Whether you’re looking for seating, ambience, or a killer menu, I’ve personally covered all of your bases.
In the great age of the side hustle, everyone is trying to monetize their downtime. You basically can’t find a cafe that doesn’t have a young person with a laptop, whether they are in between meetings, writing that novel, or writing for PWF Events. But which cafe best suits your needs? In Pittsburgh, we have a variety of choices located throughout our city’s neighborhoods. Below are a few of my favorites.
With over 160 choices, Dobra boasts the best selection of loose leaf tea in Pittsburgh. Dobra’s main selling point, however, is its bohemian-style atmosphere. Sectioned-off spaces with floor seating aim to create an environment that is both communal and meditative. With this in mind, going to Dobra feels like more of an investment than some other cafes. You’ll want to enjoy your tea, small plates, and cozy decor for at least an hour and a half.
My favorite thing about Dobra is that you seat yourself and then alert the staff via a small bell when you have decided what you want to order. This process captures the exact level of customer service I want: a friendly exchange with no forced banter. Between the incredible decor and Dobra’s careful attention to detail in decor and presentation, this spot is perfect for tea nerds who want to relax, talk, or work.
The Abbey on Butler
The Abbey is a great because it has a little bit of everything. Want to meet in the coffeehouse? You’ve got it. Want a bigger meal? Move over to the restaurant. Want to talk outside? There’s outdoor seating. If you’re doing an interview, having a business meeting, or just hanging out with a laptop, you have a lot of options.
Pricier than the other places on this list, the Abbey isn’t a place I would go to hang out every day. While they have space for working with a laptop and a decent supply of outlets, the cafe can get a little crowded, making resources sparse. But for meetings or projects that require a bit more time than a typical day out, it tops the list in terms of food and drink selection. If you are working in a group that may want to stick around for dinner or cocktails, the Abbey is your ideal destination.
Rock ‘n’ Joe Coffee Bar
For anyone looking for a conveniently located alternative to Starbucks, Rock ‘n’ Joe is a great spot. Right in the heart of downtown, Rock ‘n’ Joe has a decent drink selection and doesn’t get bogged down in the morning rush. For those to want to hang out and work, this cafe has plenty of space and outlets on their second floor. While their food options aren’t great, they have a decent turkey sandwich with bacon and hummus, and their bar includes small selections of chocolates and alcohol.
Ineffable Ca Phé
Ineffable Ca Phe has everything you’d like in an American cafe with the added bonus of bubble tea, Vietnamese coffee, and pho. While the biggest distinction of Ineffable Ca Phe is its Vietnamese food offerings (and a decent selection of them, at that), this spot holds its own in terms of space, selection, and atmosphere. After many visits, I still feel as though there’s plenty of the menu I’ve yet to explore. The location itself is great (adjacent to Lawrenceville) and the cafe is located in a space that used to be a motorcycle shop. There is ample seating – a section of the cafe feels a bit like a diner, but there is also a section with couches and books. If you’re looking for a decent cafe with a twist, Ineffable is a great place to spend an afternoon.
Tupelo Honey Teas
Tupelo opened its Millvale location in 2016, and since then they’ve served as a little known, homey spot on Grant Ave. Directly connected to the Millvale Community Library, Tupelo boasts cozy decor and a great selection of loose leaf teas. The space here is small – there are only about three tables and a small group of stuffed furniture pieces. But Tupelo compensates with a colorful decor, a selection of books, and a room dedicated to their teas, equipped with a friendly staff member to help customers pick their favorites.
Kickback Pinball Cafe
I’ll admit it here at the top: Kickback is probably not the best place to camp out with your laptop. They do have free wifi and a friendly staff, but there is a dearth of outlets and you are surrounded by the sounds of pinball.
That said – there is pinball. I’m not going to make a listicle about cafes and NOT put your pinball cafe in it. You can swap your cash for tokens, order a root beer float and pick from a range of oddly themed pinball games (I recommend Ghostbusters). Retro machines, milkshakes, and superhero decor is enough to earn a place on my list.
Bantha Tea Bar
I consider myself fortunate to live in a town with such a variety of tea options. They each have their own vibes, and Bantha is my personal favorite.
Like the other tea spots on this list, Bantha has an exciting tea collection. The atmosphere is always relaxed, and the staff is friendly, but non-invasive. Bantha leaves something to be desired with their food selection, but they more than make up for it with their featured art, live music, and a Sunday brunch. I’ve yet to find Bantha to be too crowded, and the folks I do meet there are interesting and friendly. Like the other places on this list, they make up a great cross-section of Pittsburgh’s cafe hopping community.
