1721 Lowrie St., Troy Hill
Perhaps it's our fear of crossing rivers, or concern about the thin atmosphere of higher elevations. But although Troy Hill peers out over the city, few neighborhoods are easier to overlook. Urban historian Franklin Toker has called it the "second most isolated of Pittsburgh's neighborhoods" and observes that in the early years of being settled, "it attracted nothing but cemeteries." Even today, the best-known attraction of this North Side hilltop community is St. Anthony's Chapel -- famed for housing the bones of Catholic saints.
But just a few minutes' walk from that chapel -- and just down Lowrie Street from the Voegtly Cemetery -- signs of life have been stirring, in the form of the Magnolia Café.
Opened late last year by sisters Ilona and Naomi Auth, the Magnolia is a coffeehouse whose dimensions might best be described as "Troy Hill-sized." Sidewalk seating on a recent Sunday featured just one table, and the front room holds seating for only a half-dozen, centered around a kitchen table. But like the tin ceiling overhead, that only adds to the atmosphere, and the Magnolia takes its role as a community gathering place seriously. Neighborhood newsletters are displayed in the front window, and a recent Sunday-morning visit found a handful of locals talking over recent events.
Closed Mondays, the Magnolia is open for breakfast and lunch the rest of the week. There are about a half-dozen sandwich offerings, and a similar array of breakfast items. Almost all of it is made on the premises, and based on our brunch excursion, there's really nowhere else you need to go -- at least until dinnertime. Weekends feature cinnamon and pecan rolls; the latter had a crispy pastry exterior, and a light, fluffy center. A cheese-and-egg combo on English muffin had few surprises, but at $1.75 was an especially reasonable offering on a modestly-priced menu.
And then there's the coffee. We tried the Troy Hill Triple Threat -- a mocha -- and a café crème. Both were sweet without being insipid, with enough caffeinated punch to wake us up from our Sunday torpor. The drinks were even more enjoyable on the sidewalk outside, where customers are favored with views of a historic firehouse across the street, and a striking mural by Carolyn Kelly a few doors down.
That brisk mountain air probably doesn't hurt either.