Bakery: “One Sweet Street,” Oakmont / 412-826-1606 /


    Lemon-Lavender Mousse Bombe at Pastries A-La-Carte

    Pastries A-La-Carte proclaims that it’s the “Official Pastry Shop of the Pittsburgh Penguins,” and looking around this spacious, bright, and spotless shop one sees why—on display are a profusion of the most visually striking confections to be seen in our area. Chief among these is their Lemon-Lavender Mousse Bombe.

    Also worth a try while there: The Georgia Peach is their famous sculpted peach pastry (peach-icing-filled, with peach cookies soaked in Smirnoff peach vodka); plus, sample the Greek Orange Phyllo Cake.

    Pastries A-La-Carte: 81 Clairton Blvd. (Rte. 51), Pleasant Hills / 412-653-2236 /

    Cream-Filled Churro at Panaderia Jazmin 

    Odds are that the sweets at a Mexican bakery are unfamiliar products to many in the Pittsburgh area; so if unique and surprising baked goods are appealing, Panaderia Jazmin in Mt. Lebanon (a few doors away from the second Mediterra in the suburbs) is a must visit. Here you are guaranteed to find treats you have never come across before, with very subtle flavors in hand-held cakes based in sweet bread and puff pastry and Bavarian cream—the latter an unexpected filling in their sugar-coated long churros.

    Also worth a try while there: Apple empanadas and Pay de Queso (a sweet-cheese-filled cookie-textured muffin) are interesting, subtle, and good.

    Panaderia Jazmin Mexican Bakery: 300 Beverly Rd., Mt. Lebanon / 412-297-8457

    Penn State Chicken at The SpringHouse

    The SpringHouse’s impressive spread of cafeteria-style dishes is a feast of impeccably prepared country cooking (the ultimate is an all-you-can-eat brunch-buffet only on Saturday mornings). What they call their Penn State Chicken is one of the hot offerings, presented, over noodles, in a hearty sauce of white wine and melted nutty Swiss cheese.

    Also worth a try while there: Perhaps The SpringHouse’s most characteristic and tasty offering is the Hickory Smoked Ham—sort of a smoky pulled roasted pork in its own juices; choose the cheesy Alabama Vegetable Casserole for a side.

    The SpringHouse Country Market and Restaurant: 1531 Rte. 136, Eighty Four / 724-228-3339 /


    Falafel Plate and Pita Sandwich at Pitaland

    This authentic Lebanese grocery, bakery, and café offers prepared foods and great hot meals (you can enjoy lunch or breakfast at their counter surrounding the kitchen/grill/cooking area). The Falafel Plate (hot crispy chickpea fritters served with red pickled turnips, fresh pita wedges, cucumber spears, cheery tomatoes, and a spicy tahini dipping sauce) is comforting simplicity at its best. Add a sandwich and enjoy both, especially if two are dining.

    Also worth a try while there: The melt-in-your-mouth gyro sandwich is excellent, as is the Chicken Shawarma on a large pita (rotisserie-grilled seasoned chicken with lettuce, tomato, onions, and Lebanese cucumber pickles, topped with a whipped garlic sauce).

    Pitaland: 620 Brookline Blvd., Brookline / 412-531-5040 /

    Strip! editor Greg Suriano can’t resist accompanying his wife, Sandy, to local cafes and bakeries to discover unusual treats—and then, irresistibly, to write about them.