Home is where the pita is
This time of year always makes me feel incredibly nostalgic. And it doesn't really help that I’m right in the thick of posting about my recent trip to the USA. When I sat down to start writing about my annual visit to Pittsburgh, I couldn't decide on the best way to introduce my time there. I’ve been tossing up between sharing a must do list, a must eat list and a must see list… but I would be faking it if I didn't share one simple truth: I didn't visit Pittsburgh as a tourist. My first experience of this city was not based on anything I had read about in travel magazines. My connection to Pittsburgh runs a lot deeper than any other city in the world, and that’s because of my family who live there. They’re the main reason why I visit the USA so often and the entire reason why I love Pittsburgh.
Over the past 10 years, my cousins have hosted me on each and every visit and shown me all around this steel city they call home. They’ve shown me just how they live in a part of America that has 4 solid seasons. I’ve rugged up for wondrous winters and enjoyed blooming springs. I’ve packed light for hot summers and settled in for golden falls…and when its time to leave, I cry my eyes out and start planning my next trip back as soon as I pass through security at Pittsburgh International.
So yes, I have every intention of sharing lists of all the places I love and recommend if you are planning to visit, but before I get into all of that, I’m posting about the first place I go when I arrive, and the last place I stop before leaving, and that’s my Uncle Joe's bakery in Brookline, Pitaland.
My first memory of eating at Pitaland was this time 10 years ago. I was just getting to know my Pennsylvanian family so it took me a minute to shake the shyness. I remember my Uncle Joe grabbing fresh steamy pita straight out of the oven and topping it with labne and Lebanese green olives, and he handed me this warm roll of deliciousness. No matter where I am in the world, those flavours remind me of breakfast with my mum and regardless of how far away from her I may be, labne and olives on bread tastes like home.
What my late uncle George established in 1969 has now evolved into something much bigger than my Pittsburgh family had ever imagined. Pitaland is now owned and operated by my favourite people in the history of human events, my Uncle Joe and his son Danny. Today, locals love Pitaland because of the incredible changes that have been implemented in recent years. As well as baking the best Pita on the East Coast, Pitaland also trades as a fully stocked Middle Eastern grocery store complete with local and imported cheeses, fresh produce, house baked pies and sweets, dry goods, imported spices and an olive selection that's to die for… I forgot to mention that it’s also home to the best spinach pies on earth.
Then there’s the Baklava. Fact: I do not eat baklava. I’ve never really been a huge fan. But I can’t go past it when I’m at Pitaland. My uncle’s recipe is ridiculously good and it’s light years ahead of the dense syrupy stuff I grew up with here in Sydney. The pastry is always delicate, flakey, and bursting with cinnamon nutty goodness. It’s always hard to say no to a second slice. And by second, I mean fifth.
Throughout the years, just about all of my family members and extended relatives have had some kind of job working at Pitaland. From working in the bakery, to going out and setting up stalls at Pennsylvania's popular farmers markets, everybody has had a piece of the pie.
But this is my favourite part.
Think about that perfect American teen movie – pretty exotic looking girl meets cute All-American white boy. The crush kicks in by middle school and they’re definitely in love. They both finish high school and decide on two different colleges, with at least 5 hours of Pennsylvanian land that separates them. But distance makes the heart grow fonder and after graduating from two of the best universities on the East Coast, Greg and Donna get married and live happily ever after. #truestory
As years passed, my wonderful cousin Donna decided to leave her profession as a primary school teacher to develop the brand and continue the legacy that is Pitaland. Donna’s infectious smile and warm heart has become synonymous with what locals have come to love about this family owned business. Just like her dad Joe and big brother Danny, Donna greets customers by their first name, and somehow knows exactly what they came for. This family are so proud of the Middle Eastern foodie experience that Pitaland offers the greater Pittsburgh community, and in recent years, they've been joined by Donna's awesome husband Greg.
With a mix of Italian and Slovak roots, Greg’s passion has always been food and cooking for the masses - so he never had a problem fitting in with a Lebanese family. A couple of years ago, Greg took a giant leap of faith and left his job working in financial planning to set up the first Pitaland Café that operates inside the main grocery section of the bakery. Greg has a passion for fresh produce and it shows in his cooking. Greg developed a menu that honours our Lebanese heritage, and is still reminiscent of all the extended flavours of the Middle East. His Lahem Ba’jin (meat pizza) is one of the best I’ve ever tried. The one pictured in the gallery below is called the Donna Special - topped with leafy greens and a fried egg, Greg calls it the Donna special because that’s exactly how he prepares it for his missus. Greg has befriended so many new faces at Pitaland thanks to his new café set up. The locals have even given him access to their private gardens for when ever he's looking for flavour inspiration. I was so excited to join him on a foraging mission during my last trip there.
Should you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, or if you’re looking for a delicious experience while visiting Pittsburgh, then make sure that Pitaland is your first and last port of call.
Tell them Australia sent you.