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WQED TV producer and PITTSBURGH Magazine back-page writer writes about his current work and assorted other things.

Superlative stuff.

February 11th, 2010 · 1 Comment

[NOTE:  OK.  I’m out of order.   The sequence of events is off.   We made this  trip to Ohio before we went to Philadelphia, but because the blog publishes in reverse order anyway, its a confused timeline.   It doesn’t matter.  It’s breakfast that matters.]


So, we’re up really early on Friday morning, December 6, loading the van at 5:30 am, getting to the location before 6:00 (!).   We’re shooting when they click on the OPEN sign.  We didn’t even have to stage it.

We’re shooting at the little breakfast and sandwich place that unabashedly called itself The Best Breakfast & Sandwiches.  Bold.  Ballsy.  Before dawn.  It’s located just outside the Columbus city limits, in the suburb called Westerville.   It’s not far from Exit 29 off interstate 270, the circle road that goes around Columbus.


We have a few moments to scope out the place before customers arrive.  The pre-dawn crew includes Tom Spangler who owns this place with his wife Jan, George Trautman who helps behind the counter, and a waitress named Suzanne Fickes who is there to get the tables set and to be ready for the earliest eaters.

Our trusty cameraman Bob decides that it’s too dark at the grill-and-burners cooking area, where a lot of the action takes place, and he and Glenn clamp a light from the celing to throw some light into that area.


Our new friend Nick Dekker told us about this place.  He writes the blog called “Breakfast With Nick,” and he’s agreed to be our guide to good morning meals in the Columbus area.  I asked him to recommend two or three places, and this is one of them.  He’s been here only once before himself but he was knocked out by the food.  He arrives about 9 am.


We leave Nick alone for a while because there’s so much to see and shoot, and we do several interviews with early customers.  Nick holds off ordering till we’re ready to shoot him eating, and we watch while he scarfs down the country fried steak with gravy and eggs, potatoes. toast and whatever. It all looks good.


We talk with people on camera and off.  There is an amazing sense of loyalty and family here.  Customers really love this place, its tasty food and the people who cook for you and who serve you here.   They make a big todo about knowing everybody and it seems genuine.  Kelli Stover is waiting on Nick today but since his first visit (when he became conspicuous by taking pictures of his food) a week or so ago, he’s been a known player here.

Tom and Jan keep the place humming:  delicious and efficient, and their presence here makes a statement.  So much of the charm of being in a mom-and-pop place is the interaction with the owners, the mom and the pop, who obviously care about the business, and after years of working in chain and corporate restaurants, these two obviously relish the one-on-one relationships they have built with their customers here.


We interview Tom while he’s cutting  up the Best’s popular potatoes.  “The secret is:  we rub the potatoes with bacon grease before we bake them,” he says.

I take remarkably few pictures.  When it’s really busy all of a sudden, I slice bread and make toast for a few minutes behind the counter, and I carry my camera around, but I don’t snap as many food shots as I would like.   But the food here is much loved.  And patrons rave about the eggs, the bacon, the pancakes, the omelets.

We watch and videotape while Tom makes an order of his famous corned beef hash.  It may be the dish that most people encourage you to try if it’s your first visit to the Best.  It’s nothing out of a can.  It’s potatoes and chunks of corned beef, onions and spices, and it’s topped with eggs.  It’s a beauty of a breakfast.

Corned beef hash

The morning is over fast.  People start ordering sandwiches.  It’s lunchtime.


Tom insists that Glenn and Bob and I try his chicken wings.  “The best chicken wings you’ll ever eat,” he brags.  And he backs up the claim with some extraordinary wings.  He marinates them before baking them, then he fries them.  They are superlative.  I would stop back just to have more of them.  There are lots of reasons to stop back here.


That afternoon, we meet Nick near the Ohio State campus where the Wild Goose Arts Cooperative has a gallery and meeting space.  He and his wife are both members of this co-op, and it’s a good quiet spot where we interview Nick again about breakfast, his blog and the joys of breakfast in Columbus, Ohio.


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Carman’s unforgettable Country Kitchen in South Philly

February 2nd, 2010 · 2 Comments

It’s Saturday morning, January 30.  We start to load up the van around 7:30 a.m. in front of the Marriott Courtyard.  It’s still frigid outside.  I’m driving; Bob’s co-piloting.  We follow the simple Mapquest directions to 1301 South 11th Street in South Philly, not 10 minutes from the hotel.

