Jen Lawton knows her way around a wheel of cheese. She can discern the most subtle of flavors that live deep within the rind, but she can also cut, package and label a wedge faster than you can smile and say “cheeeese.”
As the Cheese Coordinator for the East End Food Co-op, Jen is responsible for procuring quality artisanal cheese for the market. She works closely with both producers and consumers, acting as an advocate for both. A lover of cheese since childhood (her first word was in fact “cheese”), Jen has since become an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional (think sommelier status here). With over a decade of professional cheese experience and almost 2 years at the co-op, it is safe to say that Jen is one of Pittsburgh’s go-to cheese heads.
When Jen isn’t meeting farmers, holding baby goats, or crafting cheese plate ideas for co-op customers, she is spending time at home in Regent Square with her wife and twin daughters.
This past week Jen further indulged in her love of dairy with a meal at the South Side’s Page Dairy Mart, finding comfort between two railroad tracks with an ice cream cone in hand:
At the intersection of Becks Run Road and East Carson, near the bald eagle’s nest, and next to not one, but two sets of train tracks, lives Page Dairy Mart. I love it for so many reasons: The lack of frills. The long lines but efficient service. The industrial landscape. The well designed signage. The excellent people watching. Plus, Page’s partners up with a number of other Pittsburgh institutions to create their menu offerings – Mancini’s, Nancy B’s Bakery, Turner Dairy Farm, Esther’s Homemade Candy, to name just a few. It’s fun to get a taste of Pittsburgh in one visit, especially if you’re with out of town friends.
But really any slightly warm day seems like a good excuse for a visit, so last week I made another pilgrimage to Page’s.
I suppose most people come for the ice cream, but there is real food too, and secretly, they have one of the best cheesesteaks in the city. As a transplant from Philadelphia, I am always on the lookout for a good cheesesteak, and Page’s gets theirs right. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s beefy, cheesy, topped with grilled onions and leaking just enough grease to require a handful of napkins. Plus it tastes GOOD. They serve it (and all their sandwiches) up on Mancini’s rolls, in true Pittsburgh style. I skip the lettuce and other nonsense and just get ketchup on the side.
As far as the ice cream, there are a ton of options but no going wrong. Post cheesesteak, I had a vanilla soft serve with the cherry dip and a crust of chocolate sprinkles, although sometimes I’ll have the Yinzer sundae instead. A fresh warm blondie from Nancy B’s, hot caramel, the works. Enough for two to share.
For the complete experience, I like to eschew the benches and sit on milk crates under the bridge behind the shop. There are photos and articles hanging on the back of the building that give a nice history lesson on the location, and there’s no beating the joy of feasting with rumbling trains overhead, the river just beyond the trees.
There’s always a reason to head back—seasonally, they mix fresh fruits into their soft serve. Blueberries coming soon!
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