For various reasons, we hadn’t been getting to the Strip as much as we used to. Maybe it was some stress at work. Maybe it was the worse than normal patented Pittsburgh early spring freeze. Maybe it was that when we did go things weren’t really the same. But the last two Saturdays, we finally made it down there again became reacquainted with some old friends.
The main motivation for our trip last week was to check out the Penn Avenue Fish Company. I have long been of the opinion that the two reliable places to get fish in the Strip were Benkovitz and Lotus. Benkovitz has had some trouble over the last year or so, and is now apparently under new management. But fear not. A few former Benkovitz employees have set out on their own and opened the Penn Avenue Fish Company on Penn near the Firehouse, and it has everything that you used to get at Benkovitz. Or rather, it will whenever they manage to get it all set up.
The day we went we found some stupendous fresh halibut. It was just as good as the what we were getting this summer straight from Alaska. It was just as good or better than the same stuff at Whole Foods. Unlike the stuff at Whole Foods, the filets were free of any pin bones. For all the money we put into the Whole Foods fish counter, you’d think they’d learn to clean out the pin bones. Now it’s not a problem. There is no reason to go back.
In addition to the halibut, we also got a sample of one of their soups, an excellent tomato and seafood chowder. In addition, they were serving hot sandwiches and sushi. Anyone reading this from within the Pittsburgh city limits is now required to head down there and spend all of your food money in the store.
Seafood loot in hand, we strolled down Penn to Enrico’s for the first time in a long time. Previously, the newer upscale feel of the Strip cafe had put us off, but in a happy coincidence, this day Larry’s printer had broken down and they were yelling out the menu like in the old days. Roy was there with his etouffe. There was the heavy fresh bread and a big fat salad. We even paid on the way out like we used to. It was as if we were back in the spring of 2001. The only thing missing was the ubiquitous cloud of CMU graduate students being all hipper-than-thou.
Finally, and most importantly, the best news of the week was the reopening of Il Piccolo Forno next to La Prima. Carla has made a heroic effort to restore the coffee and bakery and experience that has been tragically incomplete for the last few months. We were there bright and early this past Thursday and again on Saturday. The muffins and breakfast pizza were there. The transcendent sfogliatelle were there. The mele were there, although they are a little different. She also has some new things, including a completely to-die-for lemon tart. There is no salutation that can express the appreciation that I feel for the people involved in bringing this place back. Any money you did not spend at Penn Ave. Fish earlier you are now required to hand over to Carla. They didn’t change their prices and they have never charged enough for what they do ($1.25 for a muffin! A muffin which is twice as large and incalculably better than one of those god-damned shitty frosting-drowned atrocities against the baking arts that the yuppy cupcake places have been inflicting upon an unsuspecting public).
Go. Go a lot. Then go some more.