Cops like to eat. So do writers. My husband Hilary and I eat out once or twice a week. And it turns out—funny thing!—some of the places we go are where the cops go in TAKEN, FALLEN, AFTERIMAGE, THE ODDS (THE ODDS is a very food-y book), HIDEOUT, SIMPLE, and A MEASURE OF BLOOD. The funny thing is Pittsburgh keeps coming up with new wonderful restaurants and thus my characters, who used to be hooked on pierogies and Primanti sandwiches, are now dining very well.
Go to the end for a quick addendum of future culinary features!
Alexander's Italian Bistro
Atria's Restaurant and Tavern
Beverly's Sweet Shoppe
Big Jim's Restaurant and Bar
Bloomfield Bridge Tavern
Café du Jour
Cold Stone Creamery
Del's Italian Restaurant and Bar
French Creek Café
Legends of the North Shore
Mineo's Pizza House
Murray Avenue Grill
Panikkar's Indian Restaurant
The Park House
Pittsburgh Steak Company
The Pleasure Bar
Qdoba Mexican Grill
Roland's Seafood Grill
Silky's Sports Bar and Grill
Six Penn Kitchen
(Enrico's) Tazza D'Oro Coffee Shop
Vincent's Pizza Park
(Robert) Wholey & Co.
Wild Rosemary Bistro
Ye Olde Allegheny Sandwich Shoppe
Click here for an interactive Google map
of the Cop's Culinary Tour!
Tessaro's Restaurant: 4601 Liberty AvenueBloomfield
Kathy and Hilary at Tessaro's
Tessaro's is high up on my list because I love hardwood grilled meat and fish and that's what you get theresteaks, chops, chicken, ribs (pork and beef), and seafoods that include prawns, mahi mahi, salmon, scallops. You can watch the cooks behind the big glass window working away in what must be mind-boggling heat. The owners/hosts Kelly and Ena greet me and Hilary warmly whenever we go in there; they make us feel like old friends. And the waitresses are fantastic, every oneAngie, Jessica, Lisa. So. The long and short of it is that my detective Colleen goes pretty often to Tessaro's. (It turns out that when the Pittsburgh police were headquartered in East Liberty, they did actually go there often.)
In AFTERIMAGE a whole group of detectives hits Tessaro's for dinner early on in the novel. They have two puzzling cases to solve. They gather around Christie who is not only their boss, but their spiritual papacharismatic. Colleen is the only woman in the group. Detective Potocki tells a raunchy story that turns kind of serious. Colleen has to balance being herself and fitting in with the guys.
Colleen goes back to Tessaro's several times in THE ODDS. In one scene, she's alone, sitting at the bar, and she orders one of the famous "best burger award" hamburgers. But another time, she and (ahem) one of the other detectives have a meal together and share a few intimacies. It's unwise to mess with a co-worker, but when people are attracted, what can you do?
Here are the heartbreaking and uplifting ways that things change. Owner and host Kelly, too young to leave us, died, and that was only days after his father died. His sister Ena, his co-host, was ill. Everybody was asking, How can the restaurant survive? Truth be told, the atmosphere was different, even nervous. And then a flowering happened: Moira, a sister of Kelly and Ena, took over the hosting and began to learn who the regulars were, learned our names, began to smile. She once heard Hilary wishing the plates were warmed and every time we go there, we get specially warmed (really hot) plates. They're so busy. I don't know how they make this exception for us. But that tells you something about the way the feeling of the place flowered once more. And now Tessaro's is home again.
Post-Gazette: In the Kitchen
Alexander's Italian Bistro: 5104 Liberty AvenueBloomfield
Specializes in Italian food. Hilary and I ate there with my sister's family at a dinner event that included her wonderful mother-in-law, Rose. The restaurant was a good choice for a family dinnerbig portions, and everybody getting stuffed on appetizers of calamari and zucchini before the meal ever arrivedthat kind of thing. Rose did the "create your own pasta" special. Alexander's has smaller front tables up front with banquettes along the wall and had big fireside 'Alistair Cooke' chairs on the outside. Alas, Alexander's has replaced those big comfy chairs.
In AFTERIMAGE Colleen Greer agrees to have dinner with David Hoffman, a man who was once her boss and who is now a suspect in the two current murders. He has begged her to meet with him as a friend. She tells him she simply has to have veal parmigiana. What she really wants is the soft surfaces and the apparent privacy of a big chair at a front table in Alexander's. She gets her veal parm, though. And some evidence, too. The impossible waiter is purely an invention, somebody made up of various impossible waiters in my travels.
The Pleasure Bar: 4729 Liberty AvenueBloomfield
This is a favorite Pittsburgh bar and restaurant that goes back 70 years. It's just up the street from Alexander's and just down the street from Tessaro's. Bloomfield once attracted Italian and Eastern European immigrants. Many of their families are still there, but students of various stripes have discovered the neighborhood and moved in. The Pleasure Bar serves homestyle Italian food.
"Hilary," I said, "we need a break from grilled fish. Maybe we should have a hit of Italian sometime soon. Pleasure Bar."
"I used to go there a lot," he told me, "when I first came to Pittsburgh. Lynn Barrett used to take me and the other writing faculty there. Big portions. Affordable."
Every city needs a good sprinkling of Italian restaurants that don't try to do something hip, just the good old regular solid meals for moderate or low prices.
