If, like me, you grew up in northern New Jersey, you might fondly recall frequent visits to bakeries in practically every local town. These were “traditional” neighborhood bakeries whose shelves and glass cases were always full. Often on a summer night you could be outside near one and detect the smells of baking—and then visit a back door to pick up fresh next-day doughnuts before anyone else had a chance at them. There were neighborhoods where every block or two might have an Italian or Portuguese bakery, at all times stocked to the rafters with the most eye-appealing and delectable confections and breads. And most were definitely open on Sundays.

    Yet, having proudly resided in Pittsburgh for nearly 20 years now, my family has found it to be a frustrating task to find traditional, even nostalgic, bakeries with substantial pastry displays. Thus for several years my wife and I have made it a fun exercise to occasionally visit locales where authentic bakeries are part of the milieu. In keeping with the day-trip travel surveys I enjoy writing, my purpose here is to profile the main single-location bakeries that are short drives from the city—for those adventurous enough to step outside their immediate enclave to try something beyond the bakery section of their local supermarket.

    Lincoln Bakery 

    543 Lincoln Ave., Bellevue / 412-766-0954 / open until 5:00 p.m. / closed Sun. & Mon.

    This bakery on the main commercial street in Bellevue has a pleasant, stone-covered (though not exactly old-fashioned) façade and a wood-paneled outsized interior with a “strolling” area sometimes marked by empty tables and racks of wrapped breads. Customers should concentrate on the right side of the space, whose counters display one of the best and most varied selections of baked goods in the area. There is the expected conglomeration of interesting decorated cookies and pastries, including canollis, cream puffs, eclairs, brownies, and lady locks. Among the tempting small specialties are cheesecakes in raspberry, cherry chocolate chip, oreo, and white chocolate strawberry varieties; visually appealing tortes (chocolate mouse, lemon blackberry, opera, black and gold); and charlottes (raspberry, chocolate truffle, triple chocolate mousse, tiramisu, lemon).

    The Ultimate Pastry Shop 


    445 Beaver St., Sewickley / 412-741-9150 / open until 3:00 p.m., Fri. until 4:00 p.m. / closed Sun. & Mon.

    This well-known bakery in the middle of Sewickley’s Beaver Street shopping district is a joy to visit. The mid-century-style recessed glass-windowed entryway opens to a cozy and wonderfully compact customer space enclosed by counters on each side. The Ultimate Pastry Shop is a fun place: Its signature flamingo logo is everywhere, its walls are painted in 1960s-ish psychedelic patterns, and there’s old-timey multi-colored linoleum-square flooring. There are also a big coffee area and cold-drink cabinet and a wooden bench in the front-window area—plus a wall of clustered cubicles filled with party supplies. Best to arrive early because the baked goods disappear quickly; however, the Ultimate’s printed order sheets allow for an expansive selection of “hand-scooped cookies” in varieties such as double chocolate espresso, orange almond, iced spice oatmeal, and peanut butter chocolate chip. With two days’ notice, you can also pick up any of several dozen specialty items, including birthday and other cakes, tortes, and pies made to order—there’s orange sunshine cake, banana fudge cake, white chocolate raspberry torte, black forest cake, tiramisu torte, chocolate mousse cake, and much more. Browsing the glass cases, though, can result in immediately taking away many delicious smalls, like the nut horns, the terrific lemon or key lime crinkle cookies, peanut butter bars, scones, filled rugelahs, and even muffin tops.

    Potomac Bakery 

    1419 Potomac Ave., Dormont / 412-531-5066 / open until 5:00 p.m. / closed Sun. 

    Certainly one of the most venerable establishments on this list, the Potomac Bakery in Dormont greets visitors with an exterior sign exclaiming “Since 1927.” Somewhat cozy but not colorfully decorated, the small customer area is enclosed by an L-shaped display-case arrangement. But a nice feature is that the remaining side of this space opens to a large area where the baking and preparation are visible for all to see and enjoy. Although there is not a huge and varied selection, available are ample supplies of general items one might expect, from unusually fine shaped cookies and donuts to squares, canollis, and cupcakes. Very worthwhile to try are their soft filled cookies (raison, apricot, cherry).

