O’Leary’s Southside Cafe—Pittsburgh, PA

O'Leary's on E Carson St

O’Leary’s on E Carson St

I love Pittsburgh. And I love the Southside. Besides bars and churches there are tons of cool, interesting places. Like a restaurant hidden inside an antique store. Like Pittsburgh icon Primanti Bros and their “almost famous” sandwiches. Like a great library! Or one of my old haunts from mid-nineties angst, The Beehive Coffee House, keeping it weird after all these years.

Though it has a lot to offer, one thing Southside doesn’t have anymore is a place to eat away last night’s hangover. Or so I thought.

Then one morning when I was at wit’s end and near starving (not to mention my throbbing headache), I stumbled (literally) across O’Leary’s. They’ve been family owned and operated for twenty-five years, and with this bright yellow facade I don’t know how I’ve been missing them.

Inside O'Leary's

Walking into O’Leary’s is like walking into the past. A past where maybe Fred Rogers is sitting down to coffee and pierogies with Donnie Iris. Somehow everyone in Pittsburgh is still listening to the same music they were when I lived there: Hootie’s holding his hand, while Alanis’s is in her pocket, and Celine Dion does the Macarena with Rob Effing Thomas. It’s at times surreal… yet somehow comforting.

O’Leary’s, however, is more than a pop culture throwback. Sit down at one of their formica tables and feel the worries of the world slip away. O’Leary’s is a classic greasy spoon diner, when greasy spoons seem to be an endangered species replaced with something heart-healthy and soul-numbing. Something cute. And safe. With food made a thousand miles away and rewarmed to order.

The girls working behind the counter are sisters, daughters, mothers, and aunts to one another, and though they wear shirts claiming “Good food served with a side of attitude,” I heard more “sweehearts,” “babes,” and “darlin’s” than anything else. Although I guarantee you they would not be afraid to flip some shit were it well-deserved. When I told them who I am and what I do, their response was “Get aht!” Classic Pittsburgh.

I did good work, so I got my sticker on the ‘fridge.

I did good work, so I got my sticker on the ‘fridge.

Most of the customers were regulars and were treated as such: greeted by name when they walked in, thanked when they walked out. Swing by for a few days runnin’, and you’ll start to hear, “The usual, hon?” There’s something to this kind of service that’s honest and time-honored. The O’Leary’s gals ain’t workin’ ya for a better tip, they’re just asking if “Hey babe, you wanna warm-up?”

O’Leary’s menu contains a lot of the classics one would expect: Breakfast Burritos, Omelets, and Sandwiches. Eggs, Potatoes, and Meats combined in delightful, tried and true, top o’ the morning ways. Portions are large and filling, the potatoes nice and crisp, the eggs fluffy and happy. And plates left the tables clean. Every single one of them.

Then there’s this: the Atomic Omelet with Hot Sausage, Banana Peppers, and Pepper Jack Cheese. Oh. We just took things up a notch. I went to O’Leary’s twice during the week I was in the ‘Burgh, and I got the Atomic both times. I’m a sucker for spicy foods and this is one delicious plate. It’s sharp, it’s got bite, it’s a hangover killing hero.

The Atomic Omelette

The Atomic Omelette

O’Leary’s will be a recurring stop whenever I’m in town. I’ll go for the ladies’ smiles, for the hot coffee, for the Atomic Omelet, and for a feeling I haven’t had since my younger days when I would sit around tables like these drinking coffee like they were going to stop growing it.

And whenever I go, I’ll do my best to bring along a friend to share the experience, because a good diner is like Classic Rock: best enjoyed with good company and laughter.

Reflections