Things Change

On September 16, 2009, in Food and Drink, by psu

I have often been accused of an almost irrational affection for my standard hangouts, especially my favorite purveyors of various forms of material sustenance. If you are in Pittsburgh you get pizza at Piccolo Forno. You get Chinese food at Rose Tea. You get Thai food at the Green Mango. You get grilled meat and fish at DISH. You buy fish at the Penn Avenue Fish Market. You get fancy meals at Vivo. And most recently, you get cozy personal bistro food at Legume.

And, for as long as I’ve been back in Pittsburgh, if you want good coffee you go to La Prima.

People have told me to go to other places, but I have always rebuffed their suggestions. La Prima makes my favorite beans and they get infinite credit for making proper cappuccinos while everyone else spent the last 20 years or so making anemic lattes or those Seattle foam pyramids that sit on top of a tiny little acrid shot of espresso. No thanks.

The coffee aside, there was also the consideration that for years La Prima sat next to perhaps one of the top three bakeries I’ve ever seen in my entire life. You just can’t turn down a breakfast pizza, and if you are going to be in the building anyway, why go anywhere else for coffee? Sure, you might get a shot from the slightly slow guy who doesn’t quite know how to pack the coffee. But just like hot dogs taste better with baseball, the coffee always tasted better with Antonio’s baked goods.

Of course, things change. The bakery next to La Prima, while still excellent, is not quite the same, and while you thought you might never hear me say it, there actually are other places in the city to get good coffee. I am by no means familiar with all of them. But the one I tried most recently is 21st Street Coffee which is just the other side of Pamelas from La Prima. While they have been there for a few years, I have not given them a proper try because, honestly, there is nothing else on that side of the street to draw me over. I also remain suspicious of this cult around Intelligensia Coffee Beans. I have just never been able to get a good shot out of them. I don’t know what I do wrong.

Anyway, my buddies from work wanted to go over to 21st Street after we had a nice lunch at the Penn Avenue Fish market. I have an open mind so I followed them. Lo and behold here, finally, is a second place in Pittsburgh that I can say with confidence knows how to make a decent cappuccino. Fans of Tazza D’Oro would surely tell me that they’ve gotten good stuff there forever. And they’d be right. But I’m never in Highland Park and the few times I did go there (say) five years ago it had not yet reached it’s current level. Surely I also have to try Espresso A Mano in Lawrenceville, especially since it is run by a former La Prima guy. I’m sure you will step up with your favorite place that I have missed. My only excuse will be that I wasn’t there because it’s not on my way, and the Strip is. I still wish someone would open a decent coffee place in Oakland. There is literally nothing worth paying money for between CMU and Downtown since Cafe Zio closed.

But coffee is only half the story. What has also happened down on Smallman street is that there is finally another reason besides the cafe to venture down the street from La Prima and brave the throngs of clueless barbarians lining up for a breakfast of greasecakes and whipped cream at Pamela’s. Now, just down the street from 21st Street is another small bakery called Peace, Love and Little Donuts. They make freshly fried mini-sized donuts in various configurations that are so good you simply cannot help but eat a pound of them. I hesitate to compare them to Stan’s in California, but they are certainly the best donuts that I have had since eating at Stan’s.

So now, after all these years, there is finally another compelling pair of businesses to pull me out of my traditional habits and go and observe other parts of the world. It’s good when things change for the better for once. It’s good to have a couple of extra good choices. Let it never be said that I am a closed minded and bitter little man. Well, OK, you can say that. But let it be known that given a good enough reason (i.e. donuts) I will try anything new at least once. And I might even go back.


9 Responses to “Things Change”

  1. Maxence says:

    Pete, you’ll be happy to hear that Tazza D’Oro is opening up a location in the new Gates building:

  2. psu says:

    Yeah, i heard that, and after the La Prima experience on campus from back in the day all I can think is, “well that will be great until Dining Services takes over in a year or two.”

  3. april says:

    You might have a reason to visit Highland Park when Park Bruges opens up. I still think Aldo is decent, but it depends on who is making the coffee. I’ve had a few terrible cups but also some pretty darn good ones, too. They are among the Intelligentsia cult.

    Dark Horse Espresso in Toronto — who seem to be widely regarded as the best espresso in the city — also uses those beans and, while their coffee wasn’t bad, it made me realize just how good we have it here in Pittsburgh with La Prima and Tazza d’Oro.

  4. peterb says:

    It’s worth noting that “best espresso in Toronto” is a bit like “best Mexican food in Ohio”.

  5. psu says:

    Ohio has better Mexican than Pittsburgh. The now closed taco place in Squill used to get all their supplies from Ohio.

  6. Mike Collins says:

    Congratulations on joining civilization, Pete. Personally, I was fascinated by the guy running 21st street’s scholastic obsession with coffee – the little faqs, the clover. Corner him at some point and ask him about coffee and you’ll hear a man with a serious obsession speak.

  7. Luke says:

    You’re internet handle is PSU and this is the first time you’ve tried a coffeebar founded by a couple of PSU engineers? ;)

    Thanks for trying our one and only cappuccino.

  8. Luke says:

    Thanks for visiting and glad to hear you enjoyed our “one and only” cappuccino. You really should try the coffee though, black, it’s our specialty. If you let it cool down after we brew it you’ll find it’s really tasty.

  9. psu says:

    My “psu” isn’t actually related to Penn State … although people tend to think it is.