Ambience, Ingredients, Neighborhoods, Seasonal, Service, South Side

The Milk Shake Factory.

This is probably one of the many ways in which I’m broken.

I don’t want a milk shake in the summer. When it’s hot, the idea of all that thick dairyness sliding down my throat and sitting heavy in my belly is not precisely appetizing.

Fitting, then, that I first stopped in at the Milk Shake Factory on the South Side on a snowy, blustery day not unlike today, with the air thin and sharp.

This is where I would usually link to the place’s website. Skipping that this time. There’s music. It’s annoying. Better to just follow on Twitter: @MShakeFactory.

I didn’t know I wanted anything when I walked in the door. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. But I was curious.

Walked past the Edward Marc chocolates — more on that little bit of funny in a bit — and spent a couple minutes looking at the giant board of 55 different kinds of milk shakes.

I’d been walking a while outside in a giant coat. I’m not small. I was plenty warm. And they had my favorite: pistachio. I sat down on a painfully uncomfortable metal stool — clearly not built for, like, large people — at the back counter and ordered.

Yum. More than a little bit. They don’t use any special kind of milk, just good ice cream, a good recipe and good technique. Delightful.

It was slow in there — weather-related, I’m sure — and the folks working were happy to chat. I looked over their chocolates and decided I sort of wanted a salted caramel. Hell, I had 85 cents. Most people buy the milk chocolate one, one of them told me, but the dark chocolate’s better. So I went for the dark chocolate.

Here is where I pause to laugh. The name on all the chocolates is Edward Marc, which sounds totally fake. Possibly a Canadian first and middle name, but probably made up. So I asked if there was actually an “Edward Marc.”

Yes, they told me. Well, sort of.

Apparently his name is either Mark Edwards or Mark Edward Something. They weren’t sure. And the Mark’s with a K. I suppose I could look it up, but I like it better this way, not knowing for sure and relying only on the way his employees tell it. Far more amusing.

Even if he’s confused about his name, the man knows his chocolate. The salted caramel was delightful. Soft, melting, light. The dark chocolate didn’t overwhelm what was a far more delicate caramel than I’d expected.

Maybe the next time the snow and the wind pick up, I’ll be back in for more.

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Bloomfield, Family, Meta, Neighborhoods, Traditional

Bloomfield.

For some reason, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was crazy enough to pay me to write this story for them. No accounting for taste, I suppose.

But there is one thing you won’t know from reading it. My favorite paragraphs are the ones about the old grocerias long gone from Pittsburgh’s Little Italy.

I got the idea for this wandering around Bloomfield not too long after I moved to Pittsburgh in October. Driving in to the neighborhood from the Bloomfield Bridge or Liberty Avenue, you can’t help but notice the giant “Little Italy” sign.

So I started walking around. Just looking. Wondering how much of that was branding and how much was a real thing. Reading business signs. Listening for accents. Following my nose.

And then I started talking to people. Just random people on the street. Asking questions, having them point things out to me.

And then I walked through the doors at Donatelli’s and the Groceria and couldn’t help but be struck by the differences. More talking to people. More questions.

And I realized I had a story to tell.

And there it is, right on the PG's homepage.

As much as I loved meeting Rose Marie and Paul and listening to them tell me their stories — and as much fun as I had writing it, because I’m kind of a dork like that — I’m a digger at heart. I love old documents, research — history. I could have written this without empirical evidence there used to be more grocerias there — I mean, there just were, right?

But where? And how many? With whose names on them? And when, exactly?

So I went to the archives at the Heinz History Center in the Strip. Found some background stuff on the neighborhood, which was all well and good. But then I got my grubby little hands on what I really wanted: old city directories. Giant, old, somewhat-stinky books that listed every business in Pittsburgh for a given year.

My research on Bloomfield’s demographics told me the Italians really started arriving in some numbers around World War I and basically owned the place by the end of World War II. So I pulled the city directories for 1915 and 1945.

For a lot of people, the next part is tedious. I was thrilled. I found the section for grocery stores and read through every last one checking names and addresses. This isn’t perfect — someone named Johnson could still be ethnically Italian or run an Italian grocery store. But it gave me something real. Something I could almost touch.

For me, it’s what brought the story together.

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