Third Wave Coffee Shops in Pittsburgh

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My favorite little pick me up is a well-crafted cup of coffee.  I know, the caffeine is literally a stimulant, so that’s why it always makes me perky and productive, but I really appreciate the care that goes into the coffee.  I like that more and more we know where beans come from, the roast date, the flavor profile, the terroir— it is a real craft.  I’m a total sucker for a cappuccino with a little leaf in the foam.  Third wave coffee shops also tend to pay attention to all the details – the thoughtful interior design, the cups, the snacks – everything, not just the coffee, is elevated.  I’m happy to spend $5 and tip 20 percent on the experience and quality.

Since moving to Pittsburgh I have come to love all the options for craft coffee.  We are really spoiled with gorgeous, thoughtful, independent cafés all over the city.  I love venturing across town to try them all.  This is not an exhaustive list, just some of my favorites, in no particular order.

 

Commonplace Coffee House – Squirrel Hill 
This is my neighborhood coffee shop, I love to bop in for an after dinner espresso, tack it on a trip to the library, etc.  Squirrel Hill is far from their only location, Commonplace Coffee Houses are dotted all over the city, and their roast is sold throughout southwest pa.  I love that the serve a little cookie with an espresso, because that is really common in France it feels extra special to me.


Constellation – Bloomfield / Lawrenceville cusp 
I love this minimalist cafe.  The interior features huge windows that let light from Penn Avenue pour in.  The tin ceilings are my favorite detail.  It is a great place to study or read because it feels kind of homey.  The menu is not exhaustive, but everything I’ve ordered has been really excellent.


Espresso a Mano – Lawrenceville 
Great espresso and atmosphere.  I like Espresso a Mano because isn’t trying too hard to have Instagrammable vibe (even though I’ll admin I always fall for that!).  Every time I’ve been here all the tables are full, so I that they have like a counter to just stand at and shoot back an espresso.


4121 Main – Bloomfield 
This place has the most gorgeous feel to it.  Plants everywhere !  Artisan chocolate / goods!  Dreamy music ! (Deerhunter’s Desire Lines was playing when I walked in, It instantly put a smile only face to hear an almost decade-old song that I love).  I wouldn’t expect to find 4121 Main where it is, because frankly it is kind of on a dumpy street.  It mixes parts of old world glamour, shabby-chic, minimalist and wabi sabi.  That doesn’t make it sound cohesive, but it is.


 

The Bureau – East Liberty 
The Bureau is an outpost  of one of my favorite Pittsburgh restaurants, The Vandal.  It is  located within Schoolhouse, one of my favorite stores in Pittsburgh.  I always seem to order cold brew at The Bureau, probably because I got it the first time I went and it was so good I keep ordering it.


 

Arriviste – Shadyside 
Arriviste takes a very technical approach to brewing. Everything is precise, measured, made to order – and thus takes time.  Expect to wait for it.  The cafe has a midcentury-inspired interior, with a friendly / collaborative atmosphere.  I think it is nice that people share tables.

Field Trip: The Farnsworth House

On a quick visit home I stopped at The Farnsworth House, an architectural masterpiece designed by Mies van der Rohe in Plano, Illinois.  The 1,500 square-foot, one room weekend retreat features glass walls that showcase the adjacent Fox River.   The house was commissioned by Dr. Edith Farnsworth in the late 1940s as a place for her to get away from Chicago and enjoy nature.  When she met van der Rohe at a party and asked him to design the house she knew she was in for something special.  Berlin born van der Rohe directed The Bauhaus before bringing his designs to Chicago.  He emphasized that less is more with the simplistic design of The Farnsworth House.

 

Preserving the house as presented many challenges over the years.  Within the first few months of ownership the Fox River flooded into the home, ruining the expensive silk curtains.  The materials for the home were all very fine quality, primavera wood and Italian stone floors, but expensive to maintain and replace.  The home has flooded a few times, causing a disaster each time; the glass breaks, the wood warps, the curtains stain.

