Eat: Scratch-made sandwiches at DJ’s Sandwich Shoppe 

After years spent hopping around the country and cooking in some of America’s best kitchens, DJ Smulick was ready to put down some roots. Nearly four years ago he did just that, opening DJ’s Butcher Block, a neighborhood butcher shop bringing local meats to Bloomfield. But even with a full schedule of sourcing beef and stuffing sausages, Smulick longed to get back to cooking. So when a storefront came up for rent a few doors down from his shop, Smulick pounced, turning it into DJ’s Sandwich Shoppe.

The space is hardly recognizable from its days as Mama Ros’ Sandwich Shop, which occupied 4613 Liberty Avenue until October. Aside from scrubbing off 13 years of grease, Smulick and his team gave the space a hip and cozy facelift, crafting a countertop from old bowling alley wood and covering the walls with tasteful taxidermy and a chalkboard trumpeting the day’s specials.

DJ’s Sandwich Shoppe keeps it super-local. The meat comes, not surprisingly, from Smulick’s shop, meaning that everything is as fresh as it gets. And having your own butcher shop just steps away turns out to be a pretty nice thing. “The other day we ran out of steak, so I just ran down to the shop to cut more,” laughs Smulick. Beyond the freshly ground beef and just-cut pork chops, Smulick sources as many ingredients as possible from his neighbors. “We try not to leave Bloomfield for anything,” he says, grabbing everything from carrots to pies from surrounding shops.

The menu features staples of the American diner landscape: burgers, meatloaf, omelets, and so on. But the attention to detail sets DJ’s Sandwich Shoppe apart. My humble Reuben was elevated by homemade corned beef and accompanied by rosemary-sea salt fries and a homemade pickle spear.

DJ’s Sandwich Shoppe is open for breakfast and lunch every day except Sunday. Smulick plans to eventually add late night dining (a big draw at Mama Ros’) and hopes to install a sidewalk takeout window for grabbing quality eats in the wee small hours.

Follow DJ’s Sandwich Shoppe on Facebook for daily specials and more.

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Drink: Three distinctive bars at The Abbey on Butler Street

When that orange sign from the PLCB appeared in the window of a Lawrenceville funeral home back in 2013, the neighborhood got to chattering. A new brewery, perhaps? Maybe a concert venue? Back then, even owners Eric Kukura and Chris McAleer weren’t quite sure what it would be. But after almost three years of research and renovation, The Abbey on Butler Street is now open, bringing a unique mixed-use space to the heart of Lawrenceville.

Like so many of Pittsburgh’s buildings, The Abbey’s history is a long and tangled one, serving as a stonemasonry, a brass foundry, and (most recently) a funeral home. When that business shut its doors in 2008, Kukura took notice. “It haunted me that there was nothing going on with it—no pun intended,” he says. So after securing financial backing from friends and family, McAleer and Kukura purchased the building in 2013. Then they just needed to decide what to do with it.

They landed on The Abbey, a destination that houses multiple bars, a restaurant and a coffee shop. “We wanted a place that folks could come and have a different experience each time,” explains McAleer. “My goal was to make people feel like they were on a little vacation.” To step into The Abbey is to indeed be transported. The décor pulls from a mixed bag of architectural influences, combining new furnishings with reclaimed pieces pulled from old churches. “This place is kind of like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’” says Kukura. Like the song (whose lyrics are stenciled in the main entryway), The Abbey brings together a hodgepodge of styles to create a uniquely engaging environment.

The Abbey on Butler St.
Light fixture over the coffee bar at The Abby on Butler St. Photo by TH Carlisle.

Kukura and McAleer used the building’s unconventional layout to their advantage, creating distinct spaces with their own personalities. Three bars serve the sprawling interior. The main front bar is loud and convivial, serving up 20 craft drafts and modern takes on classic cocktails. The next bar is for the coffeehouse, pouring Commonplace Coffee, nitro cold brew and a couple of draft beers. The third bar is a cozy, 10-seat affair, anchoring a tucked-away space for dinner and wine.

Executive Chef Thomas Christakos put together a menu of updated versions of classic American dishes, pulling in influences from his diverse culinary background. “We’re not white tablecloth, but we’re not pierogies and French fries either,” says McAleer. Again, the large space allows for flexible dining—everything from late-night bar bites to an intimate steak dinner is fair game.

The Abbey also provides two things that are often hard to come by in Pittsburgh: a parking lot and outdoor dining. The large patio, which can accommodate about 100 guests, will surely be a hit in the warmer months, especially once the ornate iron fountain is flowing.

The Abbey on Butler Street is open every day—in fact, it barely closes. Grab coffee starting at 6:30 a.m. and a beer until 2 every night. Check out their website for the full hours, menu and more.

Do: Ten days of Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week

“When we started, there were less than ten breweries in Pittsburgh,” remarked Andy Kwiatkowski at a recent press event for Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week. “Now, there will be more than 40 by the end of this year. There couldn’t be a better time to celebrate our 5th anniversary.” Kwiatkowski, the head brewer at Hitchhiker Brewing and president of the Pittsburgh Craft Beer Alliance, went on to outline some of what’s in store for the 5th annual Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week.

As always, Craft Beer Week is actually a bit longer than a week, running from April 15th through the 24th. Old favorites are returning, like the long anticipated, long sold-out Commonwealth Press Beer Barge. This year also brings an all-new lineup of collaboration beers. Always a highlight of the week, the collaborations give local brewers a chance to pool brainpower and resources to create brand-new beers with groan-inducing names. You’re Killing Me, S’more’s!, for instance, is an imperial porter that recalls the flavors of the classic campfire treat. It was born of a collaboration between Church Brew Works, All Saints, ShuBrew and Mindful Brewing (which is set to open in Castle Shannon this summer).

This year, Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week is introducing an app to help navigate the massive wave of beer washing over the Pittsburgh region. More than 300 events are slated for this year, from standbys like tap takeovers to less conventional events like the Brewers’ Olympics. Now in the second year of what is sure to become a beloved annual tradition, the Brewers’ Olympics brings local beer-makers together to compete in a series of creative challenges of questionable athleticism, including a keg race and beer trivia.

Beer dinners are always a highlight of the week, and there is no shortage of them this year. East Liberty’s new Ace Hotel is plowing full steam ahead into their first Craft Beer Week with four nights of unique dinners. Each dinner will feature beers from a local brewery (East End, Grist House, Hop Farm and Spoonwood) paired with a special four-course menu by Chef Bethany Zozula. $50 gets you into one, or tackle the impressive challenge of attending all four for $175.

Head to the Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week website for a full schedule of events.

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.