Thursday, August 30, 2007

How to Drink Coffee in Pittsburgh

(The title is borrowed from a friend who once taught the world “How to eat dinner in Princeton.” The coffee situation in Pittsburgh is much better than the dinner situation in Princeton. Read on.)

I recently discovered this website, run by Ariel Rubenstein of Tel Aviv University, which lists good cafes in university neighborhoods around the world. I then contributed 2 places in Pittsburgh. Following his guidelines, I only sent in places in Oakland, adjacent to Pitt and CMU.

So here is my more detailed list of places that I drink coffee (or tea) in Pittsburgh. It’s idiosyncratic, but I try to explain what I like about each place below:

in Oakland (home to Pitt and CMU):

Kiva Han at Forbes and Craig:
This website says the coffee is bad, but I disagree. It’s not the best in the world, but it’s fine. And the snacks and lunches are good. Except on the very hottest days, it’s a nice place to sit and work. They have some tables outside also, but most summer mornings one of them is occupied by a man smoking a rather awful smelling cigar. Kiva Han has another location down Forbes Ave (in the direction of downtown). I don’t like it as much as the Craig Street location.... it’s usually too hot inside and the tables and chairs aren’t as comfortable.

Crazy Mocha, 207 Oakland Ave:
This is around the corner from the Panera on Forbes. Central location on the Pitt campus. The coffee here is a little better than Kiva Han; the food selection is not as broad. Not many tables here so not a great place to work, but it’s a nice place to meet someone for coffee. And there is almost always a New York Times on the newspaper rack.

[Update 8/31/07: For the first time, I was here in the late afternoon--very hot from the exposure to the sun. So pay attention to the timing if you want to sit here in the afternoon.]

Crazy Mocha in the Carnegie Library:
Another outlet of this local chain. The tables here are nice and it’s fun being inside the library but more limited hours (only open when the library is). Same food and drink selection as the other branch. (There are also branches downtown, in Shadyside, and Bloomfield.)

Here’s another reason I often go to Crazy Mocha: For $30, I got a Donor Plus Carnegie Library card which gives me a 20% discount at all Crazy Mocha locations (not only the one in the library). If you drink coffee a lot, you will make back the $30 quickly and the library gets a donation. This is almost too good of a deal and I am probably ruining it by sharing the news.

You can also find Starbucks and Caribou Coffee in Oakland if you really want. Inside Hillman Library is Cup and Chaucer which is a pleasant place to sit. Like most Pitt campus dining outlets, it serves Starbucks coffee.

If you want to sit outside in Schenley Plaza, you can get coffee at the Bagel Factory kiosk. However, you will most likely wait in a long line and your small coffee will come in a cup bigger than your head. (Ask for ½ decaf unless you have high caffeine tolerance.)

I don’t pay attention to WI-FI at coffee places in Oakland because I have an office there with an internet connection or I use WI-FI in the library. But I think Schenley Plaza has WI-FI also.

in Squirrel Hill, from the top of the hill down:

Coffee Tree Roasters, 5840 Forbes Ave
This is right in the middle of the fancier shopping street and was the favorite of the late Mayor Bob O’Connor if that matters to you. Good coffee plus a free refill on the brewed stuff plus free WI-FI for 2 hours makes this a good place to plant oneself for a while. Limited food choices—mainly sweets. Always a NYT and almost always a Wall Street Journal, plus the local papers, lying around. My only complaints are that there are almost always smokers at the 2 outside tables, one of which is right next to the door and that the place is sometimes over airconditioned.

61C, 1839 Murray Ave (at Bartlett)
Decent coffee (although Coffee Tree is better) and pastries. Lots of tables. This is the place that mid-morning will have almost every table taken up by someone with a laptop. Also the place for Squirrel Hill power coffees. A nice outdoor space around the corner (i.e. off the main street), but again smokers flock to it and you have to go out the main door and walk around to get to it. A bit loud when someone orders a smoothie. They also have a lot of teas but if you are a serious tea-drinker you will keep walking a block to the next place on my list.

