Duquesne’s Dining Delights

I have been a retail manager for over 35 years. From my humble beginnings, I have been privileged to work for many large companies throughout my career thus far. My first “assignment” was folding donut boxes at Bon Bon Bakery. Bon Bon was in the then NEW Kopriver’s Shopping just past the Duquesne/West Mifflin line where Kennedy Ave in Duquesne becomes Texas Avenue in West Mifflin. (I was never able to understand the need to change the name.)

In addition to the brand new Kroger’s, the other stores that I remember were Sun Drugs, located right on the corner, Econ-o-wash Laundromat, Bon Bon Bakery, Hilltop Lounge and Peter Pan Cleaners. Since I grew up right across the street, I had plenty of time to commit the line-up to memory.

My friends and I used to “camp out” in Dr. Brown’s yard at the end of Thomas Street. Donnie was his son, and we had the world on a string! His backyard was directly across from Kroger’s, so we were able to watch what went on once the store closed for the night. We came to discover that delivery trucks began arriving just about dawn every morning. Although we tried to sleep, it seems that we were always awake when the Kroger trucks arrived. Once we got brave enough, we would make our way over to watch them unload. Always wearing our best “aren’t these a great bunch of kids” look, we were able to score at least a box of powdered sugar donuts, just for being cute. On good mornings, we walked away with all kinds of goodies! In retrospect, I’m sure that is where my donut addiction began. Damn those drivers!

As I was saying, from my very first non-paying retail job at the bakery, I have had  the opportunity to live in several major cities including Monterey, California; Dayton, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; Cincinnati, Ohio; Columbia, South Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; Birmingham, Alabama and Hagerstown, Maryland. I traveled extensively to New York City throughout my career as well. In each city, I was exposed to local cuisine and hundreds of choices in restaurants. You name it, they had a place to eat it. Throughout all of my relocations however, there was never any food or restaurant that was more comforting than those around Duquesne.

As a hunky, fine dining wasn’t on our agenda nor in our area. To find that, one had to travel to Pittsburgh. I grew up with daily family meals. Dad was always home by 5, except for the occasional stops at the GBU or the Cro Club. Mom always had dinner ready, and we always sat down as a family to eat. On those very rare occasions that we would get take-out or go out to eat, we were completely satisfied with the menus and offerings of the food around the town.

We didn’t have a lot of choices for dining in those days. The concept of fast food restaurants wasn’t around in those days. The Colonel, Ronald and Wendy hadn’t made their appearance as of yet, and we weren’t having to choose ambiguous chicken nuggets over  lukewarm chili. Our choices were narrow, but we never seemed to tire of them. I suppose that’s what happens when places offer decent food.

I think one of my favorites was Huckster’s Bar on Crawford Ave. Dad would always bring us “Huckster Burgers” and French fries on take out days. The burgers were huge and just dripping with cheese, grease and cholesterol! YUM!! Hucksters had a sit down section for eating, but my dad preferred to bring the food back to the house to eat. I thought at the time that it was because he just loved being with us so much. However, I think it may have been that he didn’t want Mom watching how many shots and beers he drank while waiting for the order!

It goes without saying that even though it was located in West Mifflin, there was, and still is, only one place to go for hot dogs, JIM’S!! Although it is officially known as Jim’s Drive-In, there is really only one thing people would go to Jim’s to get. The tastiest hot dogs with this remarkable sauce and onions were THE item of choice. Jim’s is still very popular, and in fact, has a fan page on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=61355354857#!/group.php?gid=61355354857&v=info! As I grew up, my parents gave into the temptation for takeout at Jim’s only on an occasional basis. After all, they were located ALL the way up on Skyline Drive, which was like the other side of the universe to a Duquesne hunky. By the way, they are actually selling the bottled sauce at the restaurant as well as a lot of the grocery stores around the area.