Visiting the house feels like stepping into a sculpture, a piece of art you can walk through and feel.  It’s marvelous to look at photos of the stunning house but only when experiencing it in person do you feel just how silent it is on the inside or how cool the stones feel beneath stocking-covered feet.

I love visiting a new place that offers something new to learn and experience which is why I’m starting a new section on the blog: Field Trips.  Keep checking in for more education day trips like a visit to The Farnsworth House.

To plan a visit to The Farnsworth House or make a donation, visit: https://farnsworthhouse.org

Fall Destination Guide: Hudson River Valley

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The Mountains cradling the Hudson River are not intimidating as a name like Storm King would suggest. The tall walls of fall foliage wrap the little river towns like a scarf. Independent shops, art galleries and cafés dot the walkable streets. Bountiful farms, orchards and wineries lay just beyond the towns. Many restaurants in the area proudly source ingredients almost exclusively from the valley. Hiking trails through forests, up mountains, and along cliffs lead to panoramic views.   Hudson Valley embraces both the old and the new serving as a backdrop for opulent estates of the gilded age and modern conceptual sculpture. It’s a great place to spend a long weekend and take in the very best parts of the fall season.

Continue reading “Fall Destination Guide: Hudson River Valley”

Jerome, AZ

View from the MountainLast year I visited Phoenix, AZ and one of the more memorable day trips was to a little old mining town called Jerome.   Location wise Jerome is Southwest of Sedona and Flagstaff but directly North of Phoenix / Scottsdale.  The drive, like anywhere in the American Southwest, is stunning.  Cactus-lined roads wind up and around mountains trails and bright cerulean skies pop against the rocky terrain.  I’m from the midwest and am used to flat fields as in all directions so to me Arizona is practically another planet.  I’m grateful my hosts drove, allowing me to gape moronically at the striking natural beauty that never seemed to end.

A big J marks the side of the mountain you drive up to find Jerome, I guess this is an old Southwest tradition. While scaling the trail we stopped and pulled over to check out an old car abandoned in a ditch. I’m not skilled in dating old cars but it looked at least 60 years old. This was the first forgotten old thing of many we saw that day.

Here's the car we saw in the ditch.
Here’s the car we saw in the ditch.  Who knows how long it has been there just covered in rust like that.

The actual town of Jerome is just like any other old, rural town in America. Relics of the past are not pristinely kept for the sake of preserving history but rather survive because of a, “if it ain’t broke” mentality. We drove past old saloon and shops, an ice cream parlor, police station… the staples of any small town, and kept on up the hill. At the very top we stopped at one of many local haunts, the Jerome Grand Hotel.

The Hotel has been the big draw since the being featured on an episode of Ghost Hunters or something like that. During it’s past life the hotel served as a hospital for the miners and surrounding town. It was considered a good hospital with modern technology but the death toll is massive, averaging out to at least one per day for the about twenty years it operated. The death count, an the original Otis elevator, and years of rumors have won the hotel a spot on the list of the country’s most haunted places. We asked politely and were given some keys to go exploring. I didn’t get the haunted vibe and none of my mirror pictures had orbs. But I don’t know if I’d want to stay there overnight.

The next stop on our trip was the old ghost town. The town is really just an old junkyard with some buildings and just a few residents. I have no idea what the few people who do live there do other than charge admission to look at an old one-room school house and gas station. We met a man with a little dog who was using a machine to saw logs I think. The dog was friendly but the guys living there were not—there were a lot of threatening signs to back my theory.

Jerome is a memorable and worthwhile trip. The drive from Phoenix is beautiful and the old town is definitely an interesting slice of life in the old Southwest. While the haunted aspect might be a little blown out of proportion but the town is definitely full of antique charm. We didn’t stop for dinner or drinks but there are plenty of places for that, too.