Happiness, Wolf Shirts & My New Favorite Place (Marty’s Market, Pittsburgh)

September 2012

Lately, I’ve found my interest piqued by the topic of happiness- what is happening in my brain when I am experiencing happiness? Or conversely, what is happening in my brain to incite my feeling of happiness? I found the most approachable answers to my questions via an article by Josh Clark, of How Stuff Works, entitled What is the Neurochemistry of Happiness?

When stimulated, a series of regions in the brain associated with the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals are activated. At the center of the system is the nucleus accumbens, [which] is responsible for characteristics we associate with feelings of happiness, like laughter and euphoria. The nucleus accumbens gets what you might call fuel for pleasurable sensations from the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which responds to pleasurable sensation signals from the cerebral cortex. The VTA floods the nucleus accumbens and other regions in the system with the neurotransmitter dopamine, a hormone associated with pleasure. Other regions of the brain complete the reward system and reveal the purpose of not only the reward center, but also perhaps the basis of happiness itself. 

Why bombard this typically science-free corner of the blogosphere with a lesson on the brain?

Allow me to elaborate:

When I arrive at this bright green corner of Pittsburgh’s historical Strip District, my VTA floods my nucleus accumbens and other regions in my system with the neurotransmitter dopamine, and the hormone causes me to feel positive emotions. These unseen reactions result in a look observers would classify as “stupid bliss.” My eyes widen; my facial muscles engage to communicate the universal signal for happiness; my eyes gloss a bit, and I stare dreamily at my surroundings. The stimulus in this scenario, the stimulus which renders my face so happy as to be nearly unrecognizable by close friends and coworkers, is Marty’s Market.

Marty’s Market is a new, community-oriented store offering local and organic fares, a carefully sourced coffee bar and a seasonally inspired cafe. That combination alone would make me smile, but what floods my brain with happiness “fuel” is the careful attention to detail and quality apparent in every aspect of that combination.

One of those details is the design of the space. Owner Regina Koetters transformed the former, rather sterile Right By Nature grocery  space into a very modern and open atmosphere. The DIY and vintage touches are worthy of your favorite design blog’s reportings. The garage doors, the gentle breezes, the natural light, the swaying plants and the outdoor seating transport patrons to sunnier, more progressive cities with higher vitamin D offerings in their forecasts.

Marty’s is an example of the bar raising in Pittsburgh. It’s not just a grocery store, nor is it just a business with hints of an environmental conscious. Marty’s Market is fostering a community and curating an experience, and their eyes are set on continued improvement, which is why those eyes see this happy face quite a bit [my next brain research session might need to investigate obsessions]!

One of my first visits (which resulted in several subsequent visits in a very short span of time), happened to coincide with “Wolf Shirt Friday.” What is “Wolf Shirt Friday?” you might ask. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it all began when one friend and visionary graced our first and only basketball game with his Niagara Falls souvenir. The rest is a history howled at the moon, and on one such Friday, the howling trio went to Marty’s for a less scientifically analytical and more instinctual approach to happiness.

On the table for that particular visit was…

Grilled Zucchini & Goat Cheese Baguette sandwich
BLT with Niman Ranch’s all natural bacon and heirloom tomatoes on whole wheat
Grilled Peach & Blue Cheese salad
Pulled pork with Rufus Teague’s honey sweet BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese and pickle chips (I order this almost every time I go)

Marty’s coffee bar reminds me of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, where an awarded bakery and top caliber coffee bar combine in one delicious and crowded space. This begs the question why aren’t more eateries offering really great coffee options? With the requisite free wifi, Marty’s very well could become your public, caffeinated office space, competing in my book with Espresso A Mano and Commonplace Coffee for quality of craft and well designed spaces.

I typically shy away from syrups, but when a vanilla syrup is made in house and boasts flecks of a vanilla pod, I can easily be convinced otherwise. My staple mug at Marty’s is the vanilla-infused latte, but I’m also impressed the menu includes the perfect little drink known as the cortado.

Marty’s by Morn

It was only a matter of time until we arrived for a Chef’s Breakfast, offered on weekends until 11am.

Brioche French Toast w/ Cinnamon Butter
Harvest Omelette w/ Roasted Potatoes and Griddled Bread

A friend recommended the omelette (which I only hint at here photographically) and dubbed it, “the world’s fluffiest omelette.” With a bit of skepticism, we followed his recommendation, which did in fact reveal the world’s fluffiest omelette brimming with a local corn so sweet it could be a dessert. As for the French toast, the standard breakfast offering is deceptively simple, but once you take a bite of the fluffy brioche slathered with the cinnamon butter, you’ll know why I dream of this French toast on weekend mornings.

In Conclusion…

The same article on happiness states, “During a reward response, the prefrontal cortex also activates; this focuses the individual’s attention and ultimately conditions the person to repeat the task that led to this reward.” In my case, my Marty’s induced happiness has now reached a conditioned state. The market has quickly become one of my Pittsburgh favorites. I strongly hope more Pittsburghers find the same level of happiness there and support such an endeavor, for our dollars are our votes, and it’s time to keep the bar raised! See you there soon… and don’t forget your wolf shirt!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. benrod

    The cortado is my personal drink of choice. Interestingly, they’re on almost every Pittsburgh coffee place’s menu board, but on no menu I saw during two recent weeks in Portland and Seattle.

    1. withthegrains

      Pittsburgh does have some really great coffee offerings! I shall savor my next cortado with extra zeal knowing we are fortunate to have it on the menu.

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