The Pleasure Bar was just the right place to my mind for the surveillance Christie and Dolan needed to do in AFTERIMAGE. Had they been in Greenfield (where Christie once lived in TAKEN . . .), I would have sent them to the amazingly low-priced, unfancy and very good Big Jim's, located at the empty edge of a neighborhood where a couple of roads end. In AFTERIMAGE, Christie and Dolan end up sitting in the car in front of the Honda lot on Liberty Avenue, eating takeout from the Pleasure Barlet's says it's veal parm for Dolan who is a suggestible guy with a big appetite and for Christie who has problems with acid reflux a pasta primavera. They would have liked to go inside for a sit down meal if not home to their wives, but they have to be on hand for Colleen who's in Alexander's Restaurant again, hoping David Hoffman will pick up her invitation and show up for a second time.
Bloomfield Bridge Tavern: 4412 Liberty AvenueBloomfield
This is a good old Polish bar with kielbasa and pierogies and other ethnic foods best eaten by people with no cholesterol problems. That describes Hilary whose numbers are perfect, his doctor tells him. Mine aren't. (When we were on our wedding trip on a stop in Devon, England, a doctor who was also a tourist told me in a high state of hilarity that I might as well simply inject the clotted cream right into my veins; the Lebanese, she said, are so predisposed to high cholesterol, I didn't have a chance.) So Hilary goes to the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern on boys' night out with his friends to have sausages and imported beers. My detective Colleen can go there; she can handle it; she's got a strong constitution. I only fantasize about the buttery pierogies.
NEW: Del's Italian Restaurant and Bar: 4428 Liberty AvenueBloomfield
Del's Italian Restaurant and Bar
There couldn't be a more classic old-fashioned cheap Italian restaurantcomplete with worn plates and silverware. A year ago a group of writers I was with got caught in an ice storm tried to go to the Church Brewworks (you got it: beer and old church combo) for lunch and the restaurant couldn't open because the workers couldn't get through the ice. So, shivering, we asked ourselves, "What's up the road?" And we went to Del'swhich was open and packed for Sunday brunch. We had no idea in advance that for twelve dollars we could indulge in 20 items. Here's what they offer: Scrambled Eggs / Frittata (pepperoni and egg) / Bacon / Sausage Links / Hot Sausage / Home Fries / Pancakes / French Toast / Hot Syrup / Buttermilk Biscuits / Sausage Gravy / Pasta Mafalda / Mac'n'Cheese / Meatballs / Green Beans / Stuffed Chicken Breast / Scrod Florentine / Salad Bar / Wedding Soup / Fruit Cocktail / Cereal / Bagels / Muffins / Brownies / Mini cheesecakes / Croissant / White/rye toast / Rolls / with your choice of Orange Juice, Cranberry Juice, Coffee, Hot Tea, or Iced Tea. So, needless to say, my characters went backnot for brunch but for classic Italian pasta dinners in SIMPLE (slated for publication in 2012). Only it was Colleen and Potocki sneaking out together . . . and also on the same night, Christie and his wife needing time alone. Both couples are unhappy about meeting up.
Del's Restaurant website
Ritter's Diner: 5221 Baum BoulevardEast Liberty
Next door to Bloomfield and surely a haunt of the detectives when they worked in East Liberty, Ritter's is a twenty-four hour place that serves a good greasy spoon breakfast any time you want it. A big glaring lights diner in the old style, it's been a favorite of people on tight budgets for a long time. I used to go there a lot with pals in my grad student days and first teaching job. If you don't want breakfast, you can have standards like meatloaf and fried chicken and just about anything that comes with gravy.
I could have sent David Hoffman there after I had him driving around all night in a frenzy, but there he was on Second Avenue downtown, so I sent him to an imaginary place, a little storefront of a breakfast place, a small greasy spoon that had a sign in the window that said "2-2-2 breakfast special." That's two pieces of bacon, sausage or ham, two eggs, and two pancakes for $2.22!! What inspired this place and this menu? Well, I enjoyed this very breakfast at Harrigan's in the Holiday Inn in Johnstown, my home town, a place that prides itself on being inexpensive. I transported this great breakfast deal to a little dive off Second Avenue where David Hoffman eats while waiting for his appointment at the morgue.
Side note: Not only does David Hoffman order bacon for breakfast at this point in the novel, but he keeps smelling it or thinking he does in various other scenes. I couldn't help noticing that my character Bridget in Fallen gets in the habit of bacon for breakfast. Bacon just keeps coming into my fiction although I've made it a rare treat for myself. I finally figured out why. I'm writing early in the morning and Hilary is making his breakfasttwo times out of three it's bacon. The smell kills me. I love it. And it creeps right into my novels.
NEW: Casbah: 229 S Highland AvenueShadyside / East Liberty (412) 661-5656
In SIMPLE (2012), a guy up to no good takes a gorgeous young woman for a drink and a talk. He takes her to Casbah. The drinks are very polished and sophisticated at Casbah, as is the food. And the bar is sexy. The bar area seems like a place where covert meetings might be held. My husband and I and my sister and brother-in-law went for dinner to absorb the atmosphere of the place. One of my favorite grad students waits tables there but he wasn't working that night. I couldn't think the word casbah and order anything other than lamb and couscous. All the entrees were delicious and very rich. Soba and Casbah, both part of the Big Burrito group, are at the top of most people's lists. Here's something we didn't order that sounds good: Red Pepper Casereccia, seared sea scallops, jumbo lump crab, roasted garlic, and parsley butter for $31. Casbah is on the eating schedule for my characters in A MEASURE OF BLOOD. They're professors, Arthur and Jan, who like to eat out at least once a week.
big Burrito Restaurant Group
NEW: Brasserie 33: 5863 Ellsworth AvenueShadyside (412) 363-3090
In the current incarnation this is a new place. Luckily for me, it's across the street from my chiropractor's office. So after she's pounded me out or if she's running late, I can hop over there for a bowl of French onion soup or a chicken sandwich on baguette. The French know that if you butter a baguette and put on plenty of melted good-quality cheese, it hardly matters what else you add. But in this case the beef or chicken that makes for their signature sandwiches is all to the good. Again this is an Arthur and Jan place (A MEASURE OF BLOOD).
