This is part 1 in my Clued Into Pittsburgh series: Scott and I were recently invited to a weekend blogger tour of Pittsburgh. This week, we’ll be recapping our trip – the food, the museums, the record shops that have us looking beyond their sports teams.
Living in Cleveland with family and friends on the east coast has led to countless trips along the Pennsylvania turnpike. To keep from going crazy on our frequent 8+ hour roadtrips, Scott and I often stop to take in the sights and tastes of Central and Western Pennsylvania.
For all of our journeys, though, we have never stopped in Pittsburgh.
I don’t really have a legitimate excuse. On the one hand, I’ve witnessed my fair share of arguments about the Pittsburgh/Cleveland rivalry, and even before that, I had a dislike of the Penguins ingrained in me as a young Philadelphia Flyers fan. However, I also know a lot of people from college and Cleveland who loved living in Pittsburgh.
A blogger exchange between Visit Pittsburgh, Positively Cleveland and other area tourism bureaus recently forced me to put aside these mixed feelings. Invited to come visit, Scott and I put out a call on Twitter and Facebook for suggestions of what to see and where to eat. The response floored me, resulting in a two-page to-do list for our weekend trip.
With our suggestions and an overnight bag packed, Scott and I made the two-hour drive after work on Friday night.
Our first stop after arriving in Pittsburgh was the Wood Street Galleries for a welcome reception. Located above a light rail station, Wood Street Galleries is part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s decades-long commitment to transforming downtown Pittsburgh into an arts district. Admission is free and the gallery houses new media installations. I really liked the unusual use of this building.
Scott and I were happy to grab a bite to eat at the reception, where we met the team behind Visit Pittsburgh and then were let loose on the city.
We walked a few blocks back to where we were staying, the downtown Courtyard Marriott. My first impression of the hotel was how conveniently located it was — a block away from the Pittsburgh Convention Center, as well as a short walk from many different areas of downtown. Best of all, it had a California wine bar and restaurant attached to it and at least 4 other restaurants across the street.
After our dinner at Wood Street, we only had enough energy to grab a drink before bed. Fortunately, one of the restaurants across the street was Sharp Edge’s Bistro on Penn. Featuring over 20 Belgium beers on tap and more in bottles, it reminded me of Bier Markt’s selection. A Rochefort 10 left me warm and fuzzy, while their Oktoberfest menu had me wishing I saved room for a small snack.
After a night of struedel-filled dreams, I dragged Scott, Kimberly, Jen and Matthew out of bed on Saturday morning at the ungodly hour of 7.
Why? Two words: Pamela’s Diner. After being regaled with tales of their breakfasts, Pamela’s was one of my required stops. With a heads up that they can get crowded on Saturdays, we began our early trek from downtown to the Strip District. I love morning walks like this – watching a city wake up and the vendors start to set up for Saturday morning’s market.
When we arrived at Pamela’s, it was starting to get crowded but there was an open table by the window. It was a great spot to take in Pamela’s classic soda hop style, as well as the architecture of the Strip district outside our window.
But let’s be honest, we were there for the food. I ordered their crepe style hotcakes, which come plain or stuffed with various flavors. Once I saw they had banana walnut stuffed hotcakes, I was sold.
I do not like fluffy, dense hotcakes. My mom always made them super-thin and a little crispy around the edges, and this is the style that Pamela’s has perfected. The bananas, walnuts and whipped cream were the proverbial icing on the (hot)cake.
As we rolled ourselves out of Pamela’s, we realized we had arrived just in time as a large crowd was forming at the door.
We walked off our breakfast with a stroll through the Strip. We stopped in Allegheny Coffee & Tea for a lovely sweet lavender tea, the impressive Eide’s Entertainment for comics, and the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company.
Italian food fans (well, really food fans of all stripes) should make a stop at the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company which features over 5000 specialty food items. Spices, meats, a room stocked full of fresh cheese, and pastries were just some of the mouthwatering choices we found.
I practiced a lot of self-restraint, but finally broke down when I saw the maple walnut pizzelles.
We could have spent most of our day in the Strip District; however, we had more of the city to see. On our next trip, we’ll have to dedicate more time to the neighborhood — and bring a cooler for the delicious food.
After dropping a few things off at the hotel, we took the Convention Center’s waterfall walkway to the river path. We passed a crew team getting in a Saturday morning row, families walking their dogs and children, and bikers out for a ride.
Our ultimate destination was the giant rubber duck on the Allegheny River. The four-story duck created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman was brought to Pittsburgh by the Cultural Trust. As we stood under the looming duck, we instantly understood why hoards of people flocked there. Simply put, it was unbelievably cute.
So cute that Scott was obsessed with it all weekend (if I had to be honest, he still is). It led to this exchange tweeted by Kimberly at dinner:
— smitten in cleveland (@smittenincle) October 13, 2013
I’ve been replaced. Could you blame Scott, though?
Continuing our loop through downtown, we visited the Fort Pitt Blockhouse, the oldest existing structure in Western Pennsylvania. Celebrating its 250th anniversary next year, the Blockhouse was a defense structure during the French and Indian War and the remaining piece of Fort Pitt after the rest was demolished in the 1700s.
After taking in a little bit of Pittsburgh history, we happened upon the cobblestoned Market Square. An oasis amid the city’s skyscrapers, it’s filled with restaurants like the 1800s’ Oyster House and the Pittsburgh classic Primanti’s Bros.
Still full from Pamela’s, we stopped by the Creole-inspired NOLA for patio cocktails. I ordered A Sidecar Named Desire, their sweet, bourbon-y twist on a sidecar, while Scott enjoyed their veal-brothed French Onion Soup.
It was a lot of fun to soak in the sun while we watched everyone doing their Saturday shopping and playing chess in the park.
I loved how walkable downtown Pittsburgh is. We didn’t have a set destination for our morning adventure, which allowed us to stumble upon things like the Toonseum and S.W. Randall toystore as we made our way back to the hotel.
However, after the early wakeup and long stroll, we were all exhausted and in the mood for an afternoon nap. Besides being conveniently located, the Courtyard’s rooms were very conducive to relaxation.
A sprawling bedroom and living room suite gave Scott and I more than enough room to spread out and snooze. And the Courtyard was the first to surpass the comfort level of my bed at home.
It was the much-needed refresher we needed to enjoy our evening and next day in Pittsburgh.
I’ll be back later this week with the rest of my #LovePGH recap, as well as Scott’s take on the city.