The sign

Carman’s Country Kitchen sits on the corner of South 11th and Wharton, across from the police station.  We drive around the block a couple of different ways (sometimes on amazingly narrow streets!) before we find an acceptable parking spot.  It’s about 7:55 a.m.  There’s no sign outside that says Carman’s Country Kitchen but the detached tailgate from her pick-up truck is on the 11th Street side of the old corner-shop structure.  And her truck is parked on the Wharton Street side of the building.

Carman's exterior

Yes, there’s a mannequin beside the front door, and apparently her clothing changes with the seasons.  She’s bundled up today.  The hours and phone number are displayed on the tailgate, along with a warning about Carman’s dog who isn’t here today.  Too cold.

Tailgate info

I ate at Carman’s once about 8 or ten years ago.  It was delicious and unusual and remarkably fun.  My Philadelphia food writer friend Holly Moore, the force behind hollyeats.com, brought me to this legendary spot, and when I started this BREAKFAST SPECIAL project, I thought of Carman’s as a possibility.  Last week Holly convinced me it was a necessity.  I called and set up the shoot with Carman Luntzel while she was visiting her children and grandchildren in South Carolina, and she was specific that we should arrive at 8 a.m., giving her servers the time they needed to get ready, because they usually got there around 7:30, and they needed to get the place prepped for the morning before we got there.

eggs tighter

So we arrive right on time.  The place is still a jewel.  The decorations are many and goofy and deliberately risque.   (Do you know that part of “Hamlet” when he says to Ophelia, “Do you think I meant country matters?”  Well, there’s a lot of that kind of provocative punning going on around this country kitchen too.)   We meet Thomas and Alexis, the two clever guys who handle the front of the house, and we fall in love with Carman.

Carman with skillet

There were a few early morning minutes before customers started arriving, so we interview Carman as she starts to cook in her tiny kitchen.    This restaurant is small, cramped and cozy at the same time, cluttered and bright.  It feels European.

Carman's early morning

Then, people come for breakfast pretty steadily for the next 6 hours.  8 a.m. till 2 p.m.   Carman’s regulars love this experience, and it’s easy to understand why.  The food is unusual and outstanding.  You get a choice of four dishes every week.  The menu changes every Friday.  And the choices are written on a dry erase board which often comes off the wall to become a giant menu at individual tables, and at the counter.  Alexis and Thomas are skilled at explaining how things work.   “We each have our schtick,” says Thomas.  “Alexis always says the French toast is a little sweeter than the pancakes.  I don’t.”  Alexis is the guy with the beard and the knit cap.

Alexis with menu

The 4 corners of the menu are 1. pancakes (or waffles) 2. French toast (made today from challah bread) 3. An omelette and 4.  The Special (which can be very special, having featured alligator, kangaroo, osso buco stew, and other exotics over the years.)  Today’s special is a grilled duck breast with eggs and potatoes & toast.  Carman tells us that the special is often like some wonderful leftovers from the night before that she tops with eggs, the kind of unexpected breakfast she really likes herself.    At one point, I see the omelette with chicken-white-wine-parsley sausage being delivered.  I ask if I might snap a picture.  When I do, the woman who got it cuts me off a corner so I can taste.  It’s superb.  Enclosed in the eggs are Swiss chard, white beans and rice, leeks and garlic and a wee bit of portabella mushrooms, along with some of Carman’s spices.

Omelet with chicken sausage

We have an extraordinary morning, talking to people, interviewing Holly, seeing eaters come and go.  Bob hand-holds the camera most of the morning, but we have the tri-pod handy for a few rare moments when there’s enough space to set it up.

Holly gets his breakfast

Around noon, Bob suggests we go outside and get some exterior shots.  It’s still extremely cold, but Thomas and Alexis have prepared Carman’s al fresco table just to show us.   It’s in the bed of her pick-up truck, and we need some shots of that too.  On warmer mornings, 6 or 7 people can be seated in the back of the truck, and it’s a place of honor.

Thomas at truck

The customers arrive, order, eat and leave.  The room seems to stay full all morning, and everybody is OK with our invasion of the place.  There doesn’t seem to be any hate of the TV crew.  It’s always a dance, it’s just a bit tighter in this little restaurant.  This place feels intimate and homey, saucy and goofy, devilish and heavenly.