TribLIVE.com Homepage Lifestyles
NEW: Zarra's: 3887 Bigelow BoulevardUpper Oakland (412) 682-8296
Hilary and I were invited here for an event for two of our friends who simply (or not so simply) wanted to treat the hundred people they felt had been supportive of them throughout their illnesses. They ordered up a huge buffet for everyone from the cooks (all family) at Zarra's. Hilary and I had eaten at another event before going, but our hosts, the Tymitzes, insisted (as did the owners) that we taste the food. Well, we're not slouches. We ate again. It was lovelyfresh ingredients, Italian style. Not everybody knows about this place. BUT the police do. They know every restaurant in the 'burgh. This one is the one where they hold receptions for family weddingsthings like that.
NEW: Union Grill: 413 South Craig StreetOakland
Affordable university-area food, just between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, seemed just the place to send my little family Jan Gabriel, Arthur Morris, and foster child Matt Brown in A MEASURE OF BLOOD. Jan Gabriel teaches theatre at Pitt and is directing a play (in this way I could follow the dictum to write what you know). Anyway, she and her husband are on the verge of adopting Matt and she's got to get to rehearsal. A child can always find something to like at the Union Grill, and most adults can, too. They serve waffle fries, sweet potato fries, and all the usuals when it comes to sandwiches and appetizers. But one of the best features is the daily fish dinner entree with sides. I've had good trout there, but at the moment all I see on the menu is salmon. Still, a five-hour pot roast is appealing, too.
Union Grill on Banksville Roadnow defunct
It had the same wonderful menu as the original place in Oakland which is very much there and thriving in the university community. My niece loves the crab cakes. Frank Razzi goes there in FALLEN. He charms the waitress. He's memorable. Not a good way to hide! Soon after, Christie and Dolan are eating there, on his tail.
NEW: Mad Mex: 370 Atwood StreetOakland
Mad Mex is part of the Big Burrito groupwhich means there will be something a little special and significantly different in its offerings from the quick fast food Mexican places. Nadal Brown and his mama, Catalan Puerto Ricans, eat at Mad Mex in Oakland in A MEASURE OF BLOOD. Mrs. Brown would be able to get a takeout at State College, where she lives and where there is a huge Mad Mexthat is, if she can find a time of day to avoid the screaming crowds. (Hilary and I managed to break through the crowds in State College but it was only for breakfast.) Still we read the menu with delight. In A MEASURE OF BLOOD, mother and son tend to like a bit of spice with their chicken or beef or pork. Mad Mex can give you a burrito or taco or quesadilla for sure, and that item will have zip. And they also offer a whole selection of dips and chipsall kinds. Black bean dip, jazzed-up hummus. Hilary and I will have to go there soon again. Just typing the menu items makes me hungry. A shame I already thawed prawns for tonight.
Mad Mex website
NEW: Ali Baba: 404 South Craig StreetOakland
This is a place that no university person in Pittsburgh can avoid (not that they want to). It's cheap. The food is Lebanese. They use canned green beans for the loobyeh (I never would) but most people don't complain. The skewered lamb and skewered chicken are popular dishes. So are rice, yogurt, sleek, hummus and baba ganouge. I had a student who worked there write a play set in a restaurant just like Ali Baba. It was the raunchiest play I've had turned in to a class. I loved it and produced it. And the owners came to see it and gave us free food for the audience. Wow. That's Pittsburgh. In a nutshell. Or a chickpea. Let's just say that some of those dinners before rehearsal in A MEASURE OF BLOOD happen right there.
Ali Baba website
NEW: Qdoba Mexican Grill: 3712 Forbes AvenueOakland
Nadal Brown eats lunch here in A MEASURE OF BLOOD. It's crowded; its offerings are Mexican. The food fills his belly, but he's not thinking about food, given the events of his life and what he's running from. The food is fuel. It hardly registers with him.
NEW: Panikkar's Indian Restaurant
I made it up. Some secondary characters in A MEASURE OF BLOOD own it. It features (to my mind) great Panak Paneer. It's in upper Oakland. That's all, folks.
NEW: Dish Osteria: 128 South 17th StreetSouth Side
This is the kind of place Potocki's leggy doctor introduces him to during his HIDEOUT days. It's a bit of New York restaurant in Pittsburgh. The decor is hip and so is the crowd. Hilary and I went with a group when the writer Margot Livesey came to Pittsburgh to speak at the Gist reading series. It was late at night and we had to wait for a tableso we had a European sort of late-night feast as my detective Colleen is fond of calling up from her one visit to Greece. In this case, the food was Italian. We ordered Italian pastas and meats, but the boozy late-at-night meal felt New Yorkish, European.
Dish Osteria website
NEW: Pittsburgh Steak Company: 1924 East Carson StreetSouth Side
Pittsburgh Steak Company
Hilary and I had forgotten about this place but it was the scene of one of our earliest dates. The third actual date, I believe, since I am a woman who keeps a good chronicle of important things in my heart. City Grill was our first date after seeing White Mischief. Mallorca/Brady Street Bridge Café was the second after seeing Sullivan's Travels. Hilary and I decided we needed to try the Steak Company again. What you get there is the most standard (and not bad) steak and potato and salad dinner. We enjoyed it. It was very small town and just what we wanted that night. This is an Artie Dolan sort of place. He's a lovely carnivorous detective with a big appetite. He's a recurring character in all seven books.
