For most people, Pittsburgh conjures up images of steel workers or the NFL’s Steelers. Those in the know might have also heard that Pittsburgh consistently ranks as one of the most livable cities in the United States, and its green initiatives, growing technology industry, and booming medical fields have made smokestacks a thing of the past. But the "City of Bridges" is also a great place for a summer weekend getaway. There’s no better way to experience where Pittsburgh has been and where it’s going than with a food-focused tour through its diverse neighborhoods.
Lunch: Begin your tour of Pittsburgh in Point Breeze, a neighborhood immortalized in Annie Dillard’s memoir, An American Childhood, but most well known as the area where Henry Clay Frick and other wealthy industrialists settled in the late 1800s. Have a refreshing lunch at Point Brugge Cafe (401 Hastings St. 412/441-3334 www.pointbrugge.com). The bright, open space is modeled on the cafes of Europe and the varied menu includes chaud chevre salad, mango and tofu, and P.E.I. mussels served in a choice of three sauces with crusty bread.
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A Spot of History with Your Tea: The five acres of the Frick Art & Historical Center (7227 Reynolds St. 412/371-0600 thefrickpittsburgh.org) include Clayton (Henry Clay Frick’s home), a greenhouse, the Frick Art Museum, the Car and Carriage Museum, a visitor center, and a cafe. Frick was an industrialist and a famed art collector—he’s also the Frick of the New York museum of the same name. Tours of Clayton transport you back to the Gilded Age, while rotating exhibits fill the art museum. If you’re feeling peckish after all that history, head to the renowned cafe, where tea time (starting at 2:30) includes a house blend of tea and savory and sweet snacks. All vegetables used in the cafe are grown in the greenhouse.
Duquesne Incline: Get a bird’s eye view of Pittsburgh as the sun sets on this historic funicular. The Duquesne Incline (1220 Grandview Ave. 412/381-1665 incline.pghfree.net) has been part of the public transportation system since 1877, bringing residents of Mount Washington into the city. Today, the outdoor observation deck at the top provides picture perfect views of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers converging; the network of more than 400 bridges that connect the city across the rivers are on full display as are the city’s newest and oldest buildings. Copious documentation of the incline’s history is displayed indoors, and for an extra 25 cents (the ride is $2 each way), you can get a look at the motor and cables that pull the cars up and down the track.
Dinner: The quarters are close and the wait may be long, but Tessaro’s (4601 Liberty Ave. 412/682-6809) is a local favorite. Sure, there are salads, steaks, and ribs, but if you’re here, you’re here for the burgers. Watch cooks prepare the ½ pound patties over a hardwood grill in the open kitchen before devouring them with fixings like bacon and bleu cheese or cheddar and grilled mushrooms. Sides of steamed broccoli and cauliflower can assuage any feelings of guilt—but this is vacation so go for the home fries!
After Dinner Drinks: Pittsburgh is definitely a drinking town, so make sure to sample one of the many local brews. Of Fat Head’s (1805 East Carson St. 412/431-7433 www.fatheads.com) 200 beers on tap, there are usually at least a few local products. Or head to the South Side Works (East Carson and 27th Sts. 412/ 481-1880 www.southsideworks.com), a new entertainment complex with several bars and lounges, including the Hofbrauhaus, a German beer house. If spirits are more your thing, look for locally distilled Boyd & Blair vodka on menus.
Breakfast: You’ll have to get up early to avoid the long lines outside Pamela’s (60 21st St. 412/281-6366 www.pamelasdiner.com) in the Strip District. The crowds come for the hotcakes, crepe-like creations, which can be ordered plain or stuffed beyond capacity with the likes of chocolate chips, bananas, and gobs of whipped cream. If sweet’s not your thing, there are eggs done every way, too.
Shop the Strip: Once an industrial center packed with warehouses and choked with trucks, this mile long section of Penn Avenue now functions as a major food market, with bakeries, ethnic groceries, gourmet tea and coffee sellers, and cafes dotting the street. Take your time exploring this stretch of Penn Avenue and its side streets. For the freshest fish around, head to Wholey’s (1711 Penn Ave. 412/391-3737 www.wholey.com). Kids love watching the live lobsters in the tanks at the back. Enrico’s Biscotti (220 Penn Ave. 412/281-2602 www.enricobiscotti.com), rated one of America’s top bakeries, sells bags of oversized goodies in nutty, chocolaty, or fruity flavors that make for great souvenirs. There are even biscotti for your favorite pooch back home. For more sweet and salty remembrances of Pittsburgh, check out Pittsburgh Popcorn Company (209 21st St. 412/281-5200 www.pghpopcorn.com).