Carmans crowd

If you want to come and eat, you should call before you arrive.  They call this “same-day reservations.”  Carmen answers the phone and calls out, asking Thomas and Alexis if, say, Walter with 2 others can get a seat in 15 minutes.  If it’s too crowded, you’ll be told to wait a bit, but I think they fit in everybody this day.

Carman takes reservations

We didn’t eat till 2 o’clock, closing time.  We’d all heard the menu many times by then.  I knew I wanted the grilled duck breast with eggs because it looked so tempting on so many plates.  Thomas had told me that Carman brought the duck back with her from the Carolinas two days before.  Beautiful little breasts, perfectly grilled.  The eggs over very easy.  Bacon.  Whole wheat toast.  A glorious breakfast.   I think one of the best of my life.

My duck & eggs

I didn’t mention at the top of this blog entry that Glenn and Bob had breakfast at the hotel before we left that morning.  Around 7 a.m.  I just had a cup of coffee.  But they were ready for Carman’s breakfast for lunch — or brunch — or as I say, in the hobbit tradition, “second breakfast.”


Before we leave, we stop and pose for a crew picture with Carman and her crew.  A really good, productive and delicious morning.

Crew & Carman & her crew

When we get outside, it’s snowing.  It’s winter in Philadelphia.

Snowy Broad Street

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Across Pennsylvania for BREAKFAST

January 30th, 2010 · No Comments

It’s time for another BREAKFAST SPECIAL road trip.

Bob and Glenn and I get in the fully packed WQED van around 11 a.m. and head east out of Oakland for the City of Brotherly Love.  It’s a beautiful, clear, bitter cold day.  Glenn drives the first leg.  Bob in the passenger seat, me in the back where I can try to organize some of my accumulated papers and try to stay awake.  I sleep a lot till we stop in Bedford just before 1:00 for some lunch.


We get off the Turnpike, go into downtown Bedford and lunch at Bob’s favorite little healthy cafe, the Green Harvest Co., where we ate one day on a Lincoln Highway shoot.  Lentil soup.  Coffee.  A wrap for Glenn, salmon salad for Bob and today’s special for me.   Mediterranean salmon

The special was Mediterranean tuna with snow peas, but they’ve run out of tuna, so they make it Mediterranean salmon with snow peas, and it still tastes pretty good.  Cookies for dessert.

Antique BobAfter lunch we take a few minutes in the antique mall around the corner.  It’s part of our Bedford routine:  lunch at Green Harvest Antique Glennand a quick look at the stuff downstairs in the old G.C. Murphy’s building.    No major purchases today.

On the way back to the van, Bob spots a sign in the front window of one of the other little downtown eateries.  Pork products are big everywhere these days.

Bacon in window

Bob drives into the afternoon.  I finish the Friday puzzle in the New York Times.  Glenn dozes in the passenger seat.  We listen to Contra, the new Vampire Weekend CD, and it’s good.  Bob says he thinks they do three different versions of the first song, Horchata, but they all have different names and lyrics.  Sometimes they sound a lot like Paul Simon, other times like Sting, but fun and interesting.

Tunnel coming

We stop around 4:30 at a Turnpike rest area.  I take over the wheel, Glenn gets in back, and we turn on “All Things Considered.”  Obama visited Republicans today, and that’s interesting, but it’s also pledge time on WHYY, and we hear a lot of pledging.   On TV, pledge breaks interrupt programming, and that can be frustrating, but on the radio, pledge breaks REPLACE or OVERLAY the regular programming, and I always wonder what stuff I’m missing during the long pledge sessions.   We didn’t bring the hardware to play our iPods through the van’s radio or we could have listened to podcasts of Fresh Air as we approach the City of Terry Gross.

The Schuylkill Expressway is bumper to bumper from the Turnpike to downtown, but traffic is not jammed, it just moves very slowly.  There’s an extraordinary moon, muted yellow against the deep blue evening sky.