Pittsburgh Steak Company website
Mallorca: 2228 East Carson StreetSouth Side
This was the site of Hilary's and my second date, only it was called the Brady Street Bridge Café and back then it served a French menu. Now it features Spanish food and the portions are huge, just huge. We went back recently and sat in our old seats and marveled at how large the place is/was and full of people. Back then, on that second date, we sat outdoors and saw only each other. I would put Artie Dolan in this place in any book. He's just a lusty eater.
NEW: Café du Jour: 1107 East Carson StreetSouth Side
Photo of Café du Jour by John Heller/Post-Gazette
My friend Rick Schweikert said they had excellent steaks at this appealing place run by young people who fell in love with food. If you can sit outdoors in their garden, it's quite fantastic. We'd been there several times, but hadn't ordered steak. Pork, lamb, fish, yes. The last time we went there, because of what Rick had said, I ordered beef. It was very good and very rare. This is a placelike Il Pizziolathat the characters from A MEASURE OF BLOOD would frequent once a month. Jan and Arthur like French cooking. They like artful surroundings. And they love ambitious young people who do things well.
Back for a moment to earlier novels, simple places, breakfast, and... bacon.
Lindo's: 947 Western AvenueNorth Side
I love bacon... I love greasy spoon restaurants, so when I want the rare treat of bacon, I choose one of those. In our neighborhood, which is now where the police are headquartered, there is a classic place Hilary and I can walk to. Lindo's. They serve grits, too. OnceI can't remember whyI went there alone and ordered the one-armed bandit. I couldn't eat it all. The next day I dragged Hilary there. What a dealalmost as cheap as Johnstown. The one-armed-bandit is "One farm fresh egg, one large sausage patty, one piece of toast with jelly, one pancake, and one-half order of home fries." And they do substitutions, so you can get bacon instead of sausage, grits instead of home fries. The price is $3.25.
In AFTERIMAGE Colleen has been dreaming about a Lindo's breakfast. Her boyfriend, John, takes her there. Unfortunately, it's in Lindo's, one of her favorite places, that he attempts to break up with her.
Lindo's has been sold to another owner. They still have a one-armed-bandit, but when we recently went there on the coldest day of the year, we had to keep our coats on. The heat wasn't coming in right, the waitress told us. And the grits and pancakes came with margarine rather than butter. Alas.
NEW: Doug's Market: 1327 Arch StreetNorth Side
For the many fans of my character Meg from THE ODDS wanting to know what she's up to: Meg still works at Doug's Market in A MEASURE OF BLOOD. They love her there. She serves the homeless the hot offering of the day. She also serves Commander Christie and Colleen when they drop by to see her. The special of that day happens to be chili dogs. Christie has terrible digestion, but he would never consider NOT ordering from Meg. She serves him excitedly and with a blush.
Pittsburgh City Paper
Peppi's: 927 Western AvenueNorth Side (and other locations)
An amazing sub and sandwich shop. Each sandwich is huge, often with provolone on top of meats, and enough for two or three people. It's a place real cops and imaginary cops go often to pick up takeout. Anita Washington, a victim of crime in AFTERIMAGE works there. Her husband Deon works a few blocks away at the imaginary Bigg's Tavern. Now there is a Rigg's Tavern in the neighborhood, not quite the right physical set up for my character so I made up another bar. While researching, I learned that the owner of Rigg's though was named Richard Riggs. I went to grad school with a Richard Riggs! I went to a movie with a Richard Riggs! I thought, "This is going to turn out to be a great coincidence!" But the current bartender looked at me suspiciously and insisted his Richard Riggs went to Duquesne, not Pitt, and was not anything so frivolous as a theatre student.
Ye Olde Allegheny Sandwich Shoppe: 822 Western AvenueNorth Side
When the cops need takeout, if it isn't a Peppi's sandwich, it's likely to be something from this modestly priced and pleasant soup and sandwich shop. Colleen, dropped off by Christie in AFTERIMAGE, has to choose lunch for herself and Christie. She's ravenous. While scarfing down soup, she makes phone calls to track down information on a suspect. Then she trots down the street to headquarters with a tuna salad and a chicken salad (the cracked pepper burger would cool down too much as she walked), giving Christie his choice.
Modern Café: 862 Western AvenueNorth Side
The building is an original art-deco place and was chosen as a location for the film Wonderboys. If you go to Peppi's or Ye Allegheny you are a few doors from The Modern. Hilary and I went there to hear music a while back. It's a Greek-owned good old bar serving reliable hamburgers and fries and daily specials. I set a very tense scene in there between two scared menNick and Carlin THE ODDS. Both men are caught in the drug trade.
On January 1, 2009 The Modern burned. But there is life after death and it opened again. Hooray.
Monterey Pub: 1227 Monterey StreetNorth Side
(412) 322-6535 Right on a residential street. Voted best Irish Pub in Pittsburgh. The cook offers bangers and mash, Guinness pot roast, and shepherd's pie as well as the usual bar foods and a special which could be anything from stuffed peppers to cajun catfish to fried chicken. Hilary and I know the owners and most of the customers and we love the small, homey place. An interesting guy, Bob, eats there almost every night. I often order chicken in or on a salad, Colleen's default meal. Hilary is more likely to have the special.
Colleen and her boyfriend come here in AFTERIMAGE. He insists on talking, she's wounded by him, trying not to cry, and then she's interrupted by a cell-phone call from a suspect. Work to do! Does work cure the woes of love or only distract for a moment?
