Pittsburgh’s various food trucks, stands and pop-ups are an integral part of the city’s dining scene. Even during the winter months, you’ll see some hardy entrepreneurs selling tasty items at local events and in front of businesses. Here are a few culinary vagabonds slinging good eats around town.
Tahina Go-Go, pop-up at Bitter Ends Food, 4613 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield
Max Goldstein worked his dream job for two months before the pandemic hit.
Through a mix of serendipity and social media magic, the Mt. Lebanon resident formed a friendship with renowned chef and Pittsburgh native, Michael Solomonov, who offered him a line cook position at Zahav in Philadelphia.
“It was stressful and I learned so much,” says Goldstein, who, like Solomonov’s brother, served in the Israel Defense Forces. Then the pandemic ended the dream. “I thought I would never cook again.”
After a bit of quarantine-induced soul-searching, Goldstein decided to continue his culinary career with Tahina Go-Go, an Israeli street food pop-up.
Every Wednesday in January from 5 to 8 p.m., he’ll serve from the takeout window at Bitter Ends Food in Bloomfield (the eatery dropped the word “Luncheonette” from its name since it no longer offers dine-in service.)
Tahina or tahini, a sauce made from sesame seeds, is featured prominently on the menu, which includes hummus, falafel, fries, beet tahina salad and tahina blondies for dessert. The items will change weekly to include sandwiches on naturally leavened pita bread.
Goldstein, who got a crash course in Middle Eastern cuisine from Executive Chef Brandon Blumenfeld at Lawrenceville’s Over Eden, is trying to recreate the dishes he enjoyed in Israel.
“For me,” he says, “it’s all about eating through these memories. I really just want to bring new food experiences to people. Hummus is not just a snack. I’m serving it as a meal.”
Thyme Machine, pop-up at Bitter Ends Food, 4613 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield
Max Goldstein developed the idea for Tahina Go-Go by punching the clock at Thyme Machine, a breakfast sandwich cart that’s also headquartered at Bitter Ends.
Chef Ryan Chavara is taking a cold-weather hiatus but says keep an eye out for Thyme Machine pop-up events throughout the winter (check their Instagram for details).
He’s been in the restaurant business for nearly two decades, most recently as chef at Bitter Ends. Several years ago, Chavara bought a hot dog cart but didn’t find culinary inspiration for it until the pandemic started. After ordering a subpar breakfast sandwich from a chain eatery, he vowed to give Pittsburgh a proper morning bite.
Thyme Machine took off last summer and made local foodies say “Great Scott!” with items such as the fried mortadella and egg sandwich, a classic bacon, egg and cheese (a.k.a. Becky), doughnuts and cookies. Chavara hired Goldstein to help him meet customer demand.
Chavara is looking toward the future — and the daily weather forecasts — and will continue to wow hungry patrons with breakfast sandwiches and other gourmet inventions.
And he doesn’t need a DeLorean to do it.
Pittsburgh Street Pizza
Gavin McCall serves traditional pies from a small vending trailer equipped with three restaurant-grade, portable pizza ovens.
“Everything we do is handmade,” he says, “from our dough, which is fermented for three days, to our fresh mozzarella that is hand-pulled from Wisconsin cheese curd.”
The menu features about six pizzas topped with bright, bold flavors and a dark, crisp crust. So far, the fan favorite is the Hot Honey pizza topped with Ezzo pepperoni, house-pickled banana peppers, and McCall’s own spicy honey simmered with Calabrian chilies.
You can catch Pittsburgh Street Pizza at breweries throughout the city. At the beginning of 2022, McCall will set up a regular spot at a lot in Harrison City, with picnic tables and fire pits every Thursday through Sunday. Keep tabs on his trailer via Facebook and Instagram.
Mr. Nick’s Fried Chicken Sandwich
If you see the Mr. Nick’s Fried Chicken Sandwich trailer roll up in front of a brewery or other local business, grab your wallet and loosen your belt.
This ain’t no flat chicken patty, but an unhinge-your-jaw-to-take-a-bite, deep-fried bird that’s slathered in special sauce and pickles and served on a toasted bun. Enjoy the massive mouthful with a side of homemade coleslaw or skip the bun and order Chicken Toddlers (like chicken fingers, but with a cuter name) and dip ’em in honey mustard sauce.
Whatever you do, give Mr. Nick’s a (poul)try.