Michael Blackwell is a longtime resident of Marshall-Shadeland. But he's spent even longer as a professional chef — his entire adult life. So his contribution to the neighborhood was to start a restaurant.
Blackwell and his wife, Lateresa, opened Café on the Corner last September in a building owned by neighboring New Hope Church (where Blackwell is an elder).
The building once housed a nuisance bar, and it still has the old-school tin ceiling, wooden bar and mirrored shelves. But bottles of hot sauce have replaced the vodka, and the café is pleasantly day-lit, with plenty of tables and even a couple of couches in back.
Blackwell calls his place an "upscale deli" serving soups, sandwiches, salads and such Southern specialties as gumbo, shrimp and grits, and jambalaya.
Blackwell, who grew up in the Hill District, says he broke color barriers in Pittsburgh by becoming an executive chef here in the early 1970s. He's worked around the country and all around town, most recently at the North Side's Bistro to Go. Now — with generous hours of 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays —
he's focused on turning his café into "a safe place" and community hub for the mostly residential neighborhood. Blackwell caters, too, and would like to expand his tiny kitchen area into an adjoining garage.
"My passion is to build my community, and that's why I'm here," he says.