Sunday, November 27, 2011

...'Burgh Bits & Bites Food Tour - Brookline

 I like to share my awesome food experiences with friends and family.

This blog, unintentionally, has allowed me to do so.  I started this blog for my students, to get them excited about the authentic Hispanic/Latino restaurants right in their own vicinity, but it seems as if my family, friends, colleagues, and complete strangers are more fascinated with where I go and what I eat than they are. 

Am I wrong?

I wanted to share another one of those experiences through a 'Burgh Bits & Bites Food Tour.  I had so much fun on the Dormont Food Blogger Tour that I wanted to plan a private one for a small group of my own family and friends.  I had some family coming in for Thanksgiving, and we had a half day the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so I figured, "Why not?"  I worked it out with Sylvia, the owner and operator of 'Burgh Bits & Bites, and seven of us embarked on a food tour of Brookline the day before Thanksgiving.

I had only been to Brookline once, when James and I experienced the taco stand and store at Las Palmas, but I wanted to see what the rest of the retailers had to offer in this area.  We were debating between Bloomfield and Brookline, but ultimately, due to the holiday, Bloomfield was unable to accommodate a tour on this date.

Oh, well.  Something else to look forward to!

Pitaland, land of many, many pitas
 Our meeting place was Pitaland, so myself and 4 of my family members were the first to arrive.  Teacher Friend (TF), from my first Strip District post and Mallorca post, was next to arrive, and James arrived not long after.  While we waited, we checked out some items in the store, such as the barrels of beans, but we were most fascinated by the pita machine that was mass-producing pitas right before our eyes.  In the midst of this, Sylvia arrived, and informed us that we would be going back to the production area for an up-close look and for our tasting.

Pitas being produced, as seen through the glass

Dough biscuits (not yet flattened)

Pitas baking in 3 seconds (and blowing up!)
 It's really amazing how this machine works.  It heats up to about 1200 degrees and bakes a pita in about 3 seconds.  As it passes through the heat, it goes from a flattened dough biscuit into a pita - it blows up like a balloon, and then flattens again as it cools.  The owner came across this machine while in Lebanon, and within 6 months, had it here in Brookline.

And lucky for us, they pulled pitas right off of the cooling belt for us to sample - as a result, this was the first item on my list to come back and purchase when the tour was over!

Our tasting table - pitas, dip, olives, feta, spinach and feta pastry
 We also sampled a spinach and feta pastry, which I liked mostly because I love the combination of spinach and feta.  I'm not a fan of olives, so I did not have that, but I tried my pita with some of the olive oil dip, which was mixed with a blend of herbs:

One of the brands available at Pitaland (mix with olive oil to make the dip that we had)
I wasn't too much of a fan of the dip, simply because it was a bit sour for my taste - probably the combination of herbs.  It wasn't terrible, but not something that I would make myself to eat with pitas.

Give me a good hummus or tzatziki any day!

Kribels's Bakery
 We moved on to Kribel's Bakery a few doors down.  They are known for their buttercream icing, and their thumbprints are made with that fact in mind - simple cookie, lots of icing. 

We sampled an apple turnover-type pastry first - perfect for those of us who consume apple pie regularly on Thanksgiving.  This definitely reminded me of apple pie in a simpler, smaller form.  Flaky, buttery pastry with a gooey apple filling, and unlike apple pie, sweet icing...ahhhh...

Apple pastry
We then sampled their pumpkin log (sorry, no picture - it went too quickly!)  I do love all things pumpkin, and cream cheese icing only makes it better.  

And then we were each handed a bag with one of their famous thumbprint cookies (the ones with all of the icing on them).  Oh boy.  Definitely taking that home and having it later - something to REALLY look forward to!
Lots of icing on those turkeys!  Thumbprints are to the left, HUGE ladylocks to the right!
Is there cake under there?!
Donuts.  Yum!
Holy cookies!
 My mom is a huge fan of Kribel's , so I was sure to ask her at the end of the tour if she wanted anything - so I stopped back afterwards to get some thumbprint cookies and a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving!

 As a historical tidbit, we took a look at the fire station on the corner.  It is the oldest fire station in Pittsburgh and was designed for horses, not trucks (of course, since this fire station was built before fire trucks existed!)  It has been renovated to accommodate trucks now, obviously.  Fun fact - the tower that exists was not a watch tower - it was used for the firemen to hang their hoses on to dry out before being rolled back up to be used again later.  Interesting, huh?

