This is the city where I learned that you can't judge a place based solely on how much you dislike their sports teams.
If at the beginning of 2018, someone had told me that I'd embark on an adventure to the steel city, home of the black and gold, I would have laughed hysterically. Growing up in a small-ish town about three hours from there in Maryland, close to the Pennsylvania border, there was a lot of black and gold to be seen and their fans were never not obnoxious. Not to mention the fact that I'm a pretty big Capital's fan, which just puts me at odds with this city. But cut to June 2018, the scene is a wine tasting at the Omni in Bedford Springs, PA. At one of the first tables my friends and I visited, we met a ridiculously charming wine vendor who, after learning that I was a bit of a food snob, proceeded to try to convince me that Pittsburgh was making major progress on the food front. After promising to be my personal tour guide for a weekend, I hesitantly agreed to either validate or discredit his claims in person.
On day one of my weekend excursion, we started with lunch at Eleven in the Strip District. A former warehouse located near old Pennsylvania rail lines. I don't remember what I had for lunch but I remember that it was delicious, and I loved the industrial setting. From there we hit The Warren downtown (pronounced 'dahntahn' in Pittsburghese) for a cocktail, pretty sure I had a Moscow Mule with plum, which was surprisingly good. Next on the itinerary was Picklesburgh, an annual festival that takes place on the Roberto Clemente Bridge and features international dishes, prepared foods (mostly pickled), cocktails, and other things. It was here that I had my first frosé, courtesy of Superior Motors. The twist is that it came topped with pop rocks and suddenly I felt like I was back in elementary school eating pop rocks with my friends, only in a much older and less functional body. After that we bounced around until we landed in Bakery Square for food trucks, beer, and live music. Then circled back to Mount Washington for a beautiful sunset followed by more drinks at some bars downtown.
Day two started around mid-day after I'd slept off the multitude of drinks from the day before. We started at DiAnoia's Eatery in the Strip District. Voted one of the best restaurants in Pittsburgh, this place features homemade pastas, pastries, breads, and other things. Being in a slightly hungover state, I played it safe and just got an order of Zeppole (Italian donuts) and I'm so happy I did. Nothing like fried dough and powdered sugar for a pick me up. After "breakfast" we spent some time walking around checking out different stores and produce places until we stopped somewhere for a Bloody Mary, another excellent hangover cure. From there we drove back downtown, parked, and walked to and around the Point. It was such a beautiful day and I do have to say being able to comfortably wear jeans outdoors in July was a bonus. Not having had much to eat earlier in the day, I was pretty hungry after walking around. So we drove to Market Square and had pizza and a beer at Il Pizzaiolo,which did not disappoint. Then it was back to the hotel for a nap before dinner. We met for a drink in the lobby at the Omni and then drove to Superior Motors in Braddock for dinner, which was one of the best food experience of my life, more on that in a moment.
I'll admit that during my time in Pittsburgh, all the black and gold made my eyes and skin burn ever so slightly, but the company and the city itself was pretty stellar. I've been back a number of times since that first trip, and my top four restaurants (so far) are described in more detail below. If you've never been I would highly recommend it, stay at the Omni William Penn or find an industrial loft in the Strip District on Airbnb, go through the Fort Pitt tunnel like Emma Watson in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", check out the overlooks on Mount Washington at sunset or at night, find the pierogi food truck, or take in a game somewhere, preferably when the Caps or Nats are in town. Yinz will not regret a trip to dahntahn Pittsburgh!
What started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 became one of Food & Wine's Restaurants of the Year and Time Magazine's Top 50 Places in the World in 2018. The building used to be a Chevy dealership in Braddock, which provided the perfect location for a modern, industrial dining area with decor that I want to fill my house with. And if that wasn't enough, the food was incredible. The menu is designed where you pick one dish from each section and finish with dessert. Since I'm a part-time vegetarian my selections were pretty starch heavy, but the balance of textures and flavors in each dish more than made up for my menu limitations.
Smoked Potato: Potatoes cooked three ways coated in a whey vinaigrette, garnished with radish and a coffee dusting; the smoky flavor paired excellently with Pinot Noir
Rice Cakes: Sweet rice "cakes" served with kimchi, cilantro, peanut, and tempeh; the sauce on this dish had the perfect level of heat that complimented the sweetness of the rice cakes in just the right way
Mushroom Risotto: The chanterelle mushrooms and crispy shallots in this dish made my mushroom risotto look like the kid you'd pick last for kickball in elementary school, I took some of this back to my hotel with me
Pretzel Salad: Fresh berries that were perfectly ripe, crumbled pretzel, and a delicious cream was a welcome break from all the heavy starch
Chocolate (I can't remember the exact name): This dessert was topped with a dehydrated chocolate mousse wafer, or something along those lines, and the texture of it was just incredible, light, delicate, but so much delicious chocolate flavor before you even got to the other part of the dish
Perched atop Mount Washington with an unparalleled view of the city, this was my second meal in Pittsburgh that left me somewhat speechless. The night started off with buffalo ranch popcorn instead of bread. I could eat that popcorn every day for the rest of my life. And the fact that it was popcorn meant that it was satisfying and flavorful without filling you up like a bread basket. After that my memory of the food gets a little fuzzy, it was that good. The appetizers we ordered included a risotto and some kind of salad. My entree consisted of halibut with a green sauce and pistachios on a bed of risotto or rice, baby zucchini that was cooked perfectly, and heirloom tomatoes. Dessert was one of the best presentations I've seen. Called a blueberry pancake ball, the server brought out a giant ball made of blueberry and poured hot syrup on it which made the ball melt into itself and the plate. While a little too sweet for my taste I will never forget how childlike I felt watching the whole thing unfold.
Monterey Bay Fish Grotto
Another Mount Washington staple with an incredible view of the city. I came here for my birthday and the menu did not disappoint with starters that included deviled eggs with smoked salmon and caviar and she crab bisque, the main meal included parmesan crusted halibut, fingerling potatoes, and brussels sprouts. By far the best part of the meal was dessert, which was an angel food cake grilled cheese sandwich. Picture this: caramelized angel food cake (so good), filled with cream cheese, served with vanilla bean ice cream and a berry compote, and finally topped off with toasted sweet & salty almonds. Next time I'm starting the meal with dessert and some Veuve.
Go for the wine list, stay for the food! Boasting one of the best wine lists in Pittsburgh, The Carlton was awarded the Best Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator in 2015. And with a menu that changes daily, the food is always fresh and innovative. I've been several times and enjoyed halibut, lobster and crab gnocchi, jumbo lump crab cake, and some variation of chicken. But my favorite dish here comes in the form of dessert. They make a whisky bread pudding with this life-altering sauce. The bread pudding is warm and soft with crispy, buttery edges, just the perfect balance of sweet and savory. One other perk? The limo bus. You can also take it to the Cultural District for a show or if you go on a hockey night when the Pens are at home and are heading to the game after, grab a ride to the arena. Caps fans beware, you'll most likely be the only ones rocking the red in that vehicle!