Turns out Pittsburgh [the Burgh, PGH, Steel-City, or as my mom likes to remind me ‘The City of Bridges’] is only 4 hours from my home-town, Baltimore… if you drive fast, take chances. The husband, Brad, and I had been talking about visiting for some time as it’s rumored to have many similarities to Baltimore [blue-collar grit mixed with a little eccentric artsyness]. What we didn’t know is that this city is huge [2nd largest in Pennsylvania] and touts a rich industrial history. And did you know it’s earned the title of ‘America’s Most Livable City’ (on the mainland)? Second to Honolulu!! What??!!
Our 44 hours in the Burgh was a bit jam-packed and way too brief. We didn’t even come close to scratching the surface on all this city has to offer. From museums to historical centers to the zoo and aquarium and onto the conservatory and botanical gardens and then to the National Aviary. For me, I’m always looking to fill my arts quota – in particular that of the contemporary. Pittsburgh plays host to more modern museums and galleries then I know how to handle. If on the North Shore, head to the Andy Warhol Museum [self explanatory, I hope!] or maybe the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside, a non-profit community arts campus which offers rotating exhibits. Miller Gallery is Carnegie Mellon University’s contemporary art gallery which puts a focus on social issues. The Wood Street Galleries [free admission!] emphasize visual and audio responsive projects supported by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust which aims to renew the PGH downtown with urban revitalization through the arts. Or there’s the Mattress Factory presenting installations and performance works created by established and emerging in-residence artists. These alone definitely support my second trip to uncover more of what PGH has to offer!
Aside from the classics and the aforementioned contemporary bits, this city has its fair share of street art. Most of it is condensed in a few key neighborhoods but you can find something in nearly every area you wander. THIS SITE offers a detailed map of what’s hiding from commissioned murals to wheat pastes. Given the transitory life of art on the street some pieces may not be there, but it’s a good starting point for your tour. FYI: we found three Shepard Fairy pieces – 2 in Southside and 1 Downtown.
We headed to Braddock in search of more urban art. The loss of stability from factory and steel mill closures has devastated communities throughout the US. Without replacement for these disappearing jobs towns like Braddock have succumbed to urban decay. Swoon, a Brooklyn based street artist, along with artist collective, Transformazium, are working to bring attention and revitalization to Braddock. Walking the streets you can tell it’s desperately needed. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, it’s a great eye-opening visit and you can search out amazingly poetic Swoon pieces along with other impressive murals. [Take the 59, 61A or 61B buses.] To learn more and possibly support the art initiatives happening click through to Braddock Tiles and for other ways to support the 15104 click HERE.
We had hoped to visit the Carrie Furnaces but I didn’t do enough research. You need to plan a tour as it’s not open to the general public. The Carrie Furnaces once produced more than 1,000 tons of iron per day but has been sitting vacant since the late 70’s. As with most abandoned buildings, people find a way to make a statement usually starting with graffiti and possibly moving into other forms of expression. This is exactly what is happening at the Furnaces. We plan on booking our tour in advance next time but if you’ve been I’d love to hear of your experience.
Disclaimer: we were only in the Burgh for short period and know there’s a plethora of exceptional dining so any suggestions are welcomed for M&B Take On The Burgh Round 2.
Lawrenceville – Round Corner Cantina: Good cocktails and really good food. So, before we ended up at Round Corner Cantina we stumbled upon a little anniversary party for Iron City Bikes – live music, a food truck, and $5 for 5 beers. So, obviously, we joined. Which means by the time we got to the Cantina we were well buzzed. I’m not saying this is why the food tasted so good, but it definitely played a role in our enjoyment and overall experience. Queso Fondido, Elotes, and Taco’s (pork belly & tofu) were wonderful. The Elotes, Mexican street corn, was by far the best I’ve had. Go there just for that! And also the Del Ray margarita.
Shady Side –
Salt of the Earth: [UPDATE: Feb 2016 – I believe this wonderful restaurant is now closed – womp womp!] If you’re looking for a relaxed farm to table style restaurant consider this one. It offers a variety of interesting seating options – in front of the exposed kitchen, bar, communal tables, and for quieter, more romantic try the mezzanine level. We ordered a bunch of different things to share but some highlights were the Korean Fried Chicken (obvi!), Steak Tartare, and the Rhubarb dessert. Brad’s winning dish of the night was the tartare. Not prepared in the traditional style, its use of unconventional ingredients lend to a totally unique taste. If you’re a tartare fan it’s worth a try.
Point Breeze – Peppi’s: We were told to check out Primanti Bros for an authentic Pittsburgh experience. So, I googled them, of course. Did you know they have 25 locations? Including 2 in West Virginia and 3 in Florida. The ‘franchise’ has been sold and is rapidly expanding. I’m sure it’s good but I was looking for something that’s still a Pittsburgh novelty. Enter Peppi’s. With only 4 locations and all within the 412 this was the spot for us. We went to the Point Breeze shop. It was amazing. Great guys behind the counter and giant, overflowing flavor packed subs. This is by no means upscale and you need to be excepting of all the character. If you can do that it’s well worth a visit.
Make the trip a ‘twofer’ and stop at the Frick Art & Historical Center [closed Monday]. The cluster of museums focus around the life and musings of Henry Clay Frick – major industrialist who had his hand in the Carnegie Steel Company and the Pennsylvania Railroad [both pretty big deals in Pittsburgh]. The museums include his impressive art collection, the restored Frick mansion ‘Clayton’, the Car & Carriage Museum, Greenhouse, the Frick children’s playhouse, and, apparently, a nice restaurant – Café Frick.
I’m anxiously awaiting my next return to this immense city. If you’ve been to Pittsburgh and have some insider tips, leave a comment, I’d love to know them!
Happy Grid Walking!