Te Cafe, 2000 Murray Ave (at Beacon)
Go here to drink tea. They also serve coffee and take great pride in the fancy glass brewing thing they have but it tastes no better than anywhere else and they charge more. This is a tea place and there’s a very good selection. Also some nice sandwiches. WI-FI and usually a NYT lying around. Not that many tables but enough.

Aroma/Rolladin, 2120 Murray Ave. (below Hobart)
This used to be my favorite place in Squirrel Hill: a great Israeli bakery, a very generous “double” espresso, and a nice atmosphere. The burekas are still good but they have cut way back on the other baked goods (now they are bringing in a lot of packaged stuff from NY) and the challah was kind of strange last time we got it. But you can still get a decent cup of coffee and there are plenty of tables and the staff is friendly. The name changes back and forth but I think they may now be sticking with Aroma.

Tango Coffee, 5806 Forward Ave.
Best Argentinean coffeehouse in Pittsburgh. Not a place to linger for hours but a good place for a cortado and a pastry after a movie. They did just add WI-FI so maybe it will be more of a place to work now.


I’ve blogged about my visit to Mt. Lebanon and to Aldo Coffee here. And as my update indicates, I am told that Uptown Coffee is better.

If you are in the Strip District and just want coffee, you go to La Prima. If you want to sit somewhere and work for a few hours, leave the Strip District. Downtown is not a great coffee area: the Crazy Mocha in the Allegheny Building is a welcome addition and apparently they have added one in the Gateway complex—this covers the two ends of downtown, I suppose. The Symphony store, Curtain Call, also has a coffee bar. I’m sure there are other places also but I don’t know about them. There is a Crazy Mocha in Shadyside on Ellsworth Ave. In the heart of Walnut Street, there is a place called Jitters. I haven’t been there in five years but I used to stop every morning when I lived in Shadyside for a year.

If you want to tell me about other places, leave a comment.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Upcoming Events in Pittsburgh Jewish community

Two things on the horizon look interesting. I learned about both in the Jewish Chronicle:

Sunday, August 26, the Jewish Cemetery and Burial Association will have a public ceremony for burial of worn-out texts with the name of God in Hebrew and other ritual objects. 11 am at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. The Association holds an annual burial but this year, for the first time, they have decided to hold a communal event. This was reported in last week's issue of the Chronicle. Good luck finding an on-line version.

Sunday November 4, 1 pm: Rodef Shalom will hold a symposium on the history of the congregation as part of its celebration of its 150th anniversary. Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis is scheduled as the keynote speaker. This was reported in today's issue. Rodef Shalom is one of the oldest and most significant congregations in the American Reform movement and was the host for the rabbinical convention that ratified that "Pittsburgh Platform" in 1885, the defining documents of Reform Judaism for about 50 years.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Two Ironies in Hispanic-less Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is not without Hispanics, of course, but it does have one of the smallest percentage of Hispanics of any major US metro area and, as Pittsblog and Nullspace have just reminded us, it is one of the few major TV markets without a Univision station.

Two things strike me as ironic given this situation.

1) The Steelers are among the two or three most popular NFL teams among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. (See here for a discussion.)

2) The University of Pittsburgh is a major center for Latin American studies, through its Center for Latin American Studies, its Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures, and Hillman Library's Lozano collection. Pitt also hosts the Latin American Studies Association and one of the major scholarly journals in Latin American history, the Hispanic American Historical Review, moved to Pitt last month.

Literary Critics on the Move

According to this New York Times article, James Wood, a long-time literary critic at The New Republic, will now be playing staff writer for The New Yorker. (Although since this comes in August, I guess he won't be eligible for the playoffs.)

It's really only of passing interest to me since I read both magazines, but I can't think of the last time I laughed out loud while reading an article in the NYT Arts section:

"Leon Wieseltier, literary editor at The New Republic, said, 'The New Republic plays many significant roles in American culture, and one of them is to find and to develop writers with whom The New Yorker can eventually staff itself.'"

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Back to Deep Creek

We spent our annual weekend in Deep Creek last weekend.

The lake is beautiful, but the real reason I love Deep Creek: 4-newspaper Sundays.