The temperatures outside are falling down fast, and that means it’s finally soup season. And why eat soup from a boring old bowl when you can get it inside of a dumpling? That’s why I meet Derek Minto at Everyday Noodles in Squirrel Hill.
It’s the day before Minto’s 34th birthday. Apparently, he’s kind of surprised to be here. He says that for some reason growing up, anything past the age of 30 sounded impossible. Instead he’d shine bright and burn out early, like the members of the so-called “27 club.”
“Neither of which happened,” Minto says. “Now, I’ve gotta have prospects.”
Minto’s prospects look good. He recently co-founded the new Burning Bridges Comedy Club along with his friend and fellow stand up comedian, John Dick Winters (another TTF alum). Together, they bring comedians to the stage at Hambone’s in Lawrenceville four nights a week.
We look over the menu and decide that the best approach is to share an order of pork soup dumplings and some pickled cucumber. Minto orders hot spicy wonton noodles, and I double down on the dumplings and go for an order of pork and vegetable potstickers, though we both try some of the other’s dish.
I ask Minto how he ended up at Hambone’s and he starts the story eight years ago at Papa J’s Centro downtown. TJ Amick was running the open mic there, and he needed someone to cover for him while he went away.
“TJ says to me ‘hey, I’m going out of town for a few weeks to work on a marijuana farm, do you want to run this open mic for me?”
Minto was still pretty new to stand up at the time and very happily accepted.
“A week passes, another week passes, a month passes, two months pass,” Minto says. “Three months later, I’m like ‘I don’t think TJ is coming back.’”
TJ did not come back. And a year later when Minto was still running the open mic, the bar owner Jeff Holt told Minto he was moving to Hambone’s, and he wanted Minto and the open mic to come.
“Jeff Holt is one of the biggest supporters of Pittsburgh comedy. It’s very rare to have a bar owner that actually cares about entertainment at all—let alone stand up.” Minto says.
Now, after seven years of comedy at Hambone’s, Minto and Winters are making it official with Burning Bridges. They’re having open mics, hosting shows, and every month they’ll have a “comic-in-residence” who is given time on the stage each week to work on their craft.
“We just want to build a good environment for comics and a good place for people in the city who are interested in finding out about comedy to either do it or see it.”
One dumpling sits left in the steamer basket. We realize we’ve made a blunder, the classic food-sharing faux-pas of forgetting to count how many soup dumplings each of us has eaten.
I offer up the last one to Minto, provided he walks me through his method of attack.
If you don’t know before you try them, you learn very quickly with soup dumplings that you can’t just shove a whole one in your mouth. Sure, you’ll get it in there fine—but you’re forgetting about the soup. Once you break the seal, the broth flows freely.
“What I like to do is take one, put it in the little dishy guy, get my little edges in with a little tuck-a-roo, then I just break a little hole, and what I’ll do is get all the soup out and drink it, and then I’ll eat the dumpling,” Minto explains.
The “dishy guy” is the special spoon that catches all of the soup. Minto and I have similar methods, though I bite a hole in the dumpling while he pokes a hole with a chopstick. Both work, but I admit his seems easier. I’ll try the Minto method next time.
However you get the soup dumplings at Everyday Noodles into your mouth, you definitely should get them in there. They’re delicious little noodle packages of soupy, meaty love. The rest of our meal is great, too. I like the potstickers, but I’d pick the soup dumplings over them every day of the week. Minto’s spicy wonton noodles have just the right amount of heat, and the pickled cucumber is the perfect acidic bite to break through all the other savory flavors.
We’re pretty stuffed, but next to us we see a couple eating a jiggly dessert covered in coconut and we’re intrigued. When the server brings us our own, Minto laughs and shakes the plate so that the wiggly cakes dance. It’s a jello-ish textured “cake” with red beans on the inside and shaved coconut on the outside.
We’re glad we tried it, but we don’t love it enough to fight over who gets the third cake. So Minto, who is enthusiastically kind to every person he interacts with at the restaurant, turns to the table next to us and asks them if they want it.
They happily accept, but we leave before we can see if they actually eat the cake gifted to them by a kind stranger.
Haley Frederick is a Staff Writer at the Pittsburgh Current. Contact Haley at firstname.lastname@example.org.