    Kretchmar’s Bakery 


    664 Third St., Beaver / 724-774-2324 / open until
    6:30 p.m. / closed Sun. & Mon.

    Like Sewickley’s Ultimate Pastry Shop, access to Beaver’s bake shop—with its huge, funky orange Kretchmar’s Bakery sign—is via a mid-20th-century recessed glass-window-sided entryway. The Kretchmar’s interior also gets top grades for its cozy customer space closed in on all sides by glass cases. Unlike too many bakeries we’ve visited, the shop itself is very inviting—cheerful and bright inside, with normally well-stocked shelves where everything seems very fresh. Of course, this is Beaver, so street parking is free and you can even munch on your recently purchased goodies seated on one of the town’s dozens of storefront benches. Kretchmar’s products are uniformly excellent and reasonably priced. Among their instant-gratification smalls are “claws” in raspberry, apricot, and nut varieties and a tempting Gourmet Chocolate Madness cookie. There are also a classic square toasted (burnt) almond torte, seasonal key lime and “strawberry tres leches” tortes, and an appealing donut selection—plus cherry and apple turnovers (apparently not that easy to come across elsewhere), cream puffs, canollis, and chocolate eclairs topped with shaved white-chocolate curls.

    Party Cake Shop  

    706 Brookline Blvd., Brookline / 412-531-5322 / open until 5:00 p.m., Sat. until 5:00 p.m., Sun. until 1:00 p.m. / closed Mon. & Tues.

    The Party Cake Shop is a popular bakery that, notwithstanding the City of Pittsburgh’s claims, is located in a distinct town clearly part of the Dormont/Mt. Lebanon/Brookline area. Despite a mundane exterior and the kiosk-pay-parking requirement, the store is a mecca for melt-in-your-mouth donuts—and plenty of them (including multi-flavored paczki several times a year), especially if one gets there before the several cases devoted to these empties out by late morning. Party Cake specializes in the basic traditional-bakery items, though half of the interior is comprised of blank shelves, a coffee area, and a refrigerated-drink case. There is a nice selection of chocolate eclairs, cream puffs, danishes, lady locks, and brownies along with various breads. They also have burnt almond cupcakes to accompany their large similar tortes.

    Pastries A-La-Carte

    81 Clairton Blvd. (Rte. 51), Pleasant Hills / 412-653-2236 / open until 5:00 p.m. / closed Sun.

    Located in an easy-to-miss small strip mall along trafficky Route 51, this spectacular bake shop boasts a storefront with enlarged photos of their cakes/specialties and a big sign announcing that it is “The Official Pastry Shop of the Pittsburgh Penguins.” Inside, while strolling from one glass display counter to another customers invariably marvel at the modern and bright environment, which is both comforting and spacious. One must also admire the superb organization of these cases by category and the tall glass cabinets with revolving shelves that hold intricately artistic layer cakes. Mostly, however, this bakery seduces by its products’ visual appeal, of mainly small expertly decorated pastries; included among those specialties are lemon bars, pistachio “sushi” rolls, coconut snowballs, lemon-lavender mousse bombes, blueberry opera cakes, “tropical illusion” cupcakes, and citrus cupcakes. Cookie varieties are just as inventive, ranging from “Dave’s orange drops” and shortbreads (coconut, pecan, lemon, raspberry) to fudge marble and red velvet. And one shouldn’t pass up the prominently displayed peach-shaped confection that is filled with a peach “icing” and soft peach cookies soaked in Smirnoff peach vodka.

    Graham’s Bakery 

    300 Mt. Lebanon Blvd. (Lebanon Shops), Castle Shannon / 412-561-8600 / open until 1:00 p.m. / closed Sun. & Mon.

    The half-century-old Graham’s is hidden among many nondescript brown-hued storefronts in the Lebanon Shops strip mall. Its interior is old-fashioned but not especially quaint (fun vintage linoleum, though), and there are many empty refrigerated cases as well as a surprising selection of gifty items, including costume jewelry. But many traditional baked items are to be found, such as cupcakes, muffins, lady locks, and gobs, as well as a decent selection of homemade breads. One welcome specialty is the available-year-round paczki, although only a few butter-cream versions can be had unless one orders the more interesting fillings in advance. Graham’s is also well known for orders of all kinds of novelty, theme, and occasion cakes, including a good Italian rum cake. This is also one of those Pittsburgh-area bakeries that may run out of mostly everything by mid-morning, leaving a visual vacuum until closing.

    Bethel Bakery

    5200 Brightwood Rd., Bethel Park / 412-835-6658 / open until 6:00 p.m., Sat. until 5:00 p.m. / closed Sunday

    Because of its formidable South Hills reputation and popularity, and its longstanding solo location, the 65-year-old Bethel Bakery is a must-include on our list of traditional bakeries, even though in recent years it has shared its name and products at a more modest locale on Route 19 in North Strabane. But the main Bethel Park shop attracts a multitude of regular patrons, frequently returning for the always-abundant selection of specialty and standard pastries, cookies, and cakes (The Cake Place is an attached shop for wedding orders). Inside, one enjoys the friendly, bright, and well-organized atmosphere; the first of four glass cases is filled with cookies (most are only 53 or 68 cents), which can often include seasonal- or cultural-themed designs (plus their signature Terrible Towel cookie). While Bethel Bakery offers all the items one usually looks for, temptation is amplified by all sorts of creative—and beautifully decorated—versions of favorites: lemon blueberry and almond raspberry cupcakes, creamsicle cheesecake swirl cups, key lime mousse bombes, blue raspberry snowballs, et al. From the donut counter bring home the moist, heavenly apricot cup or one of the large “pan rolls”—yeasty cakes with pull-apart sections; the Danish Cinnamon Cluster version is amazing. From the cookie counter, along with buckeyes, thumbprints, and fruit-topped tea cookies, take home some of their “half-dipped” (in chocolate) cookies in chocolate chip or colorful daisy versions.