Carmella’s, a bar and dining destination is Pittsburgh’s South Side, is being featured as part of Pittsburgh’s Restaurant Week.
Carmella’s Plates and Pints opened with the goal of upping the ante in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood. “I knew the South Side needed and wanted and deserved a nice spot.”
After fifteen years of managing the neighborhood’s karaoke and dive bar, Jekyl & Hyde, Carmella Salem and business partner Michael Alberter decided to focus on a different demographic.
“I knew to pull in clientele of my age – professional people – you needed food,” Salem said. “I didn’t want bar food, I didn’t want fried food. I wanted really good quality food to go with really nice cocktails.”
“It’s been a challenging and exciting five years to say the least.”
Five years on, Salem and Alberter have established Carmella’s as a go-to dining spot in a city that’s fully embracing the restaurant boom. “We opened right at the beginning of all that craziness,” Salem said. “Back then this wasn’t such a foodie city. It just kind of started, but I had no idea the type of explosion that was going to happen in the city.”
Salem, who had established herself as the manager of Jekyl & Hyde, transitioned from planning themed drink programs for college kids to exploring the wide world of whiskey. “I want[ed] to get into all these whiskeys,” she said. “I had a feeling that these were going to continue to be really popular and bring in the clientele I was looking for.”
Her instincts were right. Pittsburgh was a city just starting to really embrace the spirit at the beginning of the whiskey boom. Salem attended the Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival while she still worked at Jekyl & Hyde. “I think that kind of introduced me to seeing how many people actually like whiskey … We didn’t have any of that at Jekyll. We didn’t have the clientele. It wouldn’t sell.”
Between her bar management experience and Alberter’s experience in owning food businesses, the two were ready to embark on their largely DIY venture into South Side.
Today Carmella’s interior is decorated with whiskey barrels, bottles, and warm brown hues. “This place just screams of warmth and winter with the fireplace and all the brick and the wood and the whiskey,” she said. “People really want to drink that whiskey in the fall and winter.”
The current decor took a while to nail down. Salem and Alberter did the full interior and design themselves, with Alberter doing all of the woodwork and light fixtures. The first year was heavy with renovations, and while the bar was open, there was no kitchen. Today, Carmella’s has expanded its location as well as its hours, including weekend brunch and dinners. With a new chef in tow, Salem and Alberter are innovating their menus and nailing down the vision they’ve always had.
“That’s kind of our focus: to make a great cocktail in a short amount of time.”
“I knew I wanted wine on tap and cocktails on tap,” Salem said. Today, Carmella’s has 11 wines on tap, and their expansive stock of spirits includes over 400 whiskeys and 120 tequilas. They put these bottles to good use – one of Carmella’s biggest draws are their custom designed cocktails.
“That’s kind of our focus,” Salem said. “To make a great cocktail in a short amount of time.” With homemade infusions and personal twists on classic cocktails, Carmella’s is the go-to place for quick but stellar cocktails.
“Our cocktails here are simple, but they’re good,” Salem said. “And they’re unique. Even though they’re simple … the infusions are all our own, and all those cocktails are our own.
“I don’t want to take 10 or 15 minutes to make a cocktail for someone. It’s gotta be delicious but it’s gotta be made quick.”
The home-made infused spirits are where Carmella’s really shines. “The infusion cocktails are where I get super excited,” Salem said. Recently Carmella’s debuted a peach old fashioned, featuring homemade peach infused whiskey. “I just love putting a spin on these classic cocktails,” Salem said. “And I love the infusions because nothing tastes better than a fresh fruit infused whiskey.”
With unique spirits like pineapple vodka, Salem’s back end work pays off. “You couldn’t buy a pineapple vodka that could compare. You just tastes it, and it tastes fresh and real.”
Of course, custom cocktails are just one of many innovations that Carmella’s is working on to keep current in a growing foodie city. “It’s nice to kind of keep reinventing yourself and to keep customers excited and interested in what your changes are,” Salem said. “Everyone has their own vibe and their own style of what they’re doing”
“Mike’s always fixing something or building something, and I’m always buying something or re-doing the cocktail menu…. I think you can’t stay stagnant, especially now.”
Carmella’s recommendations and Restaurant Week specials are below
Carmella’s Plates & Pints
1908 East Carson St.
No. 1 Selling Cocktail: Old Fashioned
“I definitely like a good Old Fashioned. This is the number one selling cocktail here. Everyone in Pittsburgh makes a different Old Fashioned. Ours is my favorite.”
White Pairing: Seared Scallops With Palladio White Blend
Red Pairing: Black Angus Hanger Steak With Scotto Family Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon
“Typically I’m not a Cab person, but it’s a very fruit forward Cab, and everyone loves it.”