Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Taste of Pittsburgh

In early October, I went to Pittsburgh, PA for a conference. I had not been to Pittsburgh previously. Prior to the trip, my friend Neil made sure to give me some pointers for places to see and eat! Neil's list included the Duquesne Incline, the strip district, Pittsburgh Macaroni Company, Primanti Brothers, and the Cathedral of Learning. Fortunately, my friend Rob lives in Pittsburgh and was willing to tour me around town so I was able to get a good taste of the city.

Day 1:
Rob met me when I got into town. He made sure to inform me that Pittsburgh loves potatoes, especially fries. In fact, they love them so much fries are found inside of sandwiches, on top of salads and as a traditional side. Each restaurant had their own spin on fries which kept things interesting. The first night we ate a burger joint. Unfortunately, I can't recall the name. Naturally, the burger came with fries but not in your traditional sense. Their fries were chunks of potatoes pan fried with onions. The burgers were delicious. Mine came with fried onions, cheddar and mushrooms. Rob took care of the mushrooms for me. After burgers, we went up to the Duquesne (Due-cane) Incline. The view was incredible! From the hill, we could see the intersection of the three rivers and the city. I learned the incline had been used by the people on the other side of the river to travel down the hill to the ferry. The ferry crossed the river over to downtown Pittsburgh. The incline is now a piece of history rather than needed transportation. You can take a ride down and back up for a couple of dollars. As an added bonus, you can see the inner workings of the incline from an outside observation deck.

Day 2:
The pre-conference workshop that I came to attend didn't begin until 1PM so I had the morning to explore. I decided to walk from my hotel to the strip district. The strip district is literally a strip of shops and restaurants in an older area of town where steel mills once dominated. The walk from my hotel took about 30 minutes but I thought it was well worth the time. The area had several international grocery stores including Pittsburgh Macaroni Company.

Pittsburgh Macaroni company was the largest of the groceries. When I stepped in, I felt like I had entered a general store. Spices available by the scoop and nuts (pecans, walnuts, etc) were held in barrels. Past this point, the store reminded me of my imagination of what its like to shop in Europe. One area had shelf after shelf of fresh bread. I'm not talking about Iron kids and Sara Lee. The options from foccacia and baquettes to cheese filled breads were excellent. I couldn't resist a small loaf of asiago filled ciabatta. In addition to breads, the store offered over 200 kinds of cheese and a separate butcher shop. Fabulous. It felt touristy to take a picture so I refrained. I did stand in amazement for several minutes though. I'd never seen so much cheese!

From there, I decided to locate Primanti Brothers sandwich shop. After walking up to the end of the strip district, I was beginning to wonder if I would be able to find it. Walking back towards the hotel, I was able to see the restaurant. Primanti's was between streets and impossible to see from the direction I had walked up the street. I was excited to find it and pretty hungry from my walk so I headed over for lunch. After looking over a lengthy sandwich menu, I decided on kolbassi and cheese. I got over my shyness and took a picture of the monster sandwich they brought me.

This was half of it. It was all of 6 inches tall! I had to take two small bites from the top and bottom to get a taste of the sandwich at once. Yum! I learned that Primanti's sandwiches were made with french fries and slaw inside because truckers were the original market. The truckers didn't have time to eat slaw, fries, and a sandwich separately so Primanti's packed a meal into each sandwich. Later that evening, Nicole and Alex arrived. After an extended search, we found ice cream. To my shock, Pittsburgh shops do not sell ice cream year round due to the low demand from cold winters. Yikes, that's cold! The Milk Shake Factory was open. They offered ice cream, milk shakes, and a host of chocolates! Rob tried the pumpkin ice cream and was quite pleased. Alex insisted on a milk shake. I got butter pecan and mocha. Due to an accident in scooping the wrong flavor, I also wound up with a 3rd scoop as well. Unfortunately, I don't remember what it was but all the flavors were tasty!

Day 3:
The conference began in full swing. I decided to try Korean sushi for lunch. I honestly cannot recommend what I tried. The spicy tuna was better than than white tuna but neither were anywhere close to as good as sushi from Ishi in Winston Salem. I had to have help to finish. Supper was excellent though! We went to India Garden. I ordered paneer korma. Nicole ordered something hideously hot. Dr. Wagner was excited about a dish with peas and carrots. I can't remember the rest but we all shared. The food and company were great. Afterwards, we drove through Carnegie Mellon's campus and part of the University of Pittsburgh. The Cathedral of Learning was open so we stepped in for a look. The Cathedral is in impressive 42 story Gothic revival style cathedral built between the 1920's and 1930's with classrooms decorated as classrooms from around the world. The Bosnian room had a class in it so we took a peek. The rest were locked for the evening but you can catch a picture tour through them all here. The view from the top allowed you to see the city from the middle. We went almost to the top and looked out the windows. Then we went back to Mount Washington (where the Duquesne Incline is located) to get an alternate view. This time, I had my camera!

Day 4:
For lunch I had a Pittsburgh style salad. Steak with french fries is a fairly normal thing but when on a salad, its different. I thought it was surprisingly good though. For supper, Nicole and I were in the mood for Italian. The conference was hosting a special event at the Heinz center. We weren't sure what that included so after consulting the concierge and the map to the Heinz center, we settled on Lidia's. That was one of the best decisions we made during the entire trip. After a 10 minute wait, we were seated. They brought out varieties of breads (sorry I don't know all the names. One type was sliced baguette. One type was a cheesy stick. I liked it a lot. Along with the bread came flavored hummus, basil and green olive! Both were great but I preferred the basil. For our meal, we decided to both get the Italian trio. A sample of all we could eat of three surprise pastas! The pastas of the night were Beef Bolognese with Linguini, Raisin and Rum Ravioli (it had cheese in it too), and bowtie pasta with pesto sauce. The ravioli was my favorite. They altered the Linguini dish so Nicole could have her vegetarian. We were happy campers!

After supper, we went to the Heinz museum.

The museum consisted of 6 floors of Pennsylvania history. From pioneers and tools to impressive halls of sports and art, I was surprised at how much had come from Pennsylvania. Dr. Wagner is originally from PA so he enjoyed telling us stories and showing us pictures of famous people he knew. It was great. Did you know Dr. Wagner was a famous hockey player?

Just kidding. Dr. Wagner and Nicole decided to play a game in the kids area together.

Afterwards we went downstairs for ice cream, cookies, and coffee. Being an ice cream gal, I stuck to ice cream. A good time was had by all. We bumped into Dr. Lu (who was the Ph.D. student I worked with during the BBSI summer research program when I was in undergrad) and Dr. Lee (from the University of Chicago who had visited as a guest lecturer at Wake Forest last fall).

Day 5:
There really wasn't much food involved in this day. We had lunch at the Marriot's restaurant. Nicole and I had grabbed dessert there on day 3. She had enjoyed some Stilton blue cheese ice cream while I had espresso cheesecake. Both were awesome!!! We were concerned it might be pricey for lunch but found out it was the best lunch deal we'd had all week! I had a chicken and prosciutto sandwich with a side of fruit. They offered fries but I was ready for something healthy. Nicole had vegetarian french onion soup made with mushroom broth. She was elated. Our return trip only offered airport food so it wasn't too exciting. We made it back safely to Winston-Salem. My cats were thrilled to see me and I was glad to be back after the long trip.

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