Perk Me Up Coffeehouse | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

4407 Butler St., Lawrenceville


As tasty as her scones may be, the story of how Helen McMullen became known as the "Scone Goddess" is a little bittersweet.

The late Lawrenceville designer and proprietor Jay Bernard coined the term after first trying McMullen's version of the quick bread when she opened the Perk Me Up Coffeehouse on Butler Street five years ago. Bernard sent an e-mail blast about the treats to his Lawrenceville contacts, and thus the Scone Goddess was born. Though her early champion Bernard passed away in 2007, McMullen says the reputation has stuck.

"That e-mail resulted in business for weeks, but some of the same customers are coming back, five years later," she notes. "He was such a huge supporter."

Scone selections vary daily, from cinnamon-pecan and hazelnut, to blueberry and lemon, with savory selections as well. 

When I stopped by, chocolate-chip scones were available. The crust of the scone was crispy and its interior soft. There was no smudging of hands -- the chocolate melted in only the mouth.

McMullen hand-kneads the dough and takes a no-fuss approach to her baked goods. She has been baking since she was a child, using her siblings as guinea pigs for recipes. She spent 16 years in corporate America before deciding to become her own boss. 

McMullen herself prefers muffins, and her chocolate-chip cookies are the big sellers. The cookies are more than an inch thick, and like the scone cousins, filled with deliciously soft chocolate morsels. 

Perk Me Up's menu offers a full selection of baked goodies; lunch and dinner specials; and salads, sandwiches and wraps, most bearing Lawrenceville-inspired names (save for the Strip salad, in a nod to the adjacent neighborhood). 

One inventive repast is the Arsenal chicken wrap: roasted chicken, avocados, pepper-jack cheese, corn-and-black-bean salad and a spicy homemade hummus. McMullen suggests eating it with hot sauce. The fresh avocado counters some of the added zing, but keep a glass of water nearby. She also offers homemade soups by Sally Buncher, a retired school teacher.  

McMullen tries to do as much as she can from scratch, while using the freshest ingredients available. And the coffeehouse's light yellow walls, colorful tiled table tops and friendly staff make it a welcoming place, as does McMullen's warm demeanor.

"People in Lawrenceville have a lot of choice on where they can go," she says. "I want them to come here because they like us and think we take care of them."

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