2011 UPDATE: Monterey Pub
This is a story of the pub that found itself. It used to be great but not often crowded. Now you have to wait for a table. It's the Pittsburgh version of Cheers. Wings on Tuesdays, mussels on most Thursdaysthe routines have taken over our lives. Because the new police offices are now on the North Side, I send the police here to eat, perhaps not quite as often as Hilary and I get there, but often, mighty often. The police elbow through the crowds and pick up their takeouts, too busy to stay, wishing they could. Colleen's ex is no longer around so she's cool with it.
Monterey Pub website
The Park House: 403 E. OhioNorth Side
Peanutz: 410 E. OhioNorth Side
A couple of high-up policemen in AFTERIMAGE go to an unspecified bar on East Ohio Street for lunch. They do a three or four drink lunch, but they also eat a hefty meal there. In THE ODDS, I also have two (tired) old detectives go to East Ohio for supper (and booze).
One day, walking home via Cedar Avenue from the auto shop, I decided to do my homework and visit these bars. But before I got to them, I ran into a former student. I felt a blush of embarrassment because this same student, a favorite, had inspired a character in AFTERIMAGE. I was also embarrassed because I was wearing a sacky old dress and deck shoesa just climbed out of bed outfit. I was vastly disappointed, in fact, that my student recognized me. Was I not in disguise? Ah, well. We chatted and I moved on.
The Park House, it turned out, was the perfect setting for my scene between the Chief and the Assistant Chief in AFTERIMAGE. It's believed to be the oldest tavern in Pittsburgh. The offerings are anything from a half-pound burger to a falafel sandwich and tabooleh. The only problem I had with it was: no pinball machines. They'd been replaced, even there in a historic tavern, by electric video poker machines with tweeps and beeps rather than the rattle of balls on metal. In my mind, there are pinball machines there. So in my novel there are, too.
Pittsburgh Business Times
I crossed the street to Peanutz. The sign out front told me I could have a veal parmigiana sandwich or stuffed green peppers. I feel sure my two old detectives, Nellins and Hrznak, in THE ODDS will be happy in here. Maybe one of them can play video poker because it has taken over here, too.
The customers looked at me curiously because I didn't sit down or order a beer. I was just a funny woman in a sacky dress, studying the joint, and they were studying me.
Atria's Restaurant and Tavern: Federal Street103 North Side (and 7 other locations)
Hilary and I go to this restaurant often. In good weather we like sitting outdoors. It's next door to the ballpark, PNC stadium. How to describe it? Instead of trying I ask Hilary to describe this one. He's having a rough morning at the typewriter so he looks cheery when he brings me a typed sheet of newsprint with: "There's an appealing naivete about Atria's in its mix of Pittsburgh menushearty servings of meats and starcheswith a rough and ready bistro atmosphere. Food is well-prepared and the drinks are generous. It's the kind of place you might take your favorite aunt to while hooking up with some old pals."
The original restaurant on Banksville Road is the setting of an important scene between the pharmacist Megan and her boyfriend Tony in FALLEN. The North Side Atria's, only a mile or so from the new police headquarters, is a good stop for the detectives in AFTERIMAGE. Unfortunately they have to leave half their meals uneaten when the call comes in about a fresh homicide.
Outback Steakhouse: 109 Federal StreetNorth Side
In THE ODDS, Colleen and her male colleague (ahem, again) go to the Outback when they're exhausted and in need of a big late dinner close to headquarters.
This restaurant, part of a chain, died in this location. It has been replaced by the Hall of Fame Club. "What kind of food?" I asked the person I finally got on the phone. "You know, like American. Just American." That seems about right.
Legends of the North Shore: 500 East North AvenueNorth Side
Hilary and I recently had dinner at a restaurant I refer to in AFTERIMAGEthe one the police reject for Colleen's interview with Hoffman because they think it's going to be too noisy and public. Hilary and I had been missing out on this restaurant because soon after it opened, he went there one night when I was busy and was told they had run out of pasta. He came home grumbling, "An Italian restaurant that runs out of pasta can't be a good thing." But friends assured us it was really good, affordable, a BYOB, and seemed to have no continuing problems with supplies, so we decided to give it a try.
A few uniformed police were eating there when we arrived. This seemed a sign that I should put this restaurant in a future novel. I chatted up the uniforms, asked them if they visited Legends often. "First time, but it's good. We had the pizza," said a shy, big young cop.
"Everything's good here," people from a neighboring table volunteered.
I ate breaded chicken and sauteed greens. Hilary had vodka pasta. "Forgiven," he pronounced at the end of the meal. "It's on our list."
And the place has gotten better and better. So Colleen eats here on a date in HIDEOUT.
Legends of the North Shore
Quik-It Chicken: 820 Pennsylvania AvenueNorth Side
When the University of Pittsburgh used to house a Roy Rogers Restaurant, I was guilty of meandering in there at any hour for fried chicken. The smell permeated the whole Cathedral of Learning. Now that franchise is gone and my fix comes from Quik-It. Hilary and I have taken Quik-It chicken to many partiesfor my cast members of Her First American, to Chuck Kinder's house when he hosts his famous writer-parties. Other people agree that it's addictively good. The cooks at Quik-It don't stint on fat and salt.
In THE ODDS when Colleen needs a take-out dinner for Memorial Day (to be shared with her male colleague), she buys a big pack of Quik-It, corn bread and all.
Now let's just roam the 'burgh for a few oldies but goodies.
Shady Grove and Walnut Grill: 5500 Walnut StreetShadyside
One afternoon I had a fantastic brick oven pizza at Shady Grove so two days later I took Hilary there for another one. This downstairs restaurant is a bar with some outdoor seating. They serve, in addition to pizza, salads, wraps, large drinks. Upstairs is a full restaurant, The Walnut Grill, with a large selection of entreesseafoods, steaks, crab cakes are only a few standards.
