The Olive Tap Pittsburgh, in the heart of the Strip, has dozens of taste-tempting, palate-popping options for adding zest to your favorite foods. Obviously, as the store name proudly suggests, there is a wide selection of 80 extra virgin olive oils (EVOOs) from olive-growing regions around the world. But there is also so very much more. Think vinegars, honey, jams, and salsas in a new, bold, unusual array of flavors.

    Olive oils have also kept up with the times, moving beyond the traditional descriptors of fruity and grassy. The Olive Tap has many options from the ever-growing plethora of infused flavors. There are herbal notes, especially rosemary and thyme. Move on from there to up-to-date fusion-inspired chipotle, Persian lime, and cilantro/red onion olive oils.

    The best oils for infusing, according to Hersh Petrocelly, owner of the The Olive Tap, are made with EVOOs that are a constant of certain varietals. “Arbequina, from California, is one. A second, from Italy, is spoleto, which is a combination of three different varietals. The flavor industry is an industry in itself,” Petrocelly says.

    Petrocelly has been a denizen of the Strip since boyhood. “In order to get us through college my parents opened a pizza shop, Petrocelly’s Pizza. That was in the late 1950s, in the North Hills,” he reminisces. “We three brothers all worked in it. We spent a lot of time in the Strip because we bought all our supplies here.”

    That entrepreneurial experience must have struck a chord. Fast forward to the late 1990s/early 2000s. “My youngest brother, Rick, who lives in Illinois, wanted to do something with cooking,” recalls Hersh. He made the EVOO and vinegar choice, eventually moving to franchising the Olive Tap concept. Middle brother John opened a store in Ohio before Hersh joined the operation.

    Those who make the Olive Tap the success that it is (left to to right): Hersh Petrocelly, owner, Bob Mostachetti, Karen Jorgensen, owner, Derrick Ledbetter, and Lauren Snyder.

    Those who make the Olive Tap the success that it is (left to to right): Hersh Petrocelly, owner, Bob Mostachetti, Karen Jorgensen, owner, Derrick Ledbetter, and Lauren Snyder.

    “I left the corporate world circa 1995-96 and opened a nutritional-supplement business for doctors and chiropractors in Texas. I operated that for 10 years,” he says. “I wanted to come back home, but I was not ready to retire.” Opening an Olive Tap franchise was a logical step. In fact, Hersh had told Rick early on to save the Pittsburgh franchise for him.

    Once Hersh was on board, all the brothers went to Modena, Italy, famous for being the home of balsamic vinegars, to qualify to represent the very best products. Happily, the Olive Tap is privileged to represent both traditional aged balsamics and innovative flavors. Almost every fruit flavor is represented, from lemon to black currant, but there is also tantalizing Serrano Pepper Honey and Hickory Barbeque Riserva.

    “I’m enjoying this,” says Hersh of his store. “I did well in corporate but wish I had done this sooner. When you get to the top it is not as much fun. It is all decision making, putting out fires, and administrative.” He delights in being face to face with customers in the ambience of a store that mixes old Pittsburgh—exposed brick work, rich oak floors—with gleaming furnishings. To round out the family aspect, his wife Karen handles the financial side of the Pittsburgh Olive Tap. She also accompanies her husband to farmer’s markets and home garden shows in part to find products beyond oil and vinegar.

    “I’m a big fan of local,” says Petrocelly. “I want to bring in products from western Pennsylvania and maybe 50 miles around. I have an entire section of the store for local products.” “Muggin’ Hot” salsa from Pleasant Hills and hot pickled garlic from Zelienople spring to mind. Yet Petrocelly also offers unusual treats from the old country. Olives in Amaretto liqueur, for instance, is about as surprising a combination as can be imagined.

    Not sure how to use the products? There are recipe cards on tanks of oil and vinegar. Petrocelly or one of his attentive, customer-centric associates—Lauren Snyder, Derrick Ledbetter, and Bob Mostachetti—will make a copy for you. All of the store associates are pleased to discuss the products, answer questions, and provide further suggestions for optimum enjoyment.

    The recipe sharing is a two-way street. “Customers are always giving us ideas about how to use our products. One lady told us about her pot roast cooked in espresso balsamic.” Hersh would like to include that, and similar recipes, in an Olive Tap cookbook.

    Needless to say, there have been adjustments during the pandemic. “We took a big hit during the first three months and we were not as busy during the holiday season, although it was respectable,” says Hersh. “People are gradually coming back.”

    There had been sample cups that customers could use at will to taste products, but now attentive Lauren, Derrick, Bob, and Hersh serve the product. Plexiglass is evident at standard places, including the demonstration area in the back so shoppers can still get food tips from the experts.

    Curbside shopping, shipping, plus limited close in delivery (with charges) are available. All orders should be made to the Pittsburgh store directly since the national website is under other auspices.

    What does the future hold? “I’d love to expand if I had the space in this location,” says Petrocelly, who wants to bring in more ancillary products.

    Innovation is the byword in Petrocelly’s world—to our delicious benefit.

    Olive Tap Pittsburgh, 108 19th Street, 412-252-2234; otapstrip@gmail.com.

    For Locavore Lovers

    Lemmon Brothers Farms (Markleton, Somerset Co.) — Maple syrup
    Chapel Valley Honey (Tarentum)
    Barbeque Stew (McKeesport) — BBQ sauces
    Miller’s Mustard (Gibsonia) — 3 kinds of mustard; banana peppers
    Two Ugly Mugs (Pleasant Hills) — Salsa; try “Sweet Heat” and “Muggin’ Hot”
    Notcho Nocheez (Shaler) — Almond spreads for snacking; try “Tangy Cheeze,” “Hot,” and “Classic”
    Peppers N’At (Braddock) — Hot Giardiniera peppers
    Surman Gardens (McCandless) — Russian No Collusion Salad Dressing; salsa, pasta sauces, garlic pepper jam
    Ernie’s (Greensburg) — BBQ sauces and chipotle wing sauce
    Byler’s Pickled Garlic (Zelienople) — hot, pickled garlic

    Unique Imported Products from Italy and Greece

    Olive Amaro — Olives in amaretto liqueur
    Truffle Flavored Olives — Smashed green olives with truffle oil
    Tuna chunks with hot chili pepper in olive oil
    Caperberries in wine sauce
    Smoked dried sweet pepper powder
    One Pot Meals — Quick and easy-to-make risottos and pastas. The risottos take only 15-minutes-plus (unattended) cover and simmer time. Try the artichoke-with-porcini risotto.

    Cynthia F. Weisfield graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in art history. She teaches about varied art topics for local Osher programs, is a regular contributor to the Journal of the Print World, and writes on a freelance basis for several other publications. She was a consultant for “Women of Abstract Expressionism,” a show mounted by the Denver Art Museum.