We check into our rooms at the Courtyard by City Hall and decide to walk to dinner.  The slim black guy at the front desk suggests Chima, a Brazilian steakhouse straight down the street.  “About 5 blocks down.”  It is windy and frigid.  We keep walking.  It is at least 5 very long blocks till we see the sign.  Looks good.  Warm inside.   “Do you have reservations?”  “No.”  “Sorry, we’re full tonight. We’re not taking any walk-ins.”   I beg and plead.  “Please don’t send us back out into the cold!”  She suggests a taxi to Rittenhouse Square where there are several restaurants to choose from.  We grab a taxi out front, and the driver drops us off infront of Rouge where we can get a table if we agree to be done by 9 p.m.  It’s 7:40.  We think we’ll manage.

Our waitress is great.  It’s Restaurant Week in Philadelphia, and at 52 different restaurants you can get a 3 course dinner for $35.  Special menu.  We decide to do that.  Bob and Glenn start with Butternut Squash Soup.  I get the Roasted Beets Salad.   Yellow beets with goat cheese.  Excellent.

beet salad

Everyone happy.  Then the famous Rouge Burger for me — the waitress says, “Oprah loves it, and if she loves it, don’t we all?”  I laugh.  She says, “Yeah I hate her too.”

Rouge burger

Apparently Oprah suggested that people could save money at restaurants by tipping 10% instread of 15 or 20%, and this did not go over well with waiters and waitresses everywhere.  Bob and Glenn get the Herb Roasted Chicken on mashed potatoes.  They love that too.  Dessert is included:  gelato all around.

We walk back to the hotel.  Tall Bob can walk very fast when his ears are cold.

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A Eulogy with pictures.

January 23rd, 2010 · 8 Comments

Paul in office

Last Saturday, January 16, my friend and trusted researcher Paul Korol died at Allegheny General Hospital after being seriously sick for several months.  His wife asked me to say a few words at his funeral Mass this past Thursday.  This is what I said:

I met Paul Korol 22 years ago.  He called me one day at work at WQED.

He’d heard somehow — I think through the amusement-park-aficionados’ grapevine — that I was working on a video documentary about Kennywood Park,  and he wanted me to know that he had lots of pictures and postcards that might be helpful.


I actually remember this conversation because I recall him saying that he had some things that even Charlie Jacques, the big Kennywood historian, didn’t have.   I was impressed that he knew what Jacques had as well as what he himself had.

Paul had magnificent collections of stuff.  Stuff about amusement parks — including his beloved West View Park where he had worked.  (I often think of him as a young man driving a little train at West View, a black-and-white picture he’d shown me sometime.  Claudia says he worked on the airplanes ride, but I think of him in that train.)

[NOTE:  After Mass, Dick Bowker from Forest Hills, one of Paul’s postcard-collecting buddies who has also helped me several times, told me that the picture of Paul in the train is at the old Cascade Park near New Castle, not at West View.  My mistake.]


He also had stuff about Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh history.  And postcards from every era.  (He always thought I was slightly bonkers to love the garish colors of old linen cards


rather than the more modern, cool and crisp, ultra-sharp Chrome cards, but he had both kinds.)


TV producers like me need lots of pictures and Paul Korol offered to share his collections.   I learned that he worked at Pittsburgh Plumbing and Heating, but he was a world-class archivist at heart.   He was the curator of his own museum and library.


So back then, in 1988, Paul Korol became part of the team that has made our very popular WQED Pittsburgh History Series programs.  KENNYWOOD MEMORIES — he has a credit on it, and on all the  others.  FLYING OFF THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE!  THINGS THAT AREN’T THERE ANYMORE.  IT’S THE NEIGHBORHOODS.  WHAT MAKES PITTSBURGH PITTSBURGH?  I get a lot of credit for making these shows, but they are huge collaborative efforts, involving input and talents and assistance from many people.   And these programs couldn’t have been as popular as they are if we didn’t have the cooperation, the wisdom, the generosity and the amazing collections of  Paul Korol as part of what we do.


[We used Paul’s postcards on the covers of many DVDs and VHS boxes over the years.]

I know it sounds like I may be exaggerating, but Paul over the years has helped me put together proposals, donating images and information that have helped us get funding.   He always stayed with the projects, asking for lists of the stories so he could check his “reserves,” often coming to WQED after he got off work at Pittsburgh Plumbing in North Oakland.Paul in Edit He had a hard briefcase with latches, and he’d bring books and photos and archival quality polyethylene sleeves of postcards.  I always had to xerox all the images and postcards that I kept, especially back in the days before we scanned all such things into the computer, so that he would have a record of what he gave me, so he’d get everything back.  He instinctively knew better than to trust a disorganized soul like me.  He often said he did this for his wife Claudia who didn’t want him to lose any treasures to that Rick Sebak.   Even she knew me too well.

