Eat/Drink is NEXTpittsburgh’s weekly roundup of what’s crazy good in the local food scene.

Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches brings a more accessible, wholesome take on the old summer favorite
Katie Heldstab is lactose intolerant. But if she understands anything, it’s that sometimes you just want ice cream.

“I’m sick to death of the boring alternatives,” she says. “When you want ice cream, you just want ice cream! You don’t want soy, you don’t want coconut, you don’t want sorbet. You just want ice cream.”

Never one to idly complain, Heldstab went about solving the problem the best way she knew how: she started making her own ice cream. Now, Heldstab and wife Christa Puskarich are in their second month of running Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches, which combine their own hand-crafted, low-lactose ice creams with original cookie recipes.

What they offer is one heck of a bargain. For $4.50, you get a half-cup of dense, rich ice cream between two sizable, expertly paired gourmet cookies. Right now, Leona’s (named for Heldstab and Puskarich’s beloved rescued boxer) offers 13 different flavor combinations, all of which are listed on their website.

We heartily recommend the cinnamon ice cream with oatmeal lace cookies and the fresh strawberry rhubarb on vanilla shortbread, but we’re also dying to try the chocolate-orange ice cream on almond bundt cake and are eagerly awaiting the release of a maple-bourbon-bacon number.

The duo frequently visits fellow East Liberty merchant Olive & Marlowe to enhance the flavors in both elements of their concoctions. Many of the ice creams Leona’s makes contain some amount of balsamic vinegar to further enhance their flavors (the strawberry ice cream has a little balsamic and is paired with a cookie brushed with a rosemary-infused olive oil and sprinkled with just a little sugar).

Some people set out to make great ice cream and some try to produce outstanding baked goods. Not only have Heldstab and Puskarich produced some of the city’s most delicious and accessible ice cream, their cookies alone are worth the price.

“I saw a huge hole in the marketplace for artisanal ice cream that everyone who isn’t either allergic to dairy or vegan could enjoy,” she says. “At the same time, ice cream is very personal and very subjective, so we’re trying to create flavor combinations that will appeal to everyone.”

After almost three years of what they call “market research”—giving ice cream to lactose intolerant friends, pregnant friends and ice cream-loving friends, complete with questionnaires—Heldstab spent three days attending intensive classes at the Penn State Creamery, “nerding out” on food, dairy and freezing science.

The result is that Leona’s ice creams are 85 percent lactose free—a figure they hope to have up to 99 percent by the end of the summer.

The business took off after Heldstab paid a visit to Zeke’s Coffee in East Liberty to ask about cold-brewing coffee for ice cream. That’s when Zeke’s owner Chris Rhodes took an interest in Heldstab’s project. Rhodes offered up the Zeke’s kitchen for use and suggested that Heldstab contact Kiva to see about crowdfunding a small-business loan.

“We were up and running within a week,” she says. “Everything really lined up.”

Heldstab and Puskarich started selling their ice cream sandwiches last month at Zeke’s Coffee and Lawrenceville’s 52nd Street Market. They also make regular appearances at Weather Permitting in Shadyside, and they’re booked for a host of street festivals this summer. Check out their website and follow them on Twitter for a complete event listing.

Altius opens on Mt. Washington
Altius, the new Mt. Washington restaurant from Bistro 19’s Bea DeFrancis and chef Jessica Bauer, is now open in the space at 1230 Grandview Avenue, which formerly served as the home to the Georgetown Inn.

In addition to a menu driven by local ingredients where possible, Altius offers a well-curated selection of wines and a decent array of organic beers.

From the Latin word for “higher,” Altius is situated on one of Grandview Avenue’s steepest ridges overlooking Downtown Pittsburgh.

New windows open table-side at Seviche.

Take the air
Seviche, one of Downtown’s most popular happy hour and tapas spots, debuted new garage door-style windows which will allow customers an open-air view from the space at 930 Penn Avenue.

The Livermore will see similar changes in the coming weeks. Workers have already ripped out the radiators closest to the doors and will be installing French doors as part of the East Liberty cocktail café’s new façade.

Matthew Wein

Matthew Wein is a local writer, editor, blogger, storyteller and proud native Pittsburgher. Once described as "a man of things," he covers city design, spirits and craft beer for NEXT, where he keeps all of the editorial meetings light-hearted and interesting. His interests include sorting books, looking at old things and candles which smell like old-growth pine forests.