Another spot that I remember was Irene’s Pizza which was located on Grant Ave near 7th Street. I nurtured by love for pizza at Irene’s. The pizza wasn’t the normal creation that you see in pizza joints these days. The actual pizza pie was square, and the slices were about 5 or 6 inch square. I remember that the cheese they used was different from what you get today. It was so much tastier and I would swear that it was home made. We used to fight for the end pieces since the crust was so crispy. You really were privileged to score one of the corners! It was just like getting that corner piece from a pan of brownies. When we stayed at my Aunt Mary’s, we were always ordering Irene’s. Aunt Mary said she hated pizza. The smell bothered her, she said. (This coming from a woman who would fry up a pan of halušky in a heartbeat. And after all, you know there’s nothing as pleasant as the smell of cooking cabbage! ) Whenever we got the pizza, Aunt Mary would beg us for the crusts and we’d reluctantly oblige much to our chagrin.

Whenever a special treat was in order, my family would venture out of Duquesne and into the big leagues of McKeesport. There was only one place that we went, and that was Eat-‘n-Park. I’ve often wondered how one eats before one parks, but none the less, we loved the Big Boy! It was only on rare occasion that we would enjoy the luxury of actual restaurant dining. I remember how excited we got when we crossed the Duquesne-McKeesport Bridge and head down Lysle Blvd. The Golden Arches and Colonel Sanders didn’t exist in those days, so a date with the family was a very special treat. Although the food was very good, it honestly wasn’t any better than Mom would normally prepare. For her however, it was like manna from heaven, only because she didn’t have to cook it, serve it and do the dishes. Oh, the luxuries of life in Duquesne……..

Now that I’ve gotten myself hungry, I’ve got to run for now….. Ooooh, maybe there’s some leftover poppyseed rolls……

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27 Responses to Duquesne’s Dining Delights

  1. Liz Heaps Shiner says:

    Oh! Jims, Irenes, Eat n’ Park! Wish I could get to anyone of them now, my mouth is watering.

  2. Bob Chermonitz says:

    Any memories of the “Duke Diner” on the blvd in. Duquesne Place?

  3. Jim Hartman says:

    Guess everyone forgot about “Bud’s Red Hots” in east end McKeesport which ws right up from Bloom’s Cut-Rate on the same side. It is a used car lot today next to the Sunoco.

  4. Jim Hartman says:

    Irene’s Pizza is still in existence really. The Iera family was behind this establishment. They moved to Kennywood Boulevard in West Mifflin and is today known as Latina Pizza by the entrance to the Kennywood parking lot. The family lived on Shadynook Dr. off the boulevard. I am sure that they still own Latina Pizza.

    • Tom McLaughlin says:

      Jim,

      Irene was a Mastrianni. I was friends and a classmate of Al Mastrianni and his mother started the place. The Iera’s helped there and played a role in their expansion to other locations. I did love her pizza, particularly after games and dances at the high school. We used to hang out there a lot.

    • Tammy Chonko says:

      Latina’s is still going strong and located on the West Mifflin side of Kennywood’s parking lot. I love their pizza and get it at least twice a month. Al and family run the place now. The corner slices ARE the best!

      • Bob Chermonitz says:

        Tammy, there may have been a better pizza somewhere in this world but I seriously doubt it. Close my eyes and I can still smell the wonderful aromas in Ireen’s and later at Latina’s. I also recall her fresh baked Italian bread. It cost 10 cents for a whole loaf (mid to late 60’s) and the taste was almost as wonderful as her pizza! We would each buy one and eat it while we walked around town “hanging out”. Someone else here mentioned Friday nights after a DHS football game how packed Ireen’s was and that is very true. It was the place to see and be seen for the high school undergraduate set.
        On a side note, Latina’s in the Kennywood area was around the corner from the old Horseshoe Bar. It was my own secret hangout well into my post college days while visiting back home. They always kept a bottle of Sam Thompson Rye on the shelf for me. One day he poured me a shot and left what was still in the bottle. Sam Thompson Pennsylvania Rye went out of business and this was all “on the house”. I believe that was the last time I was
        in there. But, for years after, I still went to Latina’s. Thanks for the memories! 🙂

  5. Bill Larkin says:

    I haven’t been back to Duquesne for years but I must admit I really miss the good food. Irene’s Pizza, Jims, Huckster’s Bar, Village tavern, and especially my Moms cooking it was the best in the world.