Sometimes, especially if I was in a hurry or up against a deadline, I’d go and visit him at Pittsburgh Plumbing, in several of its locations over the years.   I’d try to warn him that I was coming to visit, but often he’d be busy putting together orders for huge construction jobs.  I remember him talking about ordering all the supplies for the restrooms at Heinz Field and just about every other major building built around here in recent years.  He was intimately involved in the building history of Pittsburgh.

And he would pull out the pictures and books and artifacts and xeroxed articles that he had brought.   And he would often save a surprise for last, a really rare picture —  I remember once he had the printed program for the opening night of the very first International at the Carnegie Museum of Art.  And I remember him saying, “I don’t think they have this at the Carnegie.”


He and Claudia always came to the premiere parties for our programs.  And I’m not sure why I first ended up going to their house here in Crafton, but I loved its Victorian character and I got to see how Paul cared for the house, and how beautifully organized and stored all these collections were that Paul had amassed.  Not only did he have tons of stuff, but he knew where it was, and how to put his hands on it.

[Sometimes he made postcards of his own.  Usually black-and-white images on simple white cards.  Many about Ingram.


And some about odd pieces of Pittsburgh history that he found interesting, including a better rat trap.]


He wrote articles too.  He reviewed movies.  For many years he had a popular column in the SENIOR NEWS, pointing out fun pieces of local history.  He worked with the Crafton Historical Society.  He helped organize postcard shows and sales.  I remember going to a couple of them in Castle Shannon.   And sometimes I’d run into him unexpectedly in used CD stores — CD Warehouse and CD Exchanges — where he was always looking for soundtrack recordings that he also collected.


And I say that Paul gave me pictures, but he also shared information, and he did research for me, and he always did it with amazing speed and efficiency.  If I called him, saying, “Hey, Paul, what do you have on the Smithfield Street Bridge?”  He’d usually say, “I’ll stop by tomorrow with some stuff.”


As recently as this past November, although he was in and out of the hospital, Paul was still helping.  He came by WQED with some photo postcards of 19th century families having picnics because he knew I was putting together a proposal on the American summer.


Obviously I’m gonna miss Paul.  But I suspect — and hope — that from some heavenly archive, he’s still gonna be guiding us and helping us uncover pictures and historic facts that we all love learning about. He’ll be guiding us all to work quickly and efficiently, to be well organized and unselfishly helpful.  And we’ll remember his wonderful energy, his goofy smile, his skinny frame, the way he’d look over the top of his big glasses, and we’ll remember what a good, smart and wonderful man he was.  Not just a collector or an archivist, but a wonderful friend, and a soul whose energy lives on.

I’m sure if it were allowed, we’d all be getting postcards from heaven very soon.

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January 7th, 2010 · No Comments

It’s already January 7, 2010. I’ve been way too lax about keeping up with this blog.  I will do better in the new year.

When last we saw our intrepid TV crew, they were eating ice cream at Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl in Zanesville en route to Columbus.  It was Thursday, December 3, 2009.

Truth is:  we were going to the capital city of Ohio to meet Nicholas Drekker who writes a fascinating blog called “Breakfast With Nick.” It’s about his favorite meal and some great places in the Columbus Ohio area (and occasionally beyond) where you can find interesting morning meals. I had stumbled upon his blog while doing some breakfast research, and I liked his writing, his opinions and his attitudes. I was really happy when he said he’d help us with our program.NickatWildGoose

We met Nick, his wife and 17-month-old son for dinner on Thursday night at one of their favorite spots.  Nick was frankly younger than I thought (not a bad thing) and seemed a good talker, always the kind of person we’re looking for.  I had asked him to suggest two or three breakfast highlights in Columbus, and we agreed to meet him the next morning at a place called The Best Breakfast & Sandwiches in a suburb called Westerville, sort of northeast of the city.