The Strip is also the spot for picking up all the Steelers paraphernalia you can imagine. Check out Mike Feinberg Company (1736 Penn Ave. 412/471-2922 www.mikefeinbergcompany.com), which was the original seller of the football team’s iconic Terrible Towels. Fans wave these bright gold towels at Steelers’ home games.
Lunch: A trip to Pittsburgh wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Primanti Brothers (46 18th St. 412/263-2142 www.primantibrothers.com). The sandwich shop started as a stand in the Strip in the 1930s. It catered to truckers coming through the area who needed hearty sandwiches they could eat one-handed on the go. Joe Primanti was inspired to put the sides in the sandwich to help his customers out. To this day, sandwiches come stuffed with vinegary coleslaw and heaps of freshly made French fries. We dare you to try to eat these feast-like sandwiches with one hand, though!
Wander the 16:62 Design Zone: If you’re not too weighed down by lunch, walk the approximately 1½ miles on Penn Avenue to the Lower Lawrenceville section of the 16:62 Design Zone. The Strip will give you a taste of the city’s past, but this recently revitalized neighborhood is all about Pittsburgh’s future. Galleries, artisans’ studios, and boutiques line Butler Street, and you’ll find many environmentally friendly products and home furnishings for sale. For trendy jewelry, quirky dinnerware, hand-dyed scarves and more, many designed by local artists, pop into Divertido (3701 Butler St. 412/687-3701 www.divertidoshop.com). All the body products, food, clothing, and homewares at Equita (3609 Butler St. 412.353.0109 www.shopequita.com) are environmentally friendly, sweatshop-free, and Fair Trade certified.
Tip: For the full Lower Lawrenceville story (and tasty samples from the stores), take a walking tour with ‘Burgh Bits & Bites (www.burghfoodtour.com). Check the Web site for tours of other neighborhoods.
Pastry Pit Stop: Mulling over all the artwork and crafts Lower Lawrenceville has to offer might make you hungry. Stop in at Dozen Bakeshop (3511 Butler St. 412/621-4740 www.dozenbakeshop.com), voted Pittsburgh’s best bakery, for one of the famed cupcakes or cinnamon buns and a cup of coffee. Dozen features many vegan options and makes every effort to use locally sourced ingredients in all its products.
Dinner: Lower Lawrenceville’s Tamari (3519 Butler St. 412/325-3435 www.tamaripgh.com) garners accolades from all corners these days. The Asian Latin fusion restaurant spices up spring rolls with jalapeño salsa and peking duck with queso and Serrano hoi sin sauce. An extensive menu allows you to share small plates, sushi, and the exceptional ceviche or order your own entrees. The dark, neon-lit, contemporary design of the place gives it a bit of a nightclub vibe.
Breakfast: The blocks of purple, green, and orange on the walls and the (perhaps incongruous) circular designs give Square Cafe (1137 South Braddock Ave. 412/244-8002 www.square-cafe.com) a playroom sort of feel. The eclectic breakfast menu includes omelets, crepes, and vegetarian breakfast burritos. There’s a lighter menu, too, and vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options mean there’s something for everyone.
Pop Art: Head to the North Side to the Andy Warhol Museum (117 Sandusky St. 412/237-8300 www.warhol.com). The seven floors of this warehouse-like building display Warhol—a native of Pittsburgh—works including Campbell’s Soup cans and multi-colored Marilyns. Several floors are dedicated to temporary exhibits from various artists, so check the calendar for the current shows. The Weekend Factory program creates a collaborative environment for visitors of all ages to create art alongside artists on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year. Pack your masterpiece along with the green crafts and delicious snacks you’ve collected throughout the weekend and head home.
Photo credit: (1) VisitPittsburgh; (2) John Shepherd; (3)VisitPittsburgh; (4) Stephanie Butler