We then moved on to Las Palmas to check out what they had to sell.  James and I did this when we visited on our own (you can read about it here), so I won't repeat myself, but Sylvia pointed out a lot of items for sale in the store that we found fascinating as well - including the gorilla booger gel.

Since it was Wednesday and not a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, no tacos were being made on the sidewalk.  Bummer.

Saddest sight in Brookline.  No tacos today :-(
We then stopped in to Sal's Barber Shop (not to eat, though!) an old-fashioned shop still owned by Sal (but operated by his son).  I felt weird taking pictures of guys getting their hair cut and shaved, so I refrained, but the inside was beautiful.  I did get a shot of their cash register, which was awesome, and the classic products on display in their window.

 Our next stop was Vinnie's Pretzel Shoppe, where we were greeted by the owner, Mike (AKA "Vinnie").  This shop opened in 2010 and has undergone several menu changes since, but the neighborhood seems to have taken to it nicely.  With their Philly-style pretzels, it is the perfect meal or snack, especially for kids coming home from school.  Mike runs an after-school special, and he gets a lot of traffic from that.  In addition, he does fundraisers and other activities for the community - in fact, he mentioned that recently he had a girl scout troop come in to learn how to make soft pretzels, which was a great activity for that age group.  

That's what small business is all about.

We were each given a soft pretzel to sample - I tried a piece and saved the rest for later, as I knew there was a lot more food to try!  The pretzel was just as it should be - solid and round on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. 

Mike ("Vinnie"), owner of Vinnie's Pretzel Shoppe

Soft pretzels, some filled, some not
I really like the clock here!

We then went to Antonio's Pizzeria to sample two - yes TWO - kinds of pizza - a spinach and feta pizza (one of my favorites!) and plain cheese.  Definitely delicious pizza, especially the spinach and feta - I have had this kind of pizza at other pizza shops, and this was BY FAR the best!  I think it had more garlic in it, or maybe there was a better balance of garlic and herbs - either way, it was awesome!
Spinach and Feta Pizza

Cheese pizza
 We then moved on to Cannon Coffee to try their warm beverages.  James had been here before and enjoyed the atmosphere immensely, which was easy to understand when we set foot in the door.  Couches and chairs to relax in, a musical setup in one corner for small performances, and local artists' wares on display inside the shop gave it a local, comforting feel.  

Ben, one of the owners, passed around two different coffees to smell, an Ethiopian Harrar and a Honduran blend, which smelled like blueberries.  I opted to taste the Honduran, and it was so flavorful that I did not add any sweetener nor cream.  I could definitely see myself frequenting this coffee shop if I lived in the neighborhood.  Ben told us that he and the other owner lived in the neighborhood and opened the shop because there was no coffee shop - and it was by far a brilliant decision!

Part of the cozy seating area

Goodies for sale at the counter
Look up.  That's a gorgeous ceiling (common in a lot of shops that we visited)
 Our last stop on the tour was It's Greek to Me, specializing in Mediterranean foods from Greece, Cyprus, and Lebanon.  From the outside, it doesn't look like much, but the inside reminds me of being in a Greek family's dining room.

Pickled vegetables are for sale
Their motto: "Eat.  Live.  Love"
 We were served a smorgasbord of food - feta, olives, tzatziki, pita bread, and skordelia, a potato-based dip which was delicious.  James impressed us all (including the owner's wife!) by guessing every ingredient in the tzatziki (which I won't post, so as not to give away the recipe!)
Feta, olives, gyro meat


Tzatziki and pita

 I was so incredibly full at the end of this tour - even more so than after the Dormont tour.  We had sampled pastries, pretzels, pitas, pizzas...wait, am I sensing a theme?  

At the end of the tour, I think this sign outside of Cannon Coffee summed up my thoughts about the tour pretty beautifully...although I would add "family" and "food" as well...

Next time - Bloomfield.  These tours are informative, interesting, insightful, and of course, very filling!  Much more information was given to us on the tour - but I don't want to give it all away!  Thanks so much to TF, my family members (Kris, Katie, Tommy, and Christopher), and James, who is the master at asking good questions and guessing ingredients!  I think that everyone had a fantastic time.  

I swear I will do every 'Burgh Bits & Bites Food Tour at least once (at LEAST...!)

Who wants to join me? 
'Burgh Bits & Bites Food Tours
Vinnie’s Pretzel Shoppe on Urbanspoon
Antonio's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
It's Greek To Me on Urbanspoon

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