Shady Grove is where the criminal in AFTERIMAGE goes. He sits downstairs having one drink after another, waiting for an opportunity to blow town. At the restaurant above, watching him as well as he can, is Detective Potocki. Around the corner, ready to tail him is Detective Colleen Greer. This is not the only glimpse they have of him for they have been watching his house from the Tassa D'Oro coffee shop in Highland Park.
(Enrico's) Tazza D'Oro Coffee Shop: 1125 North Highland AvenueHighland Park
A great place to sit for a long time with a computer or without one. They serve panini with yummy stuff on. Hilary and I have gone there to meet with other writers. John Potocki sits there watching the perp's house. He drinks a lot of coffee. When Colleen takes a shift there, she, of course, eats a sandwich. I'd say her panini has prosciutto, mozzarella, portobella, and roasted peppers on it.
Mineo's Pizza House: 2128 Murray AvenueSquirrel Hill
In the phone book, there are columns of listings of pizza houses in Pittsburgh, but one of the oldest, if not the oldest, is Mineo's. Their ad says they've been in business since 1958 and that they have been "voted best pizza in Pittsburgh for 27 years running" by Pittsburgh Magazine. They're right down the street from Colleen's house. So when the detectives gather thereand Colleen and Dolan are predictably hungrythey order from Mineo's. At the same time they're eating pizza, one of their suspects is holed up in a motel in Bridgeville doing the same. In Bridgeville, this guy would order from Vocelli which has stands all over the city and surrounding areas. Their ad says they were voted best pizza by Pittsburgh Magazine. In fine print, they specify whether this was the silver or gold medals and in which years. Let Vocelli's duke it out with Mineo's. When I need a pizza, I'd order either.
Primanti BrothersOakland, South Side, The Strip, PNC Park
In Pittsburgh, you can't avoid Primanti's. The original is the one in the strip (46 18th Street), the wholesale district. The restaurant started out as a down and dirty place frequented by truck drivers supplying the strip. Word passed among hip Pittsburgh residents that it was a cool place to go. Hilary tells me that when he first got to Pittsburgh, he was amazed by this placesandwiches made a mile high, handed to you on butcher paper, and a pile of cole slaw and French fries in (or is it on) the sandwich. Once Hilary and I got together, I watched him take our visitors there as part of his Pittsburgh tour. Nicholas Pileggi was suitably impressed. Primanti's doesn't appear in AFTERIMAGE, but it does in TAKEN when the cops need a quick meal. And in THE ODDS, Primanti's comes into the story in this way: It has now taken over the South Side bar that used to be called the Blue Note and then was called The Blues Cafe. Hilary and I heard his talented student Eric Spalding play tenor sax there one night. We stood below while the performers played up on the balcony. We got hungry and ordered the only thing the kitchen still had late at night, French fries. Now the current customers and bartenders have the blues because the music has stopped. You can get a Primanti's sandwich, but you can't get the jazz. However, the place continues to be the setting for a big scene in THE ODDS. Colleen is there having too much to drink while she waits to meet Nickhandsome, wistful, quiet, charming, criminal. She's expected to do a job and keep her head. Some assignments are tougher than others.
Primanti Brothers website
Kassab's Restaurant: 1207 E. Carson StreetSouth Side
I cook Lebanese foods. The first meal I made for Hilary was stuffed zucchini (rice and lamb stuffing) and that was under pressure because I was intimidated by what a good cook he was. The second meal he made for me was Lo scrigno di Venerecaskets of Venus, caskets of love. What this means is: homemade yellow pasta sheets filled with strips of spinach pasta, ham, bechamel, and wild mushrooms, the whole tied in a bundle fastened with a pasta noodle. I was very impressed.
Lebanese restaurants are everywhere these days. When I was growing up, nobody outside our culture knew what a spinach pie was.
I was looking for a place for Colleen and Potocki to grab a bite on the job. There they weredriving along on the South Side. Alas, the place called Brad's Terminal Lunch was gone. And so was Rita's Terminal Lunch that quickly replaced it. And I don't know how many others. I loved it for the joke. Get it? Terminal lunch. Given that I couldn't use Brad's place, I was planning to send Colleen and Potocki to Janet's Middle Eastern but it's gone. Luckily up the street was another Middle-Eastern eatery where my characters could get an afternoon snack of spinach pie and falafel.
Two places from FALLEN:
Gullifty's: 1922 Murray AvenueSquirrel Hill
This oddly configured restaurant has a bit of everything, including great cakes, and once even had a jazz series but that is no longer one of the offerings. I once took my mother there when she was recovering from heart surgery. She suddenly stopped talking, looked funny, fell to the floor. Chairs crashed. There was general alarm. I thought this was it, that I'd lost her just when the anxiety about her had begun to lift. A famous doctor happened to be eating in Gullifty's. He called an ambulance, took care of her, calmed me, and sent us on our way, saying he thought things would be all right, but that I should have her checked further. She was all right. I never go into Gullifties without reliving that moment. Hilary and I have eaten meals there from time to time, but mostly we've gone in for the award-winning desserts for which they are famous. There are always several kinds of chocolate cakes, many kinds of pies. And ice cream sundaes of all sorts. In FALLEN, the grieving Elizabeth goes to pick up a dinner because she can't force herself to cook anymore. She runs into a neighbor. Nobody knows what to do with her, what to say to her, because her lossher vital, well-loved husband murderedis so terrible.
