In her 22-year culinary career, Tzveti Gintcheva has worked front of the house, back of the house and everywhere in between.
Now, with the opening of Bocadillos Bar in Brighton Heights, she owns the house.
The unassuming building at 2827 California Ave. is a neighborhood landmark. For years it was known as the Stone Front Witch Way Inn. With hard work (and a little alchemy), Gintcheva transformed the old haunt into a cool hangout for a new generation.
“I’ve always wanted my own place,” she says. “I want it to be a neighborhood bar where people can come in, relax and chat. In the long run, I want it to be a destination for people outside of Brighton Heights.”
Bocadillos, which means “snack” in Spanish, specializes in “garmo” or cold kitchen eats.
The ever-changing menu features small bites and open-faced sandwiches representing different regions of the globe. The Norwegian Plate has house-cured gravlax, cold-smoked Nordic salmon, smoked whitefish, port wine cheese, house-made snejanka and green olives. There’s also a Korean Banchan Bento with South Korean kimchi, spicy pickled cucumber salad, rosemary-cured ham, Yukon Gold potatoes, green onions and fresh dill.
Gintcheva’s New England Crab – a mix of crab meat, celery, sweet bell pepper, red onion and light mayo – comes with tortilla chips from Reyna Foods in the Strip District.
As a tribute to the history of the establishment, Gintcheva strives to use local products. The bar is stocked with Pennsylvania-made spirits, wine and beer — and Gintcheva makes her own wine and hard cider in the basement.
Signature cocktails include the Black ‘n Yellow Manhattan with Forefathers Heritage Bourbon, Maggie’s Farm Coffee Rum and orange bitters.
Belly up to the bar with a drink and a bocadillo and enjoy a conversation with a fellow patron or Gintcheva, who can regale you with her journey from her native Bulgaria to Brighton Heights. The seasoned chef has worked in kitchens from Madrid to Mt. Washington and even ran her own catering company.
Gintcheva came to Pittsburgh in 1998 to attend Chatham University’s business program, but soon realized she’d be better off learning from other chefs at places such as Old Europe, Café Zinho, Dish Osteria and Bar, Vivo Kitchen, Café Du Jour and The Woods House.
Bocadillos opened on Nov. 10 and opens its door to the community every Monday through Friday from 6 to 11 p.m. (FYI: The entrance is on the side of the building, past a small yard with a grand view.)
Gintcheva hosted pop-up dinners, pig roasts and seafood boils outside in the two years leading up to the opening. The old tenants did leave behind a colossal, double-decker pizza oven, but the staff only uses it as storage in the cozy lounge area.
A New Year’s pop-up event is in the works and more outdoor events will take place in the spring.
In the meantime, the bar’s small, shareable offerings are the perfect complement to the indoor space. Gintcheva plans to start a charcuterie program soon.
“It goes back to the way many Europeans dine,” she explains. “They start later in the night and snack on stuff like cured meats and cheeses from different regions. It’s a grazing way of having dinner.”
After two decades in Pittsburgh, Gintcheva considers herself a full-fledged yinzer, but there are small nods to her roots throughout Bocadillos.
A black-and-white photo essay on the wall behind the bar boasts images from a modern Bulgarian wedding with an old-school vibe. The series documents the bride’s journey to her groom’s home. It reminds Gintcheva to preserve the past while looking toward the future.
“The legacy is here and it’s not going anywhere,” she says. “It’s a bar and I don’t want it to be anything else. We’re very welcoming and open to everybody. It’s a time of uncertainty, especially for the industry. In that regard, we want to keep the door open and give each guest a great experience one person at a time.”