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Small Bowl of Eggnog at Tom’s In Zanesville

December 8th, 2009 · 4 Comments

It’s Thursday, December 3, a gray day in Pittsburgh. TallsliceTomsWe’re packing up and driving to Columbus, Ohio today for a three-day Breakfast Special shoot. (It’s Glenn Syska’s mother’s birthday so he doesn’t get here till 9:30 or so. He wanted to take his mom to breakfast. Yes, breakfast.  How could Bob and I say No?)

So, it takes us a while to get on the highway. My inspection sticker had expired on my car November 30, so we were gonna drop my vehicle at Miller’s Auto Service in Bethel Park on our way south to I-70. Then it was lunchtime already, so we stopped at Pasta Too on Route 88 by the entrance to South Park and had a small feast. While we were eating, I realized I didn’t have my phone, so Glenn called back to the station, and Dave Hallowell found my phone in my office under a box of calling cards that I meant to bring too. I said we had to go back. Cameraman and editor Frank Caloiero called and offered to meet us with my phone and cards, and we set up a rendezvous on the South Side. Then finally we were off.

The quickest way from Pittsburgh to Columbus is to go south to Washington, PA, then take interstate 70 all the way. Old route 40, the charming National Road runs parallel to 70, but we decided to get to Columbus before dark. These are short days.

I drive to Columbus fairly regularly because my sister lives there, and she and I take turns taking care of my mom. My sister Nisey and her man Bill Scott own and run a Sylvan Learning Center just north of the city in Lewis Center, OH.


I think it’s silly to drive from Pittsburgh to Columbus or vice versa without stopping in Zanesville at Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl. It’s been a family tradition now for nearly twenty years since this guy at work, Bob Meek, insisted that I stop. He kept telling me it was like the Fifties, and I thought he meant fake nostalgic Fifties, all James Dean-y and Marilyn Monroe-ish, and I didn’t bother, but then one day I did take the Maple Avenue exit off I-70 and found the place.


It’s astounding.  A time machine.  It transports you to what-I-want-to-call the Forties.  It’s untouched, unchanged.  A piece of another era that you can step into and get ice cream and really good roasted nuts.

So we stop.  Bob and Glenn are impressed.  It is a magical place where they put the names of the seasonal flavors of homemade ice cream on paper cards and post them high on the one wall.


Glenn gets eggnog.  I get rum raisin.  (Those are seasonal holiday flavors.)  Bob gets black raspberry, a year round flavor that’s listed inside the wooden cabinet in the corner of the room behind the nut-and-candy cases.  These are “single-scoop” dishes.  Big single scoops.  The sundaes overflow the bowls they come in.

(Back in 1996 when we made “An Ice Cream Show” for PBS and CPB, I always thought I’d include Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl, but we ran out of time and travel money in our budget.  Still I mentioned this beautiful little place when I gave a list of great ice cream places to USA TODAY back then.)


If you’re ever near Zanesville, stop.

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Square Cafe is hip, not square.

December 5th, 2009 · 2 Comments

The next day, Wednesday, October 14, we went back to the Square Cafe where we’d shot our 30-second promo about three weeks earlier.

Exterior square cafe

Not only were owner-operator Sherree Goldstein and her staff friendly and cooperative and excited when we were there, but several Pittsburgh people had made impassioned pleas about our need to include this place in our show, and I’d been reminded about how much I liked the food and the attention to detail here.  Also I’ve had my house in Regent Square since 1988, so it’s sort of home territory.  We must include the Square Cafe.

breakfast dot

Again, we got there early, got some exterior set-up shots.  It was not a busy morning yet but we hoped things would pick up.

square cafe dot

I think it was shortly after 7 when Joe Sabino Mistick showed up.  Sherree said, “He’s a regular.”  And he used to do a political talk show every week on WQED so we all knew him already.  He’s an attorney and a gadfly, a “political analyst” and columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.  We asked if we could interview him while he waited for his food.  He said Of course.  He’s a champion talker with good strong opinions, and he’s not afraid of the camera.  And he eats breakfast.  (I forgot to take his picture.)

