I’ve been talking about Pittsburgh for a couple of weeks now, since our weekend trip there. It really is a great city, I think. A lot of people think of it as soot covered and dirty, but that’s the old Pittsburgh, pre-early 80′s.
I’ll warn you now: there are lots of photos in this post!
The city has a lot to offer for a long weekend trip. The airport isn’t far out of town, so it’s a quick ride into the city. When you do enter the city, especially at night, you can’t help but be wowed by the skyline when you come out of the tunnel. The Southside has trendy and local shops and restaurants, and Station Square has a great collection of shops and restaurants along with a view of downtown and access to the Incline. Shadyside at one point had more mansions per area than anywhere else in the country. Next to Shadyside is Carnegie-Mellon, perennially one of the top schools in the country; it’s also a great place to catch a show as their drama and music theater departments are rated at or near the top in the country. And next to CMU is Schenley Park, home of Phipps Conservatory, which is right across the street from Carnegie Institute, a great art and natural history museum. Fox Chapel has neighborhoods that hearken to an almost fantasy world of family life that many of us only wish we’d had growing up.
Then there’s my single favorite Pittsburgh destination, the Strip District. This area has a long history, including being a shantytown during the depression and housing a foundry that produced 15% of the Union army’s artillery in the Civil War. Today, shops, lofts and restaurants line primarily Penn Avenue along the Allegheny River north of downtown. Some of the shops like Wholey’s and Pennsylvania Macaroni still carry the feel of the old produce yards that made up the area, while other shops are much trendier.
The Strip has a weird mix and feel to it. Deluca’s is located on the western side of Penn Avenue, and is one of the best breakfast spots in town, but it’s old and a bit haggard, rushed and loud. But it’s a great breakfast, and mimics a bit of the city itself. If you read my post on the Chocopologie candy bar I’m still slowly eating, square by square, Mon Aimee Chocolat is a pretty trendy chocolate shop, less than a block from Deluca’s.
Parma meats is in an ugly building that looks like it was built in the 70′s, but it houses some really great meats made right there, including domestic proscuitto and salami as good as any I’ve had elsewhere. Wholey’s Market, across the street and about a block south, had a big display of pear tomatoes, with a sign saying to go ahead and sample. Inside Wholey’s had a great fish counter, and prices that beat what I get locally by about half.
You hear “y’uns’ instead of the ‘you guys’ I hear in SW Ohio, and accents are slightly more eastern, but there’s a definite friendliness, and just a hint of the rushed feel of Philly and New York, but it’s tempered with a bit of blue collar casualness. The one place on the strip where I always feel a bit rushed, though, is the cheese counter at Pennsylvania Macaroni, a shop that’s at least doubled in size over the years. The cheese counter on a Saturday is about as busy a spot as you’ll find in the Strip. I took a number to be served, and I got 54; they were on 30 at the time. But they’re fast enough that I did some other shopping, came back, and I only had to wait a few more minutes. The key is to have some idea what you want in a cheese, and the cheese purveyors behind the counter will find something to fit and let you try it before deciding. They know what they’re doing, and it’s fun to just watch it (which is why I don’t really mind waiting a bit). But I don’t like to take too much time deciding, as I know there’s a room full of others waiting to step up to the counter, too.
We always get olive oil when we’re at PennMac; they have a great selection at considerably less than I pay for them at home, plus we can fill our own bottles from big bottles, which is just kind of fun.
Primanti Brothers have a place in the Strip, too, and it’s maybe the most crowded of the locations I’ve seen. There are stands set up on both sides of Penn Avenue selling Steelers tshirts and cheap imported toys and textiles. There’s a flower stand that smells great, with gorgeous dark calla lilies, and a produce stand with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Baked goods are easy to come by, and a couple of middle eastern men won’t let you walk by without trying to get you to buy some baklava.
It’s really only maybe 5 blocks that make up the heart of the Strip during the day, but I love it. It’s probably my number 1 food destination. It’s active, mostly friendly and diverse. The more I go there, the more I want to go back. If I lived in the area, I’d be there probably every week, which is odd; when I went to school at CMU, I don’t think I ever went to the Strip… of course, I had no money, and I was in architecture so I had no time!
If you’re looking for a weekend trip and you’ve never been to Pittsburgh, you’re missing something. Sure, it’s not Manhattan or even Chicago, but the sheer fact that it’s not either of those makes it all the more fun. It’s small enough of a city I can get anywhere I want to, and I don’t have to worry about driving there.
And this ends my raving about Pittsburgh. Until the next time I go, that is.