Olivia Crocker
Olivia Crocker
Photo courtesy of Olivia Crocker

Olivia Crocker is the force behind Iron Oven—an event planning and catering company that is a familiar fixture at events in Braddock, Homestead and the area. After many successful years as a caterer, Iron Oven is set to open a café in Homestead this fall.  “The food will be diverse but with rustbelt cuisine as a unifier,” she says. “When people taste the food, I want to evoke memories of our cultural past, but also reflect what is now.”

We can’t wait.

Her best meal last week?

My best meal last week was in a restaurant close to my heart—Tillie’s.

 When I was growing up, we did not go out to eat very much but when we did, we would go to Tillie’s—I go there when I miss my mom.

 You can’t get better Italian food anywhere. Their spaghetti recipe has been unchanged since the 1940s—the same recipe that Tillie used when she was cooking out of an 8×10 kitchen in the back of her husband’s bar.

 This woman was phenomenal—13-hour days, seven days a week, raising a family in her kitchen. Across her restaurant was McKeesport’s Christy Park Mill—that mill was fueled by her meatballs!

 This restaurant is Old School Italian with a staff of some really excellent servers who love where they work.

Last week, I decided to go for the “choose your own” trio—generous portions of  “you pick it we fixa you up” kind of plate. I picked the homemade spaghetti with an incredibly smooth marinara, homemade gnocchi with Mafalda sauce (so tender and hand rolled) and a hunk of ricotta–dense lasagna. I also added two meatballs—so good you dream about them.

 With your meal, you get an entire loaf of Mancini’s bread—and it all feels just like home.

 Come hungry and bring a posse. The menu is insane—there is something for everyone. It is totally worth the trip off the beaten path—and it is super close to the bike trail, if you want to burn the calories off.

 It’s also really cool to see that everything is just as Tillie left it. A true throwback. And from the look she has in her giant portrait in the lobby, she approves.

Curious about other Pittsburgh foodies’ best meals? Click here.

Leah Lizarondo

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment....