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Dormont hopes to spotlight its 'hidden gems'

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dormont's not widely known as a destination for diners, but its businesses hope to change that with the next expansion of the "'Burgh Bits and Bites" tours.

'Burgh Bits and Bites founder Sylvia McCoy said her intern, Chatham University graduate student Cory Van Horn, is working to add Dormont to the more traditional gastro-tourism destinations on the company's menu, such as The Strip District, Bloomfield and Mt. Washington. If local restaurateurs agree to let tour groups tromp through their shops sampling their wares for the tour's $35-per-person fee, the first groups could arrive in mid-to-late summer, McCoy said.

"Potomac Avenue has got some real treasures -- a lot within a short distance -- which is exciting," she said. "You're meant to leave the neighborhood full and saying, 'I didn't realize all this was here.' "

Right now, the project is still in the research phase. McCoy and Van Horn are signing up businesses to provide samples, as well as compiling morsels of area history to accompany the tour. But some hope the tours will call attention to the new businesses that are popping up around Dormont, such as Eljay's Books, the Hollywood Theater, Dormont Dogs and the Sugar Cafe.

Van Horn said he hopes the tour can start on West Liberty Avenue at the Sprout Fund Mural, near the library.

"The mural highlights some points of Dormont you might not be able to walk to within the tour, like the Dormont Pool," said Van Horn, 30, originally of Cadillac, Mich., and currently living in Stanton Heights. It lets him discuss other elements and figures populating the town's history, such as country musician Thomas "Slim" Bryant, who lived there until his death last year.

For his master's degree in food studies at Chatham, Van Horn said he is studying how a neighborhood's food options change as the neighborhood evolves, growing more local with a more loyal customer base.

Councilman John Maggio, who's helping the effort to bring the tours to town, noted that although another 'Burgh tour highlights the nearby Pittsburgh neighborhood of Brookline, Dormont would be the first of the company's offerings outside the city limits.

"There's a lot of culinary talent in sleepy little Dormont. ... We're ready to wake it up," said Kelly James, owner of Sugar Cafe and a former chef at Sonoma Grill, Downtown. Other potential stops on the tour could include Dormont Dogs -- owned by another Sonoma veteran, Captain Barnes -- Fredo's Deli and the Dor-Stop Diner.

"I think a lot of Dormont residents had given up on Potomac because they hated the traffic," James said. "I hope now people will get out of their cars and see all we have."

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