Photo by Kristy Locklin.

Chef Jackie Page-Heidelberg doesn’t jot down any of her recipes, but you could say she wrote the book on good, old-fashioned home cooking.

Fittingly, her new eatery, Love Rocks Café, is located in the Sto-Rox Library at the Father Ryan Arts Center on Chartiers Avenue. The space has always served as a place for patrons to grab a quick bite, but Page-Heidelberg wanted to offer something more substantial.

She took over the kitchen on Feb. 17, serving scratch-made hearty breakfast and lunch specials that have already garnered a loyal customer base.

Christine Smith-Buford swears by the Hawaiian Burger with candied sweet potato fries, the mac and cheese, and the Ugandan meatballs made with ginger, peppers and onions with a side of cucumber jalapeno dipping sauce.

“I tried her food and now she’s my best friend for life,” says Smith-Buford, who is such a fan that she now helps out behind the counter at Love Rocks Cafe.

Photo courtesy of Love Rocks Cafe.

After sampling a breakfast platter on opening day, Carolyn Thornton of McKees Rocks returned for a bagel sandwich, a heaping helping of sweet and russet potatoes, fresh fruit and coffee — all for $7.

“It’s awesome,” she says. “It tastes and feels like a home cooked meal.”

Thornton lives in the same apartment building as Page-Heidelberg and is often enticed by the aromas wafting down the hallway.

Although the 53-year-old chef has had a lifelong fascination with food and worked in various restaurants since she was a teenager, she didn’t attend culinary school until age 47.

The North Versailles native was busy caring for two children — one with a rare genetic disorder — and didn’t have the time to devote to cooking classes. But she knew she had the skills to become a success.

After graduating from a two-year program at the Community College of Allegheny County, she opened Jackie Kennedy Catering. Since then, she’s arranged banquets for local charities, made behind-the-scenes snacks for film shoots and prepared private holiday feasts for Mike and Kiya Tomlin’s family.

In addition to rave reviews from clients, she’s racked up numerous accolades for her volunteer work, including 412 Food Rescue’s Ambassador of the Year Award in 2018.

Page-Heidelberg is also an instructor for Steel Chef, an annual live cooking competition and training program held at the Father Ryan Arts Center through the nonprofit Focus On Renewal. The goal of the 10-week course is to teach teens about sustainability and healthy food preparation all while giving them the skills they need to launch careers in the restaurant industry.

This year’s cook-off will take place on March 18.

Page-Heidelberg hopes to continue teaching budding chefs in her kitchen at Love Rocks by hiring young people from the neighborhood. Since her lunch menu changes slightly each week, they’ll learn a bit of everything: Pizza on Mondays, Mexican cuisine on Tuesdays, whatever the chef dreams up on Wednesdays, then burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches on Thursdays and fish on Fridays.

Love Rocks Cafe will host a Mardi Gras-themed grand opening celebration on March 5 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., complete with gumbo, jambalaya and King Cake.

No matter what day or time it is, the atmosphere at the restaurant is fun and lively. The goal? Having new customers walk away feeling like old friends.

“My food is made with love,” Page-Heidelberg says, placing a heart sticker on top of a to-go box. “I’m not looking to be rich and famous. I just want to bring communities in need something that I have to offer.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.