Gullifty Restaurant website
Murray Avenue Grill: 1720 Murray AvenueSquirrel Hill
One day, Hilary and I decided to have lunch out at the Murray Avenue Grill. It's the kind of place a policeman would likehonest and affordable. Hilary ordered a kettle fried turkey and provolone on croissant (with avocado and a side of fresh fruit) and I got Detective Colleen Greer's default meal (again), grilled chicken on a Greek salad.
I've been thinking that when she doesn't have food in the house and goes out for something quick, this is where she would end up, so I'd better know it well.
This place is so reliable. Hilary and I eat there just about each time we make it to a film across the street. In a way, it's like the Union Grill. You know if you want a fish dinner, it's there. A burger is there. Standard American bar fare. The other day, I was walking along Forbes when two well-dressed couples approached me to ask if there was a place anywhere near to have a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Actually Squirrel Hill is full of such places, but they seemed so tired and eager, I didn't want to give them a long list. So I said, "Just around the corner is the Murray Avenue Grill. You can find any classic sandwich there. It's affordable." And they said, "Bless you. Bless you." I felt blessed. I hope they liked their lunch. My detective Colleen goes here often. She can walk it from her house unless she feels too tired to handle the hills on the return trip home.
Murray Avenue Grill website
And I stuck with Squirrel Hill for some intense scenes in SIMPLE (2012).
NEW: Silky's Sports Bar and Grill: 1731 Murray AvenueSquirrel Hill
My bad guy needed a place to crash and drink in SIMPLE (2012). I sent him to Silky's. It's big, noisy, busya place to hide if you want to hide. And a place to get a big bowl of chili or soup that amounts to a whole meal. They have 18 beers on tap and serve a Silkyburger and Atomic Wings, among other things. City Paper called it cavernous and cozy. I dragged my husband Hilary into Silky's for a noisy quick dinner before a movie one night.
NEW: Cold Stone Creamery: 5800 Forbes AvenueSquirrel Hill
Poor Detective Colleen Greer has to hang out forever on Murray Avenue, waiting for a suspect to emerge from Silky's Bar in SIMPLE (2012). She kills time by hanging out at the Cold Stone Creamery. She loves, loves ice cream, but given her druthers, she would cross the street the other direction and order Jamoca® Almond Fudge from Baskin-Robbins. She tries to solve this craving at the Creamery by throwing chocolate chips and roasted almonds on her coffee ice cream. It's good. It's not quite it. And she's nervous, eating on the street, ready to drop everything and pull out her gun. My husband and I ate Creamery ice cream at the store on the South Side so we know what's what; we've seen them cut in the additions. It's fancy, but we're old-fashioned, I guess.
Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition
NEW: Big Jim's Restaurant and Bar: 201 Saline StreetGreenfield
I took a group of writers here for lunch because some of them were from out of town and what more could they see of Pittsburgh (to give them a total picture) than a neighborhood institution, one of our great dives, at the end of a roaddesolate, really. Reviews are fun to read. Some people don't like Big Jim's and others love it. One person wrote that you will never leave BJ's hungry. A suggested lunch is the calzone. I like the place. Sometimes it comes over youyou don't care what you've been reading about what's good for youyou want thick white bread, pasta in some form, meat in some form, and tomato sauce. And a meal check of about ten dollars.
Big Jim's Restaurant and Bar website
(Robert)Wholey & Co.: 1711 Penn AvenueStrip District
Benkovitz Seafood: 2300 Smallman StreetStrip District
Roland's Seafood Grill: 1904 Penn AvenueStrip District
Ron Freeman, my contact on the police force, told me the police often go to Wholey's or Benkovitz for fish sandwiches. Both serve fried fish, with or without potatoes, and always delicious. But, say, the cops want a more serious sit-down meal. And they're already in the strip district. Might they go to Roland's which has been there for a long time? How had Hilary and I never ended up there? We decided to check it out.
The place was loud with musicwhat was it? Rap, disco, some fusion of the two? I asked the waitress who was large and blond and young, as all of her colleagues were. She said the computer allowed them to play just about any CD known to man and what we were hearing was a fusion. A tough, hardy type, she called us honey, dearie. Hilary wanted his tuna rare. She made sure she got it for him. I got catfish, thinking that was a safer bet.
The big waitresses moved around the vast place with its many entrees and its endless variety of music available. Hilary kept pressing back from the table.
"What are you doing?"
"Not enough room for police bellies," he said. "They'd move to a round table."
The waitress took a wad of cash from her pocket and went to a side table where a hapless fellow sat. She gave him all her money. Hilary and I watched. We thought she managed to be willfully upbeat during this transaction.
"There's a plot," Hilary said.
Rolands Seafood Grill
Soba Lounge: 5847 Ellsworth AvenueShadyside
On June 7, one of our two wedding anniversaries (the one with the priest and the people), we went to Soba, a fusion Spanish Asian restaurant, which we've always found excellent. But would the cops come here? I wondered aloud. And I decided that Colleen and one of her colleagues might have a dinner there on a special date. Or on a really lonely night, Colleen might take herself there alone. If she did, she'd be surrounded by lots of couples, many of them older, crowding the place.
"What's the clientele here?" Hilary asked me. "Can you tell?"
"Medicine", I said.
"Why do you say that?"
I shrugged. "Haircuts, clothes, the coupledom. Maybe also some real estate women."
We studied them for a while.
"No bread here!" Hilary said.
"Remember. They don't do bread." Soba is a slenderizing place to go. They're big on fish, but light on the starches. Hilary ordered a martini (said it was excellent) and he also got the tasting menu of four courses. The first course was three tapas, the second a fillet, the third a paella, and the fourth a sorbet. He didn't miss the bread, after all. I got tuna tartare and an Asian cioppino, and chocolate mint truffle and pistachio ice creams. The Soba wine list is pretty impressive; we indulged.
Before we left, I asked our waiter about the clientele. "They keep greeting each other as they come in. It's like a club. Who are they?"
"Doctors, mostly," he said. "Sometimes they just come in in their scrubs. And we get lots of pharmaceutical types. We put them upstairs where they can make presentations."
Hilary looked impressed at my detecting powers. Brian, our waiter, had to take care of a lot of other customers, so I never did find out if the women with the colorful shoes and expensive haircuts sold real estate.
So, what will I do with Colleen? If she hangs out here, will she take up with someone in scrubs? I'm thinking about this possibility.
Palate Bistro: 212 Sixth AvenueDowntown
Colleen has a date here, too, in HIDEOUT. Well, she had a date for a while... (See below.) It's French, a bit on the nervous side. Or the maitre d' is, at any rate, when you arrive at 6:00 for a 7:30 curtain. However the food is well-prepared and was swiftly served in our case. I had steak frites and wasn't sorry.
NEW: Six Penn Kitchen: 146 6th StreetDowntown
I changed my mindauthor's prerogative, right? This is where Steve Purdy takes Colleen Greer on their first date in HIDEOUT. Not, after all, Palate Bistro. She orders rare tuna. And mussels to start. Also good Scotch to start. Purdy notes that she likes bloody food (having met her at a beef roast party where she specified rare). The couple of times Hilary and I ate here, we sat close to the open kitchen where we could watch the busy cooks. He got duck breast (one of his favorites) and I got the pork. The restaurant is in the middle of the downtown cultural district and draws a clientele with enough money not to blanche at the credit card bill.
Six Penn Kitchen website
And with a little gas in your car
NEW: Vincent's Pizza Park: 998 Ardmore BoulevardWilkinsburg
Vincents Pizza Park
Hilary and I have been here with relatives for what is possibly the most cheesy, fatty, caloric pizza in the whole world. They totally load it with pepperoni or whatever toppings you order. Pittsburghers have long talked about the fame of the placewhich is large, dingy, noise, friendly. Lots of groups of eight or ten people commandeer tables. Outsized men come in at regular intervals and carry out several boxes at a time. Commander Christie can't handle Vincent's. But Detective Artie Dolan can and so can Colleen Greer and John Potocki. Late nights when they're working and can catch a break, Vincent's pizza is what they would order. Might have to carry it out. Might have to eat it in the car. Might sound mush-mouthed on the phones. But they would feel fed. And, if fat increases brain activity, smart.
Vincents Pizza Park website
NEW: Il Pizzaiolo: 703 Washington RoadMount Lebanon
For a gourmet pizza or a well-made pasta dish, this is the place. The pizzas are made in a brick ovenand you can watch. My characters from A MEASURE OF BLOOD, Jan Gabriel and Arthur Morris, come here when they have time to get away from the university settings. Jan caves in for a pizza every time. Arthur is more catholic in his orderspenne vodka one night, lasagna another. It's never cheap, but the wines are of good quality and the Morris-Gabriels, more often than not, run into a student or former student waiting tables.
NEW: Wild Rosemary Bistro: 1469 Bower Hill RoadFar South / South Hills
It's tiny. It's Mediterranean. You have to have a reservation. Word is that two women who love food and cooking cooked it up. It's not cheap. But! This is where my characters will go when they need a serious date night. In fact, why not imagine this is where Potocki takes his leggy doctor date in HIDEOUT? When I was there, I ordered the loin lamb chops. I'm so predictable. Hilary ordered the veal chop. And they do understand rare there. All around us was conversation heated by wine and nobody appeared to be in a hurry to get up and go.
Wild Rosemary Bistro website
NEW: Beverly's Sweet Shoppe: 228 Broad StreetNew Bethlehem
I had a wonderful experience here in New Bethlehem on the way to Brookville where I was giving a speech. Hilary and I decided to break up the drive on Route 28 with a stop for breakfast. Hilary really has a Geiger counter for restaurants. You can't get sweeter than Beverly's. They were serving many locals and everybody seemed to know everybody but us. We got the specialfried mush with syrup, and there was so much of it we had to pack some for home. But what a placeso utterly friendly. When we chatted them up, we learned that they were across the road from a Smuckers plant. They handed us all kinds of samples to take away with our doggie bags. This place is not on my usual track but I'm eager to go back. In fact, I need to schedule a murder up 28 so I can send my detectives to Beverly's.
NEW: French Creek Café: 118 N Franklin St.—Cochranton
Last but certainly not least is a good old diner where one of my criminals ends up in HIDEOUT. He likes the food there, particularly the daily special. Hilary and I stopped there on my research trip to Sugar Lake. Memory, which could be faulty, tells me he had a hot meatloaf sandwich and I had a grilled ham and cheese. I get to describe this place in HIDEOUT and I hope it doesn't change. Note: the waitress and the cook are invented!
My husband and I keep eating and plots keep occurring to me. Here are some of the places we ate recently. The Porch, Abay, Paris 66, Couscous, Orbis, Park Bruges. Buena Vista Coffee Shop, Phipps café, Carnegie Museum Café, La Casa, Alba, Hoffstots, The Tilted Kilt, The Cheesecake Factory, Brix, Costco (pizza!), Pamela's in the Pittsburgh area. Un du Trois, Frankie and Johnny's, Avra, and Triomphe in NYC, and the Back Porch in Johnstown. What stands out? Where do I long to set something? The clean European Park Bruges with astounding burgers and mussels, the funky Buena Vista where atmosphere is all, Triomphe in NYC where a simple lunch can cost a fortune (but the memory of lunch is good), and The Back Porch, truly fine.