    Oakmont Bakery


    One Sweet St. (and Hulton Rd.), Oakmont / 412-826-1606 / open until 7:00 p.m., Sunday until 3:00 p.m. 

    This is by far the most famous bakery near Pittsburgh, and even those who are reluctant to travel “all the way out there” to Oakmont have heard its praises being sung. There is just so much on display in the long line of glass cases that it would be a daunting task to cover even a small representation from the enormous and varied selection. Atmosphere-wise, this is a huge space in a recently constructed building, where you can sit comfortably to devour your purchases (which can include café-style breakfast or lunch offerings) inside or outside the shop. This cavernous showroom is large enough to accommodate the normally vast rows of customers waiting for their numbers to be called and, behind the counters, the hustling staff that is both efficient and uncommonly courteous. And while you are deciding on which items to take home—chocolate croissants … macarons … a dozen mini cheesecakes … Pittsburgh sports-team decorated cookies … New York sticks (aka cigars) … strawberry scones … flakey raspberry or apple  puffs—do not under any circumstances forget to ask for their spectacular “everything bread,” a meal in itself—pull apart and eat one on the way home as you cart away several more you can freeze and savor later.

    H. D. Dudt Bakery


    11010 Perry Hwy. (Rte. 19), Wexford / 724-935-4030 / open until 4:00 p.m. / closed Sun. & Mon.

    It is easy to miss the H. D. Dudt Bakery as you pass an unexceptional strip mall (the Best Tile Plaza) set back a bit from busy Route 19 in the North Hills. But the effort to be on the lookout for it is worthwhile, for the small interior presents a few glass counters of the best-quality baked goods in the region. And their slogan aptly reflects the Dudt experience: “We offer a wide range of products made from scratch, just the way it should be … vintage made and quality assured.” While perusing the shelves it becomes obvious that there is a lot of staff/baker hustle going on, in order to constantly keep the confections coming so that the displays are not easily diminished and the many incoming orders are efficiently filled. The textures and tastes of items small and large are noticeably flaky and buttery, and the prices are very reasonable. Many items—with Dudt’s own quirky names—are highly recommended: “pie bites” (filled crescent cookies); medium-sized decorated “lunch cakes” and glistening plump “chocolate sundaes”; small pie-crust-enveloped filled “flips”; raspberry “blossoms”; giant fruit danishes; a variety of big cookies (60 cents each); and large-sized almond and lemon tortes.

    There are so many other wonderful bake shops that don’t qualify as single-location traditional bakeries outside of Pittsburgh that it would be a shame not to at least mention them. Some are considered “small-batch” shops, where creativity and quality are often superior to the larger bakeries listed above; many simply have a limited selection that can run out quickly; or they are merely a part of a larger eatery; or they have several locations, including in the city itself. Among these are: Stangl’s Bakery in Ambridge, Signature Desserts in Castle Shannon, Batter and Dough Baking Company in Bridgeville, the Two Fraus (German accented) and Lagerhaus bakeries in historic Harmony, Bella Christie’s Sweet Boutique (McCandless, Aspinwall), Bartram House Bakery & Café (McMurray, Wexford, Cranberry, South Fayette, Pittsburgh’s South Side), and Mediterra Café (Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville, Mt. Lebanon, Sewickley). Some outstanding ethnic-class establishments offer quality creations on a less extensive (and less traditional-nostalgic) basis; highly recommended are Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery in Millvale; La Gourmandine Bakery, also French, in Mt. Lebanon (plus in Pittsburgh: Lawrenceville, Downtown, and Hazelwood); the tiny but surprising Mexican bakery Panaderia Jazmin in Mt. Lebanon’s Beverly section (near Mediterra); Anthos Bakery and Cafe in Castle Shannon, for its Greek pastries and incredible fresh-baked breads; Amy’s Bakery in Mt. Lebanon for delicious and finely crafted Asian desserts; and the long-established (since 1935) Moio’s Italian Pastry Shop in Monroeville.

    Strip! editor Greg Suriano writes on cultural subjects and loves to travel western Pennsylvania roads to visit nostalgic towns and discover great food.