Perhaps nothing defines a Pittsburgh wedding more than the quintessential cookie table, a beloved tradition that likely originated with European immigrants. While cookie tables are still a hallmark of western Pennsylvania wedding celebrations, today’s couples are incorporating a cornucopia of unique menus, delectable bite-sized desserts, ethnic cuisines or late-night bites to stave off midnight hunger.
Many local couples are choosing custom-made cake donuts from Valencia Donuts to give their wedding a fun and unique flair. “In some cases, people are now replacing their cookie tables with a variety of donuts, or sometimes they will do them in addition to a cookie table,” said owner Melissa Sullivan.
Another trend is replacing a wedding cake with an elegant display of donuts. “They will typically put them on a cupcake or cake stand so it gives the illusion of being a multitiered cake,” she said, adding that this is becoming even more popular than donut walls. Her most popular donuts for weddings include their cheesecake variety, their Boston cream donuts, and raspberry-filled donuts. Fall wedding brides often choose pumpkin donuts, while red velvet is most popular for winter weddings.
Sometimes Valencia Donuts will also make a colored sugar that can go on top of the donuts. “We will customize things according to whatever the theme is,” said Sullivan.
Elaina Sendro Gano is the owner of Tipple Taps, Pittsburgh’s first mobile bar. Gano and her husband, who is in the draft beer business, located a bright red Ford Model T in Connecticut and built a box in the back to outfit it with a tap system. Gano explained that ‘tipple’ is a European term for an alcoholic beverage.
“Weddings are probably our most requested event. For the most part, we are the primary bar at a wedding, but often, we supplement other bars as well,” she said. From the little red truck, they can serve anything that can be batched and poured from a tap, such as batch cocktails, craft beer or wine.
“Especially because of COVID, people have had a renewed focus on making their wedding day unique, so what we’ve done already this year is multiple weddings with a craft beer theme or a special beer that means a lot to the couple,” said Gano. She said they’ve also been hired to complement a food truck at a wedding. For example, if a couple hires a Mexican food truck to feed guests, they will serve margaritas from their tipple truck.
The mobile bar market is still pretty new, and many people appreciate the history behind the little red truck. “People are excited to see something unique, as it is nothing that they expect to see at a wedding,” said Gano.
Tipple Taps now owns a Ford Model T, a tap truck, two tap barrels and a tap bicycle and are in the process of building out another Ford truck suited for larger events.
Bistro to Go operates a café in the North Side and is one of Pittsburgh’s most popular wedding caterers; they are scheduled to cater 200 weddings in 2022. Some of these weddings consist of couples that already got married during the height of the pandemic but who are now finally able to celebrate with family and friends.
“I have my fair share of traditional, plated dinners and buffets, but many people want a much more fun atmosphere, so we are seeing more stations with lighter foods rather than having heavy sit-down menus,” said Chef Kate. “They do not want chafing dishes; they are looking for fun and unique displays.”
Some examples of the dozen or so customized stations offered include a Mexican Street Festival, with such items as mini quesadillas, chargrilled chicken and steak, and an avocado corn tomato salad; a Southern Heritage station which includes a macaroni & cheese bar with toppings, crispy chicken, pecan sweet potato casserole and corn bread muffins; a Caribbean station; a pasta bar; and of course, a Pittsburgh station, complete with pierogies and toppings, kielbasa, mini Pittsburgh salads, and Primanti’s-style sandwiches.
Chef Kate noted that today’s couples often try to make a statement with the food that they serve for their weddings, such as honoring their ethnic heritage or paying homage to food that has meaning to them. To this end, the company will recreate recipes at customers’ requests. For example, Bistro to Go recreated one bride and groom’s first date menu of soup and mini sandwiches.
Small bites like the mini sandwiches or tomato soup shooters are also popular as late night bites. Steve Lebo is a DJ and owner of Party Time Productions; his company was hired for 26 weddings in the month of May alone, so he has seen—and sampled—many interesting wedding foods. One thing he has seen is the emergence of the late night bite.
“One of my favorites is the mashed potato bar. They put it out in plastic martini glasses, so it’s elegant, and it has all the fixings, like cheese, jalapenos, capers, scallions and bacon. Ironically, the original design for that was to sober people up before they started driving home, but it became a delicacy,” he said. He’s even been to weddings where pizzas are delivered late at night.
Late night bites also extend to desserts. Chef Kate said that they’ve offered dessert stations like Belgian waffles, ice cream and bananas foster. Another summer favorite is their s’mores bar.
Some couples hire food trucks, but Lebo said those are only possible with outdoor venues or venues like barns. He’s also seen popcorn tables, with a variety of popcorn bags.
Cathy Burnheimer, owner of Popped Envy, said that she is always encouraging couples to think outside the box when it comes to wedding food, and popcorn—which has a nostalgic feel—fits the bill perfectly.
Burnheimer, who also owns a wedding venue, said that couples are opting for individual favors rather than popcorn stations, most likely due to COVID. People also appreciate edible versus nonedible wedding favors.
“We have everything pre-packaged in two- and three-cup bags; we can do bags for hotel guests or favors for the wedding,” said Burnheimer. “Everything is in a nice, clear, heat-sealed quality bag, which can be placed at a table setting or at the exits when people are leaving.”
At Popped Envy, Burnheimer offers about 70 varieties of popcorn. Along with traditional flavors like cheddar cheese and caramel, other unique popcorn selections include hot vinegar, birthday cake, buffalo ranch, pickled pepper and chocolate kettle. She can also provide color matching.
“I always tell my couples to pick things that speak to your personalities; put your stamp on it and make your wedding different than all the other weddings,” she said.
Still, the cookie table is here to stay. Though the families still bake cookies for the wedding, Bistro to Go will set them up for wedding parties.
“About 80 percent of our brides are still doing a cookie table,” said Chef Kate. “I encourage them to do it because it’s a way for guests to feel like part of the wedding.”