Bob and Glenn in street

Not long after that, Cally Jamis Vennare stopped by.  She’s a writer (and communications consultant) who’s been working on a feature article about me for a magazine called “Forum” that gets marketed through upscale men’s stores around the country (and usually the magazine is named for the specific stores, like Larrimore’s magazine in Pittsburgh or Malouf’s magazine in Texas and California), and she wanted to see me and my crew at work, so I invited her to stop by, and we interviewed her.  Then she called her husband Raymond to come and eat breakfast with her, and we got some pictures of them at one of the tables by the window.

cally and husband

We eventually interviewed Sherree sitting behind the front counter, and, as expected, she was charming and fun with lots of good stories.

sherree beams

She’s been here in Regent Square for six years now, and some things have changed, as the menu does regularly, but several folks we talked to commented on how important Sherree’s presence is.  She tends to everyone, and her personality helps make the place delicious.

sherree blurred

It never really got very busy that morning.

Joelene and crew

My friend Joelene Holderney (who used to work in our WQED business office but who was laid off in the last round of cutbacks) surprised me by stopping for some breakfast (she had read a Facebook post I’d put up that said we’d be there at Square Cafe) as she was on her way out Braddock Avenue to the town of Braddock.  Great to see her.  Bob loved the fact that she and the two men at tables near her were all sitting alone reading their papers.

slice with joelene and guys

We went in the kitchen for a while, interviewed the chef, tried to get some cooking action shots, but let’s face it:  it was not a frantic day.  The food here is beautiful (as you can see in the promo) with lots of fresh fruit, and a genuine care for putting out attractive and scrumptious dishes, but there wasn’t a lot of beautiful hustle-bustle this day.  The pace was liesurely.

kitchen slow

It was a good day for interviews because we weren’t in people’s way, and we stayed till the lunch bunch arrived.  You can order breakfast all day here, but the sandwiches are pretty good too.  In fact Sherree told us her favorite food to sneak for herself was a burger here.

Glenn the tireless

We decided we would come back later on a weekend day when things are hopping and the line goes out onto the sidewalk.  We wouldn’t need a lot more interviews, and we’d get to shoot a crowded retaurant with a busy kitchen.  Someday soon.

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Perfect poached eggs.

December 3rd, 2009 · No Comments

I think it was Thursday evening, October 8, at the Half-Price Books in North Fayette when I ran into Earl who used to tend bar at Cupka’s II on the South Side.  Earl was a great bartender, and he’s in my “South Side” show, and he tells me he works at Nadine’s now, and he’s wondering what I’m working on, and I tell him a program for PBS about breakfast.  cup of coffeeHe says I should definitely check out the Hot Metal Diner on Lebanon Road in West Mifflin.  “You remember Stephanie,” he says, “my niece who used to wait tables at Cupka’s.  She works at the Hot Metal, and it’s a great spot for breakfast.”

So I happen to be driving past there that next Sunday, and I stop in to check out this place.

Sunday exterior

The mood is good.  Lots of talk and noise.  I sit at the far end of the counter where you can see the Fiesta ware plates coming out of the kitchen loaded with food.

Stephanie at diner

The waitresses are spunky, including Stephanie who gives me the royal treatment.  She says the owner Wendy Bettan will be coming by to meet me, and I order two poached eggs with sausage.  Lots of places don’t do poached eggs, but Stephanie says Not a problem.


When my food comes, I’m impressed.  The eggs are done perfectly.

Wendy at counter

The Hot Metal isn’t exactly a traditional diner, but it feels like one in many ways.  It has a counter with stools.  And when Wendy comes and sits next to me to make my acquaintance, I ask if we could come and shoot here some day that next week.  We agree on Tuesday morning.

Pre-dawn exterior Hot Metal

So, October 13, before dawn, Bob Lubomski and Glenn Syska and I head back to the Hot Metal, we shoot, we watch, we do a few interviews.  It’s not a crowded morning, but we get lots of pictures.

Bob & Glenn in kitchen

Cook with pancake ready

Famous Breakfast Burrito

Waitress with pie

Slice of Hot Metal Steelers Country

Hot Metal carpet

And when we think we have enough video, about noontime, we stop and eat some breakfast.  I get my eggs sunnyside up.  Also nicely prepared.  A beautiful plate.

2 sunnyside up with toast in focus

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Thanks, Brent.

