Pittsburgh’s Foodie History

2013-11-30 14.59.47While doing a book signing last week at Mystery Lovers Bookshop, one of the staff members handed me a fabulous new book (that’s technically not out yet). Pittsburgh Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the Steel City is a nifty set of recipes from some of the city’s most prominent chefs as well as rising stars, collected by the bloggers over at Eat Pgh. As I skimmed through page after page of gorgeous photography, noting the restaurants I’ve been to, what really struck me about the book is its secondary function: time capsule.

It’s common knowledge that the restaurant industry is one of the toughest, with most new eateries closing within five years of opening their doors. This book, with its who’s who of the Pittsburgh culinary scene, probably already contains a few out-of-date entries as chefs come and go.

2013-12-04 20.12.19With these thoughts still fresh in my mind, I came across The Flavor of Pittsburgh at another book signing today at Amazing Books. Published in 1976, it gives a nod to both current and former dining establishments and includes recipes from local newspapers and women’s publications (Some interesting entries include Green Beans Westinghouse, Colonial Aphrodisiac Salad and Whale & Monkey Hot Fruit Soup.). A fantastic collection of historic photographs is interspersed throughout.

The book was produced by the Pittsburgh Diners Guild, which appears to have been a dining loyalty program headquartered in the Frick Building. A 1978 newspaper ad for the organization touts a discount of $6.50 at 29 area restaurants, including many featured in the book. Most of the restaurants mentioned therein now exist only in memory, such as Lemon Tree (McKeesport), Tavern on the Pike (Churchill), Johnny Lounder’s (Robinson) and Tivoli (Penn Hills).

In five to ten years, Pittsburgh Chef’s Table may be more valuable as an historic portrait of the 2013 dining scene than as a catalog of restaurants to try. Perhaps that’s even more reason to get out and try some of its featured establishments sooner rather than later.

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