  6. Bill Larkin says:

    Does anyone remember parking at the ranch

  7. Lou A. says:

    Does no one else remember the Village Tavern? On hot summer Friday(meatless) nights, our family would go there for their humungous fish ‘Sammiches’ that hung out both sides of a freshly baked bun. With a bag of potato chips and a cold 7-up, this Hunky kid often had a time getting through a three course meal. Dad would have an “ARRN City” draft, or maybe a Duquesne Pilner (yes, it’s back) and everyone would look the other way when I stole a sip or three. That whole abstinence thing wasn’t all that bad after all.

  8. gary trbovich says:

    how about getting a real “soda” at Gallagher’s?

  9. I can’t get enough of these blogs! Soooo many memories. I lived right up the street from Irene’s and remember they were $ .10 a slice and the slices were square………..oh what I would give for a slice of Irene’s mushroom pizza right now! Oh and growing up with the Christmas parties at the Moose on 6th street, shopping at Mann’s and Thomas’s Market with my mom, going to the 2nd floor of Schinks Hardware at Christmas to see all the toys. Keep these coming…………..

    • Paula (Manns) Niedoba says:

      Irene’s pizza was a BIG deal. It was the “in” place to be after the Friday night home games. I was never sure if Irene was happy to have the business or anxious to see everyone leave at the end of the night. When they moved their shop to North Versailles, I took my children there to treat them to the best pizza ever. Their young epicurean taste buds couldn’t get past the square shape. What did they know anyway?

    • Tom McLaughlin says:

      You must be related to Judy, God rest her soul.

      I grew up with her…we were in the same class, and used to roller skate when we were younger. I also went to several reunions and mini-reunions where we got together and danced the night away.

      I also have fond memories from this website.

      Tom

  10. Laurine Emert says:

    Hey, Jim, you forgot the really special treats – the A&W drive in across from Greater Pittsburgh Drive-In. They actually had carhops who came out to the car to take your order and bring the food out to you. The other really, really special place for a birthday or anniversary (or near Christmas) was Paule’s Lookout! Your view was mainly 10th Ward McKeesport but from that high up and across the river it was something else. Irene’s move to McKeesport near the junction of Rte 30 and 5th Avenue Extension. Irene’s was my first pizza, too! PLUS how could you forget Isaly’s??? Ice cream and barbecued ham sandwiches – YUM!!

  11. Maryann Stavor Smith says:

    Jim..I love your site! We lived on Maryland Ave. I loved going to Isaly’s for lunch when I was in high school. The chipped ham sandwich was a great deal. And Dad would bring those 10 cent klondikes home on Saturdays as a special treat. I also have fond memories of the night we went to Duquesne Place to see Kennywood fireworks and shared a banana split from the Dairy Queen.

    • Laurine Emert says:

      MaryAnn, don’t forget the Skyscraper Ice Cream Cone – my favorite was always Maricopa which they now just call carmel ribbon (how boring – LOL).

    • gary trbovich says:

      i heard the dairy queen has closed! 😦

    • Lou A. says:

      Want to really freak someone out? Go to any meat department not in Pittsburgh area and ask for a pound of “chipped-ham-sliced”. You know what I mean, but they’ll look at you like you have two heads; and try to get a ‘Skyscraper’ ice cream cone. Almost ashamed to admit I got one of those pointy scoops from a neighbor who worked at Isaly’s that ended up used to mix cement…

  12. judy kray lochner says:

    Boy, did this bring back memories. I always liked the fried chicken at the Rainbow Grill on Grant Ave. No one in South Carolina eats poppyseed rolls. This is some of the food I miss growing up in Duquesne.

  13. Dave Bonga says:

    Be careful with those poppyseed rolls Jim, they may cause you to fail a drug test ! 🙂
    I always preferred the nut or apricot rolls myself.

    That hot dog picture makes me crave for a visit to Jim’s and I may just do that as I’m heading to the Burgh this weekend. Wow, that looks tasty !!

    Loved the fish sandwich take-outs at Huckster’s on Fridays (you know, Friday is fish day- at least it was around my house). Still, my favorite Duquesne meal that I miss the most was spit-roasted lamb from Medich’s in Polish Hill. In fact, I still often return for Serbian and/or Croation Day at Kennywood just to satisfy my craving !! Ummmmmmmm !

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