November 14th, 2009 · 6 Comments

Just when you start to think no one pays attention to your blog, you get a comment like the one from Brent Fiore that he posted on my last entry.  A few kind words.  Then, he mentions that the web address on the 30-second promo is incorrect.   It says “www.org/breakfast” instead of “wqed.org/breakfast.”  How can this be?  But he’s right!  We weren’t paying very good attention.   (Kevin has been sick, and he’s the one who always sees these things.)   So we changed it.  Paula fixed the graphic.  Matt fixed the video.  Mike Cuccaro put the corrected version up on You Tube.  And despite Matt’s objections, Mike and I decided to leave up the old version — it’s still on You Tube and still linked at the end of the previous blog entry here — because keeping the wrinkle, not destroying the mistake, seemed to be more in the spirit of the blog and the web.  And we all thank Brent.  Keep reading.  Keep us on our toes.

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We start with a 30-second promo.

November 3rd, 2009 · 12 Comments

Breakfast reading

I’m still reading as much as I can about breakfasts near and far, standard and exotic, sunny-side-up and whole wheat or ciabatta, when I get word that the head of WQED’s Production Department, Darryl Ford-Williams, would like a 30-second promotional spot for the show by next Thursday when there’s a big WQED Board Meeting.  Darryl knows we haven’t shot anything yet but she trusts we’ll come up with something.  We need to make like mad men and create a commercial in a week for a show that doesn’t exist yet.SF breakfast beauty

I have an idea.  Just a table with beautiful plates of breakfast quickly coming and going, being eaten and finished, cups of coffee and big glasses of juice, silverware and crumbs all appearing and disappearing, and a voice-over narration that sort of explains what we hope to do.  I talk it over with cameraman Bob Lubomski, editor Matt Conrad and sound guy Glenn Syska, and they think we can make this work.  Matt wants to come with us on location (because he’s hungry?), especially if I can convince the folks at Square Café to let us go there to shoot it.Cafe front

Square Café is a groovy little breakfast place in my neighborhood called Regent Square, just east of Frick Park here in Pittsburgh.  Sherree Goldstein, the much loved owner of the place, is excited by the idea, and she’s very accomodating, so we set a date to invade her little café:  Tuesday morning September 22 with an ETA between 9 and 9:30.

We’ll invade and take over a portion of the cafe, but we’re hoping that we’ll be after the breakfast rush and before lunch.   Matt meets us at the cafe.  He’s drinking coffee by the time we get there.  Bob and Glenn and Matt and I start hauling things in, schmoozing along the way.  We’ll set up some lights and try to do this right.Bob sets lights

We were going to use the yellow kitchen table but decided it might be more difficult because of its rectangular shape, and we choose instead one of the newer, smaller orange-top tables that have that classic boomerang formica design on top.  Bob sets the camera on the tripod so it’s looking straight down to the table top.Camera & Eater

We haven’t figured out all the details, but we’ll need different “eaters” for the different plates of food, and so we decide to start with Sherree as our first “eater” with the oatmeal and fruit.  Matt is a goofball

Then Matt steps in to eat the second plate which is a somewhat standard Square Breakfast with eggs sunny side up.  (It turns out Matt is not a big egg eater and he eats around the yolks like my sister did when she was 6.)

Then we wanted to involve some of the people from the kitchen who were being so helpful.  The cafe’s chef, Doug Genovese, came out and ate the pile of pancakes with bananas.  Debbie Thomas who was washing dishes agreed to tackle the breakfast burrito.

And the last plate, crepes with brie and fruit, was attacked by Ron Crosby, one of the cooks from the kitchen.  All the food looked beautiful, and I was happy that all this might work.  Eater with forkful of crepe

We marked the table with tape so that the eaters would know when their hands (and silverware?)  were in the frame.  We wanted a variety of moves, an occasional drink of juice or coffee, and of course, quick removal of plates when the eater was finished.

High angle at blueberries

We had consulted with our designer Paula Zetter before we went to the cafe, and she had asked that we get an empty plate being delivered so she could put the program title on the empty plate, but we totally forgot.  She came up with a wonderful alternative however.  You’ll see.

We took all the footage back to the station.

Fingers on keyboard

Matt digitized the images from the tape onto drives in our editing suites, so we could use all the pictures in our Avid editing system.  I had to write some copy that I could cut as 30 seconds of voice-over narration, and Matt played with the pictures, letting parts run at normal speed, making other parts go must faster.  We found a 30-second chunk of Buddy Nutt music that we liked.   And I think it all